Thursday, July 14, 2016

Weavebound: a Godbound Hack for the Forgotten Realms


Elminster Must Die cover art by Kekai Kotaki

The Forgotten Realms is a setting well-known for its high-octane action, where the battles of gods and archmages scour the surrounding land, a drow warrior without peer fights off hundreds of orcs by his lonesome, and elder evils such as illithid overlords and krakens plot the domination of the sunlit nations beneath the major metropolises of the world. It is a realm of high adventure and epic deeds.

Although a feature of many D&D games, the setting has been described as a high-powered world, sometimes to its detriment. While there are many adventures for more typical power levels in Faerûn, there is an appeal for the PCs to get the spotlight, when they can challenge Manshoon or Szass Tam directly, match wits and magic with Larloch the Netherese archmage, or challenge the god-dragon Tchazzar and put a stop to his reign of terror in Chessenta. Unfortunately, the level of power for such things in most Editions is either a.) nonexistant/capped below that point; b.) has really wonky math or unfinished rules, or c.) the amount of options at that level can overwhelm most DMs especially when magic is involved.

While reading Kevin Crawford's Godbound, it hit all the right points for this kind of game. It was high-power yet rules-lite, used a familiar framework of Basic D&D/OSR which can map well onto the Realms, and the province of using one's power and sway to change the world from villages to even entire nations via Dominion and Influence sits well in a game where you don't just feel like you're playing second fiddle to author favorites.

So then I thought, what about a setting hack? Use the Godbound rules to simulate epic heroes on the level of Elminster, Storm Silverhand, and even the deities who walked upon Faerûn during the Time of Troubles?

The Time of Troubles: the Premiere Era



Shadowdale: the Scouring of the Land by William O'Connor

The year 1358 was a time of chaos and uncertainty for the world of Toril. The evil gods Myrkul and Bane stole the Tablets of Fate, the divine inscriptions listing the portfolio of influence of every deity. When the leader of the gods Ao summoned the many pantheons to his side, he asked the guilty party to step forward. When nobody stepped forth, he punished them all by casting them into the Material Plane confined to their less power avatar forms. In spite of being mortal, the deities were still extraordinarily powerful, but did not possess the mastery of the portfolios they once had.

The PCs number among these gods. While Ao intends this harsh lesson to teach the deities to be grateful for the powers they had and to more personally connect with their worshipers in the mortal world, this may not necessarily be the case. Many deities are resentful and seek a way to gain back their former status, even including fighting and killing their now-mortal peers in hopes of absorbing their power. Others search for the Tablets of Fate as a way to earn repentance. Many go into hiding, fearful of their many enemies, while others use their still-mighty status to build influence as god-kings such as the red dragon Tchazzar.

Who are your fallen gods? And what shall they do in this Time of Troubles?

Adventure Hooks for Weavebound

Band of Brothers: The Godbound PCs are all members of the same pantheon, such as the elven Seldarine or the Mulhorandi pantheon. This is a good means of tying the party together, as they are all familiar with each other and can laser-focus their efforts on a single culture or region as an immediate motivation.

Deicide: Of greatest concern to the former immortals is the law of divine absorption. When a deity slays another deity, the killer assumes the conceptual influences of the murdered. A goddess of fire who kills a god of travel and the open road becomes a deity of both purview. While it can be a tempting draw to power, it is just as much a shield; a kindly, just deity would be loathe to absorb the essence of a god of hate and suffering.

Still, this does not present some from contemplating the unthinkable, of slaying a god. Cyric is the most famous example, but certain learned mortals and rival deities present a looming danger. Making a difference in the world and building up Dominion makes you a target for those who crave power.

Mechanics: Slaying a a fellow Godbound means that they can purchase one of their related Words for 1 point instead of 3 when gaining a level. Until then, they're still new and unused to this new domain of influence and must spend time mastering their new nature.

Generally speaking, the murder of a deity should be a momentous occasion, whether it's a PC or NPC. Either a mortal has ascended or an existing deity wields more metaphysical influence. Generally speaking most deities are aware of this rule and will usually find other ways to conquer and divert the plans of their rivals. For example, Lolth might threaten Corellon's Dominions and factions, making him less powerful and thus less able to challenge her will. Alternatively a Godbound beaten into submission by another might be imprisoned in a magical ward, a remote dungeon, or a similar location.

Basically, your PCs should feel free to rule openly if they so desire and it fits their character. Let them reap the joys of godhood, but also remind them that there are threats to all that they built.

Redemption: It's possible that the PCs might view retrieving the Tablets of Fate as their primary goal. There's no doubt it was stolen by one of their fellows, but who remains the question. In Forgotten Realms canon, it was Bane and Myrkul, but you can throw a twist in the mix by having a similar antagonistic deity do the deed. Shar is a good choice, as is Lolth, Ilsensine, Mask, Tiamat, and/or Loviatar.

Naturally, finding the Tablets should be a mighty feat spanning adventures. Even if the thief is not a God/dess of Deception or Secrets, they doubtlessly called in favors to place it in a realm beyond realms guarded by their most faithful and most powerful servants.

Adversaries for Weavebound

There's already plenty of existing Forgotten Realms material to draw on, so I won't repeat them here. However the world of Toril is full of threats worthy of challenging gods walking the earth.

Archmages: Elminster, Khelben Blackstaff, Larloch, Manshoon, Szass Tam, the list goes on. Masters of arcane power are the most commonly known characters of this setting aside from renegade drow.

The Eldritch stat block (p. 148) is perfect for the many mages of Faerûn, although one should not be tempted to make each one a 36 Hit Die Master Eldritch. Even a Greater Eldritch can do a good job of replicating many of the big names here, and the myriad rules for Low Magic and invocations do a good enough job of replicating common powers. If you own the Deluxe version of Godbound, there is advice for Converting Powers from Other Games (p. 235) and the Creating Mortal Heroes section talks about turning Vancian Casting into a talent (p. 193).


From Faiths & Pantheons

Bane & the Zhentarim: one of the two gods who hid away the Tablets of Fate, this mighty figure of tyranny is more than eager to make his mark on Faerûn, whether by acting through his agents in the Zhentarim or leading whole armies to conquer regions. Any PCs who start making their marks on the world will doubtlessly attract his attention. Bane tolerates no competition, and if he can kill a god with a portfolio he desires, so much the better.

Bane's stats should change during the course of the campaign. He should be strong enough to be a threat in straight combat for an entire pantheon of Godbound (Creating New Foes, p. 166), but climb in power as they do instead of remaining static. What should remain constant is his access to the Command, Might, and Sword Words, with powers dedicated to showing off his dominance and power such as Cutting the Crimson Road and The Soldier's Faithful Heart. He might gain the Wealth Word if the Zhentarim continues to grow unchallenged.

                               

From 3rd Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

Cyric: Originally a mortal mercenary, the man known as Cyric obtained the legendary sword known as Godsbane which he used to kill Bhaal and become a true god. His path of destruction and deicide during the Time of Troubles made him one of the most powerful (and dangerous) entities of Faerûn.

Unlike Bane, Cyric is a more subtle, lonesome entity. Lusting after power, his desire is to kill as many deities as possible, absorbing their portfolios in the hopes of becoming the supreme divine entity of all reality.

Cyric's stats before godhood should be a Mortal Hero (p. 154) with the Walk Between the Rain (Alacrity), Contempt of Distance (Sword), and Thirsting Razor (Sword) gifts. When he slays Bhaal and then Leira, he becomes a full Godbound with the Death, Deception, and Sword Words.

Like Bane, he should grow in power as the PCs do, albeit with a wider variety of Words as he slays more deities.

Godsbane

Effort: 4 Creation Cost: 14 Dominion

Godsbane was the sword-form of Mask, God of Shadows and Thieves, during the Time of Troubles. Those who wielded it inevitably went mad, as the blade coaxed them to murder others to sustain on souls. Upon murdering a victim, the body is drained entirely of blood and the sword glows for a while with a reddish hue.

Keeper of the Grave (Lesser Gift): You learn exactly where every corpse, undead or fragment of remains are within 200 feet and their identity in life. You can tell exactly how they died as if you had observed their death personally. If you Commit Effort you have an invincible defense against lesser undead.

Deplete Health (Greater Gift): Commit Effort for the scene and choose a target. They sicken, falling to half their current hit dice or hit points, rounded up. Worthy foes get a Hardiness save to resist. The lost hit dice return at the scene’s end if the creature is not dead. This gift does not stack multiple times.

Mortals who wield the sword become increasingly psychotic, eager to slay others for the thrill of the kill. All but the strongest-willed mortals (or those with the aid of a deity) can resist this urge.


Dragon's Dogma Concept Art by Craig Mullins

Dragons: Albeit reclusive in modern times, the dragons of Toril are one of the oldest and most dangerous creatures. Many lair in well-defended caves and fortifications, usually supplicated less powerful races offering tribute in exchange for protection. A few dragons, such as the Moreume clan of the North and Tchazzar of Chessenta, rule entire communities.

Dragons can deal their damage as an area attack in the form of a breath weapon with a range of 60'. Said breath weapons vary widely in energy types, and they have an invincible defense against the type chosen for their breath weapon. Many dragons have fledgling knowledge in the magical arts and might have Adept of the Gate, while the older wyrms almost always know Adept of the Way, and the greatest can use Way of the Throne.

As for Tchazzar, he's no mere dragon, but a shard of Tiamat. He's a Great Wyrm with access to the Fire, Sorcery, and Wealth Words, and the ruler of his own country. With his wealth and peerless power and knowledge, he's more than a match for all but the mightiest pantheons of Godbound.

Dragon
Adult
Elder
Great Wyrm
AC
4
3
2
Hit Dice
15
24
36
Attack
+10 x2 attacks
+10 x2 attacks
Two automatic hits
Damage
1d10 claw/bite straight
1d12 claw/bite straight
1d12 claw/bite straight
Move
60’ fly
60’ fly
120’ fly
Save
8
5
3
Morale
10
11
12
Effort
7
10
15




Dungeon Magazine #24, cover artist unknown

Illithid: Also known as mind flayers for their primary means of sustenance, illithid are among the most powerful creatures of the Underdark. They seek to turn other races into mentally-dominated thralls for the betterment of their undercities.

All races of illithid are able to telepathically communicate with an intelligent being within 100'. Neothelid are gargantuan worms capable of tunneling through solid rock. Elder Brains, meanwhile, are the undisputed masters of the illithid. They possess access to the Knowledge Word and knows 2 or 3 lesser gifts from it.

Illithid
Mind Flayer
Neothelid
Elder Brain
AC
5
3
6
Hit Dice
5
20
36
Attack
+7
+10 x2 attacks
Two automatic hits
Damage
1d8 psychic blast
1d12 crush straight
1d12 straight
Move
30
60' burrow
60’ fly
Save
12
7
5
Morale
9
12
11
Effort
1
6
12

The Natural Laws of Toril's Divinities

This is mostly flavor text, but covers generic rules for the divinities of Toril and thus common knowledge for the PCs.

The many gods and goddesses of the Forgotten Realms are Estelar, exemplars of chosen portfolios, just about anything which can exist in a tangential form or drives people as an ideal. They are either mortals elevated to such a status by Ao or allowed to allowed to be worshiped in the case of ones from foreign realms. They also derive power from the faith and worship of mortals, and the lack of devotion can be inimical to a deity's power, even leading to metaphysical death. Many are grouped into pantheons, usually with a common theme or relationship binding them together.

Deities can manifest in the Material Plane via the creation of an avatar, a less-powerful yet still mighty extension of their awareness. As of the Time of Troubles, every deity save Helm is stuck in avatar form. With time (and learning the Apotheosis Word) they can commune with worshipers, but their overall cosmic awareness is far less than it once was in their original forms.

Alternative Campaigns



Playing as fallen divinities during the Time of Troubles is a natural fit for a Godbound setting hack, but the high power level of the Forgotten Realms makes other campaign styles possible.

Defenders of the Weave: The PCs are all Chosen of Mystra, imbued with divine power by the Goddess of Magic and tasked with fighting evil and investigating disruptions in the Weave. Not all Chosen operate together, but they have a common patron and goals which inevitably draw them to the sight of trouble. Whether it's a maddened avatar of Shar creating a dead magic zone across a country or a Thayan tyrant building a doomsday device, you can guarantee that the Chosen of Mystra will be there!

Mechanics: All Chosen of Mystra are treated as Godbound with access to three Words, each representing a common magical tradition or pathway (such as Death for necromancers). They are immune to the ravages of age and can weaponize pure Weave energy into a bright form known as Silver Fire by Committing Effort. Silver Fire can be used as a ranged weapon out to 100 feet and counting as a magical weapon. It can destroy up to one foot of nonliving material per use.

Netheril's Last Breath: Wind the clocks back to the last years of the Empire of Netheril, It is hard to tell that their golden age is over: humans live in utopian sky-cities where every commoner is versed in low-magic to make their lives easier. There is little need for the magic of the gods, as innovations in spellcraft provide for most of the people's needs and the elite are well-removed from the strife and troubles of the world below.

Still, things stir to threaten humanity's greatest achievement and folly: the Phaerimm seek to wage war on the floating cities whose residual magic pollutes the earth below with devastating sorceries. Random mishaps in magic cause archmages to go into hiding or die at the hands of vicious rivals, resulting in political upheaval. Karsus, the greatest archmage to have ever lived, seeks to steal the mantle of godhood from Mystra herself, all to save the land he knows and loves.

The mood and theme of this campaign is impending doom. Like it or not, the face of Faerûn is going to be changed forever. The PCs might avert the worst of it, but it will take a lot of time, effort, Influence, and Dominion. Encouraging communities to swear off magic to avoid supernatural residue from afflicting the surface shall leave them open to attacks from rival city-states and vengeful phaerimm. Diverting unstable Weave energy to another location only shunts the problem elsewhere, creating a temporary reprieve which can come back back to haunt them with even worse troubles.

There is still opportunity for heroism. The PCs can be the leaders the people of Netheril, no, the world, needs. They can use their magic to shelter refugees and confound the phaerimm, or even call upon the "barbarous" low-land nations for aid who are long used to fighting the horrors of the world without magic. The PCs might even be traditional gods, less-powerful avatars stepping into the Material Plane before things get even worse to set things right.

Or they can be like so many of their peers and pick the remnants of Netheril's treasure and glory like vultures upon a carcass before fleeing to safer pastures. But even sorcerous looting is dangerous; you'll need to build safehouses to store your treasures, anti-scrying wards to evade the notice of the phaerimm and rival mages, and get past the defenses of rival city-states and outrun pursuit of those you betrayed.

Mechanics: The PCs are newly-appointed archmage rulers in one or more of the sky-cities. They are treated as Godbound who are free divinities (p. 19) with access to the Sorcery Word and two others of their choice. Dominion can be used to repair areas of unstable magic in the Weave or even divert them elsewhere, being treated as changing a Fact (p. 126 to 128).

Concluding Thoughts

I may contribute future articles to this campaign hack if there's enough interest. Given the size and scope of Ed Greenwood's shared world, I only scratched the surface of possibilities for a Godbound campaign. Still, I hope that I covered enough ground to spur people's imaginations and get the muse fired up.