Monday, December 24, 2018

Al-Qadim: Enlightened Monsters (5th Edition)

Artist Unknown

I haven't talked about it as much, but I'm quite a fan of al-Qadim. Even 25 years later its mostly Middle Eastern-themed setting is still a rarity in Dungeons & Dragons books. Seeing other takes on the culture such as The Nightmares Underneath, and Kobold Press' Southlands* made me go back to reading the oldest and most famous Fantasy Arabian tabletop world. One of the settings' most distinguishing elements was the relative harmony brought about by Enlightenment, the land's dominant religious tradition that brought various races (monstrous and otherwise) to live on peaceful terms. Although there is still plenty of conflict in the setting from nefarious secret societies to vindictive genies, the 'dwarf/elf, human/orc' race wars of other worlds are practically absent here.

*whose own Wolfgang Baur was a prolific writer for al-Qadim products back in the day.

The major factors for a monster's acceptance into Enlightened society are if it is overall humanoid in shape  (or capable of assuming said shape), does not possess extraordinarily powerful abilities, and does not have an inherently inimical nature alignment-wise. This coincidentally mapped onto overall guidelines for the appropriateness of monstrous PCs, which spawned the idea for this very blog post. 

The core al-Qadim products along with City of Delights mention the more common monstrous races, so I figured to write up some entries on other monsters (namely humanoids and giants) in the major 5th Edition books. Right now this blog post handles the core Monster Manual and Volo's Guide, but I may work on Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes and perhaps some 3rd party sourcebooks if there's enough interest. The Monstrous Races sourcebook and its sequel on the DM's Guild even provides balanced racial options for just about every official 5th Edition monster, further sweetening the deal.

Note: I am not including monsters already expounded upon in the existing al-Qadim corebooks. This includes the standard three goblinoids, kobolds, lizardfolk, merfolk, ogres, and orcs.

Monster Manual

Aarakocra: These mighty bird-people are natives to the Elemental Plane of Air, occasionally venturing forth into the Material Plane in search of evil beings to vanquish or capture. They are on good terms with djinni, although they regard the spirits as a bit too flighty to be entirely reliable. The djinni, for their part, view the aarakocra as being too uptight.

The aarakocra are followers of the Law of the Loregiver, whose inspiring words settled upon one of their own number. Most feel a service to spread its teachings throughout the planes beyond, and it is said that they once created a magic staff blessed by Fate known as the Rod of Law as a gift to the Grand Caliph. Alas a treacherous assassin among their own destroyed the artifact, scattering it into seven parts across the planes.

Bullywug: These inhabitants of the Ruined Kingdoms make settlements among the many twisting rivers as bargemen and river guides. The city of Dihliz contains the largest numbers of bullywugs, who often make a living as tomb-robbers in underwater ruins where humans and other races are incapable of surviving without magical aid.

Centaur: See al-Qadim Monstrous Compendium for more information. Centaur are desert nomads who are known to steal domesticated animals for they view this practice as a crime. Their magical traditions include priestesses who act as waterfinders and oracles for their tribes.

Cyclops: These giants used to be inhabitants of an oceanic empire among the islands of the Crowded Sea, but now they live within the ruins of their forebears. They have limited trade with Zakharans, offering their strength and magical powers learned from the lore of runic inscriptions to merchant vessels and pirates. Some follow the Law of the Loregiver and are devout citizens, while others pay homage to genies and terrible spirits of the ruins.

Doppelganger: With the ability to take the forms of others, doppelgangers are more than willing to to use their powers to reap the bounties of civilized society. They are rarely welcomed where they are discovered, for the nature of their powers inevitably creates distrust.

Drow and Duergar: See Land of Fate for more information. Unenlightened underdark civilizations beholden to evil gods in the western mountains, their existence is so far the stuff of rumors among surface-dwelling Zakharans.

Ettin: Cousins of ogres (as well as goblins and orcs), ettin find a similar role in Zakharan society as enlightened ogres. Although limited in intelligence, their dual-headed nature produces a surprising array of qadi and scholars, bouncing ideas and theories off of each other and arriving at conclusions one would ordinarily not reach alone.

Fomorian: Between their huge size, anti-religious views, and seeking domination of other races, Fomorians have little desire for peaceful interaction with Zakharan society. They live in caves among the High Desert, striking out to raid nearby communities for supplies and slaves.

Giants, True: See al-Qadim Monstrous Compendium for more information. True giants are much more integrated in Zakhara, can range the gamut of alignments, and do not follow the Ordning like their brethren elsewhere. Except for the hill giants, they typically live apart from the settlements of smaller races, visiting occasionally to trade for objects they cannot get themselves and to provide work advantageous to their large size.

Githyanki: Rarely seen beyond a few extraplanar scouting parties, these strange beings are virtually unknown in the Land of Fate. Their militant hatred of the gods and loyalty to a tyrannical society put them at odds with Zakhara.

Githzerai: Some extraplanar portals exposed to the chaotic energies of Limbo bring forth githzerai monasteries. A few monks stand guard over these convergences to ensure that the elemental Chaos does not spread further into the Material Plane.

Gnoll: Completely integrated into Zakharan society, gnolls live alongside the other races in cities. Their ancestral lands of the High Desert are home to many gnoll tribes who maintain nomadic ways of life.

Gnome, Deep (Svirfneblin): The gnomes’ subterranean cousins are so rarely spotted in the Land of Fate that even dwarves regard their sightings as being “pink tunnel elephants.” Gnomish history and folklore tell of how a tribe once ventured into the deep veins of the earth in search of a fabled ‘Promised Land.’ They discovered it, but had to swear an oath to cut off all ties with the surface world. All manner of strange sightings in mines and caverns are attributed to deep gnome activity.

Grimlock: Grimlocks stalk the dark, subterranean lairs of the world. As a result, quite a few are mistaken for ghul or other monstrous diggers. A few scholars posit that they were an Unenlightened civilization under thrall to cruel false gods. Some more charitable souls and paladins sought to free the grimlocks from their unseen masters, although any word on their expeditions’ success is unknown and most fear the worst.

Hags: Whereas the hakima are wise women blessed to perceive truth, the hags are wicked women who made pacts with malevolent genies to bring misfortune upon others.

Half-Dragon: A favorite story among bards is the claim that the wisest and most powerful of dragons wreath themselves in humanoid guise to walk among mortals. Some arrogant serpent secure in his position over the “lesser races” softens their heart upon falling in love with an enchanting maiden or handsome lad. The half-dragons are the result of such unions, and the tales commonly end in tragedy when the mortal lover’s lifespan reaches their end. The dragon lover often retreats once again from the world, leaving their dual-heritage child behind. The storytellers often follow up this saga of sorrow and loss with a happier family reunion, but only on the next day when the crowd comes back to pay to hear the rest of the tale.

Harpy: These winged women are prized among mamluk legions and merchant caravans for their ability to take flight, undeterred by hostile terrestrial features. Their captivating voices mean that their number sports some of the best poets in the Land of Fate.

Jackalweres and Lycanthropes: The divine writ of the gods is not merely advice, say priests and paladins, but the binding of civilization itself. Those who toss aside neighborly ethics and live in squalor and selfishness declare themselves no better than the scavenging beasts of the earth. Some of these people become so far gone that they willingly embrace their bestial natures and turn into animals, apex predators brimming with demonic power.

Sometimes they wear the forms of people, but this is merely a façade of sanity for the monster lurking beneath. Jackalweres and lycanthropes eventually expose themselves in due time, if not from their true form than for their evil behavior which spreads misery and woe.

Kenku: Kenku are nomadic bird-folk who traveled to the Land of Fate from the eastern countries of Kara-Tur. They share a common folkloric history, telling of how they lived like kings in their homeland, only to betray their host’s good graces by coveting that which was not theirs. Their exile is a self-imposed code, lessons passed from elders to the next generation to explore the world and learn of all its people. When they learn the true treasures of family, community, and acceptance will they be find their home again.

These lessons are easier said than done; some kenku figure that being already cursed they have little incentive to prove the one who exiled them wrong, so ancestral lessons fall harder on some ears than others.

Kuo-Toa: Another of the Underdark races, Kuo-Toa are idol-worshipers whose collective mental energy is capable of bringing their revered statues to life. Their priests use strange rituals drawing upon the hopes and fears of the community to instill primitive intelligence in said idols, which act as defenders of the tribe. Needless to say they are Unenlightened, and Zakharans have many tales of gigantic demon-statues rising from the soil and the waves as a result of scant encounters with them. The Kuo-Toa for their part have little inclination to give up their heathen practices, for in many cases their idols are their community's first and last line of defense.

Medusa: It is said that the first medusa was a vain woman who sought out a jinn to grant her wish for beauty and power. The jinn was more than happy to make the deal, but cursed her such that those who gaze upon her would never spread tale of her beauty as they became stone. Forced into isolation, she built her own cult of blind beggars to carry out her will. Called the Way of the Unseen Eye, the medusa’s followers scour the land for artifacts of value as offerings to their mistress. Said offerings are slid under a silken curtain into a room of wealth and luxury, the medusa doing her best to recreate her pre-wish glory days.

Merrow: Merrow are integrated into Zakharan society much like merfolk and ogres, plying their trade in coastal towns.

Artist Unknown

Minotaur: The minotaurs’ cultural folklore infers their creation at the hands of a demonic cult, but this is not a shameful tale. Far from it, they use its history as evidence of the Loregiver’s uplifting message. It is said that the first minotaurs were humans and demihumans granted “the strength and ferocity of the bull” by a demon lord in exchange for servitude. They were mighty and terrible warriors, but one of their number recovered a holy book of the Law from one of their raids. Although looking at it for but a brief moment before hiding it in fear, its wisdom was so profound that it planted the seeds of doubt in the wicked minotaur’s soul.

The minotaur broke free of the cult, but knew his brethren were still enslaved. He returned to his fellows in due time and began speaking the Law. There were those who resisted, but many wept tears at realization for what they had become. They made restitution for their past sins by becoming holy warriors and wiping the demon lord’s taint from the land. Now the minotaurs are few in number but true citizens of the Land of Fate, congregating around the capital Huzuz where they are counted among the mamluk legions’ finest soldiers.

Ogrillon/Half-Ogre: Much like humans (and to a lesser extent elves and orcs), the reproductive compatibility of ogres with other humanoids means that their marriages are likelier than others due to the ability to bear viable progeny. The size difference in the resulting conception is the largest hurdle, so traditionally female ogres and male spouses are preferred for easier births on the part of the mother.

Oni: Also known as ogre mages, some ogre children are born blessed with innate magical tendencies. Such events are highly prized by the community who see it as an auspicious omen. Friends and family of the ogre magi's parents will raise money to send the child to a magical university or tutor so that they may perform great deeds for the Caliphate.

Quaggoth: Where quaggoth live in the deep reaches of the Underdark, so too do drow. A race of fierce warriors and shamans, the dark elves put them on the front lines of their many raids and battles.

Sahuagin: The sahuagin kingdoms are on a hostile footing with the Enlightened. The merfolk and locathah bear the brunt of their attacks, although a hidden city lairs somewhere in the Golden Gulf where they make raids on ships passing to Hiyal and Huzuz. The reason for their war footing with the Land of Fate is unknown, but theories abound ranging from wicked undersea cults to more mundane desires of greed-filled raids and pillaging.

Thri-Kreen: This race of nomadic insectoids almost exclusively lives within the Haunted Lands. They have an arm’s length relationship with the Caliphate, as the thri-kreen are not in any hurry to adopt the Law and hew to idol-worship in private when among other races. Most of their interactions with Zakharan society are as mercenary barbarians and desert guides.

Troglodyte: Native to the al-Suqut Mountains of western Zakhara, troglodyte rarely venture into the Land of Fate save in full-body wraps smelling strongly of perfume and incense. They’re well-aware of the offensive properties (figuratively and literally) of their natural odor, which has led them to be known as “the aromatic ones." Those who venture to the nearby Cities of the Pearl work in tanneries, slaughterhouses, and other jobs where foul odors would not be cause for alarm.

In the city of Tajar, a group of troglodytes hire themselves out as literal “stinkers” to foul up establishments of rival merchants and those who can’t or won’t pay their debts. They are widely disliked, but a vital asset to many traders owing them favors for getting a leg up on the competition.

Troll: Along with aarakocra and kenku, trolls are rare to the point that they have no towns and cities of their own in the Land of Fate in any appreciable number. They are most commonly found within major urban centers such as Huzuz, and their massive appetites mean that they most commonly end up working for mamluk units and merchant caravans in need of strong muscle. They prefer the lush terrain of the Ruined Kingdoms and the fertile bays of the Pearl Cities over more desolate civilizations if they can afford to move there.

Yeti: Exclusively located within the Yehimal Mountains, the yetis as a people have made no real level of contact with the Caliphate. They either live in isolated tribes of small family units who hunt and herd mountain goats, or serve as slaves of the yak-men. The yak-men are fond of using their body-swapping powers on yetis, as their climbing claws and cold endurance allow them to patrol the far reaches of their isolated empire.

Yuan-ti: Most yuan-ti in Zakhara hail from the Kara-Turan continent, Mahasarpa specifically. They live in the Grey Jungle of east Zakhara and are little seen save in the city of Kadarasto. A pureblood ambassador by the name of Netocris bint Shalah represents her people’s interests, although she is carefully weighing ties between the Caliphate and the necromancer city of Ysawis. The former is larger and more powerful, but the latter is far closer to yuan-ti lands and boasts a sizable undead labor force. As such, many yuan-ti take a “hear all, assume nothing” approach to the other races of the Lands of Fate, with various tribes hewing to Netocris’ neutrality to varying degrees.

Volo's Guide to Monsters

Aasimar: Descended from celestial beings, aasimar have a complicated role in the Land of Fate. On the one hand, many Zakharans view them as akin to priests or holy men and women and seek their blessings for good fortune. On the other hand, their ancestry places high standards upon them, and many aasimar are encouraged into predestined social roles. They are usually adopted by the church or state to be molded into a model citizen and people’s champion at best, or government pawn at worst.

Dark Stalker courtesy of Pathfinder Artwork

Darklings: Lairing deep beneath the earth and unknowing of the Law, the darklings wage a never-ending war against the ghul and other dangers of the lightless depths. They come to the surface via hidden passages and caves, often stealing into cities to ply their shady services. A small community lives in Hiyal, City of Intrigue, disguised as beggars.

Firbolg: Firbolg are servants of the jinn of Eastern Zakhara, watching over the unspoiled jungles of the Ruined Kingdoms. They were mortal foes of Nog and Kader, opposing their sorcerers’ exploitation of the verdant woodlands. They still maintain their role as sacred guardians, for although those fell kingdoms are no more they are but recent memories to the perspective of the regions’ great trees.

Firenewt: Firenewts thrive in the islands of the Crowded Sea, especially those home to active volcanoes. Many worship the cold elemental gods, specifically the ones associated with fire. Quite a few unscrupulous individuals seek to take advantage of the firenewts' isolated societies and low intelligence for muscle work, from efreeti representatives of the City of Brass to the Brotherhood of the True Flame. As such they can appear in a variety of climates as bodyguards, laborers, and messengers for their masters. But such deals are not foolproof; the firenewts are a proud people, claiming descent from mighty dragons, and do not appreciate when others look down on them as savages. A particularly brave corsair managed to turn a firenewt tribe against a Brotherhood plot by exposing the flame mages’ illusions of their fire god to be trickery, causing the firenewts' former allies to be driven off the island for their blasphemy.

Flind: Flind is merely a term for a gnoll leader rather than being a race unto its own. As a result, the flind monster stat block reflects prized warriors and sheiks among their race but can be of any alignment.

Goliath: Native to the Yehimal Mountains, the Goliath race sits on the crossroads between Zakhara, Faerûn, and Kara-Tur. They have minimal contact with the people of the respective continents. The exception is the Lands of the Yak-Men, with whom they are on a continuous war footing as the horned sorcerers view the goliath tribes as a strong source of slave labor. Most Goliath are Unenlightened and hew to a “survival of the fittest” ethos, but a few converted to the Law when some Zakharan beat them in a competition of bravery and strength.

Grung: Cousins of the bullywugs, the small and weak grungs were forced from the choicest island and rainforest terrain of southern and eastern Zakhara by their larger peers centuries ago. They learned to utilize their races’ natural poison and mobility to defend themselves against invaders of all types. Even the geomancers of Kadar viewed them as more trouble than they’re worth, and although biased against them quite a bit of grung oral history is replete with knowledge of the Ruined Kingdoms’ sorcerous rites.

Grung have minimal contact with the rest of Zakhara, with merchants appearing in Kadarasto in small numbers selling the bounties of the rainforest. They have a caste system similar to Afyal, and for that reason they tend to translate appropriate protocol with Enlightened people based on their professed occupation.

Nilbog: Nilbogism is believed to be the result of a mischievous jinn possessing the host goblinoid. Due to the fact that violence against the possessed host is neither practical nor moral for many communities, affected goblins are either ignored or tricked into being captured to make the possessing jinn grow bored and move on.

Nilbog Alternative Writeup, based on traditional/Tome of Horrors portrayal: These goblins are cursed to live time at a different wavelength than others. The mental strain and temporal confusion generated by them causes nilbogs to become outcasts, so they gather in monasteries of their kind where they seek the favor of the gods for solace. The experience of maladies and wounds “in reverse” caused more than few nilbogs to take up the sword and fight otherwise invincible foes. Goblinoid rawun are quite fond of these “tragic heroes,” teaching that even those afflicted with horrible maladies can go on to perform great deeds.

Sea Spawn: The sea spawn of Zakhara are the fleshwarped slaves of undersea and aquatic creatures, from aboleth and krakens to sea hags and marid. In many cases the transformation is permanent, although like all curses there is a way to break them. It is known that true love’s touch can turn a sea spawn back to their original form, which is why many wicked monsters of the deep keep their most valuable slaves in wicked coral fortresses. If one has feet instead of fins, an entreaty with a merfolk or triton wise of the ocean's many trenches may spirit travelers and star-crossed lovers to the lightless realms, either for a price or for shared righteous justice.

Tabaxi: These feline humanoids perfectly integrated into Zakharan society. Many live in the jungles of the Ruined Kingdoms, and serve as guides for travelers in Dihliz and Kadarasto in ancestral lands they still know very well. Some still privately worship savage gods.

Tlincalli: The “centaurs of scorpions” are a race nearly exclusive to the Al-Badia tribes of the High Desert and Haunted Lands. Bearing the lower half and poisonous stinger of a giant scorpion, the natural strength and chitinous armor of the tlincalli give them a reputation as fierce warriors. Most bandits know better than to tangle with a tlincalli tribe, which puts them in high service for caravan duty. Scorpion folk are a mixture of Enlightened and pagan faiths, with the more isolated tribes more likely belonging to the latter category.

Triton Fortune Hunter, of Magic the Gathering

Triton: One of the major aquatic races besides the merfolk and locathah, triton represent the Law’s will beneath the ocean waves. Their cities are wondrous, colorful citadels of coral, and their cavalry is made up of dolphin and orca-riding mamluks. Poets above and beneath the waves sing of their many heroes, from Sabiha the Krakenslayer to Mehmood the Herald of Storms.

Xvart: History points to the xvarts as being the creation of an insane god, but the ones who accepted Enlightenment turned their prior zealotry into a lust for life. As one of the few races shorter-lived than humans, they are impatient and seek to make something of themselves in the world. It is said that their god still watches over them with jealous eyes through bat and rat spies, so the Enlightened xvart defy him by taming said creatures and learning their speech. Xvarts also bear a warrior culture in spite of their short builds, using tactical retreats and lower centers of gravity to topple taller foes. Several mamluk units have a squad of “giantkiller” xvart infantry when going up against larger enemies and monsters.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Combat Divination for 5th Edition

Blind Warrior by Losev Fyodor

The Southlands Campaign Setting by Kobold Press is full of neat and amazing things, although one of the persistent novelties is the concept of combat divination. In short, they are new Pathfinder spells meant to reflect sixth senses of diviners who foresaw enemy actions and can react in time to them. Divination spells in the core rules are usually not of immediate use in combat, taking time to cast or more for scouting purposes, so the combat divination spells in Southlands get around that by being cast as an immediate action (or reaction interrupting the enemy's turn).

Southlands got a partial conversion to 5th Edition, but my favorite spells were absent. Fortunately they are open content, so I took the time to convert them.

Special Note: Although they may only select spells of the abjuration and evocation schools, it may be thematically appropriate to allow eldritch knights an exception in learning combat divination spells.

Combat Divination Spells by Class


1st—alter arrow's fortune, anticipate weakness, foretell distraction
2nd—anticipate attack, distraction cascade, distracting divination, seer's reaction, soothsayer's shield
3rd—avoid grievous injury, scry ambush, sudden slip, targeting foreknowledge
5th—sidestep arrow
6th—energy foreknowledge


1st—alter arrow’s fortune, anticipate weakness, foretell distraction
2nd—anticipate attack, distraction cascade, distracting divination, insightful maneuvers, seer’s reaction, soothsayer’s shield
3rd—avoid grievous injury, scry ambush, sudden slip, targeting
4th—anticipate arcana
5th—sidestep arrow
6th—energy foreknowledge


1st—alter arrow’s fortune, anticipate weakness
2nd—anticipate attack, distraction cascade, seer’s reaction, soothsayer’s shield, sudden slip
3rd—avoid grievous injury, scry ambush, targeting foreknowledge
5th—sidestep arrow
6th—energy foreknowledge


2nd—insightful maneuvers


1st—alter arrow's fortune, anticipate weakness, foretell distraction
2nd—anticipate attack, distraction cascade, insightful maneuvers, seer's reaction, soothsayer's shield
3rd—scry ambush, targeting foreknowledge
5th—sidestep arrow


1st—alter arrow’s fortune, anticipate weakness, foretell distraction
2nd—anticipate attack, distraction cascade, distracting divination, insightful maneuvers, seer’s reaction, soothsayer’s shield
3rd—avoid grievous injury, scry ambush, sudden slip, targeting foreknowledge
4th—anticipate arcana
5th—sidestep arrow
6th—energy foreknowledge


1st—alter arrow’s fortune, anticipate weakness, foretell distraction
2nd—anticipate attack, distraction cascade, distracting divination, insightful maneuvers, seer’s reaction, soothsayer’s shield
3rd—avoid grievous injury, scry ambush, sudden slip, targeting foreknowledge
4th—anticipate arcana
5th—sidestep arrow
6th—energy foreknowledge

Combat Divination Spells

Alter Arrow's Fortune
1st-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: 120 feet
Components: S
Duration: instantaneous

You clap your hands, foreseeing how a small action on your part can set off a chain of events leading to the protection of an ally. Upon casting this spell you impart disadvantage upon a targeted creature's next ranged attack roll made this round.

Anticipate Attack
2nd-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

In a flash of foreknowledge, you spot an oncoming attack with enough time to avoid it. Upon casting this spell you may move up to 5 feet that does not provoke opportunity attacks. You may make this move even if you used your movement speed for this turn. If this move creates enough distance between you and an attacking foe to be out of its range, it wastes its attack.

Anticipate Arcana
4th-level divination (bard, cleric, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

Your foresight gives you an instant to ready your defenses against a magical attack. When a foe has cast a spell requires a saving throw or ability check to resist, this spell grants you advantage against that specific spell's effect. This advantage dissipates as soon as you make the first roll against the spell.

Anticipate Weakness
1st-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: instantaneous

With a quick gaze into the future, you pinpoint where a gap in your foe’s defense is about to be, and then you strike. Upon casting this spell, you gain advantage on your next single attack this round.

Avoid Grievous Injury
3rd-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: instantaneous

When a foe has successfully struck you but before it deals damage, as the attack gets through your defenses, you receive a foretelling that helps you to dodge just enough to keep the blow from being mortal. Upon casting this spell when you would suffer a critical hit, you impose disadvantage on the target's roll, effectively forcing them to reroll.

Distraction Cascade
2nd-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: instantaneous

Small actions have a ripple effect on reality, and with a flash of foresight you throw a foe off balance. Upon casting this spell, you may target one creature about to be attacked by one of your allies. That creature must succeed at a Wisdom saving throw or have the next attack by one of your allies gain advantage on their attack roll against them.

Distraction Divination
2nd-level divination (bard, cleric, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: instantaneous

Foresight tells you just when and how to be just distracting enough to foil an enemy spellcaster. You can interrupt a foe’s spellcasting attempt, forcing that target to make a Constitution saving throw or fail to cast the spell.

Energy Foreknowledge
6th-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: instantaneous

As your foe’s spell fills your vision, you thank the fates that you had the foresight to prepare the proper countermeasures. You may use this spell after being targeted by an enemy’s spell that has an acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder descriptors, but before the results of the spell’s success or damage are known. When you cast this spell, you gain resistance against the type matching the spell targeting you.

Alternatively, if you already have an ongoing protective spell on you that has an elemental or energy component, you instead may alter that spell so its type is the same as the spell targeting you. You still gain resistance, but the change to the ongoing protective spell only lasts for the foe’s single spell, after which it reverts to the type it had when it was cast. Energy Foreknowledge's effect also only lasts for this single spell.

Foretell Distraction
1st-level divination (bard, cleric, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: instantaneous

Thanks to your foreknowledge, you know just when your foe will take his or her eyes off of you. Upon casting this spell you may gain advantage on any Charisma (Deception) or Dexterity (Stealth) checks to use the hide action. This bonus lasts for the rest of your turn.

Insightful Maneuvers
2nd-level divination (cleric, paladin, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

With a flash of insight, you know just how to maneuver your foe to your advantage. You gain advantage on your next Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) check.

Scry Ambush
3rd-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: instantaneous

You foresee your foe’s attack moments before it begins, giving you time to prepare yourself. You can cast this spell when you are surprised in an ambush as combat is announced but before initiative has been determined. Doing so negates the surprise for you (meaning you can take normal actions on the first turn of combat).

Seer's Reaction
2nd-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

Your foreknowledge allows you to act before others because you knew this was going to happen. This spell can be cast as combat is announced, but before initiative has been determined. You gain advantage on the initiative roll.

Sidestep Arrow
5th-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

With a sudden vision of the immediate future and a few strategic steps, you place a foe in the way of certain danger. You may cast this spell while a foe is targeting you with a ranged attack, including ranged spells, when another foe is within 10 ft. of you.

When you do so, you may move up to your normal speed within the reach of that nearby foe, putting him or her in the way of the ranged attack. Resolve the ranged attack with the nearby foe as the target instead of you.

Soothsayer's Shield
2nd-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

Knowing the next attack is coming before it lands gives you the chance to shift and potentially avoid ever being hit. This spell must be cast when a creature attacks you, but before the outcome of that attack is known. This spell imposes disadvantage on that specific creature's attack roll.

Sudden Slip
2nd-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 bonus action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

You set a series of small events in motion that cause the targeted creature to make a Wisdom saving throw or drop one held, nonmagical item. If the target is holding more than one
nonmagical item and fails a Wisdom saving throw, the item dropped is random. This spell does not affect held magical items.

Targeting Foreknowledge
3rd-level divination (bard, cleric, druid, ranger, sorcerer, wizard)
Casting Time: 1 reaction
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

Sometimes, it only takes a small shift to make an attack that much more deadly. This spell must be cast when you have already made a successful attack, but before the damage of that attack is known. The spell adds an additional 2d6 damage to your attack of a damage type identical to your attack.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Spheres of Power & Might: Converting Geralt of Rivia

In hearing that the Witcher franchise was going to get a tabletop release in early August, I was inspired to emulate its hero using the Spheres of Power system. Although the Witcher has had an influence on Pathfinder's notable Alchemist class, said archetype didn't really do justice to the White Wolf. But seeing as how Spheres of Might has a dedicated Alchemy sphere which can combine with just about every practitioner class, I couldn't think of a better sourcebook to use for conversion!

Important Note: this stat block is based off of Geralt during the events of the Witcher 3. Most of his talents reflect a broad range of potential abilities from his skill trees rather than a "specialized" build.

Classes: Given the scope of his talents, Geralt is going to be a Conscript to take advantage of the bonus feats and talents. 8 levels is enough to cover the bases minus a few feats for Extra Combat Talent. For his magical powers Geralt will have 5 levels in Incanter, with no specializations so as to keep enough bonus feats for Extra Magical Talent.

Fighting Style: Geralt is first and foremost a swordsman. He carries a pair of swords, one steel and the other silver depending on whether he is fighting men or monsters. He typically fights one-handed to make use of signs, throwing bombs, or using a crossbow to shoot at flying enemies. Additionally, Geralt makes liberal use of alchemical gear to enhance his personal abilities. Like many witchers he is very tool-based, able to quickly draw a wide variety of equipment for the job at hand.

For Martial Tradition, Geralt is a Dedicated Duelist. This Equipment talent makes him proficient with all manner of swords, and most witcher fighting styles are renowned for their speed and grace. For the variable choices we'll have Geralt gain the Duelist Sphere and Gauntlet Shield. Geralt of Rivia typically wears armor, so the Unarmored Training option choice would go to waste.

For Spheres and Talents, Geralt is very much a warrior who is at his best when he gathers information about the opposition ahead of time. He will specialize in the Alchemy and Dueling Spheres mostly, with some token talents in Scout, Equipment, Berserker, and Fencing.

For Alchemy, we'll first focus on Geralt's Bombs. Cluster Toss represents his ability to rapidly throw several at once, while Improved Alchemist Fire corresponds to Dancing Star. Grapeshot is analogous to Improved Fuse Grenade, while Samum bombs are closest to Improved Flash Powder. Unfortunately there are no talents to replicate Devil's Puffballs poison gas, the Dimeritium Bomb's antimagic effects, Moon Dust's anti-transformation capabilities, or Dragon's Dream fire-based triggered explosive.

Regarding personal use potions and decoctions, Salve covers the iconic swallow and various other vitality regenerating potions. But the sheer scope of potions in the Witcher games are so diverse that they cannot be covered in full in Spheres of Might. Performance Enhancer is a broad-range buff which can cover a lot of decoctions.

For poisons, Painful Venom represents Geralt's ability to do additional damage with certain oils, while Specialized Venom allows him to poison creature types normally immune to the condition (constructs, elementals, plants, and undead cover the majority of such beings in the Witcher universe).

Geralt's Berserker sphere with Shieldbreaker represents the Rend ability of his Strong Attack where he can ignore an enemy's defenses, while the Duelist's Hurricane Strike and Open Vein reflect the Crippling Strikes and Whirl abilities of his Fast Attacks. For the Equipment sphere, Thrower's Reflexes reflects the famed witcher ability to parry an arrow even at close range. Fencing's Parry and Riposte talent reflects Geralt's ability to counter-attack, while Ankle Strike is taken so that Geralt can take Aerial Trip without the 2 sub-par feat prerequisites. Finally, the Scout sphere's Target Weakness is tailor-made for Geralt's monster-hunting capabilities, while Track the Scene reflects his ability to follow tracks and recollect info at the scene of a crime.

Total Combat Talents: 4 from the Dedicated Duelist Martial Tradition (Duelist Training, Finesse Fighting, Gauntlet Shield for Equipment, Duelist base sphere), 12 combat talents from the Conscript class, 8 from the Extra Combat talent feat (5 of which are bonus feats gained from levels in Conscript).

Magic Style: Geralt of Rivia, and by extent all witchers, specialize in signs. Signs are simple magical effects which are quickly employed via a hand gesture. They are minor spells in the world of the books and video games, meant to be an auxiliary tactic than one most witchers primarily rely upon in their profession.

For Magical Tradition, Geralt's signs are obvious, even the mind-affecting Axii, so Magical Signs is appropriate. Furthermore, the requirement of gestures points to 1 level of Somatic Casting. Regarding Sphere-specific Drawbacks, the offensive Aard and Igni are rather short-range and do not manifest as single-target rays, so Destructive Touch and Shape Focus reducing them to short-range cones or lines is ideal. The Sculpt Blast talent makes it so that the cone and line area of effects originate from Geralt in keeping with this, which will be our bonus talent from Shape Focus. For Protection, Circle of Symbols goes well with the Yrden sign, so we can use that bonus talent to snag ourselves the ever-appropriate Glyph.

We'll call this magical tradition Witcher Signs, and its casting ability modifier will be Intelligence. For the two general drawbacks, Geralt will gain 1 bonus spell point plus 1 per 3 levels in casting classes.

For Spheres and Talents, The Aard and Igni signs fall into the Destruction Sphere. Force Blast for Aard and Fire Blast for Igni respectively. Sculpt Blast allows Geralt to shape his blasts into cones or lines, being able to effect multiple opponents.

The Axii sign is quite clearly Mind, and since it can effect monsters and multiple people at once in battle the Expanded Charm and Group Charm abilities are most appropriate. Confusion represents Axii's ability to turn allies against each other, while Enthrall represents its ability to get people to agree with Geralt's line of thinking.

The Quen sign is a bit special. As outright damage immunity to all sources is overpowered in Pathfinder, the Obstruction Aegis is the closest equivalent. Painful Aegis represents an advanced feature where an enemy striking Geralt suffers damage in return.

Finally, the Yrden sign is first and foremost a trap. As it must be laid down on the ground to trigger, it uses the effects of several spheres. First, Gylph from Protection gives it its AoE and trigger conditions. The base damage of the Destruction sphere grants it its damage, while the base slow feature of the Time sphere represents Yrden's ability to halve monster movements. Improved Slow and Time Freeze make the sign's effects more debilitating.

Total Magic Talents: 10 from levels in Incanter class, 3 bonus ones from Sphere-specific drawbacks, 3 from Extra Magical Talent feat (3 of which are bonus feats from Incanter class)

Geralt of Rivia
Male Witcher* Conscript 8/Incanter 5
N Medium Humanoid (Augmented Human)
Init +2; Senses Perception +16, Darkvision 60 feet
AC 23, touch 15, flat-footed 19 [+7 armor, +2 dexterity, +3 deflection, +1 shield]
hp 118
Fort +13 (+16 vs poison) Ref +12 Will +9 (+10/+9/+6 without Raven's Armor)
Immunities disease
Speed 30 ft.
Melee Aerondight +17 (1d8+6 plus 1d6 fire plus 3 bleed, 1d10 extra fire on critical, 19-20/x2)
One-handed Power Attack Aerondight +14 (1d8+12 plus 1d6 fire plus 3 bleed, 1d10 extra fire on critical, 19-20/x2)
Ard'aenye +17 (1d8+7 plus 3 bleed, 17-20/x2)
One-handed Power Attack Ard'aenye +14 (1d8+13 plus 3 bleed, 17-20/x2)
Ranged Masterwork Light Crossbow +13 (1d8 plus 3 bleed, 19-20/x2)
Ranged Aard/Igni Sign (Force/Fire Blast) 60 foot cone or 30 foot line, Reflex DC 16 (7d6 force/fire damage plus prone or on fire respectively if save fails)
Ranged Dancing Star (Improved Alchemist Fire) +12 ranged touch (20 foot increment, 7d6 fire, half amount for enemies 5 feet away, 7 10 feet away, catch on fire within 5 feet)
Ranged Samum (Improved Flash Powder) +12 ranged touch (20 foot increment, targets within 10 foot radius blind for 1 round on a failed save)
Ranged Grapeshot (Improved Fuse Grenade) +12 ranged touch (within 60 feet, explodes in 1d3 rounds for 6d6 bludgeoning and 6d6 fire in 20 foot radius)
Ranged Cluster Toss for Dancing Star/Samum/Grapeshot +10/+8 for throwing two or three additional bombs of any kind as part of same action (enemies get +2/+4 on relevant saving throws)
Two-handed: Geralt of Rivia's damage with Aerondight is 1d8+8, 1d8+9 with Ard'aenye. If Geralt chooses to use the Power Attack feat, he can add +9 damage.
Brutal Strike: By expending his martial focus, Geralt may deal an additional 20 points of damage when using his Brutal Strike berserker ability
Fatal Thrust 3d6 bonus precision damage vs an opponent which is flat-footed, lost its Dex bonus to AC, or is being flanked by Geralt
Open Vein: By expending his martial focus as an immediate action, Geralt may deal 3d4 bonus bleed damage to an enemy
Performance Enhancer: Geralt gains +2 to hit and to damage if he has +4 to Strength. If he is two-handing Aerondight or Ard'aenye, he deals 1d8+11 or 1d8+12 damage respectively. Power Attack adds +9 damage as usual.
Caster Level +5; MSB 5; MSD 16; Concentration +11
Tradition Witcher Signs; CAM INT DC 16
Spell Points 10
Spheres Destruction (Fire Blast, Force Blast, Sculpt Blast), Mind (Confusion, Enthrall, Expanded Charm, Group Charm), Protection (Glyph, Obstruction, Painful Aegis), Time (Improved Slow, Time Freeze)
Drawbacks Circle of Symbols (Sphere Specific), Destructive Touch (Sphere Specific), Magical Signs, Shape Focus (Sphere Specific), Somatic Casting (1)
Martial Tradition Dedicated Duelist; PAM INT, DC 18
Talents Alchemy (Cluster Toss, Improved Alchemist Fire, Improved Flash Powder, Improved Fuse Grenade, Painful Venom, Performance Enhancer, Salve, Specialized Venom [Construct, Elemental, Plant, Undead]), Berserker (Shieldbreaker), Duelist (Hurricane Strike, Open Vein), Equipment (Gauntlet Shield, Finesse Fighting, Thrower's Reflexes), Fencing (Ankle Strike, Parry and Riposte) Scout (Target Weakness, Track the Scene)
Str 18, Dex 15, Con 16, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 10
Base Atk +10; CMB +14; CMD 26
Feats Aerial Trip, Extra Combat Talent x8 (B), Extra Magical Talent x3 (B), Muscular Reflexes, Power Attack, Quick Draw
Skills (94 points): Acrobatics** 13 (+18), Climb 5 (+12), Craft (Alchemy) 13*** (+19/+21 to craft), Bluff 13*** (+16), Handle Animal 7 (+10), Intimidate** 10 (+16), Knowledge (Arcana, History, Local, Nature) 2 (+8), Perception 13 (+16), Sense Motive** 13 (+16), Spellcraft 7 (+13), Stealth 13*** (+18), Survival 13 (+16, +22 to follow tracks), Swim 5 (+12)
**Bonus class skill for Conscript
***Bonus skill points gained from Spheres
Traits Alchemical Adept, Charming
Languages Common, Dwarven, Elven, Gnome, Sylvan
SQ darkvision 60 feet, dulled emotions
Gear 1,750 GP; Aerondight (+3 flaming burst silver longsword), Alchemy Crafting Kit, Ard'aenye (+3 keen longsword), gauntlet, masterwork light crossbow, Raven's Armor (acts as cloak of resistance +3 and +4 poison-resistant stanching studded leather), Roach (heavy horse), Witcher's Medallion (acts as Ring of Protection +3 and Lantern of Auras)
Favored Class Conscript +7 HP

Special Attacks/Abilities

Gwnbleidd, the White Wolf, the Butcher of Blaviken...Geralt goes by many names, but all tales agree on his peerless fighting ability!

This is but a sampling of the many things Geralt of Rivia can do in the Spheres of Power/Might System.

With his feats, Geralt can...

1.) make a trip attack against a flying creature; if successful, the creature gains the entangled condition and begins to fall at a rate of 100 feet per round until it regains balance on a Fly check or hits the ground. In keeping with the Witcher 3, allow Geralt to do this with a crossbow or ranged weapon.

2.) Make up to 5 attacks of opportunity per round, or 7 if under the effects of his Performative Enhancer talent.

3.) Do bonus damage with Power Attack.

With his Spheres of Might Talents, Geralt can...

1.) apply poison to his weapon as a move action, which fatigues the target for 1 minute and deals 6 bonus points of damage on a failed Fortitude save. Geralt's poisons can affect enemies of the construct, elemental, plant, and undead types.

2.) Do damage with an explosive bomb (Improved Alchemist Fire/Improved Fuse Grenade), or blind enemies instead (Improved Flash Powder)

3.) Increase his choice of Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution by +4 with a -2 to a corresponding ability score (STR/DEX/CON to INT/WIS/CHA) for 1 minute.

4.) Create a poultice which can heal 6d8+3 damage, and any single target may only gain the benefits up to 9 times per day.

5.) Make an additional attack against all enemies within reach as an immediate action at a -2 penalty if he dealt bleed damage to a creature and drew his weapon in the same round; Geralt rolls once and compares the results to each individual enemy AC, and does half the damage he dealt against the original target.

6.) Deal 3 points of bleed damage whenever he successfully attacks or disarms a creature, and never provokes attacks of opportunity when attempting combat maneuvers against creatures taking bleed damage.

7.) Deal 3d6 points of bonus precision damage against a target within 30 feet that is flat-footed, that has lost its Dexterity bonus to AC, or Geralt is flanking. Geralt may then attempt a trip combat maneuver as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity.

8.) May perform a brutal strike as a special attack action, imposing the battered condition on a target until the end of Geralt's next turn. If Geralt applies brutal strike against a piece of armor, shield or manufactured weapon, he ignores 10 points of the item's hardness, and any excess damage dealt is transferred to the wielder if the item is destroyed. Geralt rolls the combat maneuver check twice and takes the better result if the target wielder is battered.

9.) As a free action, take a -2 penalty to Armor Class in exchange for 13 temporary hit points until the start of Geralt's next turn.

By expanding martial focus, Geralt can...

Use his Cluster Toss talent to use up to three alchemical items that can normally be used as a standard action as part of the same standard action.

Use his Open Vein talent as an immediate action to deal +3d4 bleed damage.

Use his Thrower's Reflexes to catch a ranged weapon which would normally hit him, provided he is aware of the attack and has at least one hand free (reflavor as parrying away with a sword strike).

Use his Parry and Riposte talent to use an attack of opportunity against a creature which made a melee attack against him, -2 for each size category larger the attacking creature is. If Geralt gets a higher result than the enemy's attack roll, he dodges the attack and 1.) either regains his martial focus or 2.) makes an immediate single melee attack in response.

Use this Target Weakness talent as a free action.

Add 20 points of damage to his Brutal Strike.

By expending 1 spell point, Geralt can...

Increase the damage dealt with a destructive blast by 5 bonus damage die.

Use his Sculpt Blast talent.

Use the Greater Charm ability of his Axii (Mind) talents, or use Group Charm to affect 2 additional creatures with the same casting.

Use Time Freeze as part of his Yrden (Protection-Glyph) sign to freeze all activity within a 15 foot burst for one round.

Use the Glyph talent of the Protection Sphere; aka setting down a Yrden sign.

Bonus Material

Witcher Race: Witchers are humans who underwent special training and alchemical augmentations to enhance their physical capabilities. In addition to their enhanced strength and stamina, witchers are also known to be immune to infectious diseases, able to see in poor lighting and darkness, and have far longer lifespans than typical humans.

Standard Racial Traits:
Ability Score Racial Traits: Witchers gain +2 to Strength and Constitution, but -2 to Charisma. Witchers are strong, but lose many of their emotional drives after undergoing the Trial of Grasses.
Size: Witchers are Medium creatures.
Base Speed: Witchers have a base speed of 30 feet.
Languages: Witchers begin play speaking the native tongue they grew up with, usually Common.

Defensive Racial Traits:
Immunity: Witchers are immune to all diseases, magical and non-magical.
Dulled Emotions: Witchers gain a +4 racial bonus on saving throws against fear-based effects, and anyone attempting use the Intimidate skill on a Witcher must roll twice and use the worse result.

Senses Racial Traits:
Darkvision: Witchers can see in the dark up to 60 feet.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Lost Runes of the Northlands: Spheres of Midgard

Note: this blog post references material from Drop Dead Studios' Sphere series of products. A compilation of their OGL mechanics can be found here.

Although the Northlands Saga does a fine job of using the Pathfinder rules to emulate an epic adventure, there are times when the mechanics do not always line up. For one, the setting wishes to emulate a low-magic feel even though there are several things in the adventure path that run contrary to this (like the preponderance of +1 weapons and armor wielded by mooks in the later sagas). Some of the new archetypes, as well as the soft ban of certain classes and archetypes in the form of cultural foreignness and mistrust, are underpowered in that they lose more from their original class than what they gain in new features.

I considered adopting the mechanics of Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might to the Northlands Saga as a thought experiment, seeing how close I can emulate the intended themes while allowing for balanced, versatile options.

Classes & Traditions

Spheres of Power: Given the amount of different magical traditions and archetypes present already in Pathfinder and the Spheres system, it would be easier to focus on what is not appropriate and what is suitably iconic for the Northlands Saga.

Generally speaking, magic which the godi and the cunning women can reliably emulate are the only forms of magic trusted to an extent among the Northlanders; the Nûklanders look down on any magic that is not associated with druidism, while the Seagestrelanders are the most open-minded in viewing all magic as connected to the gods. Depending upon how a specific spherecaster's talents manifest and their casting traditions, they may be either wholly accepted at best, merely tolerated, or exiled and banished at worst.

Among the Northlanders, the Hedgewitch, Mageknights, and Shifters are the most common spherecasters. Hedgewitches come from the ranks of the cunning women, using folk charms and herbs to ply their trade. Mageknights are typically shieldmaidens and godi of a more martial bent. Armorists are devout casters, usually worshiping Thor, who draw their arsenal from the halls of Valhalla. Shifters tend to belong to bearsarker and ulfhander cults, calling upon Odin's favor to emulate the great beasts of Midgard.

Eliciters and fey adepts are shunned in most communities, the former for their ability to entrance and manipulate minds, the latter for being associated with the sceadugenga and the unknown beasts of the dark woods. Thaumaturges are power-hungry mages willing to bargain with the vilest and most dangerous of the Ginnvaettir. Soul Weavers come from a variety of traditions: some are pious godi calling upon the souls of the honored dead to join them in righteous battle, while others are necromancers who lair in Andøvan barrows to learn of their secrets.

The arts of the elementalists typically come from Southlander stock, while symbiats are virtually unheard of. Incanters come from all traditions and walks of life. and so cannot be easily put into any all-purpose category.

Advanced Magic is not available by default. Such talents are ever only possessed by the greatest of heroes from myth and legend, or are the purview of the gods and their mightiest minions. In an authentic Northlands game, only the Player Characters and a few major movers and shakers would possess advanced magic.

Spheres of Might: The people of the Northlands are no stranger to war. Even though the lives of most are sedentary much of the year, it is not unusual for a farmer to have a shield and spear at home, and many young men and women go a-viking to engage in raid and plunder. The frontiers of Estenfird crawl with monsters, while the mercenary Jomsvikings never hurt for business as long as the Gats, Hrolfs, and other clans find excuses to continue blood feuds.

Just about every martial practitioner class can be found in respectable numbers in the Northlands save the Scholar and Technician. Armigers are well-rounded warriors who come to rely on a few signature weapons whose titles are often as renowned as their wielder. Blacksmiths are valued members of society for their craftsmanship, and dvergar-forged arms are the stuff of legend. Commanders come from the stock of skalds, hirdmen, and jarls who proved their worth and gained the trust of their comrades. Conscripts come from the ranks of hirthmen, career vikings, and wandering sellswords. Sentinels are hirthmen, huscarls, and shieldmaidens who swore oaths to defend their charges, be it a specific family or even an entire community. Strikers usually come from the ranks of berserker cults who forsook weapons and armor in favor of honing their bodies into literal weapons.

The two remaining classes bear special mention: there are no grand centers of learning in the Northlands, with the Hall of the Hearthstone being the closest equivalent. Scholars are most likely found among the ranks of village herbalists, mundane godi of Odin who rely upon the mysteries of runes to gain power from knowledge, and dvergar alchemists.

The class' flashbangs attack and material impositions may be reflavored as runestones keyed to a certain world-element rather than outright alchemy. Some of the Knacks reflecting advanced technology may either be dwarven marvels or reflavored magic: for example, a lightning rod may be a facsimile of Thor's hammer.

Technicians are a bit harder to reconcile. Their gadgets and inventions are leagues ahead of Dark Ages technology, and are almost invariably Southlanders and dvergar craftsmen. Actual Northlanders among their ranks are likely specialized engineers employed by Jarl Magnus Hrolfsblood in adopting technological innovations from foreign realms.

Regarding Martial Traditions, the ones most appropriate to the cultures of the Northlands include Animal Trainer, Barbarian, Canny Hunter, Decisive Fist, Giant, Militia, Shield Master, Tattooed Warrior (berserkers/reflavored runes), Warden, and Weapon Master.

Northlands Saga: Instead of going over what already exists in a sourcebook, I will discuss how to convert several of the new setting-specific archetypes into the Sphere system.

The Bearsarker as a warrior cultist of Odin would most likely be represented by the similarly-named Berserker Barbarian archetype from Spheres of Might. The Professional Wrestler would be the best starting martial tradition, as it comes with Unarmored Training. Meanwhile, the Gladiator sphere has a surfeit of abilities designed around demoralizing opponents which can be reflavored into a frightening rage. The growing of claws may be represented by taking Basic Magical Training feat for the Alteration sphere. But the Wrestling sphere's unarmed focus, and thus its ability to increase unarmed strike damage, can also represent this. The Dragon's Tattoo feat and the accompanying Zodiac Tattoos can help add enhancement bonuses to one's unarmed strikes and body.

The Ulfhander has a tailor-made Unified Tradition called the Ulfhednar. Right off the bat it grants access to appropriate Alteration sphere talents to emulate the ability to shapeshift into a wolf. The equivalent class features to rage and have a wolf animal company can be gained via the Beastmastery and Berserker spheres. The Ulfhander can work with a variety of classes for emulation, but the Shifter spherecaster is useful for enhancing the Ulfhander's magical talents, while the Berserker Barbarian archetype and Striker practitioner classes are the most straightforward and offensive options.

The Skald is an interesting one: a bard who trades in their spells and inspire competence to instead grant a limited set of combat-related feats to allies as well as alternate weapon proficiencies and bonus feats. Interestingly, the Heavy Armsman martial tradition grants the required prerequisites for everything but swords and shields, while the bonus Equipment sphere talent from said background can cover either of those. Alternatively the Conscript's Gear Training Specialization can help cover all of those bases and then some. For martial spheres Warleader represents the skald's battle-boosting buffs best, particularly the Fortifying Phalanx and Shieldbrothers tactics. In regards to magical spheres the Courage, Inspiration, and Greater Charm talents of the Mind sphere are the closest options

Regarding classes, the most thematically appropriate would be Eliciter spherecaster for its focus on enchantment, while for martial classes the Commander is tailor-made for skalds. The Troubadour from Champions of the Spheres is highly appropriate for a skald who seeks to fully emulate legendary heroes of old.

The Huscarl practically screams for the Guardian sphere, while the Sentinel class is all about being an immovable object. The Adamant Guardian archetype takes it even a step further in the defense of allies. The Assist, Defend Other, and Iron Wall Guardian sphere talents replicate some of the huscarl's bonus feats, while the Cover Ally and Extensive Defense talents of the Shield Sphere focus on the shield specialization.

The Spear Maiden loses their supernatural powers in exchange for mastery of spears. Honestly the archetype does not really grant much to feel like a great option. The Equipment Sphere's Guarded Combatant represents the defensive features, while the Conscript's Weapon Training Specialization for the spear category represent the more offensive aspects. A holy woman of the gods can be more properly emulated by the Armorist, Paragon archetype for the Sentinel, or the Martial Mageknight or Warrior of Holy Light archetypes for the Mageknight.

The Cunning Woman's focus on the healing arts more or less keys them into the Life sphere. The Soul Weaver and Hedgewitch with the green magic traditions are the most appropriate spherecaster classes. Beyond the Life Sphere, the Borrow Luck and Temperance talents of the Fate sphere represent their ability to turn fortune in their favor. The Evil Eye power works just fine with the base Destruction sphere, while the green magic tradition grants the woodland stride feature of the druid. The tradition's grant secrets of immunity to poison and disease align nicely with the Cunning Woman's base 20th level capstone ability.

Sample Stat Blocks

Rounding off our article are conversions of the Beast Cultists of Shibauroth, one of the "mook" enemies of Blood on the Snow, and a stat block for Ulnat Warriors from Vengeance of the Long Serpent. I may do more characters if there's further demand, but the two listed here should give a good feel for what the Spheres can do.

Beast Cultist of Shibauroth CR 3
XP 800
Male or female human Striker 4
CE Medium humanoid (human)
Init +1; Perception +5
AC 17, touch 17, flat-footed 16 (+4 armor, +2 con, +1 dex)
HP 40 (4d10+12)
Fort +6 Ref +5 Will +1
Defensive Abilities freedom of movement, uncanncy dodge; Immune mind-affecting effects
Speed 30 feet
Melee 2 claws +8 (1d6+4, x2)
Caster Level +1; MSB +1; MSD 12; Concentration +1
Tradition Lycanthropic; CAM WIS
Spell Points 2
Talents Alteration (Pounce)
Drawbacks Lycanthropic (Alteration), Wild Magic
Martial Tradition Tattooed Warrior; PAM Con; DC 14
Talents Berserker (Brutal Counter), Brute (Break Defenses, Hammer, Quick Force, Throw), Equipment (Unarmed Training, Unarmored Training)
Str 18 Dex 13 Con 14 Int 7 Wis 10 Cha 7
Base Atk +4; CMB +8; CMD 19
Feats Basic Magical Training (Alteration), Dragon's Tattoos (B), Extra Combat Talent x2, Improved Unarmed Strike (B), Zodiac Tattoos (B)
Skills Craft (tattoos)* 4 (+5), Intimidate 4 (+5), Perception 4 (+7), Survival 4 (+7)
*Bonus skill points from martial tradition
Languages Nørsk
SQ AC Bonus +2, Bare Knuckles (Brute), Drill Knuckle, Striker Art (Enduring Critical), Tension (Desperate Tension, Tension Boost), Uncanny Dodge
Favored Class Striker +4 HP
Gear winter furs, beast cult totem

Special Attacks:

Shapeshift: see the Alteration sphere for further details. The beast cultist typically uses Blank Form to gain darkvision 60 ft. and 2 claw attacks.

Berserking: As a free action at the start of each turn, the beast cultist may choose to take a -2 penalty to AC in exchange for 7 temporary hit points. The penalty and the temporary hit points end at the start of his next turn.

Bloody Counter: As an immediate action, when a creature targets the beast cultist with a melee attack, before the attack roll is made he may allow the attack to automatically hit (although the roll is still made to determine if the attack threatens a critical hit). After the damage is determined, the beast cultist may make a brutal strike targeting that creature as a free action that may be taken even when it isn’t his turn, if it is in range. If the creature attacking the cultist is battered, he may resolve his attack action prior to their attack being resolved.

Break Defenses: Whenever the beast cultist successfully uses a bull rush, drag, overrun, or reposition, combat maneuver against a creature, that creature provokes an attack of opportunity from his allies (but not him).

Brutal Strike: As a special attack action, the beast cultist may make a melee attack against a target. Creatures damaged by a brutal strike gain the battered condition until the end of their next turn. The cultist may expend martial focus to have the attack deal 8 additional damage.

Hammer: As long as the beast cultist has martial focus, whenever he would bull rush, drag, or reposition a creature into a space occupied by a wall, creature, or object no more than one size smaller than the creature, the target of the maneuver stops its movement in the adjacent space and both the creature and the wall, other creature, or object suffer bludgeoning damage. The amount of damage dealt is determined by the size of the creature being bull rushed, dragged, or repositioned, as indicated on the list below: Fine 1d2, Diminutive 1d3, Tiny 1d4, Small 1d6, Medium 1d8, Large 1d10, Huge 2d6, Gargantuan 2d8, Colossal 3d6. This damage is increased by the listed amount again for every 5-ft. square the creature would have traveled beyond the wall, other creature, or object.

Quick Force: the beast cultist may perform a bull rush, drag, or reposition combat maneuver as a move action instead of a standard action. He must still have movement remaining in a round in order to move with his target, such as a 5-foot step. He may expend his martial focus to perform a bull rush, pull, or reposition as a swift action.

Shove: as a move action, the beast cultist may move up to half his speed and make a melee touch attack against a creature. If successful, the target takes 4 bludgeoning damage and gains the battered condition until the end of his next turn.

The beast cultist may perform a shove in place of the attack granted by a charge, although this does not grant the extra movement. When he successfully performs a bull rush, drag, reposition, or overrun combat maneuver (assuming the target decided to block him and did not simply move out of the way), the cultist may apply the effect of one (manhandle) talent he knows to that creature. (Manhandle) talents cannot be applied to maneuvers performed as a free action.

Throw (manhandle): Whenever the beast cultist succeeds on a bull rush, drag, or reposition maneuver, he may expend his martial focus to throw the creature. The creature travels an additional 5 ft. in any direction and must pass a Reflex save or fall prone.

Tension: see the Striker class for additional details.

Unlat Warrior CR 1
XP 400
Male or female Ulnat human Conscript 2
N Medium humanoid (human)
Init +1; Perception +6
AC 15 (+4 armor, +1 dex)
HP 22
Fort +6 Ref +5 Will +1
Speed 30 feet
Melee spear +5 (1d8+2/x3)
Masterwork shortspear +4 (1d6+2, x2) and handaxe +4 (1d6+2, x3)
Ranged javelin +3 (1d6+2, x2) or shortspear +3 (1d6+2, x2) or spear +3 (1d8+2, x3)
Martial Tradition Canny Hunter; PAM Wis; DC 12
Talents Dual Wielding (Balanced Blows), Equipment (Huntsman Training, Throwing Mastery), Scout (Wind Reader), Sniper (Tangling Shot)
Str 15 Dex 13 Con 16 Int 10 Wis 12 Cha 8
Base Atk +2; CMB +4; CMD 15
Feats Extra Combat Talent x4 (B)
Skills Climb 2 (+7), Handle Animal 2 (+4), Perception 2 (+6), Profession (Fisherman) 2 (+6), Stealth* 2 (+6), Survival 2 (+6), Swim 2 (+7)
*bonus skill points from spheres
Languages Ulnat
SQ Combat Specializations (Favored Enemy-Animals +2)
Favored Class Conscript +2 skill points
Gear hide armor, spear, masterwork shortspear, handaxe, 2 javelins

Special Attacks:

Deadly Shot: As a special attack action, an Ulnat warrior may make an attack with a ranged weapon. He may add any one (snipe) talent he knows to this attack.

In addition, he may expend his martial focus to increase the damage dealt by the attack by 1d10, or 1d6 if the attack targets touch AC or is made with a scatter weapon. He must choose whether or not to use this ability before making his attack roll. These extra damage dice are not multiplied on a critical hit, but are added to the total.

Some talents are marked (snipe). These talents add additional effects when the Ulnat warrior performs a deadly shot. He may only apply the effects of one (snipe) talent to each deadly shot.

Scout: as a swift action, an Ulnat warrior may identify a creature’s weaknesses (DC 10 + creature’s CR) as described under the Knowledge skill, but may substitute a Perception check for the appropriate Knowledge check at a -5 penalty. This only reveals the target’s weaknesses, or lack thereof, (such as damage reduction types and vulnerabilities), and does not reveal any additional information about the target. Once he has succeeded at a scout attempt or Knowledge check against a target, any talents or effects that require the Ulnat warrior to scout a target may be used against the target for the next 24 hours; after this period the Ulnat warrior must successfully use the scout ability against the target again to continue benefiting from related effects.

Tangling Shot (snipe): on a successful deadly shot, the Ulnat warrior gives the target the entangled condition. The target may spend a standard action to end this effect.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lost Runes of the Northlands: Dwarves

Depiction of Dwarves from a rendition of Völuspá from the Poetic Edda

Some of my long-time readers know that I ran a Nordic-themed adventure path known as the Northlands Saga from 2016 to 2017. It was one of the best long-running games I ran, and I felt passionately enough to give it an in-depth review on several message boards. Although it's been many months since I sailed the frozen shores on dragon-headed ships, the footprints I left behind in fond memories and gaming notes endure. The Lost Runes of the Northlands are a new series of articles intended to expand on the official adventure path, with new material, GMing tips, and revisions where I deem them necessary.

Dwarves as they are in the Adventure Path

Dwarves are one of the iconic races of Norse mythology, but in the Northlands Saga Adventure Path they have a minimal presence at best. They exist in small enclaves in the largest cities of Halfstead and Trotheim, and there are rumored locations of underground kingdoms within the Waldron Mountains and Mount Helgastervän. They helped create four major wonders of the world: the Mead of Poetry, the Forge of Bvalin, the magic ship Skíðblaðnir, and the foundations of the extra-dimensional gateway leading to the Ettielweiss Vale. One of the random encounters with dwarves infer some elements of their culture: they are known as the Dvergar among themselves and the Northlanders, and they are more accepting of magic in their society. In fact, the only named dwarven NPC of major note who appears in the Adventure Path is the ghostly smith Bvalin, who informs the PCs of how to defeat one of the setting's major villains.

Northlands dwarves are very much intended to be a "race of MacGuffins," rarely seen or interacted with save of great import, and whose legacies are found in wondrous creations from earlier eras or to complete some great task. While this is in keeping with the setting's low-fantasy feel, it seems jarring especially when you see that elves, troll and giant-blooded races are viable PC options. And espcially so given the fact that although small in number, their known enclaves are closer to the main Northlands than the elven Nûkland.

Lost Runes Dwarves

History: The Dvergar are creations from the primordial blood of Ymir, the giant whose corpse was fashioned into the world of Midgard. They view their very existence as a blessing, the world around them and its wonders testament to this. Four of their number, named Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri held up Ymir's skull to form the heavens. They are hailed as vigilant heroes among Dvergar, and the four winds said to be their respective breaths.

Their first years were a golden era of peace and prosperity, but this would not last. The Jötnar saw the Dvergar's marvelous creations as the desecration of their progenitor Ymir, and thus began a brutal, bloody war. The great jarl Sindri experienced a vision from the gods to seek out the "chamber of birthed blood" where his people would find both solace and supplies to defend themselves. Sindri interpreted this to mean that the Dvergar must head into the mountains and deep reaches of the earth formed from Ymir's bones, far beneath Yggdrasil's roots where most of their race still live today.

Blessed with ample minerals and endless stone to fashion into great works, Sindri knew his visions to be true, and his bloodline would go on to rule all of dwarvenkind. Although separated from Midgard, the Dvergar still pined for their former homeland and sympathized with the humans and other races warring against the Jötnar. Some of their best smiths and scholars would gift their creations to the gods and mortal heroes.

Lifestyle: The Dvergar live much like feudal subjects in Midgard, albeit in a wholly alien underground environment. Most settlements exist on clumps of earth suspended in Yggdrasil's roots, where fungal matter, stone, and minerals are used to fashion everyday objects. Giant beetles are commonly used as beasts of burden and cattle, while oozes are used for mining and disposing of waste. Dvergar living closer to large bodies of water often grow and raise cave fish, and bats are used much like humans use domesticated birds. Phosphorescent fungi is used as a light source, but only for long-range beacons as Dvergar can see in the dark to a limited range.

The godi of Odin are tasked with passing wisdom to the next generation, and as such Dvergar have a form of public schooling for the purposes of learning to read and write. It is more akin to a godi teaching children within a village or neighborhood than the in-depth multi-tutor structure of our modern world, and most Dvergar learn a proper family trade from their parents.

The marvels of magic and science result in many labor-saving devices; although many Dvergar are limited to the resources at hand on their root-island, it is not uncommon to see steam-powered elevators, dormant golems watching over palace grounds, and for guards to be armed with adamantine-studded crossbow bolts and full plate armor.

Government: The entire Dvergar race is nominally ruled over by the King of Dwarves, an hereditary position whose members trace their lineage to their founder Sindri. Jarls rise from local populations but must pledge loyalty oaths to the King, who in turn uses their taxes to fund large projects and move resources to where it is deemed they are most needed. Dvergar communities beyond Nidavellir, particularly in Midgard, often have a "representative." This is a ceremonial title at best due to an inability to practically enforce a chain of command. Dvergar communities in the Northlands, particularly Halfstead and Trotheim, often obey the laws of the land and make themselves useful to human communities, but in their hearts they know that their true home and lord lies beneath Midgard.

Religion: Dvergar honor the Æsir and Vanir pantheons equally, even giving begrudging worship to Loki for his association with the fire most vital to the art of the forge. Odin is the most popular of the gods, for the Dvergar praise his name whenever they seek the answer to a perplexing mystery or a jarl needs guidance for proper rulership. The finest craftsmen etch his name into magical items and the foundations of marvelous halls. More than a few halls were torn down in times of war, only to be left alone promptly when a vicious bandit or great warrior found praises to the All-Father in Runic among the ruins.

The Ginnvaettir are cursed whenever their names are uttered, followed by furrowed brows and spitting in disgust. The Dvergar hold a special hatred for Thrymr, as he is the only deity among the giants with dwarven worshipers. The frost dwarves are never mentioned save as traitors to their people, forever banished from all the halls of Nidavellir.

Dvergar Characters: Unlike the Northlanders and Nûklanders, Dvergar fully embrace all forms of magic save the ones associated with forbidden gods. They hold magic as the province of Odin, one of his many holy creations since Ymir's fall. They do not make distinctions between arcane and divine magic, viewing all spells as somehow connected to the gods. Bards and skalds call upon Bragi's hymns whether they know it or not, the magical language of wizards hews from the original runes Odin discovered, druids make pacts with minor Vanir of the land, and sorcerers are viewed as the descendants of mortal-deity couplings.

Barbarians exist as religious societies of Odin, but instead of wearing bearskin or wolfskin cloaks they fashion their relics from the hides of giant beetles and aberrations of the deep. Fighters and rangers are always in demand for their ability to defend their people from monstrous horrors, while rogues are typically blacksmiths and mechanics who apply their talents to sabotaging enemy defenses.

Furthermore, Dvergar exist at a higher technological level than the rest of the Northlands. Their status as the best craftsmen in Midgard can open up all kinds of exotic classes, albeit most likely framed in the appropriate mythological context. A dwarven gunslinger PC is a legendary warrior who can "harness the breath of a dragon in a staff which roars with Thor's voice," while an alchemist is a seer of the Mysteries of Ymir, finding the fallen giants' magic in the crude physical matter which surrounds us. Beyond the official Pathfinder sourcebooks, the Path of Iron and Spheres of Might products have some new classes and options themed around advanced fantasy technology.

Banned Classes: Dvergar do not tolerate antipaladins or the worshipers of the Ginnvaettir, and such people are punished by death for treason if discovered. Classes and archetypes which forswear the gods and/or magic as a whole are rare to the point of legend, and such beings often become exiles and outcasts. Vigilantes are unheard of, as maintaining a dual life is often taxing in tight-knit family structures, while a swashbuckler's fighting style is not optimal for Dvergar physiology. Ninja and samurai hail from foreign human cultures far away from Nidavellir and the Northlands, and psionic classes are thematically inappropriate to the Northlands in general.

Dvergar Racial Traits: Dvergar are less anti-magic than dwarves in other lands, so the following alternate racial traits are appropriate for a Northlands Saga game using the Pathfinder rules:

Fey Magic (2 RP): The character has a mystic connection to one terrain type, selected from the ranger’s favored terrain list. The character selects three 0-level druid spells and one 1st-level druid spell. If the character has a Charisma score of 11 or higher, when in the selected terrain, she gains these spells as spell-like abilities that can be cast once per day. The caster level for these effects is equal to the user’s character level. The DC for the spell-like abilities is equal to 10 + the spell’s level + the user’s Charisma modifier. These spells are treated as being from a fey source for the purposes of the druid’s resist nature’s lure class feature and similar abilities. This trait replaces greed and stonecunning. Source: Pathfinder Player's Companion: Heroes of the Wild

Spiritual Support: Dwarves greatly value loyalty in faith, and their gods readily reward them for it. They gain a +1 racial bonus to their caster levels when casting conjuration (healing) spells upon allies. This racial trait replaces greed and hardy.

Stonesinger: Some dwarves’ affinity for the earth grants them greater powers. Dwarves with this racial trait are treated as one level higher when casting spells with the earth descriptor or using granted powers of the Earth domain, the bloodline powers of the deep earth bloodline or earth elemental bloodline, and revelations of the oracle’s stone mystery. This ability does not give them early access to level-based powers; it only affects the powers they could use without this ability. This racial trait replaces stonecunning.

Inspirational Sources: