Thursday, March 19, 2015

Al-Qadim: Elemental Provinces

Just a little proof of concept for adapting elemental provinces to a 5e Al-Qadim game. The Elemental Evil spells combined with Book of Lost Spells has added a good number of options to the game. Enough, I think, where one could easily start playing at low levels.

I obviously pillaged spells from all over the Player's Handbook. There's a few levels in which a given province doesn't have a spell, which is a slight problem. These could be filled in, however. There's also possibly a controversial assignment or two (Mage armor and sleep being only available in the Sand province). I also don't like ice magic as sea spells, but I left a couple in from the PHB as they flesh the sea province out a bit more. I'm tempted to consider lightening as flame spells, but that gives a whole lot to the Brotherhood of True Flame. If you give those all to wind though, you end up with wind sorcerers using primarily lightening spells to attack instead of the thematic windy spells...

I'm keen on exploring a few broader or thematic application of the elemental provinces as well. For example, Air is the element associated with thought, so detect thoughts and telepathy could fill out that list, as well as invisibility which seems to fit the wind province more than others. Water might get intuitive and emotional spells. Sand could get some other defensive spells along with things like hold person as earth is the element of rigid stability. Flame might get aggressive, inspiring, and charming spells. That sort of thing. Some provinces might share spells, such as the hold spells being shared by sand and wind, or charm being shared by flame and water.

Spells marked with a * are Elemental Evil and I'd say commonly available. Spells marked † are Book of Lost Spells and the DM might provide those as treasure rather than just including all of them on a big list (other than the cantrips, I'd make those freely available to choose). I'm mostly going off of spell names for Book of Lost Spells entries. There's probably a few I missed and a couple that'd be best left off these lists. Also I wasn't sure what to do with a few spells which might be of two provinces (e.g. Air Forge† as wind and flame or Steam Bolt† as sea and flame, etc.), so I just made an arbitrary decision. I could see them as only being available to "sorcereres" who specialize in two provinces, or just dual-listing some as I've done below.

In terms of classes, I imagine giving each "arcane" class (Sorcerer, Warlock, Wizard) access to one province. Wizards might have a tradition that gives them access to a second province. Arcane Tricksters and Eldritch Knights choose spells from one province instead of their usual school restrictions (this might lead to lots of sand eldritch knights and sea/wind arcane tricksters). This basically means a new spell list for most every class, as I'd try to remove most of the elemental spells from everyone (even Clerics/Paladins/Rangers maybe).

Lists after the break:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A failure of 5e: Cleric and Druid spell lists

I was (perhaps foolishly) reading some forum posts about the new Elemental Evil materials for D&D. Besides the usual gripes which amount to wanting more material, I've been thinking about how the new spells affect clerics (not at all) and druids (uncertain).

See, what they did was provide about 40 new mostly-elemental spells. They provided lists saying which spells can be taken by which classes, and one of those is the druid (cleric and paladin were left out). But there's an interesting caveat:

"Your DM might add only a few of these spells to your druid’s spell list. For example, if your druid is from a coastal region, the druid might have access only to the new water-themed spells." (Elemental Evil, p12).

Now, what has historically happened is every new spell in the game is available to the proper class. But everyone other than Clerics and Druids has a mechanic for how they "know" that spell. Wizards have to get a copy in their book (now you get a couple free when you gain a level, otherwise you have to seek it out) and other classes simply gain a new spell at each level (or thereabouts). Clerics and druids know every spell on their list, so when their list is expanded the classes just get that much more versatile.

This, I think, is a problem. But is there a solution?

Obviously for Elemental Evil they say: its the DM's choice if your druid can use all or only some of these. A reasonable thing to do at this point. As a DM, I think I'd simply ask the player to suggest which of those spells she would want access to and remove a few from the druid list that seemed less appropriate (i.e. a coastal druid might gain more water spells and lose fire ones).

But this is ultimately a little unsatisfying big-picture-wise. What you want is a good mechanism to allow all clerics/druids to have a universal set of core spells, and then provide additional ones based on their domain/circle/what-have-you. They did this, to an extent, with the bonus domain/circle spells. So its easy to instead customise those bonus spells instead of the list as a whole. But then we've still kinda got two different lists of bonus spells.

I'm not sure what the solution is here. With at most 40 or so spells, a little customization isn't bad. If they add another 20-40 spells in 6 months though... and another 50-100 spells a year after that... the problem balloons into an outrageous bloated system.

It sounds like the Cleric/Druid need a slight redesign that they don't want to do. A cleric might "know" a number of spells at each level equal to his wisdom score, or perhaps 10 + wisdom modifier. You pick them from the Cleric list and you or the DM can select a few which are thematic but don't fit the general Cleric list. Fairly elegant, but shitty for new players (i.e. time-consuming and difficult).

My beloved 2nd edition wasn't necessarily better in this respect. Cleric spells were divided into spheres of influence, but still the more spells published the bigger your list got, though it was at least thematically coherent still (by and large).

A different, but not quite as elegant solution, would be to similarly divide the spells up into paths of power, a la the old Dragon Magazine article (#216). That divided up wizard spells into a number of paths, and wizards could only pursue a few thematic paths until they mastered them. I think, in theory, it meant high-level wizards were still crazy-potent, but it forced wizards to be thematic in their spells. I can see this being useful for both clerics/druids and sorcerers in particular, who ought to have maybe one or two thematic spells at each level but you don't want people to be making constant choices (i.e. choose once to get the Flame path and you've got a set spells with one flame spell at each level, rather than choosing from a large group of spells at each level to add or wholly customizing your spell list).

The problem with this "paths" approach is it doesn't jive with the current domains/circles, because both are mechanics to add new spells to the spell list. The classes still need a rewrite to prevent bloat in the long term.

Wizards are a bit of a concern as well, but the DM can (and should) limit which spells are available to some extent. So you don't have to let all the extra spells in as scrolls or through NPC spellbooks found as treasure. Sorcerers and Bards and Warlocks pick from the list, so even a bloated list isn't really increasing their power/utility unless bad spells are created for the game. But clerics and druids... I wonder if they'll actually do anything about this.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Al-Qadim 5th Edition Patch: Races

I thought I was taking over running a game here, but it turns out I was out of town and two opportunistic DMs who are already running games have decided to run additional games on alternating Thursdays. So... Al-Qadim prep wasted. Oh well. I figure I'll maybe post some of my thoughts at least. Also, since getting Necromancer's Book of Lost Spells and the release of the Elemental Evil Players' Companion, Al-Qadim seems much more viable in terms of the spells.

So I talked before about modifying skills, kits as backgrounds, and the hakima and sha'ir. Here's races. I'm still going through the spell stuff, but I think the 2nd edition approach will work with few problems: assign spells to provinces, spellcasters get 1-2 provinces. This does mean some classes will lose access to a few spells, but we'll see.

Basically everything should work just fine. Al-Qadim was always more human-centric, but racial differences didn't matter in the setting. All the basic races seem to work just fine. I like the interpretation of Genasi as half-genies or genie-blooded. I might consider Goliaths to be Ogres though, since I like the idea of racial tolerance leading to ogres or goblins being integrated in society. It's not in the main Al-Qadim book, but suggested in City of Delights.

Common Races

  • Human
  • Dwarf
  • Elf
  • Halfling
  • Ogre (Goliath, EE)

Uncommon Races

  • Aarakocra (EE)
  • Genasi (EE)

  • Gnome
  • Half-Demon (Tiefling)
  • Half-Elf
  • Half-Orc

Rare Races

  • Half-Dragon (Dragonborn)
  • Half-Angel (Aasimar, DMG)

If I had the gumption, I might also create a goblin race or steal a homebrew version from somewhere. Just because I like the idea that Ogres and Goblins mix with the other races equally in the setting. I've reflavored Tieflings and Dragonborn and Aasimar as mixed races, but  that's maybe something to collaborate with the players on since it could have zero impact on the setting or a whole bunch of impact. Easier to play with one character of fiendish heritage (Tiefling) though than be forced to integrate a whole community of them. Then again, the Tiefling story in the Players' Handbook might fit will with Al-Qadim, though they'd almost certainly list them as related to the Ruined Kingdoms of Nog and Kadar which I have other plans for.