Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Yearning for the 13th Age: or, get to the gorram point.

A week ago I played with a new group in what was supposed to be a beginner game (5th edition). It was ok, but left me yearning for the DM to use a few techniques I've learned from 13th Age to get things moving faster.

First, he wanted us to describe our characters, but after one of the experienced players balked, he abandoned that plan just as I was working up to it. Kinda hard when you've got a pre-gen.

But the big thing was we never actually got to an adventure. I think we had one or two combats, one of them seemed to be a random encounter overnight. So we actually accomplished nothing and had no story at all. Now, I'm fine with no story if we're accomplishing stuff (i.e. sandbox exploration). But... really. Come on. Give us a dungeon to explore, NPCs to interact with, or an otherwise meaningful combat. Something quick to wear us down works great for a longer story arc, not a one-shot.

It wouldn't have been difficult to just have that star-wipe and skip past the journey portion of the quest. Or we could have done a montage (13th age style, I should really look to see if they stole that from Fate or Savage Worlds or something) to get past it. Even a 4th edition style skill challenge (trek through the wilderness, everyone has to contribute) might have worked.

Instead we spend our while time in what appeared to be two pointless combats for what should have been a one-shot. The guy really wants to do an ongoing campaign, so I wouldn't be surprised if he tries to have us continue in a couple weeks. But maybe I'll have to herd the cats and see if I can't run something on Sundays too.

Al-Qadim 5th Edition Patch: Ghul Lord (First Draft)

Reading over the recent Unearthed Arcana article on modifying classes, it inspired me to finish up a first draft of some of the Al-Qadim patch material I've been thinking about. The 2nd Edition Ghul Lord was from the Complete Sha'ir's Handbook, and has stuck with me as a pretty unique spellcaster from 2nd Edition. From multiple readings, its still not clear to me how this kit was intended to work (I think you get necromancy spells plus manipulations..?), but I like the idea of being innately tied to necromantic energy and manipulating it in a way different from mages who study their spells carefully. That's pretty sorcerer to me, so here's the first draft of the build:

Ghul Lord (Sorcerous Origin)

Death Master
At first level you add all necromancy spells to the sorcerer list (but not your spells known). Each necromancy spell you know adds one to your maximum hit points. All of your spells which do not normally deal necrotic damage do half of their damage as necrotic. You resist necrotic damage, and your spells which deal necrotic damage bypass necrotic resistance. You gain proficiency with the short sword, long sword, and scimitar. When you cast a spell, there is often a subtle sensory effect that reveals your spells are not normal (tears of blood, flickering or sickly light, whispers or moans of the dead, etc.).

The idea is I'm giving the ability to cast lots of necromancy, and an incentive to take those spells. At maximum it would be 15-20 bonus hp (depending on more necromancy cantrips being released), which is what the Dragon origin gets. In practice, I doubt anyone would take only necromancy spells, but two hp/spell seems high and I haven't thought of another good bonus other than duplicating the wizard necromancer benefits. Non-necromancy spells are restricted to the sorcerer list still, and get necromancy flavored. The resistance stuff just seems like a minor fix for a character that will be doing necrotic damage constantly. I considered a limited ritual casting which would allow the ghoul lord to cast necromancy rituals but that hardly seems potent given that its only feign death and gentle repose.

Disrupting Manipulations
At 6th level, you may regain one sorcery point by expending a hit die and subtracting the roll from your hit point total. This damage cannot be reduced in any way. In addition, you know the spells dispel magic and counterspell which do not count against your number of spells known. When you successfully cast either of these spells, any creature or object from which you dispelled a spell or the creature whose spell you countered takes necrotic damage equal to 1d12 plus your sorcerer level.

This is legacy stuff. Gaining a few bonus sorcery points for sacrificing hit dice is thematically appropriate, as well as the Ghul Lord's magic disrupting normal magic. While the first feature could belong to any death-themed sorcerer, here we are firmly in the domain of the ghul lord.

Necrotic Manipulations
At 14th level, as an action, you may temporarily add one evocation or necromancy spell from the sorcerer spell list to your spells known by expending sorcery points equal to the spell’s level. If that spell deals damage, half of the damage is considered necrotic damage. You lose access to the spell once you cast it or when you take a short or long rest. If the spell is an evocation spell that does not normally deal damage, it deals 1d12 plus your sorcerer level in necrotic damage to any living creature which comes into contact with the effect.

More legacy material. The idea is the ghoul lord can manipulate raw necrotic energy to cast spells. This lets them get a blasting spell they need easily, and a few utilities though they may be costly. Again, this makes this ghul lord specific, rather than just death sorcerer.

Rotting Strength

At 17th level, you can be targeted by effects that target undead, and whenever you are subject to an effect that only affects undead you may choose whether or not you are affected. You are immune to necrotic and poison damage, and your spells that deal necrotic or poison damage deal extra damage equal to your charisma modifier.

This is obviously the "you are dead" capstone. Not sure its quite enough yet, a bit of a random grab bag of weaker effects. This feels a little less like ghul lord, but is thematically related to the ongoign loss of strength/constitution/charisma the ghul lord suffers by turning more death-like.

All in all, I'm not unhappy with this but not quite happy either. I need to go back and see if I'm missing something from the original (defensive, informative, and translocative manipulations?) or what I've got here (the grab bag of powers and all) that isn't necessarily thematic and could be simplified. For example, if the ghoul lord can only learn necromancy spells (If you draw from all lists, I think there's enough in the Player's Handbook) rather than from the sorcerer list, then the manipulation ability could be expanded and given at 6th level (i.e. Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination or Evocation spells from the sorcerer list, or any spell from the sorcerer list..? Illusions might not be bad, but Enchantments and Transmutations aren't thematic). Also I should re-compare things to the normal sorcerer options (and the new Favored Soul) to check the relative power levels, but its a start.