Friday, August 11, 2017

Exciting News from Frank Mentzer!

Press Release:

Historic Dungeons & Dragons® Campaign Returns

Loxley, Madison WI, August 11 2017

Legendary game designer Frank Mentzer, famed for his worldwide version of the Dungeons & Dragons® game, has teamed with fiction author Ted Fauster to revisit one of the earliest known D&D® fantasy worlds. The game continues to be one of the most popular of all time, and Mentzer’s version is still available in fourteen languages, on every continent.

In 1981, Mentzer was given written permission from E. Gary Gygax (co-author of the original game in 1974) to establish and develop this little-known portion of Oerth, one of the game’s original settings. This new realm of Empyrea has a 40-year history (starting with simple materials from Judges Guild) and is still actively used. The artist Darlene, who painted Gary’s maps in his 1980 product, will create similar maps for this one. Other famous artists of that era -- including Caldwell, Dee, Diesel, Easley, Elmore, Holloway, Jaquays, and Otus -- are being invited to join the project.

Empyrea is on the mysterious and isolated continent of Aquaria, east of Gygax’s World of Greyhawk™ setting. Until now, knowledge of this portion of the world has remained largely a mystery, as the broad and dangerous Solnor ocean separates the two. The continent is briefly described in the Advanced D&D® adventure “Egg of the Phoenix” (Mentzer & Jaquays, TSR Inc., 1987).

“It’s time to share this Dungeons & Dragons® world with hobby gamers,” Mentzer says. “Unlike others, Gary approved this personally. Empyrea combines both traditional fantasy and science fiction elements. Magic is dominant, but technology lurks. And it’s one Realm… this isn’t a cluster of medieval city-states like Greyhawk.”

Author Ted Fauster has accepted the role of Creative Aide, which was Mentzer’s original title when he worked with Gygax at TSR in the 1980s.

Mentzer and Darlene will finance the set through crowdfunding, with support from Judges Guild. It will be compatible with the most recent Fifth Edition D&D® game (D&D 5E) as well as Mentzer’s own world-famous "Red Box" edition of the game.

An official start date for the Kickstarter will be announced shortly after the GenCon® 50 Game Convention in August.

For More Information, contact:

Loxley LLC
Mentzer: LoxleyKey@gmail.com
Fauster : ted@tedfauster.com
(Ownership of trademarks indicated is not disputed)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Heironeous "the Invincible"

In yesterday's article about the evolution of how gods and clerics were treated in various editions, I used the Greyhawk deity Heironeous as an example, and promised a 5E treatment of him. And thus today's article.

To recap, the various editions waxed and waned with special powers, spells, and the like given to clerics based on their choice of patron deity. My solution for 5th edition D&D is to add a unique Divine Domain for each god in the various pantheons, following the same rules and general guidelines as the existing domains so as to not overpower things. Those domains give the following:

  • 2 spells each at spell levels 1-5 as "domain spells" which don't need to be prepared (but still cost a spell slot to cast). Domain spells can come from lists other than the normal cleric spell list, which gives me an entree into unique spells for various deities.
  • One Channel Divinity ability at 2nd level (the first is universally Turn Undead in the core rules, but I change that based on the deity involved).
  • Another Channel Divinity power at 2nd level unique to the domain.
  • Unique abilities at 1st, 6th, 8th, and 17th level. 

Here's how I apply the format of 5th edition Divine Domains to the example of Heironeous from yesterday. Obviously, not everyone is going to agree with my choices, which are entirely subjective (and as we say in the reconstructionist heathenry biz, "my brilliant intuitive synthesis of disparate sources into a single coherent expression is your blasphemous adulteration of the time-honored traditions of our ancestors;" in other words, your mileage may vary).

First, the Channel Divinity Turn Undead power. In FtA we're told that clerics of Heironeous turn undead at 2 levels below their actual level. So I tweak the Turn Undead ability and give undead advantage when saving when the cleric is 1st or 2nd level, and delay their ability to destroy undead by 2 levels.

Next, the domain spells. There are way more spells in the various products (and some of them way more powerful) than the standard domain template allows for. There are also a couple of powers I'd like to keep, but which seem far more appropriate as spells than powers. Finally, there are a few spells in there that just, to my mind, seem out of place for the god of chivalry, and which I wouldn't mind jettisoning.

I end up keeping 5 of the new spells (bolt of glory gets put back into its original place as a Channel Divinity power, rather than a spell), adding a brand-new one (shining blade of Heironeous, which replaces the shock blade/holy blade/brilliant blade power from 3.5), and pulling in a few paladin spells from 5th edition to round out the domain spell list.

Finally, for the domain powers, I take the armor and weapon proficiencies from various editions, the resistance to fear from 2E, the immunity to strength-draining magic from 2E, the bolt of glory from all editions, and the ability to cast holy word from 2E.

A special note on the bolt of glory power; it was an 11th level power in 1E and a 6th level spell in 2E and 3.5. But in the 5th edition framework, there's only a slot at 8th level and 17th. I opted to put it at 8th level, and knocked down the damage dice slightly to make up for the change.

So, with all that explanation (back in the day we used to call it "designer's notes"), here's my entry for Heironeous, in first draft form of how it will appear in my 5th Edition Player's Guide to Greyhawk 576, should it ever see the light of day. I invite you to envision a book that has an entry like this for 67 more lesser, greater, and demi-gods. (Note to anyone from Wizards of the Coast who might be reading this; the book's mostly written, as is the DM's Guide, if you'd like to save yourselves a buttload of work!)

HEIRONEOUS “THE INVINCIBLE”

Heironeous is the son of Stern Alia and brother of both the evil Hextor and the slain god of war Stratis. He is the Oeridian god of chivalry, justice, and honor. He dwells in the Seven Heavens, but visits Oerth often to assist the cause of lawful good. He loathes his brother Hextor, and the feeling is reciprocal; they, and their proxies and worshipers, will always seek to thwart the other. He is also an enemy of Erythnul and Kurell. He is an unflinching champion of law, but tempers this with an understanding of the importance of mercy.

Heironeous is depicted as tall with coppery skin, auburn hair, and eyes of amber hue. He wears a suit of enchanted chainmail with a very fine mesh. His copper skin was magically treated at his birth to deflect most weapons, whether they be enchanted or not. He can appear as a young boy, an old man, or a mercenary soldier, but will always have his enchanted mail suit. He wields a magical battle axe named Gloryaxe which can shift from its normal 5 foot length to but 3 inches, as he wills it.

Heironeous can hurl forth bolts of energy drawn directly from the positive material plane, which will do great harm to mortals and undead, as well as those creatures from the lower planes. He will sometimes manifest as a bolt of lightning, or wrap his followers in a cloak of bravery. He has been known to sprinkle entire military units with a coppery dust that improves morale and deflects fear-inducing magic. Those who displease him will find their weapons and armor rusting, or be subject to small (1 hp damage) electrical shocks.

WORSHIP AND WORSHIPERS

Worshipers of Heironeous are common throughout the Flanaess, particularly among soldiers and others in military professions. They must be lawful neutral, lawful good, or neutral good. Temples and other shrines look like castles and are decorated in blue and silver, with stained glass windows showing the god victorious over some enemy (usually his brother Hextor). A statue of Heironeous made of copper, with seven silver bolts of energy radiating from the head, clad in silver mail with a silver axe, stands behind the altar. The Prelacy of Almor is ruled by the church of Heironeous, and they also lead the Knights of Holy Shielding, but his worshipers are found almost everywhere.

PRIESTHOOD

Heironeous’ clerics are warlike and aggressive, and always wear chain mail, with blue robes with silver trim. They must be of lawful neutral, lawful good, or neutral good alignment. They are very well-organized, with armories and logistical bases around the Flanaess, and an excellent communications system. The priesthood is organized as a military order, with older priests taking on the roles of teachers and strategists. Novitiates are called the Blessed, while priests are called Glorious (the priesthood as a whole is called the Valorous Host). Enchanted chain mail or battle axes are a sign of great favor within the faith.

Clerics of Heironeous have access to the war domain or the special domain of their deity. Those who choose the latter are called Gloryaxes.

CHANNEL DIVINITY

Clerics of Heironeous do not turn undead as effectively as other priests might. From level 2-3, undead making saving throws against attempts to turn them have advantage. The ability to destroy undead doesn’t begin until 7th level, and then progresses as if the cleric were 2 levels lower than his actual level.

HEIRONEOUS’ DOMAIN

DOMAIN SPELLS

Cleric Level Spells
1st                  detect breath*, shining blade of Heironeous*
3rd                 shield of Heironeous*, vigilance*, 
5th                 bless missile*, glyph of warding
7th                 abstention*, staggering smite
9th                 banishing smite, destructive wave

* Indicates new spell.

MARTIAL PROWESS

When they choose this domain at 1st level, clerics of Heironeous are proficient in all armor and simple and martial weapons.

FEARLESS

Also at 1st level, you get a +2 bonus to all saving throws and ability checks vs. fear.

CHANNEL DIVINITY: RIGHTEOUS STRENGTH

Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to increase your strength score by a number of points equal to your proficiency bonus. This will last for one hour, and can be done but once per long rest.

DIVINE STRENGTH

Starting at 6th level, you are immune to all magical and other effects which drain or otherwise lower your strength score, whether permanently or temporarily.

CHANNEL DIVINITY: BOLT OF GLORY

Starting at 8th level, you are able to summon a bolt of divine energy to smite your enemies. It has a range of 60 feet, and can affect one creature, which is entitled to a Dexterity saving throw; if successful it will only take half damage. The bolt does not count as magical for purposes of being dispelled, crossing anti-magic barriers, etc. The amount of damage depends on the home place of the target creature:

  • Upper planes, Positive energy plane: None
  • Astral plane, Ethereal plane: 6 (2d6)
  • Elemental planes, Plane of Shadow, Concordant Opposition, Mechanus, Limbo: 9 (3d6) hp damage
  • Material plane: 12 (4d6) hp damage
  • Lower planes and all undead: 24 (8d6) hp damage
  • Negative material plane: 42 (14d6) hp damage

HOLY WORD

Starting at 17th level, you can use the spell holy word once per long rest, without using a spell slot. The spell does not need to be prepared beforehand.

*** Begin sidebar ***

The world is full of peril, and life is ordeal for those who would protect the weak and innocent. Honor must be your watchword, and every word and deed must be directed at upholding justice, mercy, and chivalry, for these are the Three Virtues of Heironeous. Bravery and virtue must be your bywords, for the brave inspire the virtuous, and the virtuous inspire the brave. When danger beckons, courage and wisdom will be your greatest weapons, but never let down your guard, for it is in such times that evil will strike sixfold. – The Book of the Code

*** End sidebar ***


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Deity Evolution in D&D (and a brilliant idea for 5th edition!)

Deities have always held a weird sort of spot in D&D. On the one hand, since the veritable beginning of the game, they were pretty much treated like monsters. The Gods, Demigods, and Heroes supplement for the LBB version of the game basically treats them like more powerful demons. Ares is a 20th level fighter with 250 hp. Tim Kask's introduction says it's an attempt to showcase the absurdity of campaigns with 44th level fighters. I daresay it was taken more as a challenge, but the point is the gods depicted way back then were mostly generic. Almost no attention was paid to the worshipers of those gods, and the religion that, at least in theory, supported them.

AD&D was little different. Deities and Demigods (later Legends & Lore) was, ultimately, again just another Monster Manual. There was a little more meat on the bone in terms of clerics and the impact their choice of god had (now we see that the demi-/lesser/greater designation had teeth, in terms of how high the spells they could grant their clerics could go), but ultimately it was very minor. Oh, and we had the first mention of "avatars" of the gods, in the Indian Mythos section. That would become a staple of the way deities were approached going forward.

And then came the World of Greyhawk gold box set.

Here not only were the gods described much more completely than in earlier incarnations, but we start to see descriptions of what their worship services look like. We see what their clerics wear. And most importantly, we begin to see special powers and special non-clerical spells granted to clerics based on the deity they follow. They would pay a percentage penalty in terms of experience points in return for such special favors. 

That represented a sea change, and the game took off from there, in terms of specializing clerics relative to their patron deity. 

The Greyhawk Adventures book took things a step further and introduced specialty spells that were only available to clerics of certain deities. After that, the trend went on and on in that direction. AD&D 2nd Edition had kits, of course, but still laid out special powers and spells for followers of certain deities. The same with 3rd Edition. I confess I'm somewhat ignorant of 4th Edition, but 5th Edition picked up the thread with different Domains. Not quite the deity-specific tinkering that went on in 2nd edition, but it's definitely fertile ground, as we shall see later on.

It's also interesting to note that the list of deities that were written up in various books and editions varied somewhat. Some of them were always there, but there was a surprising amount of variation around the edges. 

As an example to demonstrate how the conceptions of the deities changed across editions and products, I'm going to follow the clerics of Heironeous. He is the Oeridian deity of chivalry and combat, and is one that always seems to get written up, for what are probably obvious reasons, from a game perspective.

AD&D 1st Edition (Gold Box): Starting at 11th level, clerics can cast forth a bolt of energy once per week. Damage varies by the home plane of the target, but it's pretty considerable (10d6 against creatures from the lower planes). This is the first inkling of special powers that are deity-specific. 

AD&D 2nd Edition (From the Ashes): There are defined spell spheres which are assigned to each deity, but they are fairly generic and are concerned only with spells that can be memorized. Specialty priests at 1st level get +2 to saves vs. fear, 4th level can cast cloak of bravery, 6th level are immune to strength-decreasing magic like ray of enfeeblement, and at 11th level can cast power word stun. They also get a new 6th level spell, bolt of glory, that does what the energy bolt in 1E did, but turn undead as if they were 2 levels lower than they are, because apparently Heironeous is more interested in killing living enemies than undead ones. Now we're getting into a lot of special stuff for clerics based on deities.

AD&D 2nd Edition (Bastion of Faith): Not only are there 15 (!) new spells that go all the way up to 7th level, but there are a bunch of special abilities for specialty clerics of Heironeous (called "Gloryaxes"). At 1st level they get CON bonuses as if they were fighters, get +2 on saves vs. fear, and can cast bless or courage or remove fear once per day; at 3rd level they can cast cloak of bravery or strength once per day; at 5th level they become immune to strength-decreasing magic (a change from before when that came at 6th level); at 7th level they get 3 attacks every 5 rounds; at 9th level they can cast dispel evil or negative plane protection once per day; at 11th level they can cast bolt of glory or power word stun once per day; at 13th level they get 2 attacks per round, and at 20th level they can cast holy word once per day. Whew! This is sort of the mother lode of extra stuff that's deity-specific, probably going way too far in the direction of detail (one reviewer apparently said it "gives the DM enough details to choke a horse". And that's not an incorrect assessment, IMNSHO.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 (Player's Handbook): Clerics have access to the domains of Good, Law, and War. This pulls back a lot of the deity-specific stuff, with more generic spell domains.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 (Complete Divine): Shining Blade of Heironeous prestige class for both cleric and paladin. At 1st level they get Shock Blade twice a day (adds 1d6 hp of electrical damage), at 5th level this turns into Holy Blade three times a day (adds 1d6 hp of electrical damage or 2d6 of bonus damage against evil creatures), and at 9th level it becomes Brilliant Blade usable six times per day (like the Holy Blade, but glows and can also pass through nonliving objects, including armor!). There are also two Heironeous-specific magic items (Helm of the Purple Plume and Sword of Virtue Beyond Reproach). Lots more stuff here, not cleric-specific, but might as well be, and the deity-specific magic items are a nice touch, reminiscent of the Hand and Eye of Vecna, or the Wand of Orcus, but not nearly as powerful.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 (Dragon Magazine 354): There was a nice lengthy article by Sean Reynolds going into the church of Heironeous. Much of it is background (I loathe the word "fluff" to describe such things), but there are a few things of mechanical interest to clerics; a new spell (Meersalm Skin, a 6th level spell linked to the Meersalm which is a magic item that provides resistance against weapons), it links the Invulnerable Coat of Arnd to Heironeous, and brings in some of the material from Bastion of Faith and 2E (like some of the deity-specific spells).

I'm sure there are other products that give some details about Heironeous' clerics that I'm missing, but I'm also pretty sure there wasn't anything in 4E about him (I might very well be wrong - I never got into 4E at all). But I think the above gives the picture. We start to see inklings of deity-specific cleric stuff in 1E, 2E took the ball and ran with it (to the point of excess), 3.5 kept the basic idea but dialed it back, and then started its own expansion of the concept. 4E... I'm not really sure.

And all this brings us to today, where 5th edition doesn't have anything that is deity-specific in terms of powers, but does present different Divine Domains that function somewhat like the spell spheres of 2nd edition and the domains of 3.5, but in addition to providing 10 spells that don't need to be prepared (two at each level 1-5, and which can be from outside the normal clerical spell list), there are three unique powers gained at 1st (the Channel Divinity power of turning undead and two others specific to the domain), 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 17th. Each cleric has to choose a domain, and different deities have different domains assigned to them.

Now, here's where my brilliant idea comes in.

I posit that, in addition to the "standard" Divine Domains that are shared between clerics of different deities, each god also has a special domain that is unique to it, that clerics could also choose. That domain would follow the same rules as the more generic domains, but would be available only to clerics of that deity.

So, a cleric of Heironeous who chose the special domain of his god would have 10 unique spells (or unique plus other-class spells), and special abilities that come in at levels 1, 2, 6, 8, and 17. Just like any other domain.

TOMORROW - My brilliant idea in action. A 5th Edition Divine Domain specifically for clerics of Heironeous. Part of my Player's Guide to Greyhawk 576, for 5th edition, I should add...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Tale of Great Customer Service

About two weeks ago, I noticed something strange about my 5th Edition Player's Handbook.

The pages were coming out of the book.

That is, the glue that connected them to the spine of the book seemed to be losing its strength, and whole chunks of pages were coming loose. Naturally, this makes the book rather difficult to use.

Sort of makes me nostalgic for the 2E Monstrous Compendium, in a way...
So I went onto the official 5th Edition page on Facebook to see if anyone else had had this problem. Indeed, it seemed that it was a known issue for the first printing of the book, and I was advised to contact the customer support folks at WotC to request a replacement.

Mm-hmm. I'd gone down this road before with different game companies, and I wasn't sanguine about the chances. Nonetheless, I took a photo of the damage and opened a support ticket on July 20th, with low expectations.

Two days later (on a Saturday night!) I got a reply, asking for a photo of page 2, so they could confirm which printing it was. Fine, no problem. I dutifully sent it in.

And that's when it started.

I started getting some of the best, "in character" customer support messages I'd ever gotten. And a lot of them, to keep me fully up to speed on the progress of my ticket. I have no idea if they were writing these on the fly, or if they have a set script of them handy for this issue that apparently affected a lot of people, but I've got to say it was really neat to start getting them. Here are some samples:
I am sorry to hear that the hated Blackguards have sabotaged your Handbook with their black magicks! Does their cruelty and hatred for Players know no bounds?? Of course, we will be happy to assist you with a replacement, free of charge. We must have our noble allies fighting against the forces of darkness with all haste!
I have informed the benevolent clerics of Product Replacement of this issue; they will finalize the replacement order spells for your new book. Though we shall face many dangers in doing so, we shall arrange for your new Player's Handbook to arrive to you in the coming days. The agents of Bane shall not stop our efforts to serve you!
We offer thanks to Oghma for your patience! We've reviewed the runic markings in your images and determined that they align with a specific binding glyph that's been deemed too unstable for our purposes. It's safe to say you can expect continued unraveling as arcane powers rejoin the ambient mana in the atmosphere.
Not to worry - I've gone ahead and set up a replacement order from our stock of properly warded and rune-bound tomes. It should be shipping out soon, so be on the look out over the next few weeks!
As the wards have already begun to fail, I fear shipping might sever the corporeal bonds holding the bound magic entirely. While normally our Order's archivists would request the pages be returned for safe decommission, in this case, we'd simply ask that you get what use you can out of them before they dematerialize entirely. 
Every day or two there was something, and lo! and behold, just ten days later, my replacement book arrived today. Free.

Gotta say, pre-scripted or not, they managed to acknowledge the problem, explain the issue, and keep me informed of every step of the process continually, so I was never in limbo as to the status of my ticket. And they did so in a very entertaining manner, showing that the folks over there are willing to have some fun with what could be a tedious and potentially volatile customer service issue.

That's some first-class service, folks. Thanks to Kirsten M., Adam E., and Noah M. for making this as good a customer service experience as I could have hoped for, and far better than some I've gotten in the gaming world. Kudos!