Category Archives: 5e

The Thaw: Session 0

Woo, Chargen. That was a Hell of a ride.

Ok, to frame all this – this was Chargen for a straight up 5e D&D game. There were a few mechanical changes based on the setting (tweaks to Drow and Tieflings, new Warlock pact, new Sorcery power source) with the biggest change being that we replaced the background stuff with 4 aspects. The aspects weren’t just pulled out of the air though – after we finished chargen we sat down with each character, asked some questions, then did an Everway-style card read (Past, Present, Future) for each character using the Harrow Deck(fn).

For the unfamiliar, you use tarot like cards for the process, flipping one for past, one for present. The last one is played sideways, and it represents the future, and something that might go either way. If that’s unclear, the photos should clear it up.

Procedurally, there were just a few tweaks. I emphasized backgrounds over classes, asking for background decisions before class decisions were made. It only makes so much fo a difference, but I think it helped cement the characters in useful ways. We also explicitly have not defined much more of the setting than I laid out in my previous blog post, so there were one or two points where we stopped to answer things about the world, but those weren’t any real slowdown. The main thing was that when someone introduced a god, they had to choose which of the two characters from the Dungeon World game that god is the offspring of.

We also did a round of connections after charge to cover the trip from level 1 to level 2.  Those might be their own post though.

Ok, all that said: The Characters

Kit, Lawful Good Byzant Folk Hero, Level 2 Fighter (Aspects: No one says no to the emperor, Hero of the empire, Keeping Secrets, Liberator or conquerer?)

The Byzant are one of the two major human cultures in the south, and as the name may suggest, they are roughly modeled after the Byzantines.

Kit is an archer (and is,I think, going to ge tto showcase just how good 5e made archery fighters) who pulled a Bard the Bowman when a Wyvern attacked the Emperor and dropped it with a lucky shot. This lead to accolades and the close personal attention of the Emperor, which dangerous. It also drew the ire of whoever unleashed the Wyvern, and Kit had to start looking out for assassination attempts. This provided incentive for her to get out of town, and by some coincidence, the emperor needed someone he trusted (or maybe “someone he trusted”) in Placeholder to report on matters of Imperial interest should the Empire ever decide to annex the place. As a result, Kit is something of an unwilling spy.

NewImage

Kit’s Past it the Trumpet, which reflects her heroism, which is genuine, and drew great attention. Her present is the Cyclone, inverted – making order out of chaos. This represents the imperial interest in Placeholder and gave us reasont o name her contact, Theodoros, a travelling doctor/merchant. Her future is the unicorn, and it seems likely she will either liberate Placeholder, or she will rule it.

Arasthel, Chaotic Good Wood Elf Noble.  Level 2 Druid of the Moon (Aspects: Under the shadow of your father, Family entanglements, Noble ties, Rule or Ruin)

The wood elves live in small forest communities ruled by councils.  Arasthel is the eldest daughter of two councillors, and it was expected that she would follow in their footsteps, but her choice of druidic initiation was a mild embarrassment to the family.  Thankfully, the second child (attuned to Fire as Arasthel is attuned to Earth) was much more promising.

Arasthel

Arasthel’s past, the Inqusitor, suggested that she had done something which brought suspicion upon her.  It turned out she had given safe harbor to woodcutters who had cut down wood elf trees because they were in need. By the law, their lives were forfeit. When asked who pursued the matter, the answer was her father, who still seeks to punish her for this (and, implicitly, for the shame of her going druid).   When we pulled Eclipse for her present, that seemed very loaded, especially with her being a moon druid.  This could have gone a lot of ways – it’s an evil, unpleasant card, but also represents the moon triumphing over the sun.   I leaned towards the darker interpretation, noting that the moon may also be eclipsed.  This was to be about the second sister, the one touched by fire.  Atasthel’s player had previously talked about the reason she was in Place was that she was looking for the missing sister, so we drilled into that, specifically asking what terrible thing her sister did that Arasthel let happen. It was decided that she had run off with a “man” – in quite because he’s a cambion – and Arasthel has covered her tracks, even when she and her brother were sent on this “rescue” mission.

With all that, the empty throne made for a wonderful pull.  She is either going to return home to leadership someday, or the leadership of the wood elves will fall.

Sul Taeres, Chaotic Neutral Wood Elf Entertainer. Level 2 Elementalist Sorcerer (Air) (Aspects: Conceal don’t feel, Profound Disgrace, Voice under the Ice, Power of Dark or Light?)

Sul Taeres most often goes by Treewind because humans can’t pronounce his name right. He is the youngest of the three wood elf siblings, and naturally attuned to air. His sorcery is viewed as outright freakish by the wood elves, and he kept it secret of many years, revealing it only to his sisters. They both supported him, but the second daughter was especially supportive.

Soltair

His past came up as Hidden Truths, inverted, so we talked about how his magic was revealed – it happened when he had to save the life of another elf, and that elf was his father (who, if you’ll remember, is a bit of a jerk). He was practically disowned on the spot, and after the disappointment of the eldest child, this turned even more attention on the second daughter.  We determined that Sul Taeres is unaware that she ran away voluntarily, and genuinely thinks he can save his sister.

Which spills into the present – The avalanche, inverted.  Things settling into place I asked what was keeping Sul Taeres in place.  Duty and the quest for his sister, sure, but what else?  The answer: A voice from beneath the ice.  Obviously, I’m delighted with this.

So when the eclipse came up again for the future, it was too perfect. Again, that is so much the card for the missing sister, and it raises the question of whether Sul Taeres will follow her down that dark path, or find a new one.

(Mechanical note: I’m writing up the elementals sorcerer for this. I have  no published reference.)

 

Tuak Pel, Neutral Drow Bounty Hunter. Level 2 Warlock. (Aspects: Combat capitalist, Renegade elf of the ice, Questionable relationship with Glemmer, Binder or Opener?)

I have no great love of the drow, but in the absence of the underdark, they are elves who live on the ice. and have adapted to it through dark magics (and they use Inuit names).Pel is one such elf, and the intent of the character is to be a melee warlock, so he’ll be going Sword Pact at level 2.  The idea was that he had sworn fealty to a dark power but due to the nature of the pact (and the amount of drinking involved in that evening) he was a little shaky on which one.  We talked a little bit about bounties – he cheerfully works for all authorities in Placeholder, and when manhunting work is not available, he collects rare herbs on the ice for Theodorus.

Pel

For the past, we saw our old friend the inquisitor, but we could not use it in the same NPC for it, so instead we talked about who among the Drow might be pursuing him, and form this we determined that while there are many warlocks among the drow, they do not pact with Sleepers (things beneath the ice), and that is exactly what Pel did.  So far as they are concerned, his should has been ripped away, and his old Mentor (Uglo) now hunts the abomination who wears his old apprentices skin.  This, of course, not so healthy for Pel.

For the present, the Cricket, inverted, was a bit os a head scratcher at first. I looked at it hard before it struck me that it was absolutely representative of Glemmer, the Tiefling charlatan and another member of the party. The players had been discussing some history, so it cemented on this – Pel had “Killed” Glemmer to collect a bounty, and in doing so allowed Glemmer to establish the identity he currently operates under.  Perl got paid by Glemmer and by the dwarven marshall who had put out the bounty.

The future came up The Dance.  Looking at the card, it really felt like the it was going to be about Pel’s sword, and thinking about what that meant was inspired by the suit of the cards. I was struck by the image of the key, and it clicked – his sword will be a key, but the question is whether it will open something, or lock it away.

Naoto the Thunder, Lawful Good Halfling Soldier. Level 2 Cleric of Storms (Aspects: Last hope of sunset, The thunder and the executioner, Quest for the blade of storms, A sword has two edges)

Naoto is from he Sunset Shire, a halfling shire not far from Placeholder which has half thawed.  Naoto herself is a warrior priest armed with a hallooing scaled naginata.  At first, the idea was that she had been sent out to find an army to protect the Sunset Shire. That lead to the question – this seemed like a mission doomed to fail, so who was getting rid of her? We flipped the first card to help answer.

Naoto

The flip was The Beating, and that upended things wonderfully.  it was not that they needed an army, it was that they had one already, and it was BAD.  Naoto’s sister (So Mei, the Executioner) had turned to necromancy, and had convinced the shire that an army of “ancestors” was the path to safety.  Naoto desperately seeks some way to defeat her sister and restore the Shire.

The present revealed The Forge, inverted. That suggested a classic theme, a broken weapon. Naoto seeks the Blade of Storms, but so does the executioner.  The blade was revealed to Naoto in a vision that she assumes came from her goddess (Inazuma, daughter of Fafnir and Tetra) but these things don’t exactly come with an SSL certificate.

The future was the Demon’s Lantern, effectively the will o the wisp.  This suggests that she’ll find the blade, but the question is whether it will save the Sunset Shire, or doom it.

Glemmer, Chaotic Good Tiefling Charlatan. Level 2 Cleric of Trickery (Aspects: Clarion: hero of the ice, Secret Identities, Awkward entanglements, Who the hell am I?)

I should note that Glemmer’s player rolled insanely well for stats. one 13, everything else was 15+.  Tieflings are apparently badass.

Thankfully, there aren’t many of them, and they don’t get along very well. Compound this with being a priest of Ngaro (Child of Jack and Job, God of Ice and Shadow) – a god the tie flings mostly pray to only to avoid the ire of, and Glemmer had every reason to head towards the thaw. This was clinched when he received a vision that he presumes form his god (sound familiar) that told him that Placeholder must remain free.

Glemmer

 

When the past flipped up The Trumpet, it was one of those moments that are exactly why  I love the unexpected things that come from this sort of charge.  The Trumpet (which we’d previously seen with Kit’s heroism) was totally at odds with Glemmer as we had described him so far, so we kicked this around a bit.  It turns out Glemmer had done a great act of heroism in the past, slaying a Sleeper (albeit by accident) under his old name, Clarion. In fact, it was Clarion who Pel had “killed”.

The Present, with the Theatre inverted, was much more in line with what we had described, as  it touched upon the complex web of deception Glemmer was building, including three separate identities. It’s all tenuous, and in his merchant guise he is doing business with Theodorus. He also has discovered another Trickster priest in town, but has not discern their identity, and there is a cold war of mischief afoot.

Having the Liar come up for the future was pretty much exactly right. The question is, ultimately, whether Glemmer’s lies will overwhelm him.

Israfil, Neutral Good High Elf Hermit. Level 2 Paladin of the Thaw (Aspects: Bringer of the Storm, Placeholder hero, Life is but a dream, Left by my Lover)

Israfil has been dreaming for two thousand years. He was sealed in a high elf Watchtower. He expected to pass on to the Fae with the fountains of wine and beautiful gardens, but something went amiss.

Israfel

 

The Wanderer, inverted meant that for the Past we focused on how he ended up int he Watchtower. Turns out, he wasn’t supposed to, but his lover had asked him to meet him there, and he got stuck. Maybe it was an accident, maybe his lover didn’t fancy the idea of skipping out on the wine and gardens in favor of millennia of duty.   Israfil was not a Paladin when he entered, but he was when he came out.  He doesn’t know if this sis a function of the Watchtower itself or if it’s related to the Thaw (his code is going to be the Green, as a manifestation of the Thaw). The player compared it to the Greatest American hero – Great power, no manual.

 

For the present, The Big Sky inverted was another blow against freedom, so we talked about what bound him.  It turns out he’s explicitly bound to the thaw, something he discovered when he tried to find his old lover and could not.  We talked a bit about his authority, and while no one (except maybe high elves) would recognize it, the natural world would.

For the future, the cyclone suggested that he would either reign order or destruction, or as the player summarized “Bringing the storm”

 

 

Starting Faces

I need to make sure these get names and faces, but we have some decent starting NPCs

  • Theodoros, the doctor/Spy
  • The Wood Elf Councillor and Father of the three
  • The Sister of the three, attuned to fire
  • Fire’s Cambion boyfriend
  • The dwarf marshal
  • The Executioner
  • The Unknown Trickster Priest
  • Israfil’s Lover

We got a few more when we did background connections, but at this point I am crazily tired, so that will have to be another post.

 

 

Chargen Notes for the Thaw

Doing chargen today, so just throwing up some notes.

The ice came north maybe 2000 years ago. Before that time, things were normal enough fantasy, largely dominated by a number of human cultures, regular D&D races, stuff liek that.  The Advancign ice changed all that, rolled over the bulk of “civilized” land, pushing them north to the edge of the desert and into a very narrow band of livable land. This lead to a lot of conflict over limited resources, and by the end there were only three major human cultues left (one of which being those who live north past the desert) with remnants of a few more.  As the ice receded, these human nations have aggressively expanded to fill the space.

For ease of use, we’re going to use real world culture as touchstones for the humans.  One will be roughly Byzantine, one is TBD but India and the Americas have been floated.  The cuture north of the desert may or may not enter into play, but in my mind they’re Mali.

Other peoples found solutions to the ice.  The Dwarves simply dug.  Some stayed close to the surface, but others dug deep,founding great cities in the warmth and light of the depths. The dwarves are doing ok. 

The Halflings found some way to shape the ice (or bargain with it, some say) and it formed great bubbles over their shires, turnign them into a combination of fortresses and arcologies. Culturally, the Halflings are going to be very cinematic-Japanese influenced, and yes that means halfling Samurai.

The elves split. The High Elves withdrew from the world save for a handful of watchtower. The Wood Elves adapted to the tundra and desert. Some elves walked out onto the ice and were changed by it. The elves do not speak of them.

Some humans apparently found life on the ice as well, but they have been changed by it. Blue of skin, with demonic features, they were the stuff of stories for centuries, but with the thaw it is beginning to appear that the tieflings have established a seriosu presence on the ice.

The thaw started about 50 years ago, and had proceded at a startling pace. Fast enough that stretches of land are still muddy barrens, and the very edge of the ice is a no mans land. The humans have expanded, the halflings are emerging, the elves are returning and the Dwarves are takign an interest in the surface again.  Treasures lost to the ice have emerged, but so have unexpected things, frozen elsewhere and pushed north to thaw. 

On the edge of the thaw is a town called Placeholder (a bureaucratic slip up that has stuck).  It is unclaimed, contested territory, and it woudl be of little note save for that fact that it is suspected that it is somewhere near the site of the city o [TO BE DETERMINED], the crown jewel of the old world.  Finding it and claiming it will be a triumph and, more important to the people of Place, will be an opportunity to strike it rich.  So the town has grown in fits and starts, and every year, the ice recedes a little more, people dig a little deeper and the town grows. And, of course, as it grows, so does foreign interest. No nation has a clear claim on Place, and nothing found yet has been worth pushing the issue, but they’re all watching very closely.

We have not explicitly decided what’s up with other races, though I’ll be shocked if we don’t see Warforged (whose origin will be a mystery). We’ve discussed the gods some (the original pantheon is based on the charactes from the Dungeon World game) but it (and the geneal role of magic) i still fuzzy.

Mechanical things I shoudl do:

1. More Warlock pacts

2. More Sorcerer options, because man, the PHB ones are way too little. 

Part of My Non-Screen

I’m not going to use a screen for 5e, but I still want a cheatsheet.  The catch is that there’s not a huge amount that I want to reference on the fly – the rules are largely simple enough that I can keep in mind.  I’ll probably do some damage table and such, but I realized the one thing I wanted was a quick reference for conditions, and so I made one. The initial draft went up on G+, but I’ve refined it since then.quick conditionsfixed

(The icons are from the ever magnificent game-icons.net)

Missing from the chart are Charmed (Can’t act against charmer, charmer has advantage on social checks) and Frightened (Cannot move towards subject of fear, disadvantage while subject of fear is in sight). because those are better described in a sentence or two of text.  For the rest, I offer this key, which won’t go on my cheatsheet (because I’ve internalized it) but might help parse my thinking.

conditionkey

Anyway, I share in case anyone else needs a reference.

EDIT: Updated version with more color differentiation

quick conditions

EDIT AGAIN:

quick conditions

The Golf Bag Tactician

There’s an interesting question over at Rob Schwalb’s D&D blog about whether weapon damage should be typed. In practice this would mean that weapons might do, say, “slashing” “bludgeoning” and “piercing” damage, and implicitly removing entirely the idea of “untyped” damage from the system.

This is, on the surface, a kind of compelling idea (and fans of GURPS and some other games are going “Well, DUH!”). It adds another dimension to weapon selection so characters stop gravitating to the same sets of weapons. Heck, it could even inspire play: when your fighter is faces with an oozy opponent who ignores his slashing attack, he might be forced to grab an improvised weapon to finish the fight. That’s cool, dramatic and thematic! A total win!
Except…
The reality is that the fighter is just going to carry around 3 weapons, one of each type.[1] The opportunity cost of doing so is fairly low (encumbrance? for a fighter? I laugh!) and the payoff is high enough to allow it. Or if the payoff isn’t high enough, then it hardly matters, does it?
This is one of those unfortunate design traps that I like to call Golf Bag Tactics. The idea actually has its roots in D&D, back in earlier editions when the vulnerabilities of different creatures were sufficiently wide and varied that a common solution was to carry an array of weapons. Even if you didn’t count magic items, a well equipped fighter had his normal sword, a backup sword, a silver sword, a cold iron sword and a non-metal sword, and that was just for starters. It meant the fighter could choose just the right weapon for the fight, which theoretically felt clever and tactical. Unfortunately, all it really felt like was a golf bag full of swords. That idea of the vulnerabilities as drivers of RP and excitement existed, but never really materialized in the face of this.[2]
All of which is to say, be careful of anything that looks like it adds interesting tactics and decisions during a fight which can be trivially short-circuited by choices outside of the fight. Otherwise, you might be one left holding the bag.
1 – Or he might carry some multi-purpose weapons, like an axe with a backspike. How the system handles mixed damage – like blunted edges or stabbing vs slashing with a sword – invites many options.

2 – Part of this was also the fault of a TERRIBLE understanding of the role of dramatic weaknesses in adventure design.