Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Kynthiad: The Witches

Hecate, the witch goddess
With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I'd devote this week's column to that theme and talk about witches. Not just any witches, mind you, but the witches featured in "The Kynthiad," the Greek mythology solo campaign that I run for my wife Erika. Her character, Kynthia, is a champion of the goddess Artemis, who travels about the world on quests given to her through visions or other messages from the gods. The witches who Kynthia has encountered have proven to be some of the most memorable recurring characters in this campaign.

The witches of Greek myth were always powerful and terrifying. The ability to wield magic was rare, but was dangerous because it was capable of nearly anything, though each witch had her own particular area of expertise. A strong will was necessary to wield such power, and in the ancient world, such independent women were almost universally feared and hated. They were typically described as beautiful enchantresses, who wielded their sex appeal as proficiently--and as wantonly--as their spells. Unsurprisingly, the most powerful witches were demigoddesses in their own right: Circe and Medea were descendants of Helios, Titan of the Sun, and received their first instruction in magic from that god.

Medea (Jolene Blalock)
The first witch that Kynthia ever met was Medea herself. By that time, Kynthia had met and fallen in love with Anahodios, the handsome winged grandson of Boreas, the North Wind, who accompanied her on her quests ever since their first meeting. While seeking out Prometheus in the Causasus, the two took shelter in a cave. Kynthia woke during the night to find a mysterious woman sitting by their fire, while Anahodios had fallen into an abnormally deep sleep. Medea quizzed her about her business in this part of the world, then departed. Kynthia was left shaken by the encounter, knowing Medea's reputation all too well--Anahodios was, after all, the son of an Argonaut (Zetes).

Later, when traveling across northern Africa, Kynthia and Anahodios were captured by a band of women warriors who took them to the camp of their mistress, Archemora. This witch attempted to seduce Anahodios and nearly succeeded. Kynthia managed to break free and rescue her beloved, then they (literally) took flight before the witch had another chance to weave any more spells. After this encounter, Kynthia was justifiably paranoid about witches stealing her man!

While traveling near Sicily and the Strait of Messina, Kynthia learned the story of the nymph Scylla, who had been cursed into monster form by Circe. Of her own initiative--and encouraged by Scylla's mother, the goddess Hecate--Kynthia set herself the task of restoring the nymph to her proper form. This required visiting Circe to ask the witch to lift her curse. Kynthia's knowledge of the voyage of the Argo allowed her to approach the witch as a suppliant who could not be harmed without angering the gods. Naturally, Circe was loathe to release her victim, so she set Kynthia three impossible tasks in order to get the necessary ingredients for the antidote: an Erinyes's tears, a kiss from the nymph of the pool of Lethe, and the caul from a virgin birth. This required Kynthia to enter the underworld, a harrowing journey that still haunts her. But to Circe's surprise, she succeeded--returning with Lethe's newborn son, marked by the kiss and tears, and his caul. Because Kynthia was woefully unprepared to care for a chthonic goddess's ill-omened child, she left him with Circe (who named him Scotius) and took the cure to Scylla.

Kynthia met even more witches in the Tin Isles (modern Britain). She discovered that the Hyperborean princess Thaleia (an old rival for Anahodios's affections) had led an invasion of the island and taken control of the Atrebates, one of the Celtic tribes there. This led to a clash with two other tribes, the Silures (who Kynthia made peaceful contact with) and the Dumnonii, that was decided by a contest of seers at the Giant's Dance (Stonehenge). This contest was orchestrated by Luscina, a Dumnonii sorceress, whose plans failed when Kynthia took the place of the Silures tribe's witch and divined the answers to the tests she posed.

Archemora (Kelly Hu)
Both Archemora and Luscina became recurring villains who Kynthia grew to hate more passionately with each encounter. Archemora next showed up in the mountains near Hyperborea (Kynthia's new home after marrying Anahodios), but was left stranded there after Kynthia shot down her pet griffin. The witch later appeared in Cimmeria, where Kynthia's distant cousin Ophiophane was waging war to claim her late father's throne. Archemora had insinuated herself into the usurper's court (and his son's bed), so while Ophiophane faced off against the king in the final battle, Kynthia and Anahodios took on their old enemy. The witch escaped thanks to her magic cloak, which allowed her to take the form of a flock of crows--which made it impossible for a single arrow to kill her. Years later, Kynthia encountered her one last time, near the witch's original home in Scythia. This time, her target was the king of the Medes (and Medea's grandson). When Kynthia and Anahodios discovered her there, they pursued her doggedly until they had shot every crow in the cloak's swarm, which finally killed the sorceress. At this point, Medea arrived on the scene and thanked Kynthia for disposing of the other witch, as she had other plans for who her grandson should marry to carry on the Heliad dynasty.

Luscina (Christina Hendricks)
Unlike Archemora, Luscina still lives, and Kynthia has yet to engage in actual combat with her. A vision of Thaleia in childbirth dying sent Kynthia back to the Tin Isles. The people of her consort's tribe spend a few days of each year as wolves, but this "gift" normally doesn't manifest until puberty. Thaleia's child had been cursed to be born in wolf form, and only Kynthia's miraculous healing powers allowed her old rival to survive the bloody birth. They determined that Luscina was responsible, so Kynthia went in search of the witch in order to force her to lift the curse. Along the way, Anahodios fell prey to a wasting curse, which also proved to be the Dumnonii woman's fault. It was also the only reason that Kynthia didn't shoot her on sight, because (as with Circe's work) only the witch who bestowed the curse could lift it. Luscina demanded a terrible price for Anahodios's cure: a night alone with him, and he would have to do his best to please her. This ordeal left both Anahodios and Kynthia traumatized...but he lived. If Kynthia and Luscina ever cross paths again, the witch will not.

More recently, the campaign has taken a new turn, with Kynthia trying to find allies against the danger posed by the impending return of the monstrous god Typhon. Most of the Olympian gods are currently distracted by an unfortunate little squabble known as the Trojan War, so Kynthia has had to seek help elsewhere. An Egyptian sorcerer revealed to Kynthia much of the secret history behind Typhon's first war against the gods, and suggested that she help him seek out other magicians for help in determining how to avoid (or if necessary, fight) a second one. As a result, Kynthia has introduced Hori to Medea--a very momentous occasion, given how little trust there is between practitioners of magic. But even with Medea as an apparent ally, Kynthia was grateful to part ways with the witch again--the woman still unnerves her like no other, except maybe her aunt Circe.

Meanwhile, Kynthia has learned that the baby she helped deliver in the underworld is actually Typhon's son. Scotius has grown to adult size in just a few years, and has developed powerful magical abilities of his own. Kynthia now has to determine what part Scotius is destined to play in his father's return--and what to do about it when she does...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dreamlands Pathfinder Bestiary: Yaddithian

At one point in the story, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," Randolph Carter finds himself on the planet of Yaddith, inhabiting the body of one of the native insectoid wizards, after some dimensional travel goes awry. He uses his host's "light-beam envelope," a strange craft built out of thin metal and force fields, to travel through space to Earth. He must then disguise his hideous alien body in order to pass among humans long enough to attend the reading of his own will.

The stat block below is converted from Ye Book of Monsters, a supplement for the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

Yaddithian
This creature is roughly humanoid in outline, but Its body is covered in scales and chitinous plates. Its head is mostly insectoid, with a snout ending in small mandibles. It has the jointed limbs of an insect, with forelimbs ending in long fingers with sharp claws.

YADDITHIAN (CR 3)
XP 800
N Medium monstrous humanoid
Init +0; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +1
Defense
AC 14, touch 10, flat-footed 14 (+4 natural)
hp 16 (3d8+3)
Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +4
Offense
Speed 30 ft.
Melee 2 claws +6 (1d4+3)
Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 3rd; concentration +5 [+9 casting defensively])
1st (6/day)--burning hands (DC 13), comprehend languages, endure elements
0--detect magic, flare, read magic, resistance, touch of fatigue (melee touch +6)
Statistics
Str 16, Dex 10, Con 13, Int 16, Wis 13, Cha 14
Base Atk +3; CMB +6; CMD 16
Feats Combat Casting, Magical Aptitude
Skills Knowledge (arcana, engineering, planes) +6, Linguistics +6, Spellcraft +8, Survival +4, Use Magic Device +7
Languages Abyssal, Aklo, Auran, Celestial, Common, Draconic, Infernal, Yaddithian
Ecology
Environment any space (Yaddith)
Organization solitary, gang (2-4), or cabal (5-20)
Treasure standard

The denizens of Yaddith are highly intelligent insectoid creatures who study magic and metaphysics. They use either their claws or spells in combat, depending on the nature of their foes.

A Yaddithian casts spells as a 3rd-level sorcerer. Most advance as sorcerers, adding to the levels with which they begin, but their effective sorcerer level is 3 lower for the purposes of bloodline abilities. Yaddithian bloodlines include aberration, arcane, dreamspun (Advanced Player's Guide 137), psychic (Occult Adventures 125) and starsoul (Advanced Player's Guide 140).

#Drawlloween2016 Days 16-20

Day 16: Full Moon!
(Instead of drawing it with pen and paper, I decided to try out a new sketchbook app on my phone.)


Day 18: Mad [Mi-Go] Scientist Monday



Day 18: Nosfera-Tuesday



Day 19: Witchcraft Wednesday



Day 20: Horses & Headless Men



Thursday, October 13, 2016

#Drawlloween2016 Days 9-15

Time to do a little catch-up! I had already drawn a piece for Day 9, but then the presidential debates suggested something much scarier,..

Day 9 Bonus Sketch: He's s Dummy, Doll. 


Day 10: Demonday


Day 11: Slimy Swamps, Foggy Bogs 


Day 12: I've Got a Hunchback


Day 13: Thursday the Thirteenth


And I've been working ahead a bit, too...

Day 14: Scarecrow Row


Day 15: Drive-In Creature Feature


And in case anyone's curious, the sketchbook I'm doodling these in is 4" x 6".


Advanced Bestiary: Gigantean Trilobite

While creating the ooze models for my column two weeks ago, I was inspired to build a trilobite out of some of my less commonly-used black bricks. Here's the result:

As you can see from the grid under it, this trilobite would be Gargantuan if used as a mini. I'm highly unlikely to ever have a use for a prehistoric aquatic vermin that size, but I decided to try to stat one up for Pathfinder anyway. For this, I used the trilobite that appears in Bestiary 5 and the gigantean template from Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary. Applying this template to a Tiny base creature only results in a Huge creature, so I then added the giant template.

I made one other change when applying the gigantean template. The template only gives +5 to natural armor for a Tiny base creature, which would give the trilobite only AC 12 at Huge size (-2 Dex, +6 natural, -2 size). This is pathetically low, so I used the size normal advancement to calculate the new natural armor bonus instead, which gave a net +9 (for AC 16). I likewise decided to increase the bonus to AC granted by curl to +4 (the same as regular cover) to reflect the larger creature's thicker carapace.

MOTHER OF ALL TRILOBITES (CR 6)
XP 2,400
Giant gigantean trilobite [Advanced Bestiary 160; Pathfinder Role-Playing Game Bestiary 5 113, 289]
N Gargantuan vermin (aquatic)
Init -3; Senses darkvision 30 ft.; Perception +4
Defense
AC 16, touch 3, flat-footed 16 (-3 Dex, +13 natural, -4 size)
hp 187 (15d8+120)
Fort +17, Ref +2, Will +5
Offense
Speed 80 ft., swim 120 ft.
Melee bite +19 (2d8+18)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks trample (2d6+18, DC 29)
Statistics
Str 35, Dex 5, Con 26, Int --, Wis 11, Cha 2
Base Atk +11; CMB +27; CMD 34
Skills Perception +4, Swim +20; Racial Modifiers +4 Perception
SQ curl, water dependency
Ecology
Environment any oceans
Organization solitary, pair, or group (3-12)
Treasure none
Special Abilities
Curl (Ex) As a standard action, a trilobite can curl into a ball, increasing its natural armor bonus by 4 but preventing it from taking any move actions. Uncurling is a standard action.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

#Drawlloween2016 Days 6-9

Day 6: Urban Legends

Day 7: What Lies in the Mist?

Day 8: 8 Legs, 1,000 Eggs

Day 89: He's a Dummy, Doll

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Building the Bestiary #8: Spell Effects

This time, instead of constructing monsters, I'm going to talk about spell effects that can be represented by LEGO miniatures. If you have a spellcaster, whether PC or NPC, who makes use of any of the spells that I mention here, it can greatly speed play to have appropriate miniatures prepared ahead of time rather than trying to improvise.

First, there are a few subjects that I want to mention briefly before we get to the techniques for building spell minis.

Areas of effect: Many spells affect an area, whether it's a circle, square, cone, line, sphere, or other shape. The rulebook contains all the information you need to determine how much space those spells affect on the battle map. Some gamers like to buy or build templates for these shapes--either a flat cutout or a wire frame--which can be laid down on the map to quickly determine what squares are affected. It's possible to do this with LEGO bricks, but they're not ideal for anything larger than a 10-foot square (6x6 studs). You could build the template's shape out of plates, but placing it on the board for any non-instantaneous spell might require moving several minis. It will also obscure the grid and terrain underneath it unless made out of transparent plates (which are very rare, at any size; I only own one over 4x4 studs).

Alternately, you could build a frame out of 1xN bricks or plates to mark the edges of the spell's effect. (See "Walls," below, for examples of how to build this.) A brick-built frame is likely to be fragile and to take up more storage space than you might expect. Also, bricks are larger and clumsier than wire, so your frame will take up more room on the board than a commercial wire frame would--and LEGO minis tend to be more tightly packed on the board than traditional minis anyway, so there will be less space to put down a brick-built frame. Given the cumbersome nature of these methods, I usually just draw the edges of the area of effect directly onto the battle map in my games.

Creature effects: For spells that create, summon, animate, or transform creatures, build a miniature to represent the the new creature or the target's new form. See my other installments in this series for the appropriate creature type. For spells that change size but not form, you can either build a copy of the character or creature at the new size, or simply put the normal mini onto a different size base.

Illusions: Illusions can take the form of creatures, objects, patterns of light, and a host of other things, so it's difficult to generalize about how to depict them on the battle map. For an illusory creature or object, use a miniature for that thing. For an invisible character whose location is known to the players, I find it handy to either place an empty base in its space or mark the mini in some way to show it's invisible. Use a part that is unusual enough to not be mistaken for part of the mini--for example, a pith helmet (from the Adventurer's theme) or a transparent bell jar on the character's head.

Now, on to spells that require other kinds of miniatures.

Walls


The LEGO GM, who I've mentioned in previous columns, keeps a set of hinged yellow brick walls on hand for anytime that a spellcaster casts a wall spell. The hinges let him shape the wall as needed, and the bright yellow color makes it obvious that it's a magic effect rather than normal dungeon wall. If you use this technique, build hinges into the wall every 3 or 6 studs, so that you can shape them in 5-foot and 10-foot increments, respectively.


A short wall provides better visibility on the map, so even if your spell makes a wall 20 feet high, a 3-brick-high model is plenty tall enough for game play. In fact, you can build a very versatile and compact wall model out of just 1x2 hinge plates. For each segment, connect two plates so that the hinges are at opposite ends. I prefer to make each segment out of two of the same connector, because it saves time matching segments together. When connected, each segment will constitute a 1" (5-foot) length, regardless of which direction the chain is bent. (You can use 1xN plates to makes these segments longer, if you wish.)  For wall spells shaped into rings or spheres, you can simply shape the chain into an arc, or bend it to follow the edges of squares like a wire-frame template.

You can add special effects to these walls by adding clip plates to the top studs. For example, you can make a wall of fire by clipping torch flames to each segment. For a blade barrier, attach swords or knives.

Wall of thorns is an exception to the usual wall shape in that it forms 10-foot cubes of briars. This can be represented by 6x6 plates for each 10-foot cube, or by using foliage pieces. Stacking two of the standard 6x5 foliage pieces together, with the pointed ends reversed, will cover a 2" square better than a single piece, and the single studs at the pointed ends can be used to connect a wall formed of 2"-long segments. If you attach the foliage vertically to a plate (like I did using "headlight" bricks in the photo), be sure to leave room in the center of your "cube" for the minis of anyone caught in or trying to pass through the wall of thorns.



Other Fire Effects


To represent a flame blade or produce fire spell, simply put a torch flame in the hand of the caster's mini. For continual flame, simply attach a flame to the target object (like the everburning torch in the equipment list).

For flaming sphere, stick a flame onto a small plate or radar dish for a base. If you have a 2x2 dome or cylinder brick in red or orange, you can use that, with or without a flame on top, to make a more spherical miniature. Best of all would be one of the transparent orange boulders from the new volcano-themed City sets (even though they are slightly over 1" diameter).

For faerie fire, the LEGO GM suggests attaching transparent neon radar dishes to the targets. If you have flame or plume pieces in unusual colors, such as blue or green, those could also work well. Use the same technique for fire shield (red or orange flames for the warm version, blue or green for the cold shield), or for characters who are simply on fire from a burn effect.

Flight


Many D&D and Pathfinder creatures can fly through using spells, innate magic, or mundane wings. This complicates combat because you need a way to keep track of its altitude as well as its position over the map. The easiest way to indicate that a creature is flying (or capable of it) is to build their mini with one or more clear transparent bricks holding them up from their base. If the creature is flying directly over other creatures, you may need to find another way to show this on the map.

[My regular group's preferred method is to use one of the clear plastic boxes used to package sets of polyhedral dice. Remove the lid, invert the box, and place the flying creature on top. This allows you to place the box over any ground-level creature directly below the flyer, and the box will be tall enough to fit over most minifigures and their accessories. However, these dice boxes are also about 1-1/2" square, which can make them awkward to place over a 1" grid, especially if flying over close-packed creatures. However, I've yet to find an easier and more stable method using LEGO bricks.]


Hands


The archmage Bigby and his hand-themed spells are a cherished part of D&D canon, though his name was removed in the d20 Open Game License and any games (like Pathfinder) derived from it. All of these spells create a 10-foot hand of force, so the same miniature can use used for all of them. The first model below is pretty simple: 1x1 and 1x2 bricks, 1x2 plates, and 1x1 cylinders and cones, all in transparent blue to show that it's a magic force effect.


The second model is articulated so that it can be posed differently for each spell: upright and flat for interposing hand and forceful hand, digits curled in for grasping hand or crushing hand, or balled up for clenched fist. Note that the clip on the base can attach to either the heel or the side of the palm, and that in grasping hand mode, the model can easily hold a minifigure. (Not pictured is Bigby's insulting gesture, a new cantrip from an April Fool's issue of Dragon magazine.)

Pathfinder has two other "hand" spells that are not part of this family. Helping hand simply creates a beckoning hand to lead the target to the caster; this needs no miniature. Spectral hand allows a sorcerer or wizard to cast touch spells at a distance, so a miniature can be useful for indicating who the target is, and how far the hand can move each round. The photo to the left shows a number of ways to build a spectral hand mini.

Other Force Effects


Mage armor and shield are both invisible force effects on a character, so don't need to be represented on a miniature. However, a wizard who makes heavy use of them may want to indicate that using transparent parts, such as a radar dish attached to a hand as a shield. (See the photo at the top of the page for a force mage using transparent blue breastplate, shield, and chi bricks from the Legends of Chima theme.) The most recent Doctor Strange and Avengers sets contain a new part to make it easier for Strange and Scarlet Witch to hold their spell-shields.


Mage's sword and spiritual weapon can be represented by attaching a weapon to a base, as shown at right. If your weapon is built with a lightsaber hilt, then it can't attach to a stud, so use the "anti-stud" on the bottom of a 2x2 tile instead (using a tile rather than a plate gives a flat, stable base).

For a floating disk spell, you can use a 2x2 round plate or tile, or just use a mini for whatever object or container that the disk is carrying. For a more elaborate miniature, use a clear brick to raise the disk above the base. A smooth tile for the disk looks better by itself, but a plate with at least one stud will make attaching the cargo easier.

For resilient sphere and telekinetic sphere, transparent round cockpits or cylinders of the right size (6x6) are difficult to find, but you can use a round plate or radar dish to show where the spell is located. For forcecage, the simplest build that I've found involves linking 1" x 2" ladder parts using the clips on one end. For the barred version, use two ladders per side; for the windowless cell, use one per side. You can also use the gelatinous cube build from the last "Building the Bestiary" installment for the sphere spells and for the smaller, windowless version of forcecage.

Obstacle Courses


Black tentacles, entangle, and web all work by filling an area with some sort of obstacle that impedes movement by grappling or entangling anyone in the area of effect. Use whatever method you prefer for marking a large area of effect. Because each victim's entangled or grappled status can change from round to round, you will need some sort of way to track that status. If you have net, chain, or rope pieces, drape them over characters who are entangled or grappled. Remove the prop if the creature breaks free--but keep those parts handy for the all-too-likely possibility that they get stuck again before they can exit the area of effect.

And finally,

A Place to Rest at the End of the Day


Tiny hut creates a opaque but permeable sphere of force. You only need to mark the circumference of the spell, as with any large area of effect.

Rope trick and mage's magnificent mansion both create extradimensional refuges, and the caster may choose any floor plan they wish for the latter spell. In most cases, you will only need to mark the portal to that space, not map the interior itself. 

Secure shelter creates a temporary 20-foot square cabin on the same plane. If your PC or NPC spellcaster makes frequent use of this spell, expect to run a combat involving it at some point. The simplest model is a 12x12 stud base (four 6x6 plates) with a row of 1xN bricks around the edge for walls, leaving gaps for the door and windows, and additional plates marking furniture and the fireplace. If you want a more impressive prop (which will thrill the caster's player!), build the walls higher, incorporate actual door and window pieces, build furniture to scale, and tile the floor in a checkboard pattern to preserve the 1" (3-stud) grid. Just keep in mind that the higher the walls are, the harder it will be to see the space inside and to move minis around in it--and that there is a lot of furniture for such a small space. But if you're feeling very ambitious, consider adding a removable roof, too, so that any enemies trying to break in through the chimney grate have a place to stand.