Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Unearthed Arcana and Freeport, Part 8

Welcome back to my ongoing series of capsule reviews of "Unearthed Arcana" with an eye for how to use them with the Freport setting. This time, we'll take a look at articles released in April through July 2018.

Some of the new material here was developed as part of the Mike Mearls' Happy Fun Hour. See my column on that show for my comments about that process.

For my past columns about using D&D Fifth Edition sourcebooks with Freeport: The City of Adventure, see the Freeport 5E Index.

Order Domain (4/9/2018): This new cleric domain is designed for gods of law, civilization, and leadership. If you are using The Book of the Righteous with Freeport, then this domain is most appropriate for Maal (LN god of justice) and Asmodeus (LE god of tyranny). However, those two gods already have the Balance and Tyranny domains, respectively, which embody their own takes on law and order.

Centaurs and Minotaurs (5/14/2018): This article presents two hybrid races, centaurs and minotaurs, as player races. (The minotaur is updated from a UA column from 3 years ago: "Waterborne Adventures," 5/4/2015. This version is less Krynn-specific.) As the 5E designers have repeatedly pointed out (on The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour and elsewhere), a Large race would be inherently unbalanced due to the extra die of damage added to all attacks, so these two creatures have been redesigned as Medium races. To represent their larger than average size for that category, both gain bonuses to Strength, and the centaur's Equine Build trait gives some limited benefits as if they were Large (including being able to carry a Medium rider, if the centaur allows it).

As I pointed out in my first UA review, minotaurs do occasionally visit Freeport as members of some of the more monstrous ship crews. Centaurs would be a much rarer sight, simply because their equine frame is not well suited to ship travel. However, they would likely be a common sight on parts of the Continent, such as Rolland.

Giant Soul Sorcerer (6/11/2018): The giant soul sorcerer created as part of the Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour has been polished and expanded to cover all six true giant races. Except for the small population of ogres in Bloodsalt, giants rarely appear in Freeport adventures. Storm giants might be encountered at sea, and the Freeport Bestiary offers a couple new giants native to the mainland. This sorcerous origin seems perfect for northern barbarians from Druzhdin or the Bone Lands, and Vorizar and Iovan probably produce occasional giant-blooded spellcasters as well.

Races of Eberron (7/23/2018): This month's UA was published later than usual in order to coincide with the release of the Wayfarer's Guide to Eberron on DM's Guild. This installment updates the changeling, shifter, and warforged from the very first UA article for 5E, and adds the kalashtar.

As I suggested then, the changeling would need only cosmetic changes to serve as a serpent person PC race, and the warforged could be explained as the creations of vanished mages like the Ironjack.

The kalashtar are a humanlike race with minor psychic powers. Their origin is intimately tied to Eberron's dream-world, which might make this race difficult to adapt to Freeport. (I don't know the Eberron setting well enough to know if Dal Quor is even remotely similar to Lovecraft's Dreamlands, which is what I would consider the default "dimension of dreams" for Freeport due to the setting's Mythos elements.)

Shifters are thought by many to be descended from lycanthropes. This would make them very unwelcome in Rolland, and probably Hexworth as well. Freeport, on the other hand, is a magnet to outsiders and exiles, and the jungles of A'Val should appeal to many shifters.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Mordenkainen's Book of Foes and Freeport

The newest D&D Fifth Edition hardcover, Mordenkainen's Book of Foes, provides details about some of the greatest conflicts throughout the D&D multiverse: the Blood War between devils and demons; the origin of the drow and duergar subraces; and the wars of the Gith. The second half of the book provides new monsters tied into that lore, including a large number of high-Challenge rating creatures (such as arch-fiends, supreme rulers among the drow, etc.). This new material is suitable for most D&D settings, but my interest for this series is in Freeport.

For my past columns about using D&D Fifth Edition sourcebooks with Freeport: The City of Adventure, see the Freeport 5E Index.

The Blood War

This book's new material on devils and demons is imminently suited for use with the perennially cult-plagued city of Freeport. It can easily be combined with two 3E Green Ronin books, Hell in Freeport and The Book of Fiends, though the DM will need to makes some choices about which source to follow in certain areas. For example, yugoloths have never been Open Game Content, so Green Ronin had to develop their own versions of daemons to populate Gehenna in The Book of Fiends.

The roster of archdevils has changed a few times over the various editions of D&D, including the  falls of Moloch and Geryon from power--and the Book of Foes introduces a few new developments, such as the return to power of the corrupted celestial Zariel. A DM using The Book of Fiends can use the infernal hierarchy described there, or the one in the Book of Foes, or pick and choose from those sources as well as earlier editions' planar handbooks (notably the multiple versions of the Manual of the Planes and Book of Vile Darkness). Asmodeus is the one constant through all versions of D&D, so the lore about the King of Hell in Green Ronin's The Book of the Righteous may be useful here as well.

The "Familiar Demon Princes" sidebar in The Book of Fiends (p. 140) describes many of the same demon lords that appear in the Book of Foes, but under thinly disguised names due to the strictures of the 3E Open Game License. Lolth (or "Arachnidia") is discussed in the next chapter, about the elves.

This chapter also includes some suggested traits for cultists serving a demon lord or archdevil, as well as new tiefling subraces tied to the Lords of the Nine. (Both sections first appeared in Unearthed Arcana.)


References to most gods in Freeport titles are left purposefully generic, so that the city can more easily be combined with the DM's preferred campaign settings. DMs using The Book of the Righteous to fill in more detail may find the extensive racial pantheons presented here (and in the Storm Coast Adventurer's Guide) hard to reconcile with that book's Great Church model. However, the brief section on "Racial Gods" (BotR, p. 178) gives some ideas for how to approach this.

Drow are a canonical part of the World of Freeport (at least since Cults of Freeport), though usually quite remote from that city. DMs who wish to draw upon as many Green Ronin sources as possible for their Freeport campaigns can compare Plot & Poison: A Guidebook to Drow and Dezzavold: Fortress of the Drow (both for 3E) to the information given about the Dark Seldarine in Mordenkainen's Book of Foes. Plot & Poison, for instance, presents its own drow pantheon ruled by an unnamed Spider Queen.

Eladrin, sea elves, and shadar-kai were first presented for 5E in Unearthed Arcana (see Part 6 and Part 7 of my reviews of those columns). Mordenkainen's Book of Foes, however, gives far more lore about the extraplanar origins of both the eladrin and shadar-kai, and their relationships with their gods. This information makes it clear that while the eladrin are likely to visit the elven kingdom of Rolland from time to time, their loyalties lie within the Feywild. Likewise, while Lord Bonewrack could have ties to the shadar-kai, he rules only a minute portion of the Shadowfell.

Dwarves and Duergar

Freeport is a far cry from the security of a remote dwarven stronghold, but like many human cities of any significant size, it is home to a small population of dwarves. Most are merchants, adventurers, or outcasts--which probably makes them more like the others races in the City of Adventure than they would care to admit.

Duergar also appeared as a potential player race in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, which I've commented on here.

Gith and Their Endless War

When the gith races appeared in Unearthed Arcana, I pointed out that they had never appeared in any Freeport products because they were never made Open Game Content by Wizards of the Coast. However, at least one mind flayer (Cuttleblack) does appear in Freeport canon, so encountering a party of gith pursuing others of his ilk would not be out of the question. In addition, Mordenkainen's Book of Foes gives some details on githyanki airships, which could prove useful in some Freeport campaigns. And after all, githyanki raiding parties are essentially plane-hopping, psionic pirates.

Halflings and Gnomes

Halflings in Freeport have notably less innocence and leisure than the norm described here, but their  ties to their community are just as important for their survival.

Gnomes in Freeport are likely to be a mix of subraces. As I noted way back when I converted Rollo to 5E, the Player's Handbook says that most gnomes are rock gnomes, but the forest gnome has the minor illusion magic and ability to speak with animals that match his original 3E traits. On the other hand, rock gnomes in 5E are tinkerers and artificers, which also fits a number of gnomes in Freeport canon, such as the firearms inventor Kolter.

Since the original  Freeport Trilogy, other titles (the 3rd  Era Freeport Companion and the Pathfinder edition of Freeport: The City of Adventure) have established the crag gnomes of Iovan as the dominant subrace in the World of Freeport. Crag gnomes have darkvision and an affinity for earth magic, which makes the deep gnome subrace a decent fit for them.


See the previous sections for general commentary about demons, devils, drow, duergar, and eladrin.

A few of the new monsters presented in this chapter, such as the allip and choker, are already Freeport canon, so their entries would prove very helpful in updating existing Freeport adventures to 5E.

A few of the new fiends can be substituted for foes appearing in Hell in Freeport and The Book of Fiends. One of the better matches here is substituting orthons for the Faceless, as both are relentless trackers of similar power levels.

Strange magical machines occasionally appear in published Freeport adventures, so new constructs such as clockworks and hellfire engines are appropriate additions to the setting's bestiary.

Similarly, mastery of elemental magic is a common pursuit in the city (and elsewhere), so elder elementals and elemental myrmidons have a place in the World of Freeport. (In fact, the leviathan fills a very similar niche to the ocean wyrm in Creatures of Freeport and the Freeport Bestiary.)

Finally, star spawn are perfectly suited to the element of cosmic horror that has pervaded the Freeport setting since its debut. The larva mage in particular seems appropriate for a minor avatar of the King in Yellow. The Elder Evil blessings can be adapted to cults featured in Freeport sources (Radiant Flames for Tuulazcha, Tharizdun's Spark for the Unspeakable One, etc.) or used as inspiration for new gifts.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Time of the Tarrasque: Almost Time Again!

My "Time of the Tarrasque" campaign has been on an extended hiatus due to two of our players leaving the state (see the note at the end of session summary #13). Around the same time, I and at least one other member of our group started dealing with work transitions of our own, which made scheduling a regular game extremely challenging.

In order to keep getting our gaming fix during this time, my wife and I stayed active with Pathfinder Society, and we both finally started GMing occasional scenarios. We eventually started a PFS home game for our regular gaming group, so that those of us who remained local could still get together and game on a semi-regular basis despite the hiatus from my campaign.

(Side note: If you ever try any kind of organized play yourself, whether it's PFS, D&D Adventurer's League, or another group, please consider running some adventures yourself once you're familiar with the extra rules peculiar to these events. This will help reduce the burden on the more established GMs, who can get burnt out if they have to run constantly. It's also great practice for running your own campaigns. In addition, GMs often get access to special rewards beyond those available to other players, which might include special in-character boons or a few dollars of store credit from the shop hosting the event.)

Now, after several months off from "Time of the Tarrasque," we're all itching to get back to it. I spent some time thinking about the possibility of continuing the game with our two departing players through some sort of remote link. However, I decided that I wasn't entirely comfortable with the extra effort that would be required to learn to use the technology on top of the usual prep needed for a homebrew campaign. I also prefer gaming face-to-face, and have found that it's much easier to GM for 4 players rather than 6. For these reasons, I decided to continue the game without Jubair and Lucretia's players, and they were very understanding about that decision. (They've also found a D&D group in their new town, which is wonderful.)

Continuing without two of our original players also means continuing without their characters. Lucretia's backstory already came with an easy out there, which the rest of the party may or may not learn about when she bids them farewell. Jubair, on the other hand, doesn't have any particular ties to anyone except for the other PCs, so I needed to come up with a plausible in-game reason for him to part ways with them. His player suggested that Jubair die of a burst stomach from eating too much barbeque. While this is perfectly in character for our class clown, I felt it would be a too much grief to pile on top of the remaining PCs so soon after ZhaZha's death, and its meaninglessness would cheapen hers.

Thinking on this some more, I was struck again about how darn inconvenient it was that the death in our last fight didn't claim one of the characters who was departing anyway! I was inspired to offer a bit of retconning to the group: Instead of ZhaZha dying and needing a reincarnate spell, it was Jubair who fell in battle. This will help with a number of things besides the obvious question of Jubair's departure:
  • Selling Jubair's magical amulet would pay for the spell's material components by itself. This would allow the other PCs to be reimbursed the funds they chipped in to help pay for ZhaZha's return. I'm still getting used to the fast advancement track requiring me to give the party more wealth, too, so draining their purses for this expensive spell would just put them more behind.
  • ZhaZha's reincarnation was a bit rushed because we were trying to fit it at the end of a long session after a brutal combat. I would much prefer to give the players a bit more time to roleplay through huge dramatic moments like that, especially since they are fated to be big damn heroes someday. Rewinding a little bit will give us a chance to do that properly, and changing it to Jubair will allow the others to concentrate on their other goals rather than having ZhaZha's new burdens taking up too much of the spotlight.
  • I can also use Jubair's reincarnation to lay some more ground work for Jumari's Lost Egg cult, which she told the other PCs about when they were traveling to acquire components for the spell. It's the perfect opportunity to introduce a couple NPCs tied to that, then having Jubair step off-stage for an indefinite time to get his brand-new head on straight. (I didn't want to push this too much with ZhaZha, but I've been given free reign with Jubair as an NPC.)
  • And frankly, it seems a lot more fun to keep ZhaZha around as a half-orc. We've barely even begun to delve into her background, and her race is an essential part of that.
Because we're starting again after a long hiatus, and because the party will be significantly smaller, I will be allowing all my continuing players to make some tweaks to their characters. I had already been considering introducing the Background Skills rules from Pathfinder Unchained. The 2 additional skill ranks per level will be a godsend to the more skill-starved classes, and a nice bonus for the others. With the party losing some useful abilities due to Lucretia and Zubair's departure, these extra skills will help make up some of that deficit. 

In the longer-term, at least two of PCs had already planned to take the Leadership feat when they reach 7th level. When they do that, they can recruit cohorts who can contribute class abilities that they still lack. Meanwhile, they might decide to adjust their own future feat selection, or even do a bit of multiclassing, if they feel the party can't wait that long to regain (for example) a skilled archer, scout, or trap expert.

Another necessity after such a long break was a recap of the story so far. Naturally, my session write-ups here provide the most complete summaries of the campaign's events. (See the links at the end of this post.) But I also highlighted some of the more important plot threads for my players, and we discussed the ones they wanted to follow up on. The general consensus at the moment is that taking on Asmolon's death cult has proven a bit too deadly for them at their current capabilities. They will be pursuing some other things for while, as they acquire the experience needed to survive their next encounter with the cult. The other subject that has their attention now is learning more about the desert giants and the ruined city of Tibul, but that too will likely require some lengthy preparation (and a bit more guidance on my part, as GM).

Our first in-character session after the hiatus will begin with a little rewinding to retcon the death and reincarnation scenes. I expect it will be mostly roleplaying, as we work through the aftermath of that tragedy and determine in character where the party will go next. Lucretia and Jubair will continue as NPCs for a short time (a session or two at most?), until we have enabled their departures.

Going forward from there, our party of heroes will consist of:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (magician) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.


Appendix: Previous Sessions

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour, Part 2: Psionics!

Mike Mearls 
(by Tim Emrick)
Back in May, I did a review of the first dozen episodes of The Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour, in which one of the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition shows his process for designing new material for the game. That introduction covered January through most of April 2018; this installment will take a look at episodes from April to early July.

4/24/18: Mearls' discussion of the Disaster Barbarian continues, sketching out the remainder of its subclass abilities. After covering so many subclasses, he feels it's time to take the next step of designing a new class, and wishes to tackle psionics. However, as an exercise in the limited time he has left in this episode, he first tries to create a Psion subclass for the wizard. He uses this as an example of a concept that really needs to be designed as a full new class, because it's too hard to pin down the feel within the limits of a subclass.

The Warlord, which he did back in March, was complicated in execution, but that concept fit better as a fighter subclass than as a new class of its own. (Among other things, the warlord concept didn't seem robust enough to support multiple subclasses over years of play.) Here, the Psion clearly needs a better way to distinguish itself from other spellcasters than cherry-picking psychic-flavored spells from the wizard list.

5/1/18: After further exploration of the Psion/Mind Mage wizard, Mearls feels that it actually fills a niche for DMs who want some of the flavor of psionics in their game without needing to learn the rules for an entirely new class. This basically gives three possible settings for psionics in D&D games:
  1. Strictly by the Player's Handbook: No psionic classes or subclasses. The only psionic creatures are rare monsters with psionic spellcasting.
  2. The mystic: A new psionic class that requires DMs and players to learn a lot of new rules and options, roughly as extensive as a new spell list.
  3. Psionic subclasses that largely use existing spells and class abilities to provide psychic flavor.

5/8/18: Mearls develops a Psychic Warrior subclass for the fighter, using the Eldritch Knight subclass as a starting point for spellcasting. As with the Psion, the spells that seem most appropriate for the class don't fit neatly into a couple of schools (as they do for the Eldritch Knight), so this subclass will probably require a bespoke spell list.

(5/15/2018: No episode due to illness.)

5/22/18: Next up is the Soulknife as a subclass for monk, which is a class that Mearls has not addressed up to this point in the show. The Soulknife is an interesting choice, because it has no spellcasting powers, only its signature weapon.

5/29/18: Mearls reviews more polished versions of the Psychic Warrior and Soulknife. He suggests two possible ways that psionic classes or subclasses might eventually enter the game: either as a chapter in the setting book for Dark Sun (a classic setting that showcased psionics) or as part of a second Xanathar's-style book. Neither is happening right away, but I expect that feedback on his show and on the Unearthed Arcana articles that come out of it will help shape that decision. In fact, he does mention that a new satisfaction survey about 5E as a whole is in the works, and that definitely will influence future design on the game.

6/5/18, 6/12/18: Mearls takes a look at the Mystic class as it last appeared in Unearthed Arcana. That version was not completely satisfactory because it was trying to do too much. However, the past few weeks' work on psionic subclasses have moved enough archetypes to other classes that the Mystic--renamed the Psion--now has a much more obvious focus. In the second of these two episodes, Mearls ruthlessly prunes away at the Mystic class and its orders (subclasses) in order to determine which abilities should reside in the core Psion class, which in the subclasses, which should be made into spells, and which should be dropped entirely.

Mearls' new design makes psionic powers work like spells, using spell slots, despite previous editions giving psionic characters power points to fuel their abilities. The 5E Dungeon Master's Guide has optional rules for running magic with spell points, so that option is available for psionics, if the GM allows.

6/19/18: Mearls delves into the design of new psionic cantrips to support his current ideas for the Psion class, focusing primarily on the teleportation-based Nomad subclass.

6/26/18: This episode is largely devoted to a tangent suggested by someone in the show's chat channel: How to design spells that make minor time travel effects easy to implement during combat.

7/3/18: Mearls works on one more Psion subclass, the Shaper, which is defined by its at-will summoning power. Most of the rest of this subclass, and the Psion class as a whole, will occur off-camera, then Mearls will come back in a few months to present a more fully-fleshed out class--perhaps in the form of an Unearthed Arcana article.

The Happy Fun Hour has exclusively covered classes and subclasses up to now, so Mearls has decided that the next several weeks will involve designing new monsters for the Nentir Vale campaign he's running.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

"They Never Did Catch That Rhino"

One of my gaming buddies recently acquired the Black Panther LEGO set 76099 Rhino Face-Off by the Mine, which prompted a discussion about the armored rhino model's size category and possible Pathfinder stats. Last month, I received the same set as a birthday present from my family, which has convinced me that I need to complete and share stats for using this model as a Pathfinder miniature.

The base creature is obviously a rhinoceros, but both the normal and woolly varieties are merely Large size. This model is 18 studs long (12 studs for just the torso), so is at least Gargantuan (Space 20 ft. = 4" on the battle map), if not Colossal (Space 30 ft.+ = 6"+).

The Pathfinder rules provide multiple ways to increase a creature's size. The simplest is to apply the Giant Creature simple template, which increases size by one category, and raises CR by +1. You can also increase the creature's Hit Dice. The Bestiary states that, "As a general rule, creatures whose Hit Dice increase by 50% or more should also increase in size, but GMs should feel free to ignore this rule if warranted by the individual creature or situation."

Outside the core rules, Green Ronin's Advanced Bestiary includes a Gigantean template, which increases a creature's size by a whopping four size categories. This is obviously meant for producing immense kaiju-like monsters. A gigantean rhino would be one step beyond Colossal--still Colossal, but twice as large as a standard Colossal monster. That's dramatically bigger than this model can justify!

Combining the size increase for added HD plus the giant creature simple template would give us a Gargantuan rhino:
XP 3,200
N Gargantuan animal
Init -1; Senses scent; Perception +15
AC 19, touch 5, flat-footed 19 (-1 Dex, +14 natural, –4 size)
hp 108 (8d8+72)
Fort +14, Ref +5, Will +3
Speed 40 ft.
Melee gore +14 (4d6+18)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks powerful charge (gore, 8d6+36)
Str 34, Dex 8, Con 27, Int 2, Wis 13, Cha 5
Base Atk +6; CMB +22; CMD 31 (35 vs. trip)
Feats Endurance, Great Fortitude, Skill Focus (Perception), Toughness
Skills Perception +15
The next step is to account for the rhino's armor. In the movie, the armor is clearly just that, but the LEGO model looks like it might be a cyborg. There is an Augmented Creature template in the Advanced Bestiary that can be used to build a fantasy cyborg, but that template requires more work because it requries Augmentation Points to be spent for new special abilities.

When I mentioned the Metal-Clad template to my friend, he asked, "So what are the stats for vibranium?" Perhaps that question can be answered using some of the starmetals from high-tech supplements for Pathfinder, but as written, the metal-clad template lacks any metals that exotic. However, it does include adamantine and mithral. Adamantine would reduce a Gargantuan rhino's Dexterity to 2, so I chose mithral instead. This gives us the following stat block--which you definitely don't want to see charging you on the battlefield!
XP 19,200
N Gargantuan animal
Init -1; Senses scent; Perception +15
AC 27, touch 5, flat-footed 27 (-1 Dex, +22 natural, –4 size)
hp 116 (8d8+80)
Fort +15, Ref +5, Will +3
Defensive Abilities heavy fortification; Resist fire 15
Weaknesses vulnerability to electricity
Speed 40 ft.
Melee gore +16 (4d6+21)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 15 ft.
Special Attacks powerful charge (gore, 8d6+42)
Str 38, Dex 8, Con 29, Int 2, Wis 13, Cha 5
Base Atk +6; CMB +24; CMD 33 (37 vs. trip)
Feats Endurance, Great Fortitude, Skill Focus (Perception), Toughness
Skills Perception +15, Swim +10
SQ mithral limbs