Posts Tagged ‘DnD 5e’

Let’s talk about an Archduke of the Nine Hells! Both of my Exploration Age games that started during the launch of fifth edition are wrapping up. One campaign has a single session remaining! The entire story culminates in a battle with Bel, the former Archduke of Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells. (Note, if you’re unfamiliar with Bel, he’s mentioned briefly in the Nine Hells section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 65 and in the old third edition source book Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells).

In my campaign the player characters formed an alliance of necessity with Bel. They had common enemies. Bel gave the characters the power to take out some very formidable aberrations in exchange for helping to reinstall him as the Archduke of Avernus. It turns out the characters were being used by the crafty devil to take out his rivals. Now all they are all that stands in the way of Bel turning their home plane into a brand new hellscape.

Since I needed to stat out this legendary fiend for my party to take on, I thought I’d share the mechanics with all of you! Take a look. You can grab Bel’s stats in the free PDF linked below and in the Free Game Resources page of this site. (Note: My version of Bel is extra powerful. He’s the campaign’s ultimate villain and he’s gained a lot of power thanks to the adventurers. I estimate his normal Challenge Rating would be somewhere in the low to mid 20s. Reducing his hit points, damage output, and AC and then replacing his Limited Magic Immunity with Magic Resistance is an easy way to make that adjustment.)

Bel: Not Your Average Pit Fiend

Image from the Forgotten Realms Wiki.

Image from the Forgotten Realms Wiki.

Bel

Bel is no ordinary pit fiend. The ground shakes and all but the strongest archdevils are cowed when the legendary general walks by.

Asmodeus Above All. Bel is the former and present general and adviser of Zariel, the current ruler of Avernus by decree of Asmodeus. During Zariel’s first reign, Bel served his mistress loyally, until she plotted to overthrow Asmodeus. Bel betrayed Zariel in order to please his greater master Asmodeus. As a reward for his loyalty, Bel became the Archduke of Avernus when Zariel was overthrown. Overtime Zariel proved her loyalty to Asmodeus once again and Bel fell from the dark god’s favor. Zariel once again ruled Avernus and Bel was demoted. This was the will of Asmodeus, and though the decision was a slap in the face to Bel, he respects the hierarchy of the Nine Hells above all. It is an insult to serve Zariel, who delights in keeping Bel as an advisor, but he will not go against the word of Asmodeus.

Coveter of Power. Though Bel will not directly oppose or betray Asmodeus, he still desires his old station as Archduke of Avernus. To this end Bel seeks creatures who operate outside of the hierarchy of the Nine Hells. Bel’s plots are layered and complex. The strange bedfellows he makes are often unwitting adventurers who don’t realize the true consequences of their actions until it is too late. Bel seeks Zariel overthrown again, this time permanently, or a way to coerce Asmodeus.

Dangerous Deceiver. Bel is an engaging liar. He forges perfectly worded contracts that have deceived ancient gold wyrms into handing over their souls. The devil can look into the soul of any person and tell them exactly what they want to hear in order to get his desired reaction.

Brilliant General. For centuries Bel has been leading armies of devils in Avernus, the first line of defense against the Nine Hell’s incoming threats, namely demons from the Abyss. He has been fighting the Blood War for as long as he can remember and the fact that he has survived and thrived in this environment is a testament to his strategic mind and the loyalty of his troops.

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I have a bit of a problem. Some of my players have begun to look on dying as a minor inconvenience rather than the big deal it should be. You see, my players are seasoned, and know that when their PC dies, there’s always a raise dead or resurrection spell to be cast. For the most part, I’m ok with this. D&D is just a game after all, and as long as my players are having a blast, who cares if they’re coming back from the dead? But this has really begun to go too far…

When a character dies, he or she may spend a session or two playing another character while their original’s corpse spends its time gentle repose-d in a bag of holding, but eventually they find that diamond, or scroll, or rod and they’re able to bring the old character back to life. They have even begun to see the death of major NPCs as, “Oh well, we can just raise them later,” as opposed to the big story moments they should be.

The Current Penalties

Take a look at how the raise dead, resurrection, and true resurrection spells read from the Basic D&D Player PDF.

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There are some good things going on here. There is no experience point loss, Constitution score loss, or level loss, as in first, second, and third editions. While I may be looking for some more serious consequences when it comes to dying, these permanent draining penalties are no fun. They just give you an underpowered character compared to the rest of the party (unless everyone in the party dies and is raised an equal number of times). Always being a level behind everyone else can be embarrassing for many, and having low Constitution makes it even easier and more likely for a character to die again. While a little shame for dying can be fun, having a constant reminder like that is simply not fun for many players (myself included) which makes folks less likely to take risks with their characters. I would rather see my fictional hero die in a blaze of glory than cower in the back because I don’t want to have to feel the shame associated with being second-rate compared to the rest of the party. These old school penalties are a bit of a pain in the butt as well, since backwards math can take some time to figure out and get used to.

So the fifth edition spells do not have some of the bad drawbacks I personally disliked in older editions. They have a few other drawbacks which make sense to me. Let’s break it down spell by spell.

Raise Dead Drawbacks
  • Price and gem rarity. 500 gp is typically in the reach of PCs within the first five levels, perhaps within the first few sessions if the party pools resources and the DM is a handsome and generous person like myself. But a diamond worth 500 gp is more difficult to find than a few (hundred) coins. Only the most successful big city jewelers, nobles, and royalty are likely to have something like that lying around waiting to be sold. Even then they may not wish to part with the item (or have the characters undertake a quest before they consider selling it to them). Making these diamonds hard to find is the first drawback and it goes hand in hand with the next.
  • Time limit. A person may only have died within the last 10 days for the spell to work. Now in most campaigns that’s a time crunch to find a 500 gp diamond if the party does not already have one, so it does put the pressure on a party find a gem more quickly, which is great fun.
  • Gotta have the body. This makes sense for a fifth level spell. You can be raised from the dead provided you haven’t lost your head or turned into a pile of ash. So if this is the only spell available and you just died via red dragon breath, you are SOL. Also lost limbs stay lost and all magical diseases, curses, etc. remain in effect. So it’s not a heal all spell (like resurrection and true resurrection).
  • Fifth level spell. A fifth level spell for bards, clerics, and druids means the caster must have at least nine levels in one of these classes. So if the party does not have a ninth level caster in one of said classes (or a 17th level Paladin), their options are somewhat limited. Either the party must have a magic item such as a scroll which casts the spell and someone capable of activating said item or be able to find a willing NPC to cast the spell. The rarity of both of these is, of course, up to the DM. Not a bad drawback, but at a certain point this isn’t a hurdle once the party has a caster who can cast the spell.
  • Temporary penalties. I like this one. Coming back from the dead and being dead should take more out of you than having the flu, but eventually you get back to your old self.
Resurrection Drawbacks
  • Price and gem rarity. Now you need a 1000 gp gem, so it has all the drawbacks of raise dead at seemingly double the price, right? Nope! This drawback barely matters because you have 100 years to find the thing if you don’t already have it.
  • Time limit. If we’re talking PCs, in most cases this isn’t an issue. Unless you’re playing a game with a party of elves which spans centuries (actually a pretty awesome idea… called it), if a party member dies this is nothing to worry about. It could come up in other ways in your story, but won’t matter much for dead PCs. However, a caster is taxed greatly if a creature dead for more than a year is brought back to life, which is a little more likely to happen to a PC (though still not very in most cases).
  • Caster taxed. If a creature has been dead more than a year, the caster pays a big price… for a day. This isn’t a huge sacrifice, unless the spell is cast in the middle of a dungeon, which it very well may be, but again, in most cases probably not.
  • Seventh level spell. The spell is seventh level which means, a caster must be a 13th or higher level caster to cast the spell, and in most cases a DM will rule it’s even harder to find a scroll or NPC caster than for raise dead.
  • Temporary penalties. I’m still loving it.
True resurrection penalties
  • Price and gem rarity. Dang! 25,000 gp is a pretty penny and it’s even harder to find in gem form. Even with 200 years, you’re going to have to go through heck to get a diamond of that worth.
  • Time limit. 200 years. Really not a worry for a PC. This is barely a drawback (as it should be for a ninth level spell).
  • Ninth level spell. Good luck finding a scroll or NPC caster in many settings. If you do, be prepared to make some big sacrifices or before you get your hands on an item or a favor granted.

My Conflicting Feelings

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way these spells play out and their penalties. The pay off and penalties seem to scale well with spell level, but I do want something more. Here’s what I’m keeping in mind as I come up with some modules for death in Exploration Age.

  • It’s A Game. I want my players to have a shot at bringing their characters back from the dead if they truly love them. Characters returning from the dead is a hallmark of fantasy (Gandalf and Harry Potter did it) as well, so I’m cool with the fact that it doesn’t actually happen in the real world. At the same time, sometimes people lose games, so coming back from the dead shouldn’t be a gimme.
  • Death Should Be Scary. Death needs to have consequences beyond what the spells present, for my players have lost their fear of dying, a subject which should really be the main concern of players in most D&D campaigns.
  • Death Should Not Be A Straight Punishment. I want my players to take risks with their characters. Risks should be rewarded with great story, whether or not they pay off. A sweet, fiery death is a lot better than running around a few levels or Constitution points shy of the rest of the party.

With that in mind, check out these modules for death I’m offering in the Exploration Age Campaign Guide. The first makes PC death permanent… eventually. This seems fair as I have never had a PC die more than twice, but it could happen and would make death more meaningful. The second makes coming back a riskier proposition (though still fairly easy to accomplish), and was inspired by some first edition rules.

In an Exploration Age game, GMs can rule that character death has greater consequences than what is presented in the current Dungeons and Dragons rules. These variant rules are meant to make death a more serious threat.

Module: Three Strikes and You’re Out

Each time creatures are brought back to life via magic, a piece of their soul remains in the afterlife. They may only return from death twice, before their souls are permanently anchored in the afterlife. A third death is the absolute final for any creature, after that they may not be brought back to life by any means. In a sentence – every creature only gets three lives maximum.

Variant Module: Escalation Strikes

In this variant of the Three Strikes and You’re Out module, creatures may be brought back to life three times and a fourth death is the absolute final for any creature. In a sentence – every creature gets four lives. In this module a raise dead spell can no longer bring dead creatures who have died more than once back to life, and after their third death only a true resurrection spell may return a character to life.

Module: The Soul is Fragile

Outside of the body, a soul is fragile and can easily be destroyed. The process of bringing a person back to life is hard on the soul and there’s a chance a returning soul could be destroyed in the process. A caster must make a DC 15 ability check using their spellcasting ability modifier. If the check fails, the GM should roll on the appropriate table below for the result, based on the spell cast.

Raise Dead
d100 Effect
1 – 40 Spell works as normal.
41 – 60 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed.
61 – 99 The soul is destroyed.
100 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed. In addition, an outsider (such as a devil, demon, or angel) instead inhabits the body of the deceased. The inhabitant must be removed from the body before the original creature may be returned to life.
Resurrection
d100 Effect
1 – 50 Spell works as normal.
51 – 70 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed.
71 – 99 The soul is destroyed.
100 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed. In addition, an outsider (such as a devil, demon, or angel) instead inhabits the body of the deceased. The inhabitant must be removed from the body before the original creature may be returned to life.
True Resurrection
d100 Effect
1 – 60 Spell works as normal.
61 – 80 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed.
81 – 99 The soul is destroyed.
100 Soul is not returned to the body, spell slot and diamond are expended, but soul is not destroyed. In addition, an outsider (such as a devil, demon, or angel) instead inhabits the body of the deceased. The inhabitant must be removed from the body before the original creature may be returned to life.

Module: A Combination

You could combine the Three Strikes and You’re Out module and The Soul is Fragile module, by limiting creatures to only three lives and asking for a spellcasting ability check and rolling on the appropriate table anytime raise dead, resurrection, or true resurrection is cast.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s site.

I sit down with Rudy Basso, Alex Basso, Joe Lastowski, and Vegas Lancaster to talk about the latest fifth edition D&D news. We cover the announcement about extra pages in the Monster Manual, the previews for the tiefling race and hermit background, and kickstarters for fifth edition material before the OGL has been released. This podcast was recorded on July 20, 2014.

Links:
Philly N Crowd
What the Average Joe Thinks
dungeonsmaster.com

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

It’s RPG Blog Carnival time once again! This month’s theme – invasive species! If you’ve been following my blog you know that this is one of my most very favorite subjects. Big shout out to Garrison James over at Hereticwerks for this badass theme of amazingness!

Invasive species have spoken to us as enemies and engines of conflict for a long, long time. Aliens are the obvious example – Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Independence Day, and The War of the Worlds are good examples of little green men as invaders. Yet, the idea of invasive species goes beyond aliens. Monster movies like Godzilla and Cloverfield could be considered to have the invasive species theme. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds clearly has it. What about microorganisms? Even Y: The Last Man could be considered a story with invasive species. Heck, we see it in our real world all the time! Kudzu in Georgia, African hippos in Colombia, and Burmese pythons in Florida are all examples of real world invasive species.

Even the tagline for Cloverfield ads played on the idea of invasive species.

Anyway, you get the idea. It’s a topic central to many great stories. If you’ve been following World Builder Blog the last few months, then you already know two of its iconic invasive species. Today I’ll be presenting you with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition statistics for the half-devil, half-aberrant morchia and the mind controlling, parasitic mystauk.

Morchia

Like this but with more aberrant stuff!

The morchia are known as The Sleeping Ones, since The Reckoning Spell put a majority of them literally to sleep in the Verdan Underdark. Still, some of the beasts have escaped the tiefling’s ritual. These half-aberrant, half-devil monstrosities live to punish all other sentient races who would call Canus home and claim a piece of it for themselves. They have a particular hatred for metallic dragons, whom they see as the oppressors and murderers of their parent races, and for tieflings, who use The Reckoning Spell against them.

Morchia are often hatching plots which involve the destruction of a local people or settlement. While they rarely work with native races of Canus, they will work with aberrants, devils, and weak creatures who are subservient to them. Those lesser beings who know their place will be rewarded.

Because of their aberrant heritage, every individual morchia has a distinct and unique appearance. Some have tentacles, others many stalked eyes, others have multiple, sharp-toothed maws, and so on. Some have many aberrant features, but all have at least one.

Morchia share a common set of traits given to them by their fiendish parents. All morchia have a set of horns upon their heads, clawed fingers, and a fierce, spear-tipped tail. They also inherited some of the devil’s resistances.

Morchia

Large monstrosity

Armor Class 16

Hit Points 157 (15d10 + 75)

Speed 4o ft.

Senses darkvision 100 ft.

Str 22 (+6)

Dex 17 (+3)

Con 21 (+5)

Int 18 (+4)

Wis 17 (+3)

Cha 15 (+2)

Saving Throws Dex +5, Con +7, Wis +5

Alignment lawful evil

Languages Common, Infernal, Undercommon

Traits

Damage Resistance: The morchia is resistant to cold, fire, poison, and damage from nonmagical weapons except those made of silver.

Magic Resistance: The morchia has advantage on saving throws against magical effects.

Telepathy: The morchia can communicate telepathically with any creature within 100 feet of it that can understand a language.

Actions

Multiattack: The morchia can make two claw attacks, one claw attack and one hurl flame attack, or two hurl flame attacks.

Melee Attack – Claw: +8 to hit (reach 10 ft.; one target). Hit: 14 (2d8 + 6) piercing damage.

Melee Attack – Rend: If the morchia hits one creature with two claw attacks on the same turn, it may use rend against that creature as a bonus action. +8 to hit. Hit: 22 (4d8 + 6) piercing damage.

Ranged Attack – Hurl Flame: +6 to hit (range 100 ft. one target). Hit: 21 (6d6) fire damage.

Aberrant Traits

Every morchia has at least one aberrant trait (and many have more). Roll on the chart below at least once to give the morchia a special ability. Unless otherwise specified, the GM determines the exact nature of the morchia’s physical feature. For instance, if a morchia has the four tentacles feature, these tentacles can grow from their head, back, waist, or anywhere else the GM chooses. GMs may feel free to plunder abilities from other aberrant creatures rather than use the table below.

d12 Feature Effect
1 Four Tentacles When using multiattack, the morchia may make tentacle attacks in place of a claw of hurl flame attacks. Tentacle: +8 to hit (reach 15 ft.; one target). Hit: 11 (1d10 + 6) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled. Until the grapple ends, the target is restrained. The morchia has four tentacles, each out which can grapple only one target.
2 Multiple stalked eyes The morchia may use its action to fire 1d4+1 eye rays. Use the beholder eye ray ability to determine the effects.
3 Constantly speaking mouths grow all over the morchia’s body, constantly speaking infernal incantations The whispers drive fear into the hearts of the morchia’s enemies. The creature gains a fear aura. Fear Aura: Any creature which starts its turn within 5 feet of the morchia must make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw. Failed Save: The creature is frightened for 1 minute. Successful Save: The creature is immune to this morchia’s fear aura 24 hours. In addition, as a bonus action the morchia may attack an adjacent creature with a bite attack. +8 to hit (reach 5 ft.; one target). Hit: 12 (1d12 + 6) piercing damage.
4 A foul smelling, purple ooze exudes from the morchia’s pores and absorbs harmful magic The morchia is immune to spells of 6th level or lower, but can choose to be effected by any spells cast upon it.
5 The morchia can float above the ground, propelled by an unnatural force. The morchia gains a fly speed of 40 ft. It cannot be knocked prone and continues to float, even when stunned or knocked unconscious.
6 The morchia’s forehead protrudes, a signal that its mental prowess is beyond that of other morchia. As an action, the morchia can use Dominate Person: The morchia chooses one target it can see within 50 feet. The target must make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw. Failed Save: The morchia has access to all of the target’s thoughts and memories, and the target is charmed for 1 day or until the morchia or one of the morchia’s companions harms it, or until the morchia is killed. While charmed, the target must obey the morchia’s commands. The morchia can have only one creature charmed at a time. If the charmed creature takes any damage, it can make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw to end the effect. A creature remembers being charmed by the morchia. Successful Save: The creature is immune to the morchia’s dominate person ability for 24 hours.
7 The morchia grows cat eyes upon its hands, which can emit a mental blast. The morchia emits psychic energy in a 60-foot cone. Mind Blast: Each creature in the area must make a DC 14 Intelligence saving throw. Failed Save: 22 (4d8 + 4) pyschic damage, and the target is stunned for 1 minute, but can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the stunned condition early on a successful save.
8 Purple, protruding veins Once per day, the morchia can enter a Pyschic Rage: For ten minutes, the morchia does an extra 10 damage on all melee attacks and has advantage on melee attack rolls.
9 The morchia has black claws, which are always sharp and stronger than adamantine. When the morchia successfully uses its rend attack, the target must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw, or die instantly as its body is torn to shreds.
10 Third eye The morchia’s third eye emits an anitmagic field (as the spell) in a 150-foot cone. All spells, magic items, and magical effects within the area are suppressed – even the morchia’s own abilities (if applicable). At the start of each of its turns, a morchia decides which way the cone faces and whether the cone is active (the morchia deactivates the cone by shutting its third eye).
11 Acid drips from the morchia’s mouth. The morchia gains two new actions a bite and an acid spray. As part of its multiattack it may use its bite in place of a claw or hurl flame attack. Bite: +8 to hit (reach 5 ft.; one target). Hit: 16 (3d6 + 6) piercing damage and 7 (2d6) acid damage. Acid Spray (Recharge 5-6): The morchia can breathe acid in a 30-foot line. Each creature in the line must make a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw. Failed Save: 21 (6d6 damage) acid damage. Successful Save: Half damage.
12 The morchia has two aberrant features. Roll twice on this table.
You're gonna need these eye rays...

You’re gonna need these eye rays…

Mystauk

This guy is in your head!

Mystauk – terrifying mind-control parasites which latch onto the brain after entering the skull via the ear, nose, or mouth. Mystauk have only instinct, until the attach themselves to another mind. As host-less bugs they have a speed of 20 feet, fly speed of 30 feet, 1HP, AC 14, and a +6 bonus to Dexterity (stealth) checks. They have advantage on Dexterity (stealth) checks when hiding in dense foliage thanks to their green coloring.

When a mystauk crawls into a host’s head, the host must make a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw, or the mystauk infects the host. A successful save means the mystauk must leave the hosts head and cannot try to infect that host for another 24 hours. The mystauk has no other attacks.

When attached to a host, the game changes for the mystauk. They are able to fully access the host’s brain, making the parasite smarter, while making the host’s body faster and stronger. The mystauk fully controls the actions of the host until removed.

Historically, mystauk are only known to infect humanoids. Sages and scholars theorize that other species have brains too simple or too complex for mystauk to conquer and humanoids make the perfect host for them so they do not bother using other creatures as hosts. Others believe the mystauk have infected all manner of creatures, even dragons, the world just has not been made aware of such developments, because the mystauk are too deceptive.

A mystauk adopts the abilities and proficiencies of the host. All of the host’s ability scores become 20, as the mystauk is able to unlock the host’s brain and body’s full potential. For the same reason, the mystauk adds the host’s proficiency bonus to all saving throws. The mystauk is also proficient in the Charisma (deception) skill once it has a host as it has access to all of the host’s thoughts and memories. The mystauk can communicate with the host, but the host cannot hear the mystauk’s thoughts unless the mystauk wants it to.

A mystauk can tell when another inhabited host is in their presence and can communicate telepathically with any other awakened mystauk within 25 feet.

If a successful feeblemind spell is cast against the mystauk and host, the mystauk detaches from the host’s brain and cannot reattach itself to that host for another 24 hours. If the host dies, the mystauk detaches from the brain.

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If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!