Building The (Less Well-Known) Avengers for 5e!

Avengers Assemble!

For the next couple of weeks, while I kick off a PhD program in my Real Life, I’m going to do a little project I’ve wanted to work on for a while: I’m statting up the Avengers. I’m inspired, here, by a couple of posts on Tribality, laying out stats for the Avengers from the movies. The movies are great and all, but those aren’t my Avengers. The Avengers team I remember most fondly wasn’t the most iconic or the most powerful, but it had a real diversity of characters and abilities and personalities, and those personalities often drove the stories in a way they hadn’t before, and haven’t often sense. The Avengers of the mid-80s might not be the best or the most recognizable, but in many ways they’re the ones I imprinted on at an impressionable age, and they’ll always have a place in my heart.

D&D isn’t the best game for super-hero action, even though the PC are, compared to the rest of the world, super-heroes by level 6. It doesn’t replicate well a mismatch in party ability levels, for one. Take the Avengers from the movies: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Hulk. If a GM balances an encounter properly, either Thor and Hulk are going to end it in a single round, or Hawkeye and Black Widow aren’t going to survive it.

The mid-80s Avengers, at least, were better balanced. Thor had been powered-down enough that the version on Tribality pretty well represents what he was capable of. He was almost mortal, at this point. Shawn’s build of Captain America is right on, too.

Of the other members on the team at that time, She-Hulk was the most powerful, but even she was never depicted as a force of nature the way He-Hulk always was. She wasn’t as physically overwhelming, but she was much smarter. Hercules was there, as well, but his strength was always downplayed. He was a demi-god, after all, not a full-fledged god like Thor.

The second reason D&D doesn’t do super-heroes well is that super-heroes get all their powers at once. Hulk didn’t have to go through 20 levels before becoming the strongest one there is: he started out that way. Sure, their powers and abilities evolve over time, but that’s story-based evolution, not a gradual increase in power. I want these builds to be playable at every level, and to feel at least a little like the character they’re meant to represent.

Despite all that, I’m building my Avengers, damnit. Captain America I’m not touching. The Battle Master Fighter is perfect. I’m going to try my hand at a multi-class cleric/paladin build to Thor, though. The others, though: Black Knight. Captain Marvel. Dr. Druid (the worst Avenger). Namor. She-Hulk. Wasp. I’ll post builds for them over the next couple of weeks, and then I’ll get back to some Iron Gods stuff.

(Machine Man and Namora were honorary Avengers/ plot devices in the same time period, but I’m not building them, partly because I haven’t put together a construct race for Machine Man, yet. Maybe later. Oh, and Starfox was there for a while, but his power is date rape, so I’m not going anywhere near him and neither should you.)

enhanced-27340-1423176997-9Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau)

She’s gone through a lot of code-names: Captain Marvel, Photon, Pulsar, Monica, and Spectrum, but at this point she was Captain Marvel, which basically makes her the standard-bearer for the entire comic book line. I mean, if your company is called “Marvel Comics,” then Captain Marvel should be your standout character. She does lead the team, for a while, although during this period just about everybody who isn’t Thor, She-Hulk, or Hercules becomes leader for a while. Despite that, she’s an awesome character: a Black woman leading the flagship Marvel team in the mid-1980s. Even today, she’s the natural leader of every team she’s on.

If she’s the leader, she should be a bard, right? I’m going to go Cleric of Light, though, because it fits her powers perfectly. She’s the leader not because she’s the most charismatic (she’s not), but because she’s the best at putting resources where they belong. That says Wisdom, to me: she makes the right choice at the right time, not because she’s studied the options, but because she has great instincts. In D&D, the leader role always goes to the character with the highest Charisma, but I think that’s a mistake. That character is the best talker, sure, but not necessarily the best leader.

The best leader? That’s always Captain Marvel.

I’m throwing down two builds for her: one an aasimar and one an aarakocra. Either way she’s at the beginning of the alphabet. The question is, which is more important: the light powers or the flight?

Captain Marvel

Hacking Captain Marvel

All of the attack spells I picked replicate something that she can do in the comic, and all of the non-attack spells are similarly focused. If I were playing her as a cleric, cure spells wouldn’t be my first choice. If I took one, though, I’d flavor it as “Monica sutures your wound with a laser from her finger,” or something. In fact, that’s true of all the spells: if I used greater restoration to remove exhaustion, I’d flavor that as hitting the other character with a dose of pure sunlight or wake them back up.

I can’t decide which race is better, honestly. I love the idea of getting her into the air sooner, but the magic items make up for that pretty quickly, and the Spell Sniper feat may be worth it. (Although the light cantrip is a waste, since it comes from the race and the domain.) The dive ability seems out of character, too. I guess it’s a question of how important flying is, to our image of her. If I were GMing, I’d grant an aasimar Captain Marvel access to levitate early on, and maybe jump, or something.

One final note: even if I were playing her as an aasimar, I’d keep Monica Rambeau dark-skinned. Being a Black woman from New Orleans is as important a part of her character as being a police officer, and since aasimar are always depicted as light-skinned, I think that keeping that aspect of her would make for some interesting role-playing opportunities with other aasimar, and the humans around them. More importantly, I think it’s important not to white-wash the character just because “that’s not what aasimar look like.” They’re a fantasy race: they look like whatever we want them to. (In fact, there’s no reason all aasimar can’t be Black. That would be an interesting way to subvert that trope, I think.)

There it is: the first of the Avengers builds, with more to come. What do you think? Playable at every level? What would you change?

Next time: The Lion of Olympus and the Worst Avenger (but an awesome player character)! Builds of Dr. Druid and Hercules!

5e Warlock Pact: The Empyreal Lord

cc Miguel Rigodon HarknessWarlock Patron: Empyreal Lord

Your patron is an Empyreal Lord, a powerful celestial godling who works in the service of the powers of good. Empyreal Lords are single-minded and brutal in their determination to wipe out evil, and while they have different motivations, such creatures are incorruptible forces for good. When they grant power, they expect nothing less that total devotion to the cause of good, being good, however, doesn’t mean that these beings are nice, or that their understanding of good is comprehensible to mortals. They are as foreign and demanding as any other patron, and while their influence might be more benign, their indifference to the concerns of individual mortals is not.

Expanded Spell List

The Empyreal Lord lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Empyreal Lord Expanded Spells

Spell Level Spells
1st: detect evil and good, guiding bolt
2nd: augury, searing smite
3rd: beacon of hope, spirit guardians
4th: divination, guardian of faith
5th: blinding smite, commune

Shield of Righteousness

Starting at 1st level, your patron protects you from the spells and abilities of evil creatures. When an evil creature uses a spell or effect that you can make a saving throw against, you can use your reaction to gain advantage on that saving throw. If the creature is not evil, you gain no benefit from using this feature.

Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Angelic Smite

At 6th level, your patron grants you the ability to strike down your foes with a mighty blow. When you hit with an attack, you can add an extra 1d10 radiant damage to the damage.

Once you use this feature, you can’t yse it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Otherworldly Courage

Starting at 10th level, you will never again know fear, because your connection to your celestial patrol burns brightly within you. You are immune to being frightened, and when another creature attempts to cause you to become frightened, you can use your reaction to instill that fear in them, instead. The creature must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw against your warlock spell save DC or be frightened by you for 1 minute.

Repentance Strike

Beginning at 14th level, you can manifest a part of your patron. When you use this feature, you might gain a halo, glowing eyes, or a weapon wreathed in fire. As an action, choose a creature within 60 feet of you. That creature is transported to heaven until the end of your next turn.

While the creature is in heaven, it sees all of its past actions in an instant. If the creature willingly shifts some aspect of its alignment to good, or is already good-aligned, it is heals 6d10 damage and when it returns it can roll a d4 and add that number to one attack or saving throw that it makes within the next minute. Even creatures that can’t normally be good-aligned can choose to change their alignment to good in this way. A creature that chooses to shift its alignment is considered charmed by you for one minute or until it takes damage. If the creature does not shift some aspect of its alignment to good, it instead takes 6d10 radiant damage and must make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC or be frightened by you for 1 minute.

You must finish a long rest before you can use this feature again.

Hacking the Empyreal Lord Patron

There is a problem with a patron like the Empyreal Lord: the warlock class is meant to be tortured, to have to make sacrifices for power. According to the philosophy of the class, if you want to wield great power, you have to strike a bargain with an evil entity, and the rest of your life will be a battle for control of your soul. Empyreal Lords (and other good-aligned patrons) remove that struggle. The Empyreal Lord should be demanding, though, and while not as evil as a Great Old One, should be incomprehensible, it should feel like a pull.

The 5e paladin doesn’t have the same kind of moral inflexibility as paladins from earlier editions, and I imagine the Empyreal Lord warlock as the next best thing. Instead of being an excuse to play a jerk, though, and refusing to let the rogue be a rogue, the pull should be internal. The warlock might want to let the rogue steal or assassinate, but feels the patron pulling them in a less morally gray direction. I think of it as the opposite of an Archfiend warlock. I can imagine this patron being a lot of fun for someone with the criminal background, or the soldier.

That’s the Empyreal Lord patron. What do you think? Too far from the intent of the warlock class? Too powerful? Not powerful enough?

This week, I’ve learned that three posts a week is too much, so I’m going back to two, on a Monday/ Friday schedule.

Next time: I’ve been laying the groundwork for this for a while: 1990s-era Avengers builds! 

5e Races: Hellbred Traits & Bonds

The Hellbred, Part 2!

Continuing the hellbred race that I started, last time. I think this is would be a fun race for the Hell’s Rebels adventure path. Is it overpowered? Does having weaknesses break the design philosophy of 5e? What do you think?

cc remtonHellbred Traits

Your hellbred character possess a number of traits that reflect your remade body and your damned soul. Some hellbred are saved as tireless warriors against evil, while others are better suited to be hunters.
Ability Score Increase. You have learned from your mistakes. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Age. Hellbred come into the world as adults, and none live long enough to determine their normal lifespan. It is possible that they do not age in the way that mortal races do.
Alignment. Hellbred are almost always lawful good. Less common are neutral and chaotic good hellbred, although many Empyreal Lords have a uses for hellbred of those alignments. More rare are hellbred who become evil, having given in to the inevitability of their damnation. These hellbred are hunted not only by devils, who seek the soul they have been denied, but by celestials, who do not take kindly to betrayal. Hellbred are never fully neutral.
Size. Whatever the hellbred’s race and size in life, and process of resurrection always crafts a body about the size and shape of a large human. Your size is medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Infernal Mein. You are terrifying to look upon. When a creature can see your face, you gain advantage on Intimidate checks and disadvantage on Diplomacy checks.
Touch of Evil. Your soul is pure, but your body still contains the taint of the evils you did in life. You can attune to weapons that can normally only be attuned by those with evil alignments, regardless of your alignment.
Hellbound. While you have cheated damnation for a time, a devil still has a claim on your soul. If you die, you can only be returned to life with a resurrection spell, or more powerful magic, and you can never return as the creature you were before becoming hellbred.
Empyreal Favor. The Empyreal Lords have faith in your ability to overcome your past, and that faith gives you an inner reserve of strength to call on when you most need it. As long as you are fighting an evil creature, you can choose gain advantage on any d20 roll, before you roll it. You must finish a short or long rest before you can use this ability, again.
Languages. You can speak, read and write Common, Infernal, and one other language you knew in life. Hellbred are not known for creating art or music. If they do, their endeavors tend to be heavily influenced by themes of salvation and damnation, and are always small enough to be carried: carving, poetry, small musical instruments, and so on. Their creative endeavors are sometimes tied to one of the Empyreal Lords that resurrected them: hellbred who were redeemed by Empyreal azatas are more likely to create art than those redeemed by Empyreal angels.

Hellbred Body

Your body is infused with a combination of divine and infernal strength, making you hardier than others of your kind, allowing you to shrug off blows than would fell most people.
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2.
Devil’s Blood. You gain resistance to poison damage.
Infernal Resilience. After you are hit with an attack, but before the damage is revealed, you can choose to gain resistance to bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing damage until the end of your next turn. Silver weapons ignore this resistance. You must finish a short or long rest before you can use this ability, again.
Consume Essence. Your body swells with demonic energy, consuming its own essence in an effort to fight longer. You can sacrifice a number of hit points up to one less than your current hit point value. If you do, you gain twice that number temporary hit points, which last for 1 minute. Any amount of magical healing causes these temporary hit points to disappear.

Hellbred Spirit

Your body is weak, but your spirit shines with the light of the celestials, allowing you to follow your prey into even the deepest of hiding-places.
Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2.
Darkvision. You fear no darkness. You gain darkvision to 60 feet.
Celestial Intuition. You gain advantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks.
Light of Heaven. Even magical darkness is no impediment to you. You gain the ability to see in magical darkness for 10 minutes. You cannot use this ability again until you finish a long rest.
Eyes of the Empyreals. You can choose to gain the blinded condition. If you are blinded in this way, you gain telepathy to 10 feet. The range of your telepathy increases by 10 feet whenever you gain a level.

Hellbred Bonds

When creating a hellbred character, you can use the following table of bonds to help flesh out your character. Use this table in addition to or in place of your background’s bond or a bond of your creation.

d6 Bond
1 The Daredevil. I am without fear. Having died once, I am eager to prove to my benefactors that my resurrection was not a waste, so I throw myself into everything I do with a grim determination, and a complete disregard for my own life.
2 The Hero with No Name. I speak little, focusing instead on allowing my actions to speak for me. I am not interested in small talk, or exchanging names and pleasantries. I will save those I can and move on.
3 The Pack Leader. I want to think of myself as a “lone wolf,” but I often gather allies to myself, generally misfits and those discarded by society. I try to act as though I don’t care about anyone, but if anyone interferes with my pack, I react decisively and violently.
4 The Peacemaker. Some of my kind delight in wiping out evil, but I see every mortal soul as worthy of redemption. If I was giving a second chance, there is hope for anyone, and my purpose is to provide opportunities for repentance.
5 The Revenant. Although I was once a living thing, I am now closer to death than life. I walk the world in search of evil to put down, and never will I give quarter to those who sow the seeds of wickedness. I do not pretend to be alive, and avoid the trappings of life I no longer require: art, music, good food, companionship, these are the pleasures of the living.
6 The Scourge. Once I set my sights on an evil, there is no stopping me from eradicating it, even if that means ignoring other evils along the way, or alienating those around me. Those who embrace evil will whisper my name in the darkness, and know that I am coming for them.

Hacking the Hellbred

The hellbred might be a perfect race for the Hell’s Rebels adventure path. They are creatures of redemption, looking to get out of an infernal contract or atone for a terrible deed, and their redemption can only be found if they can thwart the plans of a great evil or save hundreds of lives. Helping Kintargo throw off the rule of House Thrune would certainly count. The hellbred are the ultimate tortured soul: they know they are probably damned, but they feel compelled to try, anyway. Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (and a lot of others, besides). Liam Neeson in… most Liam Neeson movies. Most of the characters in The Dirty Dozen.

They’re not anti-heroes: they’re lawful good, but look like they’re pure evil. What a great role-playing opportunity.

In converting the hellbred to 5e, I made some changes, but tried to keep the spirit of the class. I wanted to tie in the Empyreal Lords more, because they’re an aspect of Pathfinder cosmology that I think it brilliant, and I don’t think are used enough. The Body/ Soul split lent itself brilliantly to sub-races, and I thought it would be fun to have one infernally-influenced and one celestially-influenced subrace. I added a couple of powers, since many of the hellbred’s abilities are tied to “Devil Touched” feats, which don’t make sense in 5e. I tried to give each one a specific, flavorful mechanic that required sacrifice, in keeping with the theme of the class. I love the image of a hellbred’s eyes going white as she reaches out with her mind, or her body bulking up, but leaving her vulnerable to attack, later. Can she finish the combat and get other healing in time? Will an enemy figure out what she’s doing and “heal” her?

The hellbred has a mechanic that 3rd edition used a lot, but 5e shied away from: class abilities that are drawbacks. I decided to keep one or two of those, to enhance the knife-edge feeling of the class. Death is a big deal, for a hellbred, after all.

I’m not a graphic designer, and I’ve never done anything in Adobe, but as an experiment, I put this together, my first two-page spread.

What do you think?

Next time: More Empyreal Connections: The Empyreal Lord Warlock Patron!

5e Races: Hellbred

To celebrate the Hell’s Rebels adventure path, this week is all about the Hellbred, a race from the Fiend Folio II that I’ve never seen anyone talk about, much less play. They’re well-suited for an AP about waging war against the forces of hell, though. Also, I think they’re pretty nifty.

cc vkucukemreHellbred

 When a mortal makes a deal with a devil, there is nothing that can save them. Even before their soul arrives in the afterlife, their fate is determined. Likewise, some deeds are so evil that, once they are committed, no amount of good can balance the scales. No amount of good deeds or repentance can cause a god of good to intervene in such matters. If a mortal makes the right appeal, at the right time, however, a group of Empyreal Lords may intervene, using powerful magic to give the repentant soul a chance at redemption.

Repentance and Redemption

Once a creature has died, it is too late to any power to intercede on its behalf. The laws of the afterlife, and enforced by the gods of death and balance, forbid post-mortem repentance or redemption. Good souls are delivered to their paradises, and evil souls are claimed by various devils and demons. Before death comes, however, many creatures realize their folly and try to atone for their choices. It is these souls that can, under the right circumstances, become hellbred. If a creature committed an act so terrible that it was immediately damned, genuine repentance might cause one of the Empyreal Lords to intercede in the moment before death, redirecting the soul into a new form. A soul condemned by an infernal contract takes a little more finesse. If the damned creature truly deserves salvation (for example, a creature who entered into an infernal contract with good intentions, as opposed to a desire for power), then an Empyreal Lord might risk conflict with a devil in an effort to save the soul.

A Second Chance – With a Price

When a soul is truly damned, or has been committed by contract to a demon, simply resurrecting it with a spell is not enough. The new body still houses the same soul, and when the new body dies, that soul, too, will be claimed. Instead, a group of Empyreal Lords must agree on the worthiness of the soul for redemption, and together they enact a powerful ritual to split the soul in two, carving the tainted pieces away. Those pieces are used to create the hellbred’s new body. As such, the body is an unsightly, twisted creature, with dark red skin, horns, and shining red eyes. In some cases, hellbred are even more demonic-looking, with cloven feet, forked tongues, useless wings, or pig-like snouts on their faces. It is a body that few could believe acts in the service of good. That, too, is part of the test: if the hellbred can perform truly heroic acts of goodness, despite their physical form and the mistrust of those around them, they will be worthy of salvation. To achieve repentance, however, the hellbred must perform acts of goodness both great and small. As the hellbred performs good acts (saving a town, defeating a serial killer, and so on), their physical features may soften, becoming less frighteningly demonic, although never full human. The hellbred’s true acts of redemption, however, all share one quality: they must put the hellbred in mortal danger for the sake of others’ lives. Often, the people the hellbred saves will not react with gratitude, but fear and revulsion, and that, too, is part of the test. If the soul can endure the thanklessness of the people it saves, then it may deserve to be saved.

Unending Pain, Uncertain Reward

Hellbred remember little of their former life, and they can never control those memories. Their past returns to them in flashes: a little girl with a stuff animal, the color of a man’s coat, the sound of a dog, flashes of images and feelings that provide painful reminders of the wretch that the hellbred had been. More often than not, the hellbred’s past reveals itself through emotional connections: an inexplicable sense of guilt on meeting the children of a past victim, or uncontrollable rage at the sight of a former lackey grown powerful. Because of the unpredictability of their memories, hellbred are defined by their mission – do good, save lives, whatever the cost. The reality is that few hellbred will complete their redemption. Most will die before their souls are cleansed, and they will be devoured. For most, the opportunity to address past misdeeds is with the risk. The actions of a hellbred are watched closely by both the Empyreal Lords who have gambled on their ability to reform and the devils who await their failure. Knowing this, and knowing how much rests on their mission, hellbred tend to be stoic, serious individuals who gravitate towards others, particularly other social outcasts, who share a similar unity of purpose. They are methodical and single-minded in their pursuit of justice. They know full well what they stand to lose if they waver from their course.

Hellbred Names

Hellbred keep the given name they used in life, but change their surname to something more in keeping with their situation. Some hellbred abandon a surname altogether, opting for an epithet that announces their mission. Still others take their name from one of their patron Empyreal Lords, despite the fact that those patrons are likely to let the hellbred fend for themselves for some time before ever returning.

Hellbred names: Aloysius the Unyielding, Constance Devilslayer, Macklin the Fist of Heaven, Rory Hellbound, Samuel the Shield of Ragathiel.

Next time: Hellbred Part 2: Traits, Bonds, and Hacking

Bard College: Skeldaning

skaldCollege of Skeldaning

Bards of the College of Skeldaning are warrior-poets who inspire others to ever greater acts of heroism with their own actions. They are chroniclers of greatness, like other bards, but also perform great deeds of their own. Skalds share much with bards from the College of Valor, but focus less on keeping the old tales alive than making new ones. As much as a skald might like to insert themselves into the story, their true power lies in helping others to become greater than they imagined they could be. When a bard of the College of Skeldaning grants Bardic Inspiration, it is often with a single blast on a horn, the beat of a drum, or a keening.

Bonus Proficiencies
This feature works as the College of Valor: at 3rd level, add proficiency with medium armor, shields, martial weapons.

Bardic inspiration
This feature works as the College of Valor: at 3rd level, add Bardic Inspiration die to damage or AC after the die are rolled.

Doomsong
At 6th level, you gain the ability to affect foes with your Bardic Inspiration. At any time during the duration, you can choose to subtract your Bardic Inspiration die from any d20 roll the target makes, after the die is rolled but before the DM says whether the roll succeeds or fails.

Call the Clan
At 6th level, you can apply your Bardic Inspiration die to multiple creatures. Choose a number of creatures that can hear you, up to your Charisma modifier. Each creature gains a Bardic Inspiration die one die type smaller than you are able to grant individual creatures: a d6 at 6th level, a d8 at 10th level, and a d10 at 12th level. When you use Bardic Inspiration in this way, you can choose to include yourself among the creatures targeted.

Arise the Fallen
At 14th level, you gain the ability to grant Bardic Inspiration die to unconscious creatures at 0 hit points. When a creature gains Bardic Inspiration in this way, it can use the die to gain temporary hit points.

Hacking the Skald

The College of Valor is almost the skald, enough that it makes sense to keep the first two abilities the same. At 6th level, though a College of Valor bard becomes a combat force on their own, which doesn’t fit the spirit of the skald, to me. The skald should be the bagpipe player, the guy at the back with the curved horn, the woman ululating alongside the fighters. The skald should be able to inspire multiple people (something no bard college can do), and should be able to strike fear into their enemies. That means shifting the way Bardic Inspiration works, a little bit. Still, I didn’t want to overpower it. I like the idea that a skald can grant more powerful die to a single creature, or spread the wealth a little bit.

A 5e bard doesn’t need be a musician. They can be an orator, a dancer, a collector of knowledge. The music is secondary. You can see this in the colleges: out of eight college features in the PHB, only two use Bardic Inspiration. I wanted to College of Skeldaning to be all about Inspiration. It’s easy to see that as becoming a one-trick pony that uses Inspiration all the time, in every combat, probably multiple times. I think that’s good: it doubles down on what makes the bard unique. It puts the music at the front of the class. The College of Valor is a one-trick pony, too, after all: that trick just happens to be getting extra attacks and doing more damage.

The Pathfinder skald has been described as one of the most “metal” classes in the game, and I wanted to see if the 5e bard, the uber-geek of the 5e classes, could be made more metal, too. (I mean “geek” in the best way: the 5e bard is all about skills-use, research, sarcasm, and so on. Even the College of Valor bard, with the extra attacks, still relies on expertise and secrets. Nothing wrong with that!) For me, this is about more than translating the PF mechanics to 5e (although it’s that, too, with Doomsong and Arise the Fallen). It’s about making the bard as inspiring as possible.

Next time: The Hellbred: a 5e race for your Hell’s Rebels game

5e Races: The Dar

Dx0805ex_DarfellanDar 

Once, dar villages could be found along every coastline and on every island. While they rarely ventured inland, they were one with the sea, and were widely respected as friends to travelers. While they made peace when they could, when they were pressed to war they responded with a mighty ferocity. Dar warrior poets were legendary defenders of sailors and the sea, until the dar found itself caught between two implacable enemies.

Hated by the Hidden Masters 

The dar first made enemies of the aboleths, who they call “foulers of the deep,” long ago. In many ways, the aboleths were the perfect foil for the dar: where the dar are forthright and brave, the aboleths are hidden manipulators. Once the dar became aware of the aboleths plans, they turned their considerable might towards stopping them at every turn. Few other races are as well-equipped to fight the aboleths as the dar, between their affinity for the sea and their innate mental defenses. As the conflict between them raged on, the aboleths turned more and more of their attention to exterminating the dar.

At War with the Sea-Devils

While the aboleths began hunting the dar in earnest, the seafarers began fighting a war on another front: the sahuagin. For as long as their mutual histories record, the dar and the sahuagin have fought over territory and hunting rights. These conflicts were minor and local, but as humans and other races began taking to sea in greater numbers, the sahuagin began to more aggressively defend their territories. When the other races proved too organized and numerous to drive off, the sahuagin turned their rage on their old enemies, and began an organized program of wiping out the dar.

Hunted to Extinction

The past century has not been kind to the dar. Between the machinations of the aboleths and the depredations of the sahuagin, every coastal dar community has been destroyed. Some may exist inland, on great lakes, but the traditional hunting grounds of the dar have been taken over by their enemies. Today, the few dar that remain are nomads, spending their lives on ships or living in other races’ cities and making themselves as useful as they can. The poet-warriors of the dar speak of a day when their race will unite to drive away the sea-devils and crush the foulers of the deep, but no one knows when, or if, that day will ever come.

Darfellan Names

Like the rest of the darfelon language, dar names are polysyllabic, consisting of hard consonants and long vowels interspersed with clicks. Dar often use shorthand names for themselves and others, based on a person’s job or defining feature. In darfelon, dar names convey large amount of information, including a dar’s birthplace, family connections, caste, tribe, and so on. To outsiders, the names simply sound musical. Male and female names are identical, except for the click sound at the end of the name: a high click for a male name and a low click for a female name. Dar custom includes these clicks only when the speaker is not present.

Dar names: Ak’inrinade-ch’ku, Debare!jajaiye, Ginika’kine, Tiwaray’wadunni.

darfellan2Dar Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength increases by 2, and either your Wisdom or Charisma score increases by 1.

Age. Dar are always born in the water and begin swimming immediately. Under normal circumstances, a healthy dar can live upwards of 200 years, and some isolated communities have elders far older.

Alignment. Dar are almost always partially good in alignment. Evil dar are rare, but delight in cruelty. Many are lawful, although more chaotic dar appear every year as their society scatters.

Size. Dar are tall and muscular, standing over 6 feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds. Your size is medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Your base swimming speed is 35 feet.

Darkvision. To hunt in the ocean’s depths, you have developed the ability to see in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as it if were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern most colors in darkness, only shades of blue and gray.

Born Swimmer. You have advantage on Strength (Athletics) checks related to swimming.

Dar Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the trident and the net.

Echolocation. As long as you are underwater and not deafened, you have blindsense to 20 feet.

Hold Breath. You can hold your breath for 1 hour.

Slippery Mind. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed. In addition, creatures can only communicate with you telepathically if you allow it.

Languages. You can speak, read and write Aquan, Common, and Darfelon. The dar heroes were warrior poets and musicians. No dar did just one thing: every soldier knew how to play an instrument, and every musician could fight. The great epics of the dar are all about those who powerfully blended the two. Their art was impermanent: vast mandalas on beaches that disappeared with the tide. Since the scattering of the tribes, the dar have learned to use the music and art of the cultures they join, but their stories of bards and scalds remain favorites among the diaspora.

Bonds

When creating a dar character, you can use the following table of bonds to help flesh out your character. Use this table in addition to or in place of your background’s bond or a bond of your creation.

d6 Bond
1 Seafaring Poet. My only love is the sea, and I choose to live out my days in its embrace. My relationship with the sea is not one of survival or mercantilism, but one of romance. On its waves, I feel at home.
2 Seeker. I keep the records of the dar, traveling from city to city, collecting information about the survivors of my people. If I am looking for something in the small list of names, I have never told anyone what it is.
3 Slayer of Foes. I hunt, in the way of my people, but I hunt the sahuagin and aboleths that destroyed us. Their deaths give my life meaning.
4 Sower of Chaos. While my people keep to the old ways, live as though the old rules of our society still exist, I have moved beyond them. The old ways destroyed us, and I will create change by making the world a less ordered, less comfortable place for everyone.
5 Super-predator. I am a born hunter, and the company of others is of little interest to me. I particularly delight in bringing down large prey on my own.
6 Survivor. I seek no goal greater than my own survival, at any cost. I will betray any ally, break any vow, if it means that I, and my people, can live for one more day.

Hacking the Darfellan

I don’t know what it is about the darfellan that I find so compelling. It might just be the picture. Mechanically, as presented in Stormwrack, they’re not that impressive. Medium creatures who can hold their breath, bite, and echolocate? The last is interesting, but most of their features are flat. Still, something about the race has always intrigued me. I like races with stories, so that’s part of it. I also like the idea of a race where even the crudest barbarian is thoughtful and well-spoken.

When I converted to 5e, I dropped the bite, because it’s boring, and replaced it with something a little more story-focused. The thing is, “slippery mind” is passive, and bite is active. It’s a little dull to replace an active ability, and attack, with a passive one. While “dar weapon training” isn’t as active biting, martial weapon proficiencies are rare in 5e, and even if the trident isn’t a great martial weapon, it’s a start. With echolocation, natural swimming, and hold breath, they might be a little over-powered in an aquatic campaign, but in most games those things will be ribbons. They just won’t come up that often.

Dar names are taken from the Nigerian language, for its musicality. The idea of the dar as warrior-poets comes from a desire to set them up as “good Vikings,” seafarers who were more interested in helping people than raiding them and taking their stuff. All the same, I imagine that they’d have similar warrior traditions, for those who were warriors. Warriors among the dar are rare enough that they fit in nicely with the “great man theory” of D&D: in this game, history is moved not by social forces, but by exceptional individuals. The dar, those few that remain, are waiting for one such individual to arise, unite them, drive back their foes, and return to them their lands. Every diaspora has stories like this; it’s a natural outgrowth of feeling powerless and cut off from your home. In D&D, for the dar, at least, unlike in the real world, we could get to be that person.

Someone has to be the Deep Dweller, after all. Why shouldn’t it be your PC?

Next time: A Skaldic Bard Archetype for Dar, and Everyone!

Foes of Iron: The Junk Golem & The Lunerma

Two more Iron Gods creatures. One from the adventure, and one from the random encounter chart:

Paladin_BotJunk Golem

Junk Golem

Medium construct, neutral
Armor Class 14 (natural armor)
Hit Points 68 (8d8 + 32)
Speed 30 feet
STR 18 (+4) DEX 9 (-1) CON 18 (+4) INT 3 (-4) WIS 11 (0) CHA 1 (-5)
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons that aren’t adamantine
Condition Immunities: charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned
Senses darkvision 60ft, passive Perception 10
Languages: understands the languages of its creator but can’t speak
Challenge 4 (1,100 xp)

Composite Body. If the grease spell is cast on the golem, it is treated as the haste If the arcane lock spell is cast on the golem, it is treated as the slow spell. If the shatter spell is cast on the golem, it uses its discorporate ability. If the wood shape or rusting grasp spell is cast on the golem, the spell deals 2d6 points of damage to the golem, instead of its usual effect.

Magic Resistance. The golem has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Magic Weapons. The golem’s weapon attacks are magical.

ACTIONS

Multiattack. The junk golem makes two slam attacks.

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 13 (2d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 day. The poisoned target can not speak or cast spells until after it takes a long rest or receives healing magic.

Discorporate. The golem breaks apart, becoming a swarm. It gains the following attributes:
Large: The golem’s size becomes large.
Swarm. A swarm can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, and the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny golem. The swarm can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.

Actions
While the golem is a swarm, it can take the following actions.

Tiny cuts. Melee Weapon Attack. +6 to hit, reach 0 ft., all creatures in the swarm’s space. Hit: Hit: 6 (1d4 + 4) slashing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 day. The poisoned target can not speak or cast spells until after it takes a long rest or receives healing magic.

Reassemble. The golem reverts back to its normal form. It may not move, this turn.


Lunarma

Lunarma

Medium aberration, neutral
Armor Class 15
Hit Points 108 (14d8 + 56)
Speed fly 60 ft.
STR 16 (+3) DEX 12 (+1) CON 19 (+4) INT 5 (-3) WIS 12 (+2) CHA 10 (+0)
Damage Resistances: electricity, fire
Damage Immunities: cold, poison
Condition Immunities: poisoned
Skills Perception +5, Stealth +4
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception +15
Languages telepathy 120 ft. (other lunarma only)
Challenge 6 (2,300 xp)

No Breath. The lunarma does no need to breathe.

Barbed Carapace. Any creature that grapples a lunarma or hits it with unarmed strikes or natural weapon attacks takes 7 (2d6) points of damage from the barbs on its hide.

 

ACTIONS
Multiattack. The lunarma can attack three times with its claws and once with its bite.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d8 + 3) piercing damage, and the target must succeed at a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or take 9 (2d8) acid damage.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d8 + 3) slashing damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, the lunarma can automatically hit the target with its claw attack, and the number of claw attacks it can make is reduced by one.

Acid Breath. The lunarma spews caustic acid in a 30-foot line that is 5 feet wide. Each creature in the line must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take 36 (8d8) acid damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. For the next two rounds, each creature damaged by the lunarma’s acid breath takes 9 (2d8) acid damage. A creature can negate this damage to itself or another creature by spending an action to use water or another liquid to wash the acid off.

Implant Eggs. A lunarma can implant 7 (2d6) eggs in a restrained creature. The eggs hatch after one day and feed on the implanted creature for the next two days, reducing its hit point maximum by 5 per egg per day. After which the larvae leave the carcass behind to seek out a safe place to form a cocoon and mature into adults. A lesser restoration removes all eggs or larvae, or they can be removed individually with a Wisdom (Heal) ability check. A creature’s hit point maximum can only be restored by a restoration spell.


Hacking the Junk Golem & Lunarma

(A bit late, down here, due to some computer problems.) The problem with golems is that they’re all high level. Why shouldn’t low-level characters have the opportunity to fight a lair-guardian that shrugs off their attacks? For me, the most interesting aspect of the junk golem was trying to capture the “discorporate” ability. The “swarm” type in 5e is loosely defined, and there’s no way for a swarm to use the same attacks as the creature that it originated from. Making the swarm-form, essentially, a new creature that could come and go with a reaction or an action was the best way I could think of to make that work, and it should freak the players out, because nothing else in 5e does this. It may have too many hit points, though. I’ll see how that works. It’s less of a big deal, in the Iron Gods encounter, because I don’t plan for that encounter to last long. After two rounds, the combat will be called off – just long enough for things to get interesting, but not long enough for them to get deadly.

The lunarma, I’m sorry to say, didn’t have any pictures that I could find on-line, and I’m trying really hard not to do copyright infringement, if I can help it. Will my players fight one? No idea, but they’re super-creepy and I wanted to work out the “iplant egg” ability. Creatures that implants eggs in humans are, I think, the creepiest creatures. This one is especially gross, because it floats along, seemingly harmlessly, silently hunting its prey. The egg implantation is another example of 5e’s missing ability damage rules. I understand why they’re absent: they make the game significantly more complicated, but making ability scores off-limits for damage removes a huge set of tools from the GM’s toolbox: poisons, diseases, drain attacks, and egg implantation can’t work in the same way. Sometimes exhaustion is a good substitute, but not always.

I’ve been toying with a subsystem, but the fact is that anything that approximated ability damage would feel clunky and tacked-on. For now, I think the best approach is to take it on a case-by-case basis. In this case, the reduction in hit point maximum mirrors some poisons, and should represent the degree to which the eggs mess with a character’s system. The initial implantation isn’t likely to kill higher-level characters, but will be deadly for low-level parties and villager-NPCs.

Next time: Computer problems will force me to take a break on Monday, but I’ll be back Wednesday with the Darfellan!