This entry seems to be about the Black Knight, it’s really all about his sword. He can do about 100 points of damage a round (though I’m sure that professional power-builders could make him do more), and that’s great. The sword, though. That’s cool.
If you’re interested in stories that I first read, when I was introduced to these characters, there are a few trades of this period. They start with Under Siege (I’d recommend the Kindle edition, honestly), the story in which Hercules is beaten into a coma. That leads into Assault on Olympus, and then into Heavy Metal. The rest of the Dr. Druid story hasn’t been reprinted, which I think is a loss to our cultural history.
There are some really great Avengers stories that have been written since 1990, too. Sadly, none of them include Dr. Druid, which seems, to me, like a huge oversight. I’d recommend Kurt Busiek’s Avengers Forever, which is both a totally out-of-continuity story, and a love-letter to all of Avengers history. Busiek’s main-title Avengers stories are also some of the best. If you’re looking for others, there are a lot of options, but I’d start there. When I go back to re-read Avengers stories, I always start with Busiek (my Dr. Druid issues didn’t survive my many moves, sadly).
The “14-level build out” format took a long time and wasn’t, as far as I could tell, a big hit. As much fun as building a Dr. Druid PC was, I think that having opponents is more useful. The way that monsters are built in 5e is completely different from the way player characters are built. They use two different sets of rules, but with the same names.
I’m going to try something a little different, this week. The Avengers I’m building, Wasp and Black Knight, both require a little bit of house-ruling to make work, so they’re perfect for this experiment. The end result should be somewhere between a PC and an NPC, so if someone wanted to use them as a foe, they could, but if someone wanted to use them as a base for a PC (or argue about why they should be built differently, which is have the fun of building characters like this), that will work, too.
Monsters of Numeria!
Badmudderfugger and Solomani are doing such a great job with the creatures of Iron Gods, over on DungeonMusings and Lazy Dungeon Master that there isn’t often much for me to do. They’re both pretty far ahead of me, and I know that I just use theirs without much alteration, although when I do rebuild I’m considering posting it, here, for a different perspective. Would that be useful, for anyone?
The one place I can fill in, though, is the random encounter table, and I don’t have to worry about duplicating their work, because they’re well past these bits.
In that spirit, two creatures that you might not ever see, but should be a lot of fun if you do. Who knows, they might be useful for your 5e games even if you’re not playing Iron Gods. After all, who doesn’t want to throw a giant bat-creature or a ghost made from the restless soul of an adventurer killed by a trap? (And what could be more D&D than being hunted by spirits of failed adventurers past? A truly vicious GM could literally haunt a party with their own failures…)
There are always changes to adventure paths. No plot survives contact with the players, after all. I don’t want to do a session write-up, here. Not exactly. I do want to record some of the changes and left-turns that have been made. I’ll probably spoil some things, although I’m pretty sure that none of my players read this blog, so I’m not worried about it for them. Still, consider this fair warning. What follows is a brief session-by-session breakdown, with some thoughts about each, particularly places where we diverged from the adventure-as-written, why that happened, and what came of it.
This week and next, I’m building lesser-known Avengers using the 5e rules. It’s a passion project, but it’s also a chance to talk about Dr. Druid, and that’s something I don’t get to do often enough.
The Lion of Olympus
The son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Hercules’ strength and endurance (and ability to consume vast quantities of alcohol) are legendary. For thousands of years, he has slain monsters, performed great labors, and traveled the world defending humanity against predators, divine and mortal alike.
Like many Avengers (Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, Vision, Dr. Druid, and others), Hercules started out as a foe, enspelled as he was by the Enchantress. Freed from her control, he joined the team and served as both an active and reserve member for many years.
His abilities are well-known: he’s incredibly strong, largely invulnerable, and immortal. This is the Marvel Comics Hercules, and not the Kevin Sorbo version, so he’s into his mead but less preachy.
Hercules joined the Avengers as a replacement for Thor, but he never really gelled. He’s strong and gregarious, but that’s about all he has going for him. That, and unwavering loyalty. More than any Avenger, loyalty is his defining quality. He’s strong and tough to hurt, but not invulnerable: at one point he was beaten into a coma by a mob of super-strong opponents.
My only aim, for this build, was to hit as hard as possible, as often as possible. I had to bend the rules a little bit to make it work, giving him a larger weapon and changing a couple of spells, but none of the breaks are major. The larger weapon looks cool, but two more damage on every hit isn’t going to break the game.
I wouldn’t put him in armor. I know it’s risky, but he gets a ring and bracers, eventually, and his AC is 13, which is low for a front-line fighter. Maybe give him a shield. There is no gameist reason for his Charisma to be 17, except that it made sense for the character, so moving around Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma would get him up to a 15, which isn’t bad. With protective spells and a shield, he’ll be okay.
I wanted to give Hercules a fighting chance at excellent stats, so I rolled them instead of picking them the way I’m picking them for everyone else. Otherwise, though, this is a fairly straightforward build.
The variant Entertainer makes sense for him. He really enjoys fighting, and makes a show of it whenever he can. I traded Performance for History, though, because he lived through a lot of history, and his Performance skill will be fine, based on his Charisma.
I didn’t want to make him a barbarian. I wanted to make him a fighter, the God of Fighting, but barbarian fit too well. Besides: look at that picture. The guy is a bear. It turns out that the barbarian powers make a lot of sense, for him: he’s tougher, faster, and more durable than a normal human. The non-totem abilities don’t fit as well, though. I’ve never seen him speak with animals or commune with nature. Instead of beast sense and speak with animals, I’d give him augury and comprehend languages, as a ritual, to represent his divine understanding and long life of travel. Instead of commune with nature, I’d just give him commune, to represent his ability to talk to his relatives.
I considered giving him a Belt of Giant Strength, but in 5e it doesn’t makes sense for someone with an already high Strength to wear one, and I wanted his Strength to be (largely) based on his innate abilities.
Anthony Druid was a Harvard-trained psychologist who thought that it would be more interesting to study the occult, go to Tibet, become a master of the mystic arts, and be a super-hero.
He joined the Avengers, became chairman, was mind-controlled, and the lost in time. Not his best day. As a psychologist, you think he’d have seen the “villain posing as an ally to manipulate your teammates into giving her ultimate power,” think a mile away. Physician heal thyself, I guess.
Druid isn’t an actual druid, but a pulp-style action hero who can control his body, levitate, use telepathy and telekinesis, create illusions, and detect magical energies. Eventually, he became an avatar for the “Druidic gods” (whatever those are), but that was well after his time with the Avengers, and about thirty minutes before he was burned to death and stuffed in a garbage can. With that background in mind, I’m going to give two options for him: a Wizard/Cleric and a Mentalist (which fits the pulp theme better, I think, but is my own creation, so YMMV – Mentalist part 2: tricks and spells).
Hacking Dr. Druid
Dr. Druid is the worst Avenger. Every list of Avengers says so. He was a terrible hero, a terrible leader, and a terrible person. As leader, he was tricked into betraying the team, and he eventually got himself killed (although that was hardly his fault: the guy writing his series was told at the last minute that it was a 4-issue mini-series, so he killed off his main character in a fit of pique).
The character has a long history and was the prototype for Dr. Strange. He wasn’t even a druid: that was just his name. When he was a practicing doctor, the sign on his door said, “Dr. Druid.” That’s like Captain America being called “Captain Rogers,” instead. The not-so-secret identity. He was, on all levels, just an awful Avenger.
The thing is, all the traits the make him a terrible Avenger: lame powers, a giant ego, flawed heroism, and self-sacrifice, are the traits that would make him a great PC. He would be so much fun to play, as a character. He knows a lot, but he thinks he knows even more than he does. He wants to do the right thing, but messes it up half the time, because he is too confident in his own abilities and doesn’t play well with others. That’s a lot of meat to work with, as a PC in the right group. His entire arc was about redemption, trying to become a better person and not being quite good enough to manage it. That’s a very human story, I think. Most of us can relate to being seduced by an alien villain and then becoming lost in the time-stream, right?
I considered “acolyte” for the background, to represent the time studying in the mountains and his interest in the occult, but the flavor wasn’t quite right. Maybe I need to write an “occultist” background. For now, the sage works just fine: it gives him an extra skill to choose from (so that his skills are the same no matter which build he uses), gives him extra languages.
For the Mentalist, it was tough to choose between Man of Bronze and Mystic. The Phantom doesn’t work at all: Dr. Druid is definitely not “immune to being charmed.” In fact, it’s his greatest weakness. The Man of Bronze would have been fun, and some of the abilities fit, but Druid is never depicted as the “peak of physical perfection,” the way Doc Savage always is. Still, trained by monks hiding in the mountains? The Mystic it is. The Mystic is a re-skin of the Great Old One Warlock, without all the Lovecraft, and I think that works well. Telepathy is the core of Druid’s powers, and if we add telekinesis through spells and tricks, we round out the character. The Ritual Caster feat allows him to keep picking up Cleric spells as rituals, which feels in-character for him. The Magic Initiate feat, at 4th, has the same effect, representing his attempts to seek different kinds of knowledge.
The Awakened Mind boon is basically the Keen Mind feat, without the ability boost, because the feat is almost pure flavor, and isn’t really worth a feat. It’s much more fun to give it out as a reward, I think. Both builds take the War Caster feat at 12, to represent Druid’s inner calm and ability to find his center in even the most stressful situations, thanks to his mystical training.
The Wizard/ Cleric multiclass version is a little broader, but a little less powerful, because of the spreading-out of the ability scores. Druid is supposed to be good at everything, and I thought it would be fun to represent this with the broadly average ability score and the human “bump all stats by one” (with one alteration, trading a couple of points around so his Intelligence is a little higher). That seemed like an interesting choice, and not one that gets made a lot. This way, he’s better than most human at everything, but doesn’t stand out in any one area (and his abilities are primed to multi-class).
I honestly can’t decide which of them I like better. The Knowledge Domain Cleric gives him more access to skills, which fits his powers, and the Illusion School does the same, but the Mentalist fits the story of the character well, as a pulp hero.
His magical items should never be offensive, but should be all about knowledge, finding hidden things, and taking advantage of his knowledge. Even more fun would be to have a lot of minor magical items all the time, potions, bags of tricks, feather tokens, and so on, so that he always has something to pull out of his bag.
That’s Dr. Druid!
What do you think? Is Druid as great a PC as he is terrible a hero? Which build looks like more fun to play? Does Hercules capture the majesty of myth without breaking the rules (much)? These aren’t the “larger than life” heroes from the movie, I don’t think, but they are exactly the right size for a party of PCs.
Next time: IRON GODS! Iron Gods story summaries and monsters!
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.)
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?
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!
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
|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.
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.
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.
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!