The Lion of Olympus and the Lamest Avenger: 5e Builds for Hercules and Dr. Druid!

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.


Hacking Hercules

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.


Dr. Druid

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).

Dr Druid

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!

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 Background for the Summerlands: Farmer/ Fisher

Nothing says “summer” like fishing and farming. There are a few homebrew backgrounds for farmers and fishers out there on the web, but I wanted one that put them together and made sense in the Summerlands. This is part of my series of summer posts inspired by the June RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Tales of a DM. Continue reading

Building NPCs in 5e & the Einstein Problem

There is a post on The Alexandrian blog, from 2007, called Calibrating Your Expectations, that I think about a lot, especially as I am building PCs and NPCs for my games. It’s long, but the short version of the relevant part is this: “Einstein was … a 4th or 5th level expert.” The line of thinking goes like this: as a 5th level expert, Einstein can have a +15 bonus to his Knowledge (physics) checks. With this score, he can answer the hardest questions in the field of Physics, those with a DC 25, by taking 10 on his check. The most vexing questions in the field might have a DC of 30, and Einstein would be able to answer those about 70% of the time, or 100% if he took a few minutes to think about it (and took 20 on the check).

The numbers change a bit for Pathfinder (which only allows one skill point per level to be placed in a skill, but gives a bonus for class skills), but the principle is the same. If I build Einstein as a Pathfinder Expert, it takes him until level 8 to get the +15. What this means for the PCs is obvious: a 15th level PC who has maxed out Knowledge (Engineering) and is reasonably intelligent might have 15 ranks, a class skill bonus of 3, and an intelligence bonus of 4. At a glance, that PC can build anything or determine the structural weakness of anything. They are both the best architect in history and the best demolitionist.

In 3rd Edition and Pathfinder, if a GM wants to create NPCs, we generally have to build them like a PC: with class levels, skill points, saves, hit points, and so on. The math has to make sense, so Einstein has to be an Expert who has maximized Knowledge (Physics), and has to have 7d8 hit points, and a +5 to hit. That’s pretty weird. I’m confident that Einstein couldn’t throw a punch that would land hard enough to damage the average person 75% of the time (maybe a little less if his Strength is below 10). Still, that’s the system.

5th Edition is completely different. NPCs can be built from scratch, and abilities  added on as needed. If my PCs come to town looking for a doctor, I don’t need much. In fact, if I want to build the best surgeon in the world, someone who can succeed at a DC 30 (“nearly impossible”) skill check related to medicine, let’s call him Derek Shepherd, I might build him like this:

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Iron Gods Session 0


The first session of our Iron Gods game consisted of five hours of character creation, after which everyone hung out for another five hours (!) talking about characters, while we had dinner and put the kids to bed.

Only one person rolled her character completely randomly, but everyone got use out of the easy-to-follow lists with links. The only problems we had were introduced by the “Singular Curiosity” list. One player rolled “you are a changeling,” and couldn’t figure out how to make that work with her back-story.

We started out talking about the group template, which I’m a big fan of. The group didn’t end up with a firm template (like a military unit or extended family), but starting the conversation with the template (before looking at any other aspect of character creation) encouraged people to think about how their characters are connected. There’s a web of connections between the characters, and it looks like they’ll have real reasons to stay together when the chips are down. Most importantly, everyone has a connection to Khonnir Baine, in some way, whatever background they rolled or chose.

Four characters, and using the character sheet as a teaching tool

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Character Creation, Part 2

Last time, I wrote about the options for randomly rolling characters, and the motivation for it. The last two “random rolling” options for character creation were classes and “singular curiosities.” I put some strict limits on the classes, for both power reasons and flavor reasons. I don’t want to have badly-written Moon Circle Druids making the rest of the party feel useless, and I also don’t think that Warlocks or Monks fit the setting (for the most part). I added a few classes: the Mesmerist, the Kineticist, the Shaman Warlock pact, the Gunslinger, the Swashbuckler Monk, and the Artificer Cleric. I’ll talk about some of those, later. Any links that go to classes that I’m working on (Mesmerist, Kineticist, some of the archetypes), will be their own posts, at some point.

The classes all linked to on-line resources, either a blog that proposed them (if they were a new class), or an Obsidian Portal site that detailed their features (for the PHB classes). All of my players have a PHB, but I figured that it would make life easier to have links to the information, as well.

Next time: how the “random rolling” worked out during the first session, and what we decided on.

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First Session Set-up

My group is entirely new to 5th Edition, and some of them are new to the world we will be playing in. For some, analysis paralysis is a real problem: they hate buying equipment or choosing feats because it’s overwhelming and feels like homework. That’s one of the selling points of 5th Edition: the choices are fewer and they all feel significant. To help reduce the overwhelm, I’ve given the group the option of creating their character entirely randomly (in fact, I’m encouraging it, though I’m stopping just short of requiring it). On  one hand, using the charts will make their lives much easier. On the other hand, it means that I had to create 5th Edition versions of every race and class that I wanted to have available, before the game started. I’ll be posting those here, but the random tables seemed like a great place to start.

Some of the names of the races were changed from their Pathfinder versions, because I wanted to make some other changes to them (and for other reasons that I may write about later involving Paizo, Wizards, and wanting to respect intellectual property). In the actual document, I provided links to descriptions of all of the races and classes, from sites around the internet and from my own write-ups (posted privately on Obsidian Portal).

AnyDice was an invaluable tool for creating exactly the right distribution of the dice so that my players would be more likely to roll up the most common races and classes, but would also have a chance of winding up with something weird and interesting.

Today, I’ll write up the lists for race, background and campaign bond, leaving class  and singular curiosity for next week.

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