Extra Life: Hacking the Artificer!

I’m in Seattle to chew gum and play D&D, and I’m all out of gum.

On Saturday the 25th I’ll be playing D&D with the Wizards of the Coast team in a marathon session to defeat Tiamat and help children, which are basically the same thing. I’m going to be in the game from 8 AM to 4 PM Pacific Time, and you can watch the game HERE.

Click here to watch the game tomorrow!

In case you’ve somehow avoided all my other posts on the subject, this is part of an charity program called Extra Life. I’m personally raising money for Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital in Portland. Thanks to everyone who’s supported me so far: it’s been amazing and touching. If you haven’t donated yet, it’s not too late!

 Donate to Extra Life!

The first character I ever played in an Eberron campaign was a warforged artificer named Smith. My favorite thing about playing an artificer was the ability to come up with the perfect tool on the spur of the moment. Between Weapon Augmentation and Armor Enhancement I could tailor my equipment to have the ideal enhancement to deal with my current enemy. My favorite infusion was spell-storing item; this allowed an artificer to create a one-shot wand loaded with any spell of up to fourth level. I could come up with a healing spell to help a wounded ally, a fireball to take down a mob of enemies, or suddenly build a mystical translator (using the tongues spell) out of eggshells and coconuts. However, there were restrictions to balance out this powerful effect. The maximum level of the spell was tied to my level, so I couldn’t spell-store a cleric spell that a cleric of my level couldn’t cast. The infusion took a minute to perform, unless I burnt an action point to reduce this to one round. And most important of all: I had to make a skill check to make the infusion work, and if I made a particularly bad check the whole thing could backfire. So it was an extremely powerful and versatile effect, but it was unpredictable and risky. More than anything else, THIS made me feel like a magical inventor. I could reverse-engineer the magic performed by any other class… but I could never be sure this dangerous experiment would work!

Thanks to generous donations, I will be playing a warforged artificer in the Extra Life marathon. But there’s no artificer in Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. In 3.5 the artificer had an entirely unique system for infusions, along with deeply ingrained abilities tied to creating permanent magic items, and the final 5E artificer may require equally unique systems. That’s not what I’m developing today. There simply isn’t enough time to properly playtest an entirely new set of mechanics; I don’t yet feel that I myself know 5E well enough to be confident in my sense of game balance; and DM Greg Bilsland didn’t agree to have me show up with some sort of completely untested wild card class. So instead I’m using an existing class as the foundation for my artificer – altering spell lists, proficiencies, and such, but still working from a playtested framework that the DM is familiar. I want to come up with something that feels like an artificer to ME, and it will help me think about how I might create a full artificer in the future. But this is a hack for Extra Life, NOT a fully developed class! Further, as I’m only in the first 8 hours of the game, I’m only worrying about the first five levels.

SO: I’ve decided to base my artificer on an existing class. But which class should I use? Let’s consider the defining elements of the 3.5 Artificer class.

  • Simple weapon proficiency
  • Light and Medium armor proficiency, proficient with shields
  • The ability to disable traps like a rogue.
  • An exceptional talent for creating permanent magic items.
  • The ability to create temporary magic items using infusions. This system had some similarities to spellcasting. The basic list of infusion effects was very limited, focusing on effects to enhance the abilities and equipment of the artificer and allies and the ability to disable or repair constructs and objects… and the unique abilities I mentioned before.
  • Many of the artificer’s most useful and versatile infusions had a base casting time of 1 minute; this could be reduced to 1 round by burning an action point.

To begin with: For this session, I’m setting aside the creation of permanent magic items. Magic Items fill a different role in 5E than in 3.5, and the issue of how to approach this with the final artificer will take some thought. Given that, I’m looking for medium armor proficiency and shields; proficiency with Thieves’ Tools; and a character that generally fights with (magically enhanced) weapons as opposed to slinging spells.

In my original Hacking 5E Eberron post I suggested using a reskinned warlock as a base for a placeholder artificer. This was based on the idea of an artificer using infusions to enhance a crossbow – so eldritch blast was his default magic crossbow, while effects such as burning hands or fireball would be special-purpose bolts jury-rigged on the spot. After discussing the idea with WotC R&D Designer Rodney Thompson, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t such a good match. The warlock has a very limited selection of spells, uses light armor and no shield, and has little ability to enhance allies. Rodney suggested a variant wizard. The wizard is a more versatile spellcaster, and I could explain his spells as his infused items. But this just didn’t feel right to me. When I played Smith I went toe-to-toe with my enemies and laid them low with an enchanted hammer; I didn’t stand back and use offensive spells.

Finally I settled on a cleric. Before you apply domain the cleric has the right armor and weapon proficiencies, and is largely focused on enhancing allies as opposed to blasting enemies. So with that said, here’s how I’m hacking the Cleric to create an artificer for Extra Life.

BASE CLASS ABILITIES

Armor and Weapon Proficiencies: As cleric.

Tools: Special (see Domain)

Saving Throws: Wisdom, Intelligence

Skills: Choose two from History, Insight, Investigation, and Perception (see Domain)

Cantrips. As cleric (modified spell list).

Spellcasting. As cleric (modified spell list). Intelligence is used as the Spellcasting ability instead of Wisdom. All curing magic is replaced by “Repair” infusions that have the same effect, but only work on constructs.

Ritual Casting. As cleric. From a cosmetic perspective, the artificer isn’t actually performing a ritual – he’s reverse-engineering it and hacking it to produce the same magical effect. But the EFFECT is the same as if he’s performing a ritual, and he still needs to have the spell prepared.

Spellcasting Focus: The artificer can use Artisans’ Tools as a spellcasting focus.

“Expert Infusion” (Channel Divinity). This functions in a manner identical to the Cleric ability, but the Artificer doesn’t have access to Turn Undead. Instead he starts with Weapon Augmentation and gains access to Perfect Tool from his “Domain”.

Domain Infusions

1st – Detect Magic, Identify

3rd – Magic Weapon, Enhance Ability

5th – Counterspell, Dispel Magic

Domain Ability: MASTER OF ARTIFICE

At 1st level, you become proficient with Arcana, Thieves’ Tools, and one type of Artisans’ Tools. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability checks you make using Arcana and these tools.

PERFECT TOOL (Channel Divinity)

You can imbue an object with an enchantment that makes it the perfect tool for whatever situation you are dealing with. As an action, choose one skill or tool. For the next 10 minutes (and as long as you have the object) you have proficiency with the chosen skill or tool.

WEAPON AUGMENTATION (Channel Divinity)

As an action, you may enhance a weapon you are holding. For the next minute or until you let go of the weapon, you gain one of the following benefits:

Disrupting Weapon: +1d6 radiant damage, sheds bright light in 20-ft radius

Flame Tongue: +1d6 fire damage, you have cold resistance

Frost Brand: +1d6 cold damage, you have fire resistance

WHAT AM I THINKING? This is very similar to a cleric with the Knowledge domain; “Perfect Tool” is essentially the Knowledge Channel Divinity with the cosmetic addition that it needs to be a tied to an object. The Master of Artifice power is similar to the Knowledge domain, but exchanges proficiency with two languages for proficiency with Artisans’ Tools. It also ensures that the Artificer is a match for a Rogue when it comes to picking locks. Now, the Weapon Augmentation effect is very powerful, and it may be too powerful; this is what we’ll see. However, the artificer has very few offensive spells (we’ll get to the list next) and by default only has simple weapon proficiency. He’s intended to be a viable melee combatant, and this helps with that. The big thing that would concern me about releasing this power into the wild is multiclassing. I don’t think it’s going to be too unbalancing for my artificer; however, an artificer-paladin could be ridiculous. Short form: This isn’t perfect. But I don’t think it will be too powerful for our session tomorrow, and it should give the flavor I recall – being able to pick the weapon enchantment that best suits the battle. Note that for Extra Life I’m not considering this to be a concentration effect; this means that it could stack with Magic Weapon or Shield of Faith.

SPELL LIST (Infusions)

Wherever possible I’ve kept effects that were available to the 3.5 Artificer, such as Shield of Faith and Enhance Ability. I’m reskinning any curing effect as a Repair effect, so only working on constructs. I dropped in Makeshift Wand as a simple damaging cantrip on par with the cleric’s Sacred Flame, but for the most part the class is restricted to enhancement effects. Of course, they can get other effects out of Spell Storing Item!

As always, bear in mind that what matters here are the EFFECTS of the spells, not the names. My artificer can use Shield of Faith. But I won’t CALL it “shield of faith”; the point is that he can create a defensive ward that operates mechanically like the cleric spell.

CANTRIPS

Guidance

Light

Makeshift Wand (New, see below)

Mending

Prestidigitation

Spare The Dying (Construct only, “Emergency Repairs”)

Resistance

LEVEL ONE INFUSIONS

Cure Wounds (Construct only, “Repair Damage”)

Detect Magic

Identify

Inflict Wounds (Construct only, “Inflict Damage”)

Shield

Shield of Faith

Spell-Storing Item (New, see below)

LEVEL TWO INFUSIONS

Arcane Lock

Enhance Ability

Find Traps

Heat Metal

Knock

Magic Weapon

Shatter

LEVEL THREE INFUSIONS

Counterspell

Crusader’s Mantle

Dispel Magic

Glyph of Warding

Mass Healing Word (Construct only)

Protection From Energy (Construct only)

Remove Curse

NEW ARTIFICER SPELLS

Makeshift Wand (Evocation cantrip)             

Casting Time: 1 action                            Range: 60 ft

Components: S (see text)                            Duration: Instantaneous

You employ any small object as a temporary wand, channelling a blast of energy. The target must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 damage. The spell can inflict acid, fire, cold, lightning or thunder damage; choose two damage types, and you can choose which one to use when you cast the spell. The spell’s damage increases by 1d8 when you reach 5th level (2d8), 11th level (3d8), and 17th level (4d8). At each of these levels, you may also select an additional damage type to add to your repertoire. You can prepare any handheld object to serve as a channel for this spell; this requires one action (inscribing a few runes on it). So it has no SPECIFIC components, but you must have some sort of focus object.

Spell Storing Item (1st-level Transmutation)             

Casting Time: 1 minute (see text)              Range: Touch

Components: S                                          Duration: 1 hour/level or until discharged

You place a spell effect into an item to draw it forth later at your command. The item becomes, in effect, a wand with a single charge which only you can use. You may choose any first level spell. You must provide any expensive material components at the time you imbue the spell into the object. Your artificer level is used as the spell’s caster level.

Creating a spell storing item is a difficult and dangerous process. When you attempt it, you must make an Arcana check; the difficulty is [10+(the Spell Level x2)]. If you fail, your action is wasted and the spell slot is lost. If you fail by 10 or more, you suffer a mishap; this could either inflict 2d6 damage on you or have an unintended effect determined by the DM.

You may reduce the casting time to a single action by expending a Hit Die when you cast the spell.

 

WHAT AM I THINKING? Makeshift Wand gives the artificer a simple, basic ranged attack. It’s not as strong as Eldritch Blast, and it doesn’t have Sacred Flame’s ability to avoid cover. What it does have is versatility, fitting with the idea of the artificer coming up with the perfect tool for the situation. Meanwhile, Spell Storing Item will definitely need testing! Obvious it’s EXTREMELY versatile, but that’s the point. The catches are that it has a long casting time; even in the best case, you have to spend a hit die and an action to get a spell you’ll then have to wait a turn to cast. You have to burn the spell slot matching the spell. And while it’s a relatively small risk, there is always the chance that you can fail the check or even have it blow up in your face. It’s perfect for pulling out the one spell you really need for a situation – but there’s a risk attached!

IN CONCLUSION…

This literally is a jury-rigged artificer slapped together using duct tape and common household lint. I don’t know if these ideas are balanced; we’ll find out tomorrow. But I want to see how they work – especially Spell Storing Item. It won’t be my old Smith, but I hope it will be a reasonable enough facsimile for one day… and that it will help me think about what I’d like to do with the true artificer in the long run.

POSTGAME ANALYSIS

I’ll give a full report at some point in the future, but I’ll just say that things worked out reasonably well. A few specifics:

Weapon Augmentation worked fine for THIS session. It didn’t feel too powerful, and in fact I didn’t using in many of the fights because I couldn’t afford to lose an action. However, it’s definitely broken when multiclasses are taken into account. Of course, a REAL artificer won’t have Channel Divinity, so this isn’t a major concern. Once the DMG exists, I’d want to consider something that captures the original feeling of Weapon Augmentation – an infusion that lets you mimic the effects of a magic item.

Spell-Storing Item was great. I used it four times, producing the effects of sleep, burning hands and zone of truth. I liked having the ability to come up with the perfect tool for the situation and also had fun explaining just what the things I was creating were; technically they are “one-shot wands”, but that doesn’t mean that each one can’t take the form of some sort of interesting and unique item. So for example, my zone of truth generator was a crazy magic hat that interfered with the wearer’s brain, while I actually enchanted an undead head to serve as a flamethrower for my burning hands. It did fail once, with one of the sleep spells. There are two things I’d change before experimenting with it further. First: Any failure should result in a mishap. Mishaps are fun. Either the spell effect should trigger in a way that is most inconvenient for the artificer, or it can simply do 2d6 damageHowever, failure shouldn’t cause you to lose a spell slot. At low level, spell slots are precious. A mishap makes things interesting; losing the spell slot makes the failure doubly depressing.

In any case, I had a lot of fun with Smith. It wasn’t a perfect conversion by any means, but it was definitely a fun placeholder.

Please share your thoughts about Artificers in 5E!

Extra Life: Double For Doernbecher!

Only one day to go until Extra Life, where I’ll be playing a warforged artificer. You can see what I’m doing for Warforged here, and I’ll write more about my artificer hack after I arrive in Seattle. But I’m still raising money for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and as we go into the final hours we have a call to arms. If 10 people donate $20 by noon Pacific time, my wife Jennifer Ellis will match that donation! (To be clear – Jenn will match the donations up to a total of $200 on our end.)

Donate to Extra Life here!

Thanks for your support!

Extra Life: Hacking The Warforged

This Saturday I’m going to Seattle to play on in the D&D Team’s marathon session for Extra Life. The money I’m raising goes to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and if I can raise an additional $110 in the next few days, not only will you help kids in need, you will literally make my wish come true: if I can raise $1500, I get to cast a wish one time during the course of the game. If you can spare anything – even $1 – please donate here!

Donate to Extra Life!

Most of the time when I’m at the gaming table, I’m the GM. The first character I ever PLAYED in an Eberron campaign was a warforged artificer named Smith. I suppose you could say that he was a literal iron man; he was a brilliant inventor who was always developing new tools… and he was sheathed in awesome adamantine plating. We didn’t have a martial character in our party, and despite being an artificer Smith ended up being the primary melee combatant. He didn’t have the attack bonus of a fighter, but with his adamantine plating and shield he was extremely durable. Personally, I love the story of the warforged; beings built to serve as weapons who must now find purpose in a world without war. In Smith’s case, I was exploring the idea of the invented being who is now becoming the inventor. On a less philosophical level, what I enjoyed about playing a warforged was the sense of being a juggernaut. I had my heavy armor plating, I didn’t need to eat, breathe, or sleep, I couldn’t be poisoned… I felt like a force to be reckoned with.

Thanks to generous donations from Charles Huber and Jeremy Esch, I will be playing a warforged artificer in the Extra Life marathon. But there’s no finalized statistics for warforged in Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. An early version was presented in the public playtest, but it doesn’t match up to the final versions of other races. I expanded on this basic foundation with help from WotC R&D Designer Rodney Thompson, and here’s the traits I’ll be using for this weekend’s game.  Bear in mind that these traits are IN NO WAY OFFICIAL. If and when there is future Eberron support, a completely different version of warforged could be presented. Consider this an experimental playtest – nothing more.

WARFORGED TRAITS

As a warforged, you have the following racial traits.

Ability Score Adjustments: Your Constitution score increases by 2. 

Living Construct: Even though you were constructed, you are a humanoid. You are immune to disease. You do not need to breathe, eat or drink, but you can ingest food or drink if you wish.

Unsleeping SentinelWarforged don’t need to sleep. Instead, they settle into a resting state, remaining semiconscious for 4 hours each day. While in this rest state, you are fully aware of your surroundings. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.

Warforged ResilienceYou have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you have resistance against poison damage.

Integrated Armor: When you are not wearing armor, your AC is 12 + your Dexterity modifier. During a short rest, you can bond a suit of armor you are wearing to your body. When you finish that short rest, the armor you are wearing is bonded to you, and it cannot subsequently be removed from your body until you finish another short rest during which time you remove the bonded armor.

Self-Stabilizing:  You have advantage on death saving throws.

Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common. 

Type: Multiple types of warforged are found among the worlds of D&D, including warforged scouts and warforged soldiers. Choose one of these types.

Warforged Scout

Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 1.

Size: Small

Speed: 35 feet

Warforged Soldier

Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 1.

Size: Medium

Speed: 30 feet

In the original Eberron Campaign Setting (ECS) warforged had a host of immunities. Warforged were completely  immune to “poison, sleep effects, paralysis, disease, nausea, fatigue, exhaustion, effects that cause the sickened condition, and energy drain.” While this helped me feel like an unstoppable juggernaut, in retrospect it was simply too much. There were simply too many situations that were challenging to other characters that ended up being inconsequential to warforged. Rodney and I pared this down to a list that kept the basic flavor of being a construct – immunity to disease, resistance to poison, and no need to eat, sleep, drink, or breathe. This warforged is highly durable; the +2 Con score and bonus to death saving throws help the warforged take a pounding and keep going. As a warforged I can be a tireless sentinel but I can’t shrug off ghouls and vampires quite so easily, and I can’t make out with a succubus.

The original warforged spent a feat at first level to acquire an armored body, the equivalent of wearing either medium or heavy armor. This isn’t an easy thing to model in fifth edition, because characters don’t GET feats at first level… and simply giving the characters armor proficiencies would mess up class balance and step on what is currently the unique feature of the Mountain Dwarf. The current model gives a warforged a default AC of 12 + Dex, much like the basic composite plating of the 3.5 Warforged. Armor can then be attached like the shell of a hermit crab, the same approach used in Fourth Edition. Frankly, this is the one feature I’m not entirely happy with. That Adamantine Body was a defining part of Smith the Artificer, and the character won’t be the same without that heavy armor; at the same time, without the cost of a feat at first level, I don’t see an answer that both feels balanced and doesn’t simply steal a unique aspect of the 5E dwarf. So this Saturday, my 5E iteration of Smith will be a Warforged Soldier following these rules, and we’ll see how it goes.

In my next few posts I’ll talk about what I’m doing to model the Artificer for Extra Life and about the backstory of Smith Mk 2!

 

 

Support Eberron!

Over the last few years I’ve been working to support Eberron, between posting my unofficial Q&As and lobbying WotC for some form of official support. It’s my hope that this will come to pass in 2015, and that we will have new Eberron material. However, there’s no easy way for WotC or myself to know just how many people still want new Eberron material. I don’t know how many people find my Q&As to be useful, and if it’s worthwhile for me to continue writing them. So I’m asking you to help me get a sense of how many people actually want to see new Eberron material.

I’m currently involved in two D&D related charity events. On October 25th I will be playing an artificer in the Extra Life campaign with the WotC D&D team. On November 2nd I will be running an Eberron adventure for ChariD20. Both of these are supporting noble causes – childrens’ hospitals and child literacy – and they are also a chance to show support for Eberron itself. I’m asking you to donate one dollar to one of these causes, and to reach out to anyone you know who would like to see new Eberron material and to ask them to do the same. All I’m asking for is one dollar – just enough to stand up and be counted as someone who would like to see more Eberron in the future (and hey, supporting a good cause in the process).

Donate to Extra Life

Donate to ChariD20

If you’re able to spare more, these are both excellent causes. Furthermore, if you donate at least $10 to ChariD20, you’ll get a copy of the 5E Eberron scenario I’m creating for the event… meanwhile, if you donate to Extra Life, you can help establish details about the character I’ll be playing (currently an Artificer who follows the Silver Flame).

TO BE CLEAR: This is just an informal show of support. There’s no concrete assurance that it will affect WotC’s decisions. But knowing how many people are willing to throw down a dollar in support of Eberron means a great deal to ME, and helps strengthen my resolve when it comes to lobbying for new content and continuing my unofficial support… and at the end of the day, you’re helping a great charity. So if you’ve enjoyed my Q&As or other work and want to see more of it in the future, please give $1 to one of these causes – and share this message with other Eberron fans that you know.

Thanks!

Keith Baker

Gaming For Charity

I’ve been busy working on Phoenix, and I’ll have more to say about that soon. But I’m also making time for a few special projects, and I hope that you’ll support either or both of them.

First up: On Saturday, October 25th I am taking part in Extra Life, a Charity program benefiting Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. I’m participating as a player with the Dungeons & Dragons team: I’m going to be playing in the first 8 hours of a 24-hour D&D marathon run by gamemaster Greg Bilsland. The entire event will be live-streamed, so you can follow along with our perilous journey. My donation page is here, and I’m personally raising money for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. In exchange for your donations, you can help establish details about the character I play – everything from my name and class to my motto or battle-cry… plus, the more money I raise, the more benefits the DM gives to me, just like the Hunger Games! In particular, if you select an Eberron option for my Race or Class, I will develop 5E stats for that element and post them here. For Race, you can choose an Eberron specific race – such as Warforged – or a traditional race with a specific Dragonmark. Note that these will not be official and may not match whatever form official 5E Eberron support takes, and in the case of the Artificer I will only develop the elements of the class as needed for this adventure, NOT a full 20-level class with a full infusion list. Nonetheless, it is an opportunity to help an awesome cause and to get the wheels turning on 5E Eberron development, and I hope you’ll lend a hand! Once again, you can find my donation page here.

A week later – on Sunday, November 2nd – I’ll be on the other side of the screen, gamemastering events for Celebrity ChariD20. This event is raising money for Reach Out And Read, a charity that promotes child literacy. I’m going to be creating a short 5E Eberron adventure with pregenerated characters. If you donate you can watch the livestream of the event, and with a donation of $15 or more you will get a copy of the Eberron adventure. You can donate here!

Both of these are excellent causes, and I hope that you will help to make them both succeed. If you have any questions about either one, please ask. Otherwise, again, please lend a hand and support Extra Life or ChariD20. Thank you!

 

Hacking 5E Eberron

I am confident that there is going to be official 5E support for Eberron, but I don’t know when it will happen or how extensive it will be… and I know that there’s people out there who want to start a 5E Eberron campaign RIGHT NOW. I can’t provide extensive support, in part because I don’t know the system well enough. I’m still learning it, and I don’t know what’s balanced and what isn’t. My first pass on a few ideas was based on material in the playtest that has now changed; it needs to be reevaluated and rebalanced, and it’s going to be a while before I have time for this. But I can still provide some advice on starting your own Eberron game.

First and foremost, reskinning is your friend. Don’t be afraid to change names and change flavor. An infernal warlock doesn’t have to be infernal; as long as your DM’s on board, there’s no reason “Dark One’s Blessing” can’t be “Blessing of the Silver Flame.” “Hellish Rebuke” becomes “Vengeance of the Flame.” And pow! – you’ve got a Silver Pyromancer. Consider the following examples…

BEASTHIDE SHIFTER WARRIOR. Mechanically, he’s a half-orc barbarian with the bear totem spirit. Which means that he’s strong and durable, he’s got darkvision, and when he gets into a fight he can temporarily enter a state where he becomes stronger and more durable. You and I know it’s “barbarian rage”; but there’s no reason you can’t describe it as beasthide shifting.

LONGSTRIDER SHIFTER DRUID OR RANGER. Mechanically, she’s a wood elf; she’s got darkvision, enhanced senses (Perception proficiency), she’s fast, and good at hiding in the woods. She doesn’t literally shift, but on the other hand, any time she moves 35 feet she’s moving faster than a human could; you could simply describe her shifting at the start of combat. There’s a few things that don’t make sense, like the fact that she doesn’t sleep and has weapon training. You could ignore that or recolor it – it’s not that she DOESN’T sleep, it’s that her senses are so sharp that she can’t be taken unawares even while sleeping, and her feral mind resists charming effects. And is it really a problem that your shifter druid happens to know how to use a longbow?

HALF-ELF ARCHER ARTIFICER. This guy might be from House Cannith, but he’s from a mixed bloodline and can’t inherit the dragonmark. But he DOES have a talent for crafting temporary magic items and for making things explode. He can recognize and identify any sort of magic by studying its aura. He’s good with rituals and can figure out how to perform anybody’s rituals. Druid? Wizard? Cleric? He understands the fundamental principles and can make anybody’s ritual work. But crossbows are his specialty. Give him a moment and he can jury-rig a hand crossbow from almost anything. Give him another moment and he can throw together an enchanted bolt. Explosive? Stunning? Radiant Damage? He can do it. Of course, mechanically he’s an Infernal Warlock with the Pact of the Tome. His mastery of rituals comes from his Book of Ancient Secrets invocation. His ability to identify any magic item is the Eldritch Sight invocation. His fantastic hand crossbow is simply the cosmetic explanation of his Eldritch Blast. He can always put a deadly crossbow together, and he can fix up a host of magic bolts. Radiant damage? Sacred Flame. Explosive Bolt? Fireball. Stunning Bolt? Hold Person. Flamethrower? Burning Hands. Of course, given that the crossbow is entirely cosmetic, he can use any of these effects without it; this time the fireball is a one-use wand he’s thrown together. The point is that “invocations” don’t have to be invocations; they can represent his expertise. Spells can be jury-rigged magic items; he’s simply limited in how many he can put together before he needs to inventory his supplies with a short rest, and he can only create items tied to his specialties. It’s obviously not perfect; he can’t repair constructs (although with the Tome pact, you can get him the Mending cantrip) or create PERMANENT magic items. But it can at least get you the FLAVOR of an artificer until the real thing gets figured out.

WHAT ABOUT DRAGONMARKS?

I have thoughts on how to handle Dragonmarks, but my ideas are still very half-baked. For now, the simplest thing to do is simply to not play a character with a Dragonmark. You could still be in a HOUSE; any number of backgrounds support this. You Guild Artisan is a Cannith heir. Your Entertainer is Phiarlan. Your Soldier is from House Deneith. Your half-orc ranger with the Outlander background is Tharashk. Your Noble isn’t an aristocrat; he’s an arrogant House heir from a particularly powerful branch of the family. He hasn’t developed the mark yet, but you just wait and see – he WILL. You don’t need to have the Mark to have the flavor of the house.

If you really really want the Mark, there’s a few ways to do it. The simplest is the Magic Initiate feat; simply relabel it “Least Dragonmark” and choose a spell and cantrips that reflect your desired class. If you’re human, you can even do it at first level. Alternately, you could explain some of your class abilities as being derived from your mark, just as I reflavored the barbarian rage as Beasthide Shifting. Combine that with an appropriate background and it can certainly work. However, I do think there is a much better way to do this; I just think it wants to be its own thing, and I haven’t worked it out to my satisfaction.

WHAT ABOUT WARFORGED AND CHANGELINGS? KALASHTAR AND PSIONICS?

While all of these things are important parts of Eberron, you can have an Eberron game without them – and for now, that’s what I suggest you do. There are lots of possibilities you CAN easily explore right away… so try one of those. One of my favorite Eberron PCs is a warforged artificer, but in the campaign I’m in right now I’m playing a half-orc paladin from the Demon Wastes… because that DOES work perfectly within the existing rules, and it’s an interesting part of Eberron I’ve never explored in depth. If I hadn’t done that I was considering playing a Royal Eye of Aundair (arcane trickster rogue), a paladin of the Blood of Vol, or an agent of the Trust. Other characters in my campaign include a Gatekeeper druid and someone actually playing Jaela Daran (a cleric of Light using halfling racial stats to reflect “child”). I really like playing warforged, and I certainly will once they are ready, but I can start exploring Eberron in 5E without them.

BUT HOW DO YOU RECONCILE EBERRON WITH RARE MAGIC ITEMS?

It’s a good question, and frankly one I can’t answer in depth until I’ve actually seen the DM’s Guide. The main thing to me is that you can keep the fundamental idea of Eberron as a world in which low-level magic is used to benefit society – where we send messages with speaking stones and light the streets with continual flame – without making magic swords commonplace. The idea of 5E is that even a +1 magic sword is a special thing, and I’m okay with that as a concept. Low level magic remains a driving force of Eberron – it just turns out than many magic items that used to be low-level are now in fact high-level.

I’ll revisit this topic once the DM’s Guide is out, and I hope that there will be official support that will address it even more clearly in the future. But the short form is that I don’t believe 5E’s approach to magic items critically damages the basic foundation of Eberron.

That’s all I have time for today, as I’m just about to head off to PAX. If you’re in Seattle, check out my schedule here – in particular, I will be hanging out at Card Kingdom from 6 PM – 8 PM this Thursday!

Before I go, here’s two quick questions from the mailbag…

WotC seems to have taken down Eye on Eberron and your other series of Eberron articles. Do you know if they have plans to put them up again in the near future, or, if not, they are mirrored elsewhere?

I think this is just about reorganizing the website to focus on 5th Edition. It looks like all the content is still archived and available. The Dragonshard articles are here. And I think this is all the 4E articles.

My players are heading into Dolurrh through a manifest zone. Thoughts on the effect on unguarded players and divine powers?

Off the top of my head, the big thing about Dolurrh is that it saps your memories. I’d have people make Wisdom saves every so often, and anytime they fail say “Tell me what you’ve just forgotten.” If they can think of something dramatic and entertaining, that’s what they’ve forgotten. If there’s nothing compelling, I might have them forget a proficiency, spell, or class ability. It’s not something you can FIGHT – so needless to say, it’s a pretty compelling reason to get out of there ASAP.

I don’t particularly think DIVINE powers would be singled out; if there’s trouble, I think arcane magic would be equally affected. Bear in mind that Dolurrh isn’t the source of negative energy – that’s Mabar. So I might run through the spell list and come up with a few spells that will behave in an unusual manner – does Speak With Dead allow you to make contact with the living? If you use resurrection magic, does it fail, or does it just zap the target right out of Dolurrh? But I don’t have a list of effects off the top of my head.

PAX 2014

This is the busiest time of year for me. Having just got back from Gen Con, I’m about to go to PAX Dev, and then stick around for PAX Prime. You can find me at the following events:

THURSDAY 2:45-3:45, Vashon

Roundtable: Worldbuilding

Designing a setting for your game can be a mind-expanding experience. Whether you’re crafting cities for an MMO or mapping terrain for an RPG, you have the whole world in your hands. Designer Keith Baker leads a discussion on what makes worlds work.

THURSDAY 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Card Kingdom

Hanging Out With Keith

THIS IS NOT A PAX EVENT! Thursday night I’ll be spending a few hours at Card Kingdom. Come talk about Eberron, Gloom, or what I’m doing with my new company Twogether Studios! Take a look at Fairy Tale Gloom! This is going to be an informal event so drop by anywhere in that range.

MONDAY 10:30 – 11:30, Sandworm Theatre

The Art of the Table: GMing Beyond the Basics

Fending off a horde of ravening zombies seems like child’s play, compared to wrangling the needs of a party of RPG gamers! GMs must wear the various hats of actor, guide, narrator, friend, foe, and many more… All while still staying sane and helping everyone bring the most fun to the gaming table. Ben Mandall and our panel of expert game masters will analyze what it takes to be a truly superb GM in an interactive panel that both first-time and veteran GMs will learn from. Bring your questions!

Again, my Card Kingdom event has nothing to do with PAX, so you don’t need to go to PAX to catch up with me there. One way or another, I hope to see some of you in Seattle!

Dragonmarks 8/21/14 – Drow, Dwarves and More!

As some of you may recall, my original plan was to write about Aundair. However, I’ve been a little busy recently, between conventions, Gloom, and starting my own company.  I do still plan to tackle Aundair and the Eldeen in the near future, and to talk about options for 5th Edition, as much as I can. But for now, here’s a few questions that came my way about the races of Eberron. As always, these are just my personal opinions and may contradict or clash with canon sources.

Eberron is hardly lacking in diverse character options, but none of your various Drow societies allow easy opportunities for use as player characters. Was this deliberate? Could you reasonably think of a playable Drow? As it stands, the Vulkoor-worshipers, Sulatar, and Umbragen are all xenophobic “jungle savages” for adventuring parties to slay or narrowly escape.

First off: was it deliberate that they didn’t allow EASY opportunities for player characters? Absolutely. The Drow are supposed to be alien and mysterious; I wouldn’t want them to be casually integrated into the Five Nations, because if that’s the case what makes it interesting to play one? With that said, “no easy options” doesn’t mean “no options”, so let’s look at a few.

The Foundling. In my novel The Shattered Land, we run into a gray-skinned man named Gerrion. He’s a Sulatar halfblood who now lives in Stormreach as a gambler and guide. While Gerrion is specifically half-drow, his story works just as well for a full drow; he’s drow by blood but was raised among humans. Just as the city elves of Eberron are dramatically different from the Aereni or the Tairnadal, you can always just have a city drow, who is genetically drow but not influenced by their cultures.

The Fish Out Of Water. If you consider the protagonists of the Dreaming Dark trilogy to be an adventuring party, The Gates of Night introduces a drow player character in Xu’sasar. She is a Qaltiar drow (an offshoot of the Vulkoori, but with a broader animistic tradition as opposed to being entirely hung up on scorpions) who ends up stuck with the rest of the party and as lone survivor of her clan. There’s no easy way for her to physically return to her home, and with her clan dead, not much for her to return to. So she binds herself to the party and fights alongside them, doing her best to adapt to their strange world and bizarre traditions. If you want to get a better sense of how I see this working out, well, check out the book!

The Emissary. The Umbragen aren’t “jungle savages”; if you go to the primary source, they are a subterranean culture easily as advanced as the Aereni. Most critically, they are currently locked in battle with the Daelkyr lord Belashyrra… and they are losing that war. By and large, the Umbragen aren’t xenophobic; they simply don’t CARE about the surface world. The primary reason for an Umbragen to come to the surface is to find weapons, magic, or allies to help inn their war against the Daelkyr… which is a perfectly valid path for an adventurer. If that doesn’t work for you, you could easily have an Umbragen exile who has been banished from the depths for any number of reasons, and traveled to Khorvaire because hey, they aren’t some sort of jungle savage, and if they must live on the surface they’d rather do it somewhere civilized.

 
Eberron has always reveled in non-standard takes on traditional D&D races, yet the presentation of dwarves in the setting cleaves very closely to traditional view of our favorite bearded alcoholics. Was this intentional? In a setting where the elves are Mayan necromancers and the hobbits ride dinosaurs, it seems curious to have dwarves still happily mining their mountains and hating orcs.

First off, the goal of Eberron wasn’t to change races just for the sake of changing races; it was an exploration of facets of those races. Both the Aereni and the Tairnadal are essentially a response to the long lifespan of the elves, with the idea that a race of people with a potential thousand year lifespan will have trouble letting go; thus they find ways to cling to life, preserving their heroes through magic or emulation. The intrigue-laden society of the gnomes is tied to their natural knack for illusions, ability to talk to burrowing spies, and knack for alchemy (which is to say poison). In the case of the dwarves, what I wanted to explore is something that I feel doesn’t come out often… The dwarves have all the gold (along with the best steel). If you look at the picture of the male dwarf in the 3.5 ECS, he’s not a long-bearded warrior in chainmail with an axe in one hand and a stein in the other; he’s a merchant prince. The dwarves of Eberron are the Medici banks and Saudi princes. Yes, they can fall back on their natural toughness and their love of the axe, but their power is their gold. Let’s look at Antus ir’Soldorak, chancellor of the Aurum:

Antus’s holdings include gold and platinum mines. Following the secession of the Mror Holds, he founded the Soldorak Mint, and his currency is now commonplace throughout Karrnath and the Lhazaar Principalities. He has invested his wealth across the Five Nations, and could have an interest in any sort of industry that serves the needs of an adventure. He is determined to break the power of the Twelve and stamp out the last vestiges of Galifar, and to this end he searches for new industrial and magical developments—seeking to fund such endeavors and exploit their results before the knowledge can be acquired or destroyed by the Twelve. He has an enormous gilded airship, Chains of Gold, which includes its own speaking stone station and altar of resurrection. Soldorak spends most of his time aboard his ship, flying from city to city to oversee local operations. He purchased his noble title, and technically he is a Karrnathi warlord, but he rarely visits his estates.

Just to point out, Antus isn’t a weird unique case; while it has spread across Khorvaire, the Aurum was founded in the Mror by wealthy dwarf-lords who wished to increase their influence.

So you can HAVE the drunken dwarf warrior who wants nothing more than to go beat down those mountain orcs, but he’s likely working for one of the mighty clan lords whose power comes from gold more than from iron.

There’s no question: on the surface, the dwarves are the least distinct of Eberron’s races. But there is still a unique aspect to them that can be very interesting to explore, if you dig into it.

Did any of the dwarves who kicked out the surface tribes, survive down in Khyber below the Mror holds?

Not according to canon sources, but you could always change that in your campaign. Perhaps there’s a lone fortress still holding out against the aberrations. Perhaps explorers find an amazingly advanced peaceful dwarven civilization… but is all as it seems, or are they secretly controlled by the daelkyr? Or perhaps the only survivors are the derro, the twisted remnants of the ancient dwarves. Personally, I lean towards the latter option… all that’s left below is horror and ruin, and ancient secrets waiting to be found. But it’s certainly something you could take in a different direction.

Were there any races you wanted to have in Eberron that didn’t make the cut? If so, what were they?

Well, there were the merfolk and sahuagin in the oceans, but I wasn’t pushing for those to be playable races. The only playable race that was cut from the original write-up was goblins, who have always continued to linger on the fringes of playability.

If a new PC race were to emerge, where’s your best pick as to where?

That’s too broad a question to answer without more information. Eberron is full of options for introducing new creatures or races. In some cases, the best answer would be overlaying it on an existing element… for example, replacing the half-ogre Eneko of Sarlona with Goliaths, if you want a Goliaths in your game. Wilden could be created when Oalian explodes one day. With that said, there’s lots of entities that could produce a new race. Mordain the Fleshweaver. The Daelkyr.  House Vadalis. Someone messing with the tools the giants used to create the elves and drow. A new race could have existed for ages in Khyber or Xen’drik and simply never been encountered until recently. Or it could be the result of the Mourning – a Cyran village or town spared from death, but instead transformed into an entirely different species. Each option is simply going to bring different story hooks for a player of that race.

One thing that has nettled me for years; why does the Mark of Finding manifest across racial lines? Humans never end up with the Marks of Storm or Detection, yet Tharashk counts both humans and half-orcs among their number.

An excellent question – after all, full-blooded orcs can’t get the mark either. There is no known answer, and it’s one of the many mysteries of the Dragonmarks; why are ANY of them bound to the races that they are. However, it is something that the people of the Shadow Marches point to as proof that the half-orcs are a bridge between the two races… the Mark of Finding is something humans possess and orcs don’t, but it is shared by the jhorgun’taal (the Marcher term for half-orcs, “children of two bloods”).

How do the Gnolls of the Znir Pact feel about Gnolls throughout the rest of Khorvaire?

For the most part, that they are feral barbaric savages. But it’s not like there’s a lot of gnolls IN Khorvaire outside of Droaam, and most are in desolate places like the Demon Wastes or the depths of the King’s Forest, so it’s a rare thing for a Znir gnoll to actually encounter a non-Znir gnoll.

How are warforged handling their new OS? (That is to say, 5th edition)

It’s too soon to say. There was an early version of warforged presented in the alpha playtest materials, but I think it could be improved upon, and as it wasn’t included in the PHB there’s still an opportunity for that to happen.

How may warforged did a creation forge make at one time? Did they come off in batches?

In my opinion, this varied by forge, but most forges would be designed to produce multiple warforged of the same design at one time.

If the eladrin had a chance to get a portal or spell or something that could take them back to Thelanis would they take it? Would they leave the feyspires behind?

Some might. But if you read my novel The Fading Dream, my premise is that many of the more powerful fey are tied to their spires… that they are in some ways manifestations or extensions of the spire. They could wander from it for a time, but they couldn’t choose to abandon it forever without losing their identity.

 

GenCon, Gloom, and Twogether!

GenCon2014I’m back from GenCon with a few new games to try out. While I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to play games, it was an inspiring trip and an opportunity to catch up with lots of old and new friends. There were also a few important announcements that I wanted to share.

Gloom2GLOOM 2.0 AND MUNCHKIN GLOOM

The second edition of Gloom is in stores now. You can find more information about it here, but I wanted to highlight a few things. This is an improvement to the existing game, not a complete transformation. While there are significant differences, it is possible to mix old and new cards together. With that said, if you own the first edition but still want to get the second edition, I’m working on something that will let you get good use from outdated cards… expect more news on that in a few weeks. if you have any questions about Gloom Second Edition, ask below.

However, there was another piece of Gloomy news at GenCon. I’m teaming up with Atlas Games and Steve Jackson to produce MUNCHKIN GLOOM. You may wonder how this works… after all, the goal of Gloom is to tell a sad story while keeping your opponents happy, while the foundation of Munchkin is backstabbing your friends while you amass ultimate power and wealth. Well, how exactly do you GET all that power and wealth? Munchkin Gloom takes a look at the other side of the coin, placing you in control of a dungeon full of monsters whose lives are about to be ruined by a band of obnoxiously overpowered adventurers. We’ve got a lot of fun ideas and I think it’s going to be a great flip side to the basic Munchkin saga. Munchkin Gloom will be out in 2015, along with Fairy Tale Gloom.

twogether_color_webINTRODUCING… TWOGETHER STUDIOS!

It’s been a long time coming, but my wife Jennifer Ellis and I are finally launching our own game company: Twogether Studios. I’m best known for creating Gloom and Eberron, and Twogether will reflect the principles seen in both of these. We intend to create engaging products with a strong emphasis on storytelling and imagination. We are working on RPGs, card games, and other ideas, and expect to launch our first Kickstarter in February 2015 to fund the production of a game we’ve been working on for the last year. If you want to keep up with what we’re doing, you can follow us on Twitter at @Twogetherstudio, or keep an eye on our website. I’m very excited about our plans for 2015!

PantsDnDWHAT ABOUT EBERRON?

I’m afraid this weekend didn’t produce new information about Eberron support in Fifth Edition. The D&D team at Wizards of the Coast has a lot on their plate right now managing the release of the new books, and I suspect it’s going to be a little while before they can focus on this. However, it’s something that is still in motion and I’m excited about the possibilities, so hopefully there will be solid news in a month or two. In the meantime, I’ll be getting a Q&A out later this week. And for my part, I just put together a half-orc paladin of the Silver Flame (from the Demon Wastes) to play in the 5E campaign I’m playing in. More news as soon as it’s available!

Gen Con 2014 Schedule!

It’s been a busy week getting ready for Gen Con – I hope I’ll see some of you there! If you’re going, here’s a few places you can find me.

THURSDAY AUGUST 14

2 PM, Room 210: DUNGEONCRAFT LIVE!

Kenneth Hite, Ray Winninger and I will be providing our best GMing tips.

FRIDAY AUGUST 15

4 PM, Room 210: PLAYING GOD

The role of the divine is an interesting part of world design. How do you make faith matter in a setting? How do you involve deities without making mortals feel irrelevant? I’ll be discussing these topics and more with Greg Stafford and Steve Kenson!

SATURDAY AUGUST 16

11 AM, Room 211: FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

Horror campaigns can be tricky to pull off in RPGs. How do you overcome player knowledge? How to you address the fact that people playing a horror RPG are expecting the unnatural? I’ll be exploring the subject with Kenneth Hite, Shane Hensley, and Andrew Hackard.

5 PM – 7 PM, Hyatt Lobby: GEN CON MEETUP!

One of my favorite things about Gen Con is getting a chance to catch up with old friends and meet new people. I’ll be hanging out in the Hyatt Lobby for two hours, and happy to talk about Gloom, Eberron, or any of the projects I’m working on now!

 

If you’re not going to make it to Gen Con, I’m also going to be at PAX Prime, Rose City Comic Con, and Geek Girl Con. If you are going to be at Gen Con and plan to attend one of more of these events, leave a note below… especially if you have a topic you’d like to see covered at one of the panels!