Here at AdventureAWeek, we produce high quality adventures in both the D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder formats. Luckily for us, the two systems are very similar, so it’s easy to write for both systems. However, there are just enough differences between the two that you can’t use a 3.5 character in PF as is and vice versa. There need to be a few changes made. One of my many jobs at AaW is to make sure that all of the monster stat blocks are converted correctly. I’m going to give you a few times on how to do that.
The first thing you need to be able to do is to be able to recognize when something is in one format, but not the other. The Listen skill is 3.5, whereas Vital Strike is a Pathfinder feat. If you don’t have access to the 3.5 Player’s Handbook and the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, you can use the same tools we do, which are the D&D 3.5 Wiki (http://www.dandwiki.com/wiki/Main_Page) and the D&D Hypertext (http://www.d20srd.org/) and the Pathfinder System Reference Document ( http://www.d20pfsrd.com/). These are invaluable resources.
Secondly, understand the formatting differences. The two systems use largely different formats for their stat blocks, plus different terms in their blocks. But I’ll get into the different terms as I go along. I’m not going to get into the differences in formatting, as they should be fairly obvious.
The biggest differences between the two systems are Skills, Feats, and the CMB/CMD/Base Attack/Grapple systems. Almost everything else stays the same.
Skills are the biggest change, because there are no more “cross-class skills” in Pathfinder. There are now Class Skills and Non-Class Skills. Instead of putting half-ranks into cross-class skills like in 3.5, in Pathfinder, you put in single points. If you put one skill point into a class skill, for that first point, you get a +3 instead of +1. If you put one skill point into a non-class skill, for that first point, you get +1. Obviously, this doesn’t count in the ability modifier. Also, you don’t multiply your skill points by four at 1st level.
The biggest difference in Skill between the two systems is that numerous D&D 3.5 skills that were folded into single skills in Pathfinder. Hide and Move Silently became Stealth. Listen, Search, and Spot became Perception. Balance, Jump, and Tumble became Acrobatics. Decipher Script, Forgery, and Speak Language became Linguistics. Open Lock is now part of Disable Device. Gather Information is now part of Diplomacy. Use Rope is now part of the CMB/CMD system. So, how do you convert them?
The most accurate way is to break down how many skills points this particular monster should have and go through and figure it out by hand. For us, however, time is usually not something we have a lot of, so I’ve devised a way to do a quick and dirty conversion which, while not 100% accurate, is accurate enough for game play. I’ve never seen one or two extra skill points break a game.
Going from 3.5 to Pathfinder, the easiest way is to simply keep the same score, but add the new skill name. For example, if a monster had a +5 in each of Balance, Jump, and Tumble, change it to Acrobatics +5. Going from Pathfinder to 3.5, it can be a little more difficult, but really, just look at the concept of your monster before deciding which skills to use. If your monster has a Pounce attack, it should probably have Jump as opposed to Tumble. If it’s an underwater monster, you might want to give it ranks in Listen instead of Spot.
On to Feats. There are no feats that disappeared from 3.5, but quite a few changed due to the changes in skills. The Stealthy feat gives a bonus to Stealth (PF) instead of Hide and Move Silently (3.5). There are also quite a few new feats in Pathfinder In the 3.5 Player’s Handbook, there are two pages of feats. In the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, 3 ¾ pages of feats, so there’s a much greater variety to choose from. When doing conversions, just like skills, understand the concept of the monster and the feats should be easy to figure out.
Lastly, the Base Attack/Grapple and Combat Maneuver Bonus/Combat Maneuver Defense mechanics. All of the various combat maneuver mechanics in 3.5 have been replaced by the CMB score. The CMB is pretty easy to figure out. The Base Attack Bonus should given in the stat block. The formula for Grapple is:
Base Attack Bonus + Strength Modifier + Size Modifier
In most cases, the CMB is the same as your Grapple score. The formula for CMB is:
Base Attack Bonus + Strength Modifier + Size Modifier
You roll a d20, add your CMB to see if it beats your opponents CMD. The defense from combat maneuvers in handled by the CMD score. The formula for CMD is:
CMB + Dexterity Modifier
That’s it. Just add the Dexterity modifier to your CMB and you’ve got your CMD. Piece of cake.
Note: A creature can also add any circumstance, deflection, dodge, insight, luck, morale, profane, and sacred bonuses to AC to its CMD.
Those are the major difference in stat blocks between the two editions, other than formatting. Just make sure you take your time and converting from one to the other should be easy.
Children of the Night: Making Vampires Scary Again
“I am Dracula. And I bid you welcome, Mr. Harker, to my house.”
Dracula (1897), Bram Stoker.
There was a point in fiction and gaming, not so long ago, that vampires were villains. They were monsters and people were right to fear them. They had great strength, speed, and many abilities that normal humans could not cope with. These days, it’s all sparkly skin and brooding angst and self-loathing, with a vampire playing the sometimes-reluctant hero. As a huge fan of vampires, while I don’t have anything against the vampire hero, I miss the days of the vampire being the villain and being feared.
In this week’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’m going to give you some tips and ideas on how to make vampires scary again.
Bumps in the Night
One of the many things that vampires represent is the fear of the dark, of the unknown. However, it’s not the dark itself that people find frightening, it’s what’s in the dark that is scary. Rats. Bats. Snakes and spiders. All of these things are creeping while you’re sleeping and sometimes, you don’t know they’re there, but you might think they’re there and that’s enough.
The vampire has a few abilities that can allow you to play into that fear of the unknown. The first is Children of the Night. This ability allows the vampire to call rat swarms, bat swarms, or wolves that serve the vampire for up to one hour. Using these allies to harass and harry the PCs can run the PCs ragged, making them use resources that would make a confrontation with the vampire easier. One thing to remember about this ability is that if your base creature is an outsider or has a non-terrestrial subtype, you might want to consider letting the vampire summon other creatures, such as half-fiend wolves or a barghest or hellhounds instead of wolves and a vargouille instead of bats.
The second ability is Dominate. This allows a vampire to control someone as though the vampire had used dominate person by 12th level caster. That means this ability lasts for twelve days. The reason this is frightening is that the PCs can’t know for sure that one of their allies is under the control of a vampire or not. Assuming the party knows that a vampire is involved, this can cause rifts in the party, which can only make things easier for the vampire. Even if they don’t know a vampire is involved, assuming the party posts guard at their camp during the night, their guard could become compromised due to this ability and the rest of the party wouldn’t even know it.
The third and fourth abilities are the vampire’s ability to change shapes. The vampire can take the form of a dire bat, a wolf, or assume a gaseous form. These powers can be used to play a cat-and-mouse game with the PCs. As the PCs chase the vampire, the vampire can change shape, so that they don’t notice the bat, which then starts following them in gaseous form, only to appear in front of them as a wolf later on.
Lastly is the vampire’s spider climb ability. This lets the vampire climb any surface as if they were under the spider climb spell. The vampire turns a corner ahead of the PCs, but when the party turns the same corner, there’s not sign of the vampire, because the vampire climbed straight up the wall and is hanging from the ceiling above them. Since most people don’t think to look up, the vampire can hide easily. And when you add in the vampire’s +4 bonus to Dexterity and a +8 racial bonus to Stealth, this becomes even easier.
Wile E. Coyote: Super Genius
In a previous blog, I talked about how to make your villain really evil and all of those traits can be used with the vampire, but if there’s one thing that infuriates players, it’s having an enemy that’s smarter than they are. Build the vampire as brilliant and don’t forget to add their +2 Intelligence bonus from the template. Pairing the power of a genius with the vampire’s +4 to Charisma and +8 to Bluff, Perception, and Sense Motive can allow you to play the vampire in a way that will prevent the players from being able to tell exactly what the vampire knows and what they don’t.
A genius makes their opponents approach them at less than full power. Therefore, a genius will set up challenges and encounters for the PCs that require the PCs to use up their resources, such as healing potions, healing spells, scrolls, wands, and most importantly, hit points. If the vampire can use minions that do ability damage or ability drain, the party will most likely be weaker when they finally get to the vampire.
Change Things Up
The current view of vampires is that they males are square-jawed and handsome and the females are the most beautiful, most sensual/sexual things on the planet. Even the picture in the Pathfinder Bestiary is fairly sexualized. But if you look back at the movie Nosferatu (1922), the vampire Count Orlock was hideous and looked like an anthropomorphized rat. By making a vampire look different or giving them different abilities than what the players are expecting can make a vampire scary.
One way to do this is add the vampire template to a humanoid creature other than a human being or to add the template to a character that has class levels. A vampire Cleric would certainly be interesting and unexpected.
You could change the gaseous form ability to invisibility or make the regular bloodsucker into a psychic vampire by having them damage Intelligence or Wisdom instead of Constitution. This way, you can let the vampire attack without having to grapple, say an attack range of 30 ft., and the victim could have a Will Save (I’d say DC 25 or so).
My personal favorite way to alter monsters is to use the Monster Modifier by Adamant Entertainment. With a few rolls of the dice, you can completely alter the way a monster looks, how it moves, or what it can do. For example, I was running a module for my Pathfinder group that contained a monster called a barrow spider. The party was a higher level than the module, so I was adjusting as I went. I got to the barrow spider and got out the Monster Modifier. A few rolls of the dice later, the spider was one size category larger, was a different color and had 12 legs instead of 8. The four extra were two human legs and two grasshopper legs, which gave the spider ranks in Jump, which was a surprise to the group.
You can find the Monster Modifier at DriveThruRPG here: Monster Modifier. It’s $2 and in my opinion, very much worth the investment.
By mixing things up, you can really throw the party for a loop. Is the vampire not a spellcaster but can suddenly use fireballs? Is their dominate ability changed to a gaze attack that paralyzes or petrifies instead of commanding? What if the vampire can change into an elemental instead of a bat or a wolf? If your base creature has spellcasting ability and can use alter self (and it’s chain of spells), elemental body, or beast shape, this can also help throw the heroes off the scent by changing into other people, elemental creatures, or animals other than a rat or a bat.
Casting Against Type
The “standard” image of the vampire is well dressed and well mannered. An opera cape and a widow’s peak don’t hurt either. But what if your vampire is nothing but a flying head, like the penanggalen, or a spirit that doesn’t have a physical form, like the lamia from Greek myth (which is totally different than the lamia presented in the Bestiary 3)? In Filipino myth, the aswang was a woman who, after rubbing a magical ointment on their skin, turned into a large bird that flew through the village and released a long, pointed tongue that the aswang would use to drain blood. There are also stories of vampiric rabbits, so using animal vampires is also possible.
Because the vampire template can be added to humanoids, fey, or monstrous humanoids and not just humans, your options expand greatly for the base creature. A vampiric Minotaur. A vampiric pixie. A vampiric storm giant. Let your imagination run wild.
There are a few classic weaknesses of the vampire, such as garlic, the crucifix, and mirrors. Vampires also have an aversion to running water and sunlight. Everyone who has seen a vampire movie will know these weaknesses and act on them. The best way to combat this is to alter or remove weaknesses. There have been jokes and movies that have to deal with Jewish vampires that aren’t repelled by the cross, but are driven back by the Star of David. Use that. If your base creature is part of a particularly strong religion, replace the crucifix with the religious symbol of that religion. If nothing else, that requires the characters to figure out why a crucifix didn’t work.
The vampiric aversion to mirrors was created in Dracula (1897), but has been interpreted as the vampire, being undead, has no soul, and therefore casts no reflection or shadow. If your vampire is a spellcaster or has a spellcaster on their staff, a simple application of the prestidigitation spell can either present a reflection or shadow or, if needed, remove a shadow or reflection to cast suspicion onto someone else.
Normally, a vampire cannot enter a private home or dwelling without permission of the owner, but adventurers usually stay at an inn or tavern; these are public places, so in that case, the vampire can enter freely. And there’s nothing in the rules that says the vampire has to gain permission while the PCs are standing there. If the party is helping with a “vampire problem,” then the vampire might have already obtained permission to enter someone’s house before they were suspected of being a vampire.
According to more modern vampire movies and books, vampires are destroyed by sunlight, but in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula was capable of walking around in broad daylight. He wasn’t destroyed but he did lose his powers, making him more or less a normal human being. This can also help disorient the characters. If they see who they think is a vampire walking down the street at noon, they may be convinced that that person isn’t a vampire.
A stake to the heart (originally it was a spike to pin the corpse to the ground) will kill a vampire and the vampire will remain dead until the stake is removed, unless the head is cut off and the body burned or anointed with holy water. However, in one Batman comic, Batman fought a vampire who had removed his heart and hid it so that the vampire was unkillable until Bats found the heart and pierced it with an arrow. In this case, the heart worked similar to a lich’s phylactery. You can do all the damage to the body that you want, but until you find the heart, the vampire won’t die. This could be turned into a search through a haunted house for the vampire’s heart with the vampire and vampire spawn and minions hunting the PCs.
Another option in making your vampire menacing is to make them Lawful Evil and then team that vampire up with the PCs for some reason. They are ordered to accompany the vampire, but they only have his word that there will be no neck biting in the night (“But he’s evil!”). The party might be tempted to stake their “partner” in the day and be reluctant to trust him when it comes his time to stand guard. Have the PCs (particularly the female ones for a male vampire, males for a female vampire) make Perception/Spot checks when the entire party is together. If they succeed, they catch the vampire staring at their neck. Are they sure he is Lawful Evil? Maybe he’s Neutral Evil and simply playing a game with the PCs and will attack given any opportunity or even the worst possible moment.
This can also go back to the dominate ability. Perhaps the vampire has taken control of one of the party members or an NPC, like a hireling or follower, and the PCs aren’t aware of it. When will this NPC turn on the PCs and help the vampire?
Vampires, for all of their brooding and sparkling and their nice clothes and fancy accents, are predators. Watch other predators like lions and tigers. Do they stop and chat and try to seduce or dominate their prey? No. They chase their prey, bring them down, and tear into the flesh to get what they want. Make your vampire that way, too. If the PCs discover a body, the throat might be slashed open from side to side or the body even decapitated.
Unless the vampire has used its dominate ability, there should be nasty defensive wounds on the body, usually claw or bite marks on the outside of the arms. Since the vampire most likely has a high Strength score (Van Helsing said that Dracula had the strength of 20 men), broken bones and cracked ribs are a definite possibility.
A victim’s best bet is to hope for a Lawful Evil vampire. At least that way, there’s a chance of negotiating their way out. If the vampire is Neutral Evil or Chaotic Evil, then forget it. Unless you want the suave, sophisticated vampire, these two are the vampires you want to make your villains. They have no remorse and will do whatever they want.
Make them savage and cunning creatures of the night. Reduce the bonuses to Intelligence and Wisdom and increase the bonuses to Strength and Dexterity (for better Armor Class) or Strength and Charisma (for more hit points).
Mix it Up
When a party of PCs shows up at the bad guy’s door, the group is usually made up of various classes. When facing a (suspected) vampire, have the PC encounter various minions, each with a different skill set. This will make it more difficult to focus on one enemy (the vampire) because the various characters may be needed to deal with a specific threat.
For example, if the party has a Monk, the Monk may be needed to negate an enemy spellcaster. The Fighter, Barbarian, or Paladin (or possibly all of them) might be needed to handle the vampire’s “muscle.” Clerics might need to turn or damage undead that work for the vampire, as well as healing. And don’t be afraid to have the minions switch “partners” on the PCs. Keep the players (and their characters) on their toes!
Looking for Group
Vampires in fiction tend to fall into two types. The first type is the angsty loner who might or might not be trying to redeem himself. The second type is the “nest,” where any vampire can come and be considered “family.”
Just like any family, these vampires will work together to defend their home. The “savage” vampires will wade in and deal physical damage, while the psychic vampires can target the spellcasters, which usually stay in the back. The “normal” vampires can play the middle, by targeting melee types with their domination ability.
As with the section on mixing it up, vampires often kept human slaves or minions. These helpless or dominated minions might make assaulting a vampire lair more difficult. Do the slaves/minions immediately become enemies? Is it possible to save them? If the party does save them, what happens when the party gets them out? Will the vampire chase the party down to get his slaves back? Will the party be able to fight back while protecting the slaves or will everyone become too vulnerable? What will a vampire’s wrath contain?
So, there you go. Some tips and ideas on making vampires scary again.
A brave band of adventurers is fighting their way through Castle D’Evil, when Fortuitous the Brave, a Paladin of some renown, perishes under the overwhelming attack of the rabid dire badgers! Once the evil badgers have been dispatched, Porcini the Monk, to whom Fortuitous was betrothed, begins weeping openly for the loss of her love. Tankeroneous the Fighter places a comforting hand on Porcini’s should. “Don’t worry, Por. The nearest high-level cleric is only a day’s ride away! Forty will be back on his feet in no time!”
Death is something that everyone must face, especially RPG characters. It’s a fact of life, so to speak. As a group, you may allow for the “character’s twin brother” to appear, claim their stuff, and continue on. Or you might require the player to roll up a new character. But what are the actual effects of character death? Unfortunately, the questions that come from this topic are difficult to answer and, ultimately, the DM has to come up with those answers.
In this week’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’ll be looking at character death and what it means for you (the DM), your players, your world in general, and what you can do about it. This week’s example character will be poor Fortuitous the Brave. This article was inspired by “Back From the Dead” in Dragon #210 and “Cheating Death” in Dragon #342.
WHO Am I?
So, Fortuitous is dead. Maybe he was eaten by wolves or zapped by a Wizard or they suffered from a terminal case of pointy-metal-stick-to-the-gutsosis. But it just so happens that a wandering (or wondering) Cleric strolls by and by taking 1 minute out of his day (and giving up a diamond worth 5,000 gp), casts raise dead, and Fortuitous is back! Huzzah! More stabbing!
But wait. Is Fortuitous the same person he was before he died? What did Fortuitous experience when they were dead? Heaven? Hell? The Abyss? Celestia? New Jersey? Was he happy where he was, only to be sucked back to earth for another chance to put the beating on the evil archmage? Okay, I know that the character’s soul must be free and willing to return to the body for any of the raise dead chain of spells to work, but the point remains. It’s possible to guilt a soul into coming back, I suppose.
But I’m getting off topic.
Anyway, the description for raise dead in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook says, “Coming back from the dead is an ordeal.” Granted, the description continues with the physical description of the ordeal (2 permanent negative levels or 2 points of Constitution drain, depending on level), but what about the mental ordeal?
If Fortuitous is a melee type and is constantly getting hurt and healed, dying might not be so bad. Physical trauma can be mentally wearying. Death would give Forty a way to not be beat up anymore more. It might be peaceful and welcoming.
Coming back from the dead should have an effect on your character other than what’s listed in the rules. Fortuitous the Brave may develop a phobia regarding what killed him. If Orcs killed him, role-play the fear that comes up the next time Orcs appear! Fortuitous, a Greatsword-focused Paladin, may suddenly switch to a crossbow because he’s afraid of dying again.
More questions arise. If your character dies and is resurrected, who gets his stuff? Fortuitous died, right? That means his property should go to his heirs or family. If there are none, the party usually splits the gear. But he’s alive again, right? Does he still have a claim on his gear, land, and holdings? Is he still betrothed to Porcini?
A Cleric who can cast resurrection is a minimum of 13th level. The rules for resurrection (and true resurrection) state that a Cleric can bring someone back to life as long as they haven’t been dead more than 10 years per caster level!
So, there’s King Filetmignon, happily ruling his country, when his (great x4) grandfather, King Fortuitous (he got a lot of promotions) comes striding through the door, still brushing dirt off of his burial clothes, demanding to have the throne back. Who has the rightful claim to the throne?
If Fortuitous is declared the King, and he didn’t die of natural causes, those that killed him will want to kill him again. If he’s not declared King, he may think he deserves to be King and raise an army to take on the “usurper.” How do the PCs react to the situation? Are they part of the King’s Guard? If so, which King do they follow? Are any of the PCs related to the current King or King Fortuitous? That could be awkward.
Let’s say our pal Forty and Porcini got married, but alas, poor Forty was ambushed by the Rabid Badger Gang and died. Porcini is devastated, but eventually gets over her grief and married Tankeroneous. Then, thirty years later, Fortuitous walks in the door to find his wife in the arms of his friend. Now, most marriages are “’til death do us part’ and Forty died. But he’s back and alive now. Are Forty and Por still married? Would Porcini still want to be married to Fortuitous?
The PCs enter the dungeon of Castle D’Evil and they fight their way through the monstrous guardians and make off with the loot. What happens a couple of months later when Fauntleroy D’Evil (he gets around), resurrected by a cohort, has lawyers that appear and want all of their (now re-living) client’s stuff back? They have a list of what was taken and want every single gold piece back. What then? If they can’t return everything, having spent the gold and traded away magical item, does it go to court?
WHAT Am I?
So, Fortuitous has been killed and brought back to life. Is he alive or undead? The use of Necromancy might lead some people to say that Forty is now some type of intelligent undead. This could lead to some Cleric orders refusing to deal with “his type” or anybody who associates with him. This could be difficult for the party to get healing or magical assistance.
But wait. I hear you saying “All undead are evil!” Forty was a good guy in life, so he couldn’t possibly be evil in undeath could he? Actually, yes he can. Every undead listed in the three Pathfinder Bestiaries has Evil in their alignment.
Let’s say that Forty, who was Lawful Good in life, was turned into a vampire, and became Chaotic Evil. As he’s contemplating his now immortal life, he decides to go through some of the loot he meant to deal with, but never had time. He puts on this nifty looking helmet that happens to be a helm of opposite alignment. With the helm, both axes of alignment change to the opposite, so Forty the Vampire is now (again) Forty the Lawful Good Vampire. He goes to the King and explains the situation and is believed, so he pledges to protect the King as long as he is able.
Sixty years down the line, a group of adventurers is hired to destroy a vampire that haunts the castle. Guess who? That’s right, a rival of the King hired the adventurers to take out Fortuitous so that the rival could get a shot at the throne. The group manages to kill Forty! Hooray! No more vampire!
But another twist! The King had decided (and wrote down) that Forty counted as a citizen, so killing him is murder and whoever killed him would be brought to justice, just as if they had killed the dockworker or the apple cart salesman. Does the King resurrect Fortuitous again, in hopes for another semi-immortal protector or reward him by letting him rest in peace?
The easiest way to avoid these problems is to simply say to your players, before play begins, “There is no coming back from death. If you die, you roll up a new character.” Personally, though, I hate using the “Because I said so” reason and prefer an in-game reason. That’s what this section is about.
Ways and Means
First off, you can limit who has access to resurrection magic. Maybe only certain (evil) religions (or cults) that worship the God or Goddess of Death have access to resurrection. Maybe there is a special rite all petitioners must go through for the church. If the party contains a Paladin, or especially if the Paladin is the one who died, the Paladin probably won’t want to come back, if he’s being raised by an evil organization. Deeper still, if the party gets a member resurrected by this evil church/cult, then the party might owe the organization a favor on top of the price for the spell.
Even deeper yet, the political power of such a cult increases dramatically as the rich and powerful are indebted to the cult, especially if this church is the only one with access to that magic.
Make each raise dead, resurrection, or true resurrection unique to each dead person, so the party’s Cleric can’t prepare those spells “just in case.” If a party member dies, then the Cleric must prepare one of those spells the next time they prepare all of their spells.
Require a feat at 9th level (the lowest level needed to cast raise dead) to cast resurrection spells. This makes the Cleric have to decide if resurrection magic is important enough to take a feat to cast it.
Make resurrection spells rare by placing them on scrolls that need to be adventured for or that are exorbitantly priced. Place a specific church’s seal on the scroll, so that only a specific church or member of that church can use the scroll.
The Deity of Death does not give up souls without getting something in return. A life for a life. Potentially, the Deity may tell the party that, in addition to the normal spell components for resurrection, that the Cleric must sacrifice a creature of the same time. This might raise a few objections among the party, especially if Forty isn’t the one who is actually dead (for once).
Places and Times
Another way to limit resurrection magic is to limit when or where it can be used.
Many cultures believe that there is an actual realm where the spirits of the dead rest after death. Make the party venture to the Land of the Dead to find the soul they need and convince the soul to return to the body when the spell is cast.
If the party needs a rift or gateway to get to the Land of the Dead, they will have to find one and it may be guarded. The PCs would have to negotiate with whomever hold the rift, owing favors (as above), money, or even loyalty. Even if there is no one currently guarding such a portal, there’s nothing to say that ghouls, ghasts, or other undead might have gathered, drawn in by the link to the Land of the Dead. At that point, the party has to decide whether it’s worth trying to fight through the opposition, possibly losing more members, to get to the portal or spend more time looking for another location. Not to mention a potential chance of another, possibly malevolent, spirit coming through the portal as well. If that happens, the rest of the party must defend the Cleric while the Cleric is casting the spell. This would be made extra difficult because the party is already down one member (the dead one) and are now down another (the Cleric), especially since the Cleric wouldn’t be able to use any of their abilities to help damage or turn the undead.
Next is the Eve of Spirits. Halloween is considered by some to be the day that the fabric between the realms of the living and the dead are the thinnest, allowing spirits to cross from one to the other. This can happen once a year (a specific holiday), four times a year (solstices and equinoxes or the day the seasons change), or once a month (three days of the full moon). You could also place this Eve once per week, such as on the Deity’s holy day in the hour of noon or midnight.
The positive side to this is that it limits the use of resurrection magic because of the short time window the party has to bring the character back to life. The negative side is, you guessed it, that it limits the use of resurrection magic because of the short time window the party has to bring the character back to life.
Another positive to this is that the DM can reinforce the importance of the day by having festivals or processions to remember certain events or people. The DM can also introduce spiritual phenomena, such as faint wailing or moaning being heard, small objects being moved, ghostly writing appearing in the dust or dirt, or someone feeling a chill when moving through a certain place (feel free to add your own).
Missed it By That Much
But what happens if someone is brought back to life without it being the Deity’s holy day or the spirit hasn’t been spoken to? Does the spell still work? Or does the PC come back…different? Here are a couple of options for the time-crunched PC who doesn’t want to wait until next Thursday before coming back to life.
The spell works and the PC comes back to life. Mostly. Until the PC can get to a priest of the Deity of the Dead on the Deity’s holy day, the PC doesn’t progress. They don’t gain XP or new levels, so now more hp, skills, or feats until they complete the necessary steps to finish the rite to bring them back to life. It’s hard for the character to learn anything new and they have a hard time remembering anything that has happened since the day they died.
If you use this idea, I would suggest only doing this for a short time, as you don’t want the stunted character to fall too far behind, especially if raise dead was used, as that causes a loss of 2 levels.
Foot in the Grave
The character is brought back to life, but not completely. Their soul is stuck part way between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead.
Ways to portray this may be to make the character constantly fatigued, the character has a lower number of hit points (say, -1 per Hit Die), only receives 1/2 the number of hit points from cure spells or a Cleric’s Healing Burst, or takes a -4 on saving throws against enchantment effects.
So, you don’t want to actually limit the use of resurrection magic, but you feel like there should be something that comes out of it. What options do you have?
First, there’s a Mark of Passing or a Mark of Resurrection. This is a non-removable mark on the character’s hand or face (somewhere obviously seen by others) and it tells other people that the character has died and come back to life. This can lead to that character being ostracized, refused service, and some members of superstitious societies might consider the character to be as evil as the undead.
Another variant is to have the resurrected character have a chance to bring another spirit back with them. The spirit would be someone connected to the character in some way, whether that’s a friend, loved one, or enemy. The haunting would last until the raised character can find someone to exorcise the spirit.
Until the spirit is exorcised, this is a great role-playing opportunity for the character. The spirit can talk to the character, but none of the other party members can hear it. Maybe the spirit is actually a poltergeist and moves the raised character’s things around.
So, there you have an entry on the difficulties of character death. I wish I had more answers, but there really aren’t any “correct” answers for me to give. These questions will need to be answered by your group, especially the DM.
Time to Grow Up
You can also use these variations for NPCs and start leaning your campaign toward something more “adult” by turning these options into something horrible.
“Please! You have to help me! My wife was killed by bandits and when I went to the church to bring her back, she turned into…something else! Something evil!
Maybe it was just done on the wrong day. Maybe the wife’s spirit wasn’t contacted. Or maybe the wife’s spirit didn’t want to return (for whatever reason) and instead, a malevolent spirit came back and inhabited her body.
This can be used to give your campaign a little nudge toward something more serious, especially if this is used to give the PCs their first glimpse into what can happen when someone dies. This can show the PCs (and the players) that death is serious business and it isn’t always resting in peace. If something goes wrong, it can have consequences.
So, there you go. A discussion about character death, what it can mean, and how to handle resurrection magic.
More Than Stealing Candy: Making Your Villains Evil
Last week, I posted a blog entry on how to create a memorable villain. That was good character design. Lord Fauntleroy D’Evil could be a memorable villain, but he wasn’t that bad. So, how do you make your villain, well…villain-y?
In today’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’m going to talk about how to take your memorable villain and make them more evil. In last week’s episode, I gave you a villain whom the heroes will hate due to how he was portrayed. This week, you’ll get tips on how to make your heroes hate the villain due to what he does. In this week’s entry, the example villain will be Fauntleroy’s sister, Lucretia D’Evil. Let’s get started.
Fear is a great role-playing tool. One good way to use fear is to find a way to get your players to fear for their characters. Give your players praise when they get past a challenge, whether that’s combat, diplomacy, or a trap. Get the players to write a back-story for their character. Make your players become emotionally attached to their character. Then put the characters in serious danger. But how do you do that?
Make the villain extremely tough. Give them magical items or spells that the players may not have a way of beating. Increase the villains Armor Class or give the villain armor with the Fortification special ability, which may negate extra damage from sneak attacks or critical hits. But if you take away one weakness, you have to give the party a way to find and exploit another non-obvious weakness. Let’s say your party’s spellcaster is fond of fire spells, like fireball or burning hands. Lucretia, being intelligent (I’ll get to that in a minute), has scouted this and is wearing her Salamander Armor, which gives her total immunity to fire and DR 10/magic, like a real salamander. Great! The party’s main tactic is foiled! However, Salamander Armor, just like a regular salamander, makes the wearer vulnerable to cold. And look! The party picked up a wand of cone of coldearlier in the adventure! Huzzah! Have the players make Intelligence checks or Knowledge rolls to see if they can figure out the new weakness. If so, the battle might go quickly. If not, well…they could possibly still win the fight, but they’ll have to expend more resources than they thought.
Another way to show invulnerability is to give Lucretia numerous minions, especially high CR lieutenants. The players want nothing more than to get to Lucretia, but they have to fight their way through her half-dozen 3rd level Minotaur Barbarians who are led by an Ogre Mage who has three levels of Sorcerer. This group, as an example, should be able to hold off most adventuring parties long enough for Lucretia to get away. And by the time the party defeats the Ogre Mage/Minotaur combo, who knows what new and powerful minions Lucretia may have waiting for them?
Lucretia is a Wizard of epic proportions. She is the smartest person to ever live. But the average person isn’t that intelligent, so how do you play a genius? Easy.
If the party is making an assault on the fortress of the villain, then the villain probably knows that the party is involved and would do some research on the party. This is where you, as the DM, have to know the characters. Strengths. Weaknesses. Favorite tactics. Look at things from a player’s point of view and then plan against whatever you come up with. Following the previous example, if the party’s mage enjoys a number of fireballs, then the guards may have a magic item or potion that helps them resist fire damage. If the party uses sonic attacks, because not too many monsters or people are immune to sonic attacks, Lucretia hires/conscripts troops that are deaf. These deaf troops have created their own sign language for simple things like “Attack!” or “Retreat!” or “Flanking action!”
Does your “genius” villain spend all day in their tower simply waiting for the PCs to show up? Then that’s not so smart. But if Lucretia has used her über-powerful spellcasting to set traps, along with physical, mechanical traps, then that is smart. Anything that makes the party expend resources before confronting Lucretia obviously works in her favor. But just like with the Invulnerability section, you have to give the PCs a way around the problem. A scroll of teleportation, cleverly hidden and possibly missed, can make a good way around the traps.
If your players are afraid of something, then odds are that their characters will be afraid of that same thing. Use that. Pick monsters from the Bestiaries/Monster Manuals that will evoke that fear. Arachnophobia? Lucretia has made a deal with local Driders for combat support. Acrophobia? Lucretia has a castle in the clouds and you have vivid descriptions of the distance between the flying carpet and the ground. Claustrophobia? The path to Lucretia’s inner sanctum is through a narrow cave system with no natural light.
Another way to use phobias is if Lucretia has the ability to read minds and generate illusions. There are a few spells that will change Lucretia’s appearance so that she resembles a character’s (and player’s) worst fear.
Remember, though, that phobias can be pushed too far. If one of your players is deathly afraid of snakes, do not go into excruciating detail about how the scales feel on their skin or the sounds of the rattles. If it goes too far, it removes the player from the game and could potentially ruin the game for that person. You don’t want that, so if you’re going to try these tactics, make absolutely certain that everyone is okay with the idea and that you’re reading your players correctly.
If Lucretia is an evil Wizard that lives in a secluded tower and is terrorizing the populace and experimenting on the homeless, then the PCs, as the King’s Champions, have every right to bash down her door and dispense justice, in which ever form is deemed necessary.
But what is Lucretia has no magical abilities, but is a mayor? Or senator? Or Queen? Or that she lives in the middle of the city that the PCs have sworn to protect? What is she does have her magical power and she’s a Court Wizard that has served the ruler faithfully for many years? She’s popular with the people, she’s well liked by the ruling class and the King and Queen are her greatest supporters. She would have tremendous political power. But then the PCs find out that she is experimenting on the homeless. How do they go about reporting the popular, faithful Court Wizard as a creator of monsters that she wants to use to kill the King and Queen and install herself as the new monarch?
Without casting a single one of her numerous spells, Lucretia can destroy the PCs. They can be fired from the position of King’s Champions, their reputations can be destroyed, the King’s own assassins can be charged with killing the PCs, or they can be arrested and their prized possessions can be taken from them. Even the PCs loved ones can be threatened.
But how is this frightening? Because the DM must make it absolutely clear that something very bad will happen to the PCs if Lucretia finds out that they know her plans and something even worse will happen if she finds out they are trying to stop her. The PCs will have to be extremely careful, keeping their own plans a secret from Lucretia even while trying to save the King. One wrong move, one question too many asked to the wrong person, and it’s curtains for our heroes. The PCs will have one chance and one chance only to take down Lucretia and if they fail, they will be ruined and hunted forever (or worse).
This is one of my personal favorites. At some point, the PCs will feel that they have no one to trust and nowhere to hide. The enemy has surrounded them and controls almost every aspect of a situation. Even the most trustworthy NPCs seemed to have turned against the party.
But why don’t the PCs trust anyone? Plenty of reasons. Maybe Lucretia, among her many talents, wields mind control magic. Maybe she has a small cadre of doppelgangers working for her. As the Court Wizard, maybe she has placed a rather large bounty on the heads of the PCs and everybody they know wants to collect or she has planted evidence accusing the party of experimenting on the homeless for their own ends.
To make this work, the DM has to burn the party over and over. Every NPC they come in contact with recognizes them and wants a piece of the action. The PCs closest friends (or who they thought were their closest friends) lure them in with promises of security and safety, only to try to trap the PCs for the large reward.
Even better is when they first come in contact with Lucretia, she makes a comment that is verbatim something that the PCs said that they were sure was private. When that happens, the party might turn on each other. If they were in private, how did Lucretia know their plans? Is there a rat in the party or was she scrying? Who can the party trust if they can’t trust each other?
So far, the players should hate the villain because that villain is tougher than they are, smarter than they are, knows their worst fears, and is feeding their paranoia. But while the players may hate the villain for the villain’s abilities, it’s what the villain does with those abilities that can truly push the players over the edge from “I hate that woman.” to “Let’s go kill that woman!”
And when that villain is finally defeated, the players will feel an incredible sense of satisfaction. But how do you get the players to that point?
Like I said earlier, Lucretia could threaten the PCs loved ones. The Paladin’s uncle Siegfried might be threatened, but if Siegy’s a one-dimensional character, the players might not care, or it they do it’s only superficially. An NPC that you want to put in danger later on has to have a personality and a connection to the PCs. It’s their matronly aunt or the guy in the back of the potion shop that can get them the “good stuff.” Someone they deal with regularly and feel a connection to. That way, when they are threatened, the players want to do something about it. If you have to give the players even more motivation, kill the NPC. Do it in front of the PCs eyes. The heroes run in just as the killing blow strikes and the villain teleports away. Evil laugh is optional, but recommended.
Make your villains the lowest of the low. They torture peasants and burn fields. They lie, they cheat, and they steal to get whatever they can. They release plagues, they steal candy from babies, and they kick puppies.
Even more, they commit these crimes against the PCs! The PC comes back from saving the town/country/world and they find their own house on fire! That was where they kept their stuff! When the villain unleashes its ravening horde of gorilla-bats, the PCs probably see this as a chance for some combat and maybe get to the villain themselves and lay down a smacking! But when the villain goes that extra step and attacks the heroes specifically, but indirectly, then it gets personal.
This one works well with Paranoia. In the case of betrayal, the heroes have just accomplished their goal of rescuing the Princess or saving the town, but then someone, maybe the Princess herself, turns around and accuses the party of being in cahoots with the villain or is even the villains themselves! The “thieves” that were caught by the PCs and hauled off to jail instead insist that they were paid to rob places so that the PCs could catch them, thereby increasing the notoriety of the PCs! If one of the thieves happens to have something that belongs to one of the PCs, then even better! Pour on the paranoia!
There you go. Ways to make your villains even more villain-y. The worse you make the villain, the more the players will want to see the villain dead, which is exactly what you want.
Darth Vader. Hannibal Lecter. Jason Vorhees. Freddy Krueger. The Terminator. All memorable villains. Why are they memorable? Because we get to learn about them. Who they are and what they want. Where they’re from and how they got their start. By giving the audience information, they make the villain a character instead of just a scare machine. Okay, Freddy and Jason may be scare machines, but we know how those characters came to be.
Villains, as much we hate them and want to see them get their comeuppance, we love to watch them. When they are played correctly, they leave a lasting impression on the audience. Villains are also necessary. Without villains there can be no heroes. But what makes a villain hate-worthy? Why do your players want to get the bad guy so bad?
In today’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’ll be discussing how you can create a memorable villain that your characters will hunt to the ends of the earth. To do that, we’re going to look at the classic questions of Who, What, Where, When, Why?
Who is your villain? What’s their name? Where is your villain from? How many brothers and sisters do they have? What are their hopes and dreams? What are their hobbies? Are their parents still alive? How did they get that scar and why do they walk with a limp?
My villain is named Lord Fauntleroy D’Evil (may or may not be his real name). We have a name now, but who is Fauntleroy? Fauntleroy is a relatively high-ranking (8th to 10th level) Lawful Evil Cleric of Asmodeus who is currently under the disguise of a Lawful Neutral Cleric of Abadar, acting as a Judge. By using the Law domain, Fauntleroy is able to keep up the pretense of Judge while influencing the flow of money that the worshippers of Abadar are likely to have. One thing to keep in mind when determining the “who” is alignment shift. Fauntleroy may have started out as Lawful Evil, but given his role as Judge and maintaining his cover, he may shift to Lawful Neutral unintentionally and without realizing it and. He’s not necessarily in any trouble with Asmodeus, as he’s still one step away in alignment.
What is the goal of your villain? Maybe they want wealth. Maybe they want power. Maybe they want the girl or guy. Maybe they want to rule the world!
Maybe they just want to be famous. Or maybe they were bullied as a child and are now bullying others.
Once you’ve figured out their motivation, I would suggest doing a little research on the psychology of your villain. Find the basics of why a megalomaniac acts the way they do. It will take your villains and make them just that little bit more “real.”
Here’s a quick note on those “rule the world!” type villains. If ruling the world is your villain’s goal, that’s fine. Just have some idea of what your villains will do with the world what it’s firmly in their clutches. Just having the world isn’t enough. Are they going to enslave everyone? Are they going to install a different type of government than is currently in power, with themselves at the top? Are they doing it for kicks?
What? can also refer to what tactics your villain will use to accomplish their goal. Does he use force or persuasion? Is he up front and in your face or does he work from the shadows, using subtle influences? Does he take hostages? Is he willing to kill to get what he wants? Is he willing to die? Is he a martyr for the cause? How far is your villain willing to go in order to realize his plans?
Fauntleroy’s goal is to be filthy, stinking rich since in his mind, once you have money, you can buy women, fans, and fame. By influencing the flow of money, he makes sure that quite a bit of money ends up in his own pockets by adding on interest payments and late fees to be paid through him. These additional payments rarely make it to their intended recipient. He uses his influence on a less than knowledgeable populace, but if push comes to shove, he has no problem upping and relocating to another remote village to continue his schemes. Taking a few silver or a gold or two from a few peasants isn’t worth dying over in his mind.
Where is your villain? Where is their headquarters? This will (likely) be based in your campaign world, whether that is Greyhawk, Golorian, or your homebrew world. Another consideration is another plane. The Astral Plane is home to the Githyanki (from WotC) and the various Elemental Planes could be home to a villain, depending on their ability to survive.
Fauntleroy is smart enough to make himself rich by relative standards, but he’s the big fish in a small pond. He lives and works in Smorgas Bjord, a town with 15,000 people, but he also serves as a Judge for the surrounding counties, so his “fees and taxes” haven’t impacted the people so much that the authorities have been called in.
This is dependent entirely on your campaign, but Pathfinder and D&D in general tend to assume you’re running a pseudo-European Middle Ages campaign.
Something that can be done to help establish your villain is to tie them to an event that happened in the past. Maybe they caused it, maybe they rose up from the event, or maybe their connection to the event is simply coincidence. If the connection isn’t explained, then the PCs can jump to the conclusion that the villain was responsible and if/when they find out their conclusion is wrong (if it is), then that bring up the question of what else are the PCs wrong about concerning this villain?
Lord D’Evil is 38 years old and rise to prominence during a drought that was occurring around Smorgas Bjord. He isn’t mentioned by name in any records prior to the drought twelve years ago. He claimed to be a priest of Abadar and since the populace had no reason to doubt him and they could use a Judge, they accepted him in that role.
The question of When? can also apply to the time frame that your villain is using. Are they waiting for an auspicious occasion, such as a Spring Festival to launch their attack? Do they have to wait until a Celestial Conjunction happens?
If your villain isn’t currently in the middle of his dastardly plan, why not? What is preventing him or her from reaching their goal? It could be that they’re waiting for information or troops that were promised to them by an ally. Timing could be everything to the villain and disrupting the timing of the plot could give the PCs another chance to stop the plan.
This category ties back into What? Once you know what the plan is, you have to know the motivation behind the plan. What is the personal, driving force behind this villain? It could be something as simple as an underboss protecting his superiors from the PCs out of loyalty (or money) or it could be as grandiose as the main villain attempting to become a god because the villains life has been so bad and “unfair” that the only way to exact revenge on the universe is to become one of its rulers.
Every villain has a motivation. Something to keep in mind when thinking about motivation is the alignment of your villain. There aren’t too many Chaotic Evil villains who want to rule the world. That’s just not their thing. Those would be Lawful folks. And don’t forget: Lawful Good characters can be villains, too!
See, the stereotype of the uptight, inflexible Paladin is a good example. If your party is a majority of Chaotic and Neutral characters, then a holy (Lawful Good) organization that has decided that the monarchy is doing everything wrong and that their way is the one “right way,” then that could certainly make the Lawful Good church the “villains,” even though they are positive they are doing the right thing.
Fauntleroy is in the business he is because of greed, plain and simple. While Fauntleroy works to line his own pockets, as a side effect, he manages to hand down (mostly) fair judgments and makes sure that people who sign into agreements honor those agreements. He knows that the only way to continue to increase his holdings is to maintain the status quo and work within the system, as Lawful Evil will do.
Okay, you know who your villain is, what they’re doing, and why. But how do they act? Are they boisterous or quiet? Are they brilliant or a few sandwiches short of a picnic? What are their mannerisms?
Just like I talked about in my entry on Getting Into Character, you should come up with some mannerisms or a speech pattern for your villain. If you can’t come up with on your own, they go to YouTube and enter “Villain Speech.” That should give you plenty of ideas.
Also remember that ability scores can be a source of role-playing. What if Fauntleroy has high Wisdom but low Strength or Constitution? He would most likely be a spellcaster first and a melee combatant last. As a spellcaster, he might have loyal or charmed servants to fight for him. That might give him a sense of invulnerability. Make sure to play that up. “You’ll never get me, heroes!”
One more tip I will give you is that unless your players just aren’t buying into how bad you villain is, don’t have them commit atrocities simply to make them “bad.” A lot of times that kind of thing won’t necessarily sit well with the players. Not every villain has to be a butcher of babies and kittens. Obviously, your group’s make-up will determine how far can (and have to) go on the evil your villain commits.
Run With It
Sometimes when you’re running a villain that the party hasn’t met yet, something will happen and you’ll get an idea of how to change the villain. That’s fine! People change all the time. The best part is that the party doesn’t know about the change because they haven’t met the villain and only know that there is a villain somewhere.
When the party and the villain come face-to-face, make sure to play off of the party. When they level accusations, unless your villain is a megalomaniac, neither confirm nor deny those accusations. Ask them if they have proof! If they do, own up to it be remember that your villain is superior to the PCs! They can’t possibly beat your villain! He’s too smart and too powerful! Make sure, though, that if your villain is supposed to be recurring, then you have to play it that they’re smart enough to know when to escape.
On the off chance that the party manages to kill what is supposed to be a recurring villain, whether through spells or lucky rolls, don’t be angry. Mourn the villain’s death and gives them a memorable exit. But always remember: you can create another villain.
There you have some tips on how to make a memorable villain. Remember to play with archetypes and tweak them until you have the right character. Push the envelope just a little and you’ll have a villain that your party will love to hate.
Magic items, whether they’re weapons or wands, are something every player looks forward to. You can find them as loot from enemies or, if you can find the right magic shop, you can buy something right off the rack. The question becomes, then, if you do find that magic shop, what do you buy?
This entry will begin a series of blog entries dealing with magic items, their mechanics, and what might make for the best item you can buy. In today’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’m going to look at magical rings and what might be best for your character based on class. To do that, I’m going to look at a 5th level character, which is about where magical items start becoming commonplace.
First off, let’s take a look at ring mechanics.
Rings are almost always permanent items and anyone can use a ring. A character can only get the effect of two rings at a time. A third ring does not work. Rings are usually activated by a command word or they have a continuous effect. A very few (1 in 100) rings are intelligent and approximate 30% of rings will have a design, inscription, or something similar that will provide a clue to its function and activation. Rings with charges can never be intelligent.
If a ring has a specific method of activation, this method is up to the DM, possibly with player input.
According to the d20 Pathfinder System Reference Document (Character Advancement), a 5th level character should have right around 10,500 gold pieces. Let’s take a look at what you can get for 10,500 gp.
There are 14 rings available for 10,500 gp, but if you can convince a friend to load you another 300 gold pieces, you can add a 15th, ring of animal friendship.
Let me state for the record that the ring of feather falling is never a bad buy for anybody. You never know when you’re going to get to the top of the wizard’s tower and be bull rushed out a window. If you see piles of bones at the bottom of the tower, you’ll know what to expect.
Now, based on class skills, you might want to look at the rings of climbing, jumping, or swimming, or their improved variants. If you run into these types of checks frequently, then they are certainly good buys, as the regular rings provide a +5 competence bonus to those checks and the improved rings give a +10 competence bonus.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that when a Barbarian goes into Rage, he takes a -2 penalty to his armor class. Two rings can overcome this: ring of protection +2 and the ring of force shield. Both rings give a +2 to armor class, the ring of protection is a deflection bonus, while the force shield is a shield bonus. The only thing is that, read as written, the ring of force shield is wielded as it were a heavy shield. That means the wearer has to use a one-handed weapon. If that’s the way you run your Barbarian, then the force shield is for you. If you prefer a two-handed weapon, then I would suggest the ring of protection +2.
The Bard can benefit from the same two rings I suggested for the Barbarian, the ring of protection +2 and the ring of force shield. But, since the party’s Bard has the Fighter and Barbarian to get him out of trouble, then there are two other options to consider.
First, there’s the ring of counterspells. This ring will absorb a spell of up to 6th level and, if that spell is cast on the wearer again, the spell from the ring is cast as a counterspell immediately. Bards don’t seem like they would need this ring, as they get the Countersong ability at 1st level, but that ability only effects spells that are sound based. If you’re going up against a wizard who absolutely loves the fireball spell, this might not be a bad pick.
Secondly, there’s the ring of mind shielding. This ring makes the wearer continually immune to the spells detect thoughts and discern lies, as well as any attempts to magically determine the wearer’s alignment. If your Bard is prone to getting himself in trouble with the law, this option can’t be overlooked.
The ring of counterspells and the ring of protection are obvious choices for a Cleric, as is the ring of force shield, since most Clerics choose one-handed weapons.
However, another ring to consider is the ring of the ram. Clerics generally aren’t know for their Dexterity, so their use of ranged weapons tends to be mediocre until they can cast area effect spells. To counter this, they could use the ring of the ram. This ring has 50 charges and by using 3 charges, the wearer deals 3d6 points of damage at a range of 50 feet and if the target is within 30 feet, they’re subject to a Bull Rush attempt. Now, this is still a ranged attack, but dealing a potential 18 points of damage and pushing the enemy away is worth the attempt in my book. The ring of the ram also opens doors with varying strength based on the number of charges used.
With a little help from your friends, you could get the ring of animal friendship. This would give you the benefit of preparing another spell in places of charm animal. The various rings of climbing, jumping, or swimming would also look tempting, as they would help your Wild Shape form even more.
However, I would suggest the ring of protection +2. The reason for this suggestion is that while worn wondrous items continue to function, any armor and shields you carry cease to function in Wild Shape, possibly decreasing your armor class. Any +2 you can get to armor class will always come in handy.
The two obvious choices here would be the ring of protection +2 and the ring of force shield, for reasons similar to the Barbarian. These are perfectly good choices because they will both give a +2 to your armor class and both are easily used, depending on what type of weapon you prefer.
Another choice to consider is the ring of sustenance. This ring means you don’t have to eat or drink and allows you to gain the benefits of eight hours of sleep after sleeping for two hours. That means you can recover your full hit point per level in just two hours and the party can sleep easier knowing that the best combatant (probably) is awake and alert on guard duty.
Again, the ring of protection +2 seems like a very tasty option. Since a Monk can’t wear armor without losing a lot of class abilities, this is a very good choice. As I said with the Druid, any +2 you can get to your armor class is always worth it.
But, because a Monk has Acrobatics as a class skill and at 5th level, the Monk adds his Monk level to any Acrobatics check for both vertical and horizontal jumps, plus always being considered running, a Monk also can spend a Ki point to add a +20 to their Acrobatics check made to jump, the ring of improved jumping means and extra +10 on Acrobatics checks to jump. At 5th level, a Monk with a Dexterity of 14 (+2) and maxed out Acrobatics (+9 total) who uses a Ki point to get the +20 to Acrobatics also gets a +4 for having a base land speed higher than 30 ft. and uses the ring (+10), gets a total bonus of (5+9+20+4+10) +48 to add to their d20 roll. You can only jump as far as your movement, which for a 5th level Monk is 40 ft. and the DC for that jump is 40. Easy peasy.
As with the Barbarian and the Fighter, the ring of protection +2 and the ring of force shield are the two optimum picks. This time, I can’t actually argue for picking any ring other than one of those two. The ring of counterspells maybe. The ring of the ram maybe. But since Paladins are almost always in melee combat, anything they can get to make it hard to hit them is the most valuable.
The ring of protection +2 is the obvious choice in this situation. The Ranger often acts as a scout and is therefore often on their own. If the Ranger has taken the Archery combat style, then the ring of force shield wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.
For my money, though, I would get one of your richer friends to chip in and get you a ring of animal friendship. The reason for this is that the Ranger’s numbers of spells are very limited, with only having one spell slot, not counting bonus spells, at 5th level. If you use that spell slot for speak with animal, then you can combine the that spell with the ring to make your woodland friends more helpful. They could become extra scouts and defenders if necessary.
For the Rogue, I can see four excellent choices. First, the ever popular ring of protection +2. The benefit here is obvious.
Secondly, there’s the ring of climbing or its improved version. When you’re doing second-story work, climbing is absolutely essential and you want to be as good at it as possible.
Thirdly, there’s the ring of mind shielding. The spell detect thoughts works in a cone, so the user doesn’t even need to know you’re there. Once they get you in the cone, though, they know there’s someone there and will focus on that area. This ring prevents that.
The fourth and final ring is the ring of sustenance. Simply go to sleep at midnight and at 2 am, you can be up and refreshed and out taking other people’s stuff! This would also allow you, if you want to help the party, to scout the enemy’s defenses at a time when you’re less likely to be seen and the guards themselves are more likely to be tired.
For these two classes, the ring of counterspells seems like a natural fit. These are the characters most likely to get into a magical slugfest where a ring like this would make the most sense.
The ring of protection +2 is also another good choice. Since these two spellcasters can’t wear armor without a chance that their spells won’t work, beefing up their armor class mystically is the way to go.
This one may be a little surprising, but these two could also use the ring of force shield. The shield itself has no armor check penalty and no chance of arcane spell failure. This could be essential if the mage finds themselves in melee combat, which they never want to do, or they are ambushed. In melee, the mage could use the shield and his dagger without penalties, so this is also an attractive option. This is especially tasty if the mage has taken a level in a class that gives him access to martial weapons.
Well, there you have rings. Plenty of choice to be made when you have enough cash. Just remember that you can pick any ring that you want if you think it will make your character fun and interesting. Next time, I’ll be looking at rods, so make sure to check back soon.
Rogues are masters of stealth and deception, but one mechanic makes them stand out from other classes: sneak attack. Under the right circumstances, a 3rd level Rogue will deal more damage than a 3rd level Barbarian who is in Rage.
In today’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’m going to discuss the mechanics of sneak attack and give some tips and on how to improve your chances of getting a sneak attack and ideas on how to improve your sneak attack damage.
Getting Into Position
The Core Rulebook states that if you can catch your opponent when they are unable to defend themselves effectively from your attack, defined as your opponent being denied their Dexterity bonus to their armor class, you can strike a vital spot for extra damage. So, what counts as an opponent being denied their Dexterity bonus?
The best-case scenario is having surprise. If the enemy doesn’t know you’re there, then they can’t defend themselves. Sneak attacks can be used within 30 ft., so a Rogue, with their combination of sneakiness and accuracy with ranged weapons typically due to high Dexterity, can make at least one sneak attack with a crossbow or other ranged weapon before the target is able to use their Dexterity modifier again. By using the Stealth skill, a Rogue should be able to get himself into a position to make one and possibly two sneak attacks before entering melee combat.
You can also gain sneak attack damage by flanking a target with another party member. Flanking is defined as your opponent being threatened by two characters on its opposite border or opposite corner. Essentially, you have to have two characters on opposite sides of the enemy in order to flank the enemy. My group plays this a little different. If two characters are attacking the same enemy and the two characters are in any two non-adjacent squares, we consider the enemy flanked. That’s how my group does it. How your group handles flanking is up to your DM.
Once you are in melee combat, until you can flank an opponent, you won’t be able to get your sneak attack damage, unless an opponent is held. In melee combat, using a ranged weapon incurs an attack of opportunity, so your best bet is to ditch the crossbow and draw your sword. In melee, use your Acrobatics skill to tumble past defenders to get into flanking position. You can also use the Ready action to tumble past an attacker. Assuming success, then you have now tumbled out of harm’s way and you can prepare yourself for getting into position.
Improving Your Chances
A high Stealth score is a must for increasing your chances of getting a sneak attack. Increasing your Dexterity is a must. This has the added benefit of increasing your ranged attack bonus. Along with a high Dexterity score, there are several items from the Core Rulebook that you can get to increase your Stealth score.
The first is Shadow armor special ability. The Shadow, Improved, and Greater Shadow special abilities increase your Stealth score by +5, + 10, and +15 respectively.
Next, there are potions. Potions can be used to replicate any spell of up to 3rd level, so you have a lot of options on that front. Aside from spells like darkness and invisibility, there are several options that you can use to get into sneak attack position. Haste is a good choice, as well as expeditious retreat. Both of those spells allow you to move faster than normal, which can help you get the positioning you want. Ventriloquism and silent image can both distract an opponent, giving you the chance to put that arrow between their shoulders. Cat’s grace increases your Dexterity by +4, which can’t be bad. Pretty much any spell from the Illusion school can be really useful. Scrolls are similar to potions, except that they can replicate any spell of up to 9th level, opening up your options ever further.
Next up are rings. From the list presented in the Core Rulebook, there are five rings that can really useful to a Rogue looking to get in that extra shot: Ring of Blinking, Ring of Chameleon Power, Ring of Freedom of Movement and Ring of Invisibility. The fifth is the Ring of Feather Falling. You could use this ring to jump from a great height and float down to get the drop, literally, on your opponent.
The Staff of Illusion, the Staff of Passage, and the Staff of Size Alteration can all make it easier to sneak up on your prey.
Now we get into the good stuff: wondrous items. Robe of blending. Bag of tricks. Boots of speed. There are 300 items in the Core Rulebook and it’s easy enough to make more, with the help of your DM.
Turning it Up to 11
Once you’re in position to sneak attack someone, you need to make the shot count. How do you do that? Again, having a high Dexterity will help with your ranged attack roll and if you’ve taken the Weapon Finesse feat, it can also help you with your melee attack roll. But wait, there’s more.
When it comes to weapon choices, it really depends on your class. Obviously, you have to be a Rogue or some sort of Rogue variant to get the sneak attack ability, but multiclassing is not a bad way to go to amp up your sneak attack. Barbarians, Fighters, and Rangers are all excellent classes for a Rogue to multiclass into. All three classes give you access to martial weapons as a class feature at 1st level. As funny as it sounds, that means you can now sneak attack with a greataxe or a halberd. These three classes also have the fastest base attack progression, meaning that when you switch from one of them to Rogue, your base attack bonus won’t suffer much.
Barbarians also give you Rage and Fast Movement at 1st level, meaning that you move 10 feet faster per round than normal, giving you a greater movement range to work with, and Rage gives you a +4 bonus to Strength, meaning another +2 to damage with your sneak attack. If you start out as a Barbarian, there aren’t many Rage Powers that will be useful at early levels for bolstering sneak attack. The best rage power at 2nd level is Powerful Blow, which gives you a +1 to a single damage roll. A 2nd level Barbarian/1st level Rogue with a Strength of 14 wielding a greataxe (1d12 damage) and using rage and Powerful Blow, would get a +6 to attack and their damage is 1d12+3 plus 1d6. That gives you an average of 13 points of damage.
Fighter not only gives you access to martial weapons, but also a lot of bonus feats, if you stick with it for a few levels. If you start with Fighter, I suggest going with five levels of Fighter before switching to Rogue. That way, you will have gotten five feats (two regular, three Fighter bonus feats) as well as Weapon Training. Weapon Training has you pick a weapon you have proficiency in, and gives you a +1 bonus to both attack and damage rolls with that weapon. Because Fighters are so versatile thanks to their feats, you can create either a formidable melee Fighter or a ranged Fighter with deadly accuracy. I would run the numbers on a Fighter/Rogue combo, but there are so many variables in terms of feats and whether the Fighter is focused on melee or ranged combat that I’m not sure it’s worth it.
Ranger is interesting to multiclass with a Rogue. Both classes get a lot of skill points to use each level, but more importantly, Rangers get a combat style choice at 2nd level. Starting at 2nd level, a Ranger must pick either archery or two-weapon fighting as their combat style. Depending on which style you pick will determine what combat style bonus feats you’ll get. You get a combat style feat at 2nd level and then every four levels after that. Rangers also get a favored enemy at 1st level, which gives them a +2 bonus on Bluff, Knowledge, Perception, Sense Motive, and Survival checks against those enemies, but also a +2 to attack and damage rolls against those enemies. So, a 2nd level Ranger/1st level Rogue with a Dexterity of 14, who is wielding a longbow (1d8 damage) against their favored enemy, having taken the archery combat style and gotten the Point Blank Shot feat, gets a +7 to attack and their damage is 1d8+3 plus 1d6. That gives you an average of 11 points of damage for a sneak attack.
Spellcasting classes like Bard, Sorcerer or Wizard would give you access to spells like the ones I discussed above, but they have poor base attack progressions, which limits your effectiveness in sneak attacking. They also have the lowest hit dice of the PC classes, which means you might be stuck with ranged fighting, even if you have a high Strength score. Normally, you’d be playing party that would probably contain a spellcaster that would be willing to use those spells for you or if you don’t have a spellcaster, you can use potions, which don’t have a verbal component that might tip off your target to your location, thus denying you the sneak attack attempt.
In this section, I’m going to look at feats that will help boost your damage output with sneak attack. You can’t really increase the damage of sneak attack other than gaining more Rogue levels, but you can increase the damage of the weapon itself, which adds to the total damage done during a sneak attack. Having a high Strength bonus will help when sneak attacking with a melee weapon or when using a composite bow.
Arcane Strike: This feat gives you a +1 to damage and your weapon is considered magical for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction. This feat only works if you have the ability to cast arcane spells.
Deadly Aim: This feat allows you to take a -1 penalty to ranged attack rolls to gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls. When your base attack bonus reaches +4 and every +4 after, you can increase the penalty by -1 and increase the damage to +2.
Double Slice: This feat allows you to add your full Strength bonus to your off-hand attack. Normally, you only get to add half of your Strength bonus to your off-hand attack. Usually, this is only a couple points difference, but adding those couple extra points along with your sneak attack might be enough to take out an opponent.
Improved Critical: This doubles the critical threat range of your selected weapon. This gives you a greater chance to multiply your damage output.
Critical Focus: This feat gives you a +4 bonus to confirm a critical hit.
Note: There are other critical feats that you can take. These do not increase the damage output of sneak attack or the critical itself, but you can possibly (among other conditions) stun, stagger, sicken, or tire a foe, making it harder for them to fight back
Manyshot: This feat allows you to fire two arrows as part of one attack during a full-round attack action. You only get to apply sneak attack damage to one arrow, but that’s still twice the base damage that gets added in.
Point Blank Shot: This feat gives you a +1 to both attack and damage rolls with a ranged weapon to a target within 30 ft.
Power Attack: This works just like Deadly Aim, except for melee attack and damage rolls. If you are making the attack with a two-handed weapon, a one-handed weapon used in two hands, or a primary natural weapon, the damage increased by 50%.
Rapid Shot: You get to make an additional attack during a full attack, but that shot and every shot after it takes a -2 penalty to attack rolls.
Vital Strike: You get to double your weapon damage when making a single attack. You don’t get to double sneak attack damage, but doubling the base damage adds in to the total.
Improved Vital Strike: You get to triple your weapon damage when making a single attack.
Greater Vital Strike: You get to quadruple your weapon damage when making a single attack.
Note: Read as written, you can still get a critical hit when using a feat in the Vital Strike tree. You don’t get to multiply all of your damage dice by your weapon multiplier, but you do get to multiply your base weapon damage by that multiplier and add in the appropriate Vital Strike damage and your sneak attack damage.
Weapon Specialization and Improved Weapon Specialization: These feats will give you +1 and +2 respectively to your damage rolls with the appropriate weapon. The downside to these feats is that they are available to Fighters only, at 4th and 12th levels respectively.
Aside from feats, there are also magical weapons with special abilities, most of which will increase your damage output. Please note that some special abilities do not stack with feats or spells that have similar properties. For example, a sword with the speed special property gets to make one additional attack roll at your highest attack bonus, but do not stack with the haste spell. The keen special ability doubles the critical threat range of the weapon, but do not stack with the Improved Critical feat or the spell keen edge.
At lower levels, you might be able to buy or find a weapon that does extra damage, such as fire or cold. Personally, I prefer frost or shock because a fair number of monsters have resistance to fire or are immune to it. If you can afford one of the burst weapons, I strongly suggest getting that. Not only do you get the extra 1d6 of the energy type in question, but on a confirmed critical hit, in addition to that 1d6, you also get 1d10 of that same type of energy damage.
Remember: any additional damage you can do during sneak attack is a good thing.
So, there you have it. Sneak attack explained and damage improved. Hopefully this will give you some good ideas for your next Rogue character.
Chaotic characters think that rules get in the way of everything. Whether it’s helping people or killing people and taking their stuff, laws are to be laughed at and authorities disobeyed.
In today’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’m going to look at the three Chaotic alignments and give some tips for both players and GMs on how to play or play against these alignments.
Chaotic Good characters act as their conscious directs them, regardless of what the law says. However, they do have a moral compass, which helps determine their actions. These characters make their own way, but do good because they believe in goodness and right. CG characters react badly to being bullied and told what to do. Going back to our “old lady crossing the street” scenario, the Chaotic Good character will help the old lady across the street, but will cross against the signal if there are no cars coming.
As a player, Chaotic Good characters are good to play if you want a character with a good heart and free spirit. A good Ranger will most likely be Chaotic Good. Living in the wilderness allows the chance to escape the rules and restrictions of society. The character is then free to pursue their own agenda.
As a GM, you know that Chaotic Good characters hate rules and will look for any way to circumvent them. Placing a CG character in a party that has a strong lawful “my way or the highway” character such as a Paladin will make for good role-playing scenarios; especially if both characters (or players) happen to be charismatic. For more Law-vs.-Chaos action put the Chaotic Good character into a situation where they need to follow the rules, like a bureaucracy. Place the character in a role where they must jump through legal hoops to accomplish a goal without sacrificing their ethos.
A Chaotic Neutral character follows a path dictated by whims and desires. She is free of society’s restrictions and also free from the do-gooder’s zeal and the villain’s evil. She doesn’t intentionally challenge an organization in a campaign of chaos because that would require the need to either help people (Good) or harm the organization (Evil).
The Chaotic Neutral character wouldn’t care one way or the other whether the little old lady makes it across the street.
As a player, the Chaotic Neutral alignment is a good alignment to play if you want to be completely free of constraints. You ignore the law and are oblivious to the concerns of society. The decision to be a good or bad person isn’t a decision at all, it’s for those who fear taking life by the horns to get what they want. You look out for yourself and what is in your best interests in the here and now. Chaotic Neutral characters tend to live in the moment, they exist in the here and now and worry not for what the future may hold. Goals are a personal matter that may change depending which way the wind blows. If your goal coincides with the rest of the PCs, then that’s great.
For the GM, getting the Chaotic Neutral character interested in the scenario is going to be tough. They don’t care for rules and they aren’t good or evil. So, just like the True Neutral character, you have to make the plot personal to this character. Including family members from the character’s back story is a good way to incite the CN character. If they are motivated to do something, then tell their story to the rest of the party and that should make them motivated as well.
As a side note to the GM, someone who is looking to play a jerk may choose the Chaotic Neutral alignment. They do things like turn on the party or steal another member’s gear. When called on it they say, “I’m just playing my alignment!” Do NOT let this behavior or explanation stand. The Chaotic Neutral character is supposed to be looking after their own best interests. Is instigating trouble with three or four well armed characters acting in their own best interests? No. Explain this in clear terms to the player should you encounter this type of behavior. If the player continues to behave that way, allow the other party members to deal with the character however they want; if that includes combat, so be it. The CN character may end up being killed due to making poor decisions. It’s not that a CN character can’t be played well, it’s just that when a player abuses it; that player should be encouraged to pick another alignment.
A Chaotic Evil character is a destroyer. Unlike the Neutral Evil character that commits evil for evil’s sake, the CE character causes havoc simply for a love of death and destruction. They aren’t necessarily planners and generals, as they’re too unorganized. They tend to be ill tempered, haphazard, vicious, and arbitrarily violent. The Chaotic Evil character will not only kill the little old lady, he will knock down the signal pole, and then pick up the little old lady and use her to hit cars as they go by.
As a player, the Chaotic Evil character revels in destruction, whether it’s killing people or breaking objects. You are always searching for the next act of violence, so you might want to look at the Barbarian class. Barbarians must be Chaotic and have access to extremely large weapons like the greataxe. Feats like Improved Critical and Improved Sunder for object destruction are right up your alley. In an evil campaign that I once played in, I saw Chaotic Evil played as the character getting a rush from killing, so they were always looking for an excuse to start a fight and kill someone.
For the GM, the Chaotic Evil character loves to destroy, so give them things to destroy. That’s what these characters live for so give them the chance to use their abilities. For role-playing purposes, putting the CE character in a group with a strong Lawful Evil character (perhaps the group leader) is a good tactic. You could also suggest to another party member (or use an NPC) to try and teach the CE character patience or a certain technique. A Chaotic Evil character doesn’t want to waste time learning the rules of a technique. If they absolutely must learn it, they do so poorly. To simulate that, you could give the character access to the technique but with a penalty or at a lower power level. Weapon Focus gives the character a +1 to attack rolls, but if they have yet to learn that ability come up with something new. Suppose they only get the +1 if they make an Intelligence check with a DC equal to the Intelligence score of the character who taught them. Hey, that’s a new technique. I kinda like that.
So, there you have the Chaotic alignments. Good stuff there.
If you have any comments, questions, concerns, or snide remarks, please let me know.
Neutral characters do not care about law or chaos. True Neutral characters favor none of the alignment components over the other. Some will do what they think is a good idea at the time while others will work toward maintaining a balance between Law and Chaos or Good and Evil.
In today’s Critical Hit to the Blog, I’m going to look at the three Neutral alignments (True Neutral, Neutral Good, and Neutral Evil) and gives some tips for players and DMs on how to play or play against that alignment.
True Neutral characters are undecided. They don’t favor one side of any particular alignment axis over the other, though they do tend to think that good is better than evil, but don’t have a commitment to upholding good over evil. These are the characters that do what they think is a good idea. Going back to out “old lady crossing the street” metaphor, the True Neutral character is most likely going to abstain completely and let the old lady make her own way across the street.
For the player, there are two main philosophies when it comes to playing a TN character. The first way is that they are unmotivated by moral quandaries and simply do what they think is a good idea. If they have a friend who is going a’ questing, they might tag along. Not because they feel the compunction to or that they’re worried about their friend, but maybe they’re bored and a quest seem like it would be fun.
The other main philosophy is that the TN character can commit themselves to the idea of neutrality. They advocate that the ideas of good and evil and law and order are extremes that are best to be avoided. I’ve seen this role-played as pacifism, but not for the sake of good, but for the avoidance of damage to the character. He focused on high armor class, he took the Improved Shield Bash feat, and took the -4 penalty on attack rolls to do non-lethal damage. His basic role was to occupy one enemy while the rest of the party turned the rest into mulch.
For the DM, True Neutral characters can be hard to role-play against. The normal motivations of a heroic character, like good over evil or rescuing the distressed damsel, aren’t going to have the same kind of push for the character that a Lawful or Good character would have. One thing you can try is to make whatever you situation is strike close to home for the TN character. They may not value good over evil necessarily, but if something becomes personal, the TN character may value vengeance over everything else. This becomes a matter that goes above right and wrong, good and evil. When the character realizes they can’t take on the Evil Warlord/Sorcerer/Crime Boss, they decide to get help in the form of the PCs.
Neutral Good characters are devoted to helping others. They work toward helping the greatest number of people they can, without bias for or against the order or the realm. These are the people who help the old lady across the street when she’s ready to cross, regardless of what the sign says. The NG character isn’t stupid, though. They won’t walk out into traffic because the little old lady says she’s ready to go.
As a player, Neutral Good is for a character that wants to excel as helping other people. NG deities often have Protection or Healing in their portfolios, so Clerics of those deities tend to focus on those aspects of the deity. In role-playing situations, the NG character will champion a course of action, whether that’s combat-related or diplomatic relations, which will help the greatest number of people and then will try to find a way to include those not covered by the plan and help them as well.
As a DM, the name of the game here is to play against the NG character’s course of trying to help the most people. A hostage situation is the first thing to come to mind. The NG character will want to help as many of the hostages as possible, so they will want to give into the hostage taker’s demands, no matter how preposterous. Lawful characters will want to handle the matter according to the letter of the law and Chaotic characters may want to just charge right in with crossbows blazing. The Neutral Good character may try to get everyone on the same page so that none of the hostages are harmed.
Neutral Evil characters are evil without variation and without honor. These characters will do whatever they can and they have no remorse for any of the evil things that they do. These people would steal the old lady’s wallet and then shove her into traffic while they run away.
For a player, this character is a stone cold killer with no compunctions. Some NE characters will perform evil deeds strictly to be evil. This character could make quite a bit of money as a hired killer or thug, but they are perfectly happy to cause mayhem and kill for free. The NE character may belong to a secret society, such as an assassin’s guild.
For a DM, it’s obvious this character isn’t really going to fit into your standard adventuring party. To role-play with a NE character, you might want to set up a solo adventure and have the goal be an assassination, but have the character need to interact with intermediates in order to get the information they need to do the deed. They may end up killing all of their contacts along the way, but they will make their way to their target eventually. That allows you to role-play as the guild leader giving the kill order and all of the contacts, as well as the target.
Neutral Evil characters also work really well as NPCs, especially assassins or serial killers. They can cause the party to be upset through their actions, making Lawful characters itch just that much more for capturing them.
So there you have the Neutral alignments. Plenty of role-playing opportunities there. Next week, I’ll be covering my favorite alignments, Chaotic.
Until next time, be awesome to each other and good gaming.