Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Asian Weapons in 5e

One of my favorite aspects of the 1E version of Oriental Adventures was the weapon section. More than anything else, this was the flavor that really allowed my imagination to take flight. There is something about the image of temple guards armed with tetsubos that just says asian fantasy to me. You could keep virtually everything else about the game the same, have a list of asian-inspired weapons and my imagination would transport me to whatever asian-style fantasy world you want.

Thus, a very important aspect of continuing my current thought experiment, which I am tentatively calling Jade: The Land of the Ten Clans, was to get a weapon list full of asian-style weapons. In order to do this, I really didn’t want to re-invent the wheel. As far as I can see, the weapon list in 5e is just fine. It does everything I need it to do. Thus, the key was to find asian equivalents to each of the weapons on the list. There are a couple of things, though, that I really wanted to express through the weapons list that wouldn’t be necessarily possible, given the proficiencies of the Rogue and the Ranger.

Firstly, I wanted the katana and wakizashi to be exclusively Ranger weapons. This sets up a class divide between Rangers and every other class and allows these two weapons to be the outward symbols of that class divide.

Secondly, due the ubiquitous image of the ninja armed with a blowgun, I wanted Rogues to have access to that particular weapon. I will grant, that I could have done this via a specific background, but given my desire to make the katana and wakizashi exclusive to Rangers, I found it more useful to deal with it more generally.

Thus, to solve both problems with one simple change, I swapped out the Rogue’s proficiency with the Longsword (which is the best fit for describing a katana) for a proficiency with the Blowgun.

Here is a list of the 5e weapons and what I see as decent (though not perfect) asian equivalents:
Simple Melee Weapons
Club = Jo
Dagger = Knife
Greatclub = Tetsubo
Handaxe = (same)
Javelin = Sibat
Light Hammer = Tonfa
Mace = (same)
Quarterstaff = Bo
Sickle = Kama
Spear = Chiang

Simple Ranged Weapons
Crossbow, Light = (same)
Dart = Shuriken
Shortbow = (same)
Sling = (same)

Martial Melee Weapons
Battleaxe = Naginata
Flail = Nunchuck
Glaive = Chai-Dao
Greataxe = Nine-Dragon-Trident
Greatsword = No Dachi
Halberd = Ghi
Lance = (same)
Longsword = Katana
Maul = Wolf-Teeth-Staff
Morningstar = (same)
Pike = Yari
Rapier = Jien
Scimitar = Wakizashi
Shortsword = Sai
Trident = Dang Pa
War pick = Hook Sword
Warhammer = Three-Section-Staff
Whip = Chain Whip

Martial Ranged Weapons
Blowgun = (same)
Crossbow, hand = (same)
Crossbow, heavy = (same)
Longbow = (same)
Net = (same)
Thus, the swords of the Ranger class are the Katana and Wakizashi and the sword of the Rogue-as-rank-in-file-soldier is the Jien.

Again, I realize that several of these equivalents are not exact, but in the abstract they do just fine. Given that D&D combat has always been a gross abstraction of combat, this list suits me just fine.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Wu Xing Diagram

Yesterday, I posted about using a Wu Xing diagram to map out relationships between factions in a campaign world. Here is the actual diagram that I described:

Using this, it can be fairly easy to start putting together a political plot and conflict that is the main background noise of a campaign.

It starts with the Green Clan and their hatred of the Gold Clan and the Fire Faction in general. To get at them, they have convinced members of the Red Clan to secretly break ranks. The diagram shows that the break-away members of the Red Clan harbor enmity towards their fellow member of the Fire Faction, the Brass Clan.

A simple way to explain this is that the Brass Clan has married off one of their daughters to the head of the Red Clan, who is impotent and has no heirs. The Green Clan has exploited the anxiety within the Red Clan to place blame on the Brass Clan as a whole.

Thus, members of the Red Clan are secretly working out ways to get their revenge on the Brass Clan. To do so, they are exploiting the Silver Clan’s hatred of the Blue Clan to obtain items necessary to exact their revenge. They are also misdirecting the Blue Clan’s friendliness toward the Brass Clan in order to accomplish their goals.

In the meantime, the Copper Clan has begun to suspect the Red Clan’s plans, but have so far been unable to convince the Silver Clan of the danger. They have thus resorted to working with the White Clan through their fellow Acid Faction member the Black Clan. The plan is to sow distrust between the Bronze and Blue Clans in order to disrupt the workings of the Red Clan.

See how wonderfully complex this all gets in short order?

As an aside, I plan to have the Fire Faction territory at or near the border regions of the Empire. In other words, they are the ones that are in charge of the campaign world’s version of the Great Wall. As both the Fire Clan and the Brass Clan begin to be ripped apart by the various political plotting began by the Green Clan, the defense at the Great Wall will weaken. This, of course, opens up the possibility of a major outside threat getting into the Empire and creating havoc.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

World Building Using Wu Xing

When I am building a new campaign world, I especially like to create factions in sets of five. This allows me to plug factions into a Wu Xing diagram which indicates which factions are enemies and which factions are allies. What is particularly fascinating about this model is that enmity and friendship really only go one direction. This creates a wonderfully complex set of relationships. It also is really easy to use.

To demonstrate how useful this is, take a look at how I have plugged in the Ten Clans from my last post, where I posited a campaign world based on using only four of the twelve available 5e classes:

The Poison Faction is friendly with the Lightening Faction and has enmity toward the Fire Faction:
  • The Green Clan specifically likes the Bronze Clan and hates the Gold Clan
  • The Green Clan has also convinced elements of the Red Clan to betray the Fire Faction. This traitorous element specifically likes the Blue Clan and hates the Brass Clan

The Lightening Faction is friendly with the Fire Faction and has enmity toward the Acid Faction:
  • The Bronze Clan specifically likes the Gold Clan and hates the Black Clan
  • The Blue Clan specifically likes the Brass Clan and hates the Copper Clan

The Fire Faction is friendly with the Acid Faction and has enmity toward the Cold Faction:
  • The Gold Clan specifically likes the Black Clan and hates the White Clan
  • The Brass Clan specifically likes the Copper Clan and hates the Silver Clan

The Acid Faction is friendly with the Cold Faction and has enmity toward the Poison Faction:
  • The Blue Clan specifically likes the White Clan and hates the Green Clan
  • The Copper Clan specifically likes the Silver Clan and hates the Red Clan

The Cold Faction is friendly with the Poison Faction and has enmity toward the Lightening Faction:
  • The White Clan specifically likes the Green Clan and hates the Bronze Clan
  • The Silver Clan specifically likes the Red Clan and hates the Blue Clan

By simply plugging in these factions into the Wu Xing model, all kinds of interesting relationships and conflicts arise. This becomes especially useful when planning a campaign full of political intrigue.

And because I love doing it, here is some heraldry for the Ten Clans:

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

World Building using 5e Classes

One of my favorite poetic forms is the haiku. While tempting to see it as a very simple style of poetry where one need only come up with seventeen syllables and be done with it, writing a haiku is much more difficult than it seems. The goal is to capture a singular moment in time without allegory, simile or analogy. The skill and creativity to write a truly brilliant haiku is much greater than one might be led to believe.

Thus, I have always seen limitations as powerful creative tools. This explains my love of random tables. They severely limit my initial input as to what happens in an encounter, but open up a huge amount of possibilities when I am forced to rationally explain why that particular encounter happened when and where it did. This has consistently led to an enriching of my campaign worlds beyond what normally would have been possible if I had used my own input on encounters instead of a random table.

This leads me to today’s post — a thought experiment using limitations. Specifically, limiting the number of classes available to players in a 5e campaign and then building out a campaign world based on those classes available.

Since my favorite edition of D&D is B/X and B/X has four basic classes, I decided to use that as a benchmark. I then divided up the twelve available 5e classes into four groups:

  • Barbarians, Fighters, Rangers
  • Bards, Monks, Rogues
  • Clerics, Druids, Paladins
  • Sorcerers, Warlocks, Wizards

I then asked my children to pick one class from each category to come up with this list of four available classes:

  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Cleric
  • Sorcerer

Two interesting patterns emerge from this group of four classes:

First, the Cleric is the exception when it comes to magic. Rangers, Rogues with the Arcane Trickster Archetype and Sorcerers all use spontaneous casting from a list of known spells. Clerics, on the other hand, prepare spells from the cleric spell list and have access to ritual casting.

Second, there is no class that truly represents a standing army. Rangers are skirmish fighters. While rogues can emulate the sense of a disciplined army or coordinated fighting with their Sneak Attack, their limitations with both weapons and armor as well as their focus on dexterity and stealth suggest an army far more used to spying than to fighting toe-to-toe battles on a regular basis.

The campaign world that emerges from these patterns is one that is primarily focused inward because what outside threats exist can be kept in check by rangers and rogues. Thus, the driving force of most adventures is going to be political intrigue between factions that exist within the campaign world.

These factions are suggested by the various damage types available to sorcerers from the Draconic Bloodline:

  • Acid (with Black and Copper clans)
  • Cold (with Silver and White clans)
  • Fire (with Copper, Gold, and Red clans)
  • Lightening (with Blue and Bronze clans)
  • Poison (with the Green clan)

This nicely fits into a five point pattern similar to the Asian Elemental System of Wu Xing which creates a nicely complex but balanced system where each faction has an enemy and and ally. Given that the Poison faction has only one clan (and thus has their power base consolidated) and has a specialty so convenient to the art of assassination, it makes sense to understand this faction as the current royal clan (and gives me permission to use names like the Jade Throne).

What emerges from all this is a Far East-flavored, Middle Kingdom-esque campaign world where the aristocracy are descended from dragons, magic is seen as a sign of the elite and most martial weapons are highly regulated and only used by a special class within the ruling elites — rangers.

Clerics represent an outside (Western-esque) influence both culturally and magically. They would be rare and, given that their magic can be used by those outside the aristocracy, possibly illegal in various parts of the campaign world. Due to the fractious nature of the Fire faction, I could see the Gold and/or Copper clans being the most tolerant of these new ideas and magics.

Thus, the four classes can be understood in context of the campaign world in the following ways:

Rangers are akin to a samurai class. They are far more concerned about outside threats than an average citizen, but still suffer from a myopic view inward as evidenced by the Beast Master Archetype which is more about show and prestige of the animal companions (where more exotic and well-trained companions are more prestigious).

Rogues represent the default class of the average citizen. Thieves’ Cant is a kind of trade language and a (not so full proof way) to communicate under the noses of the aristocracy. The Thief Archetype represents your basic thug. The Assassin Archetype represents a basic soldier or city guard. The Arcane Trickster represents a low-born aristocrat, a dilettante that likes to slum it with the peasantry, or an aristocratic spy that keeps the ruling class informed about the rumblings and rebellions amongst the hoi polloi.

Sorcerers generally represent the upper echelon of the aristocracy. Those of the Dragon Bloodline are those that have the most royal blood running through their veins. Sorcerers who use Wild Magic are the exception. They are generally low-born who have enough dragon blood to manifest magic but not enough to control it and manifest it the same way as those who have the Dragon Bloodline. These sorcerers are generally looked down upon and seen as dangerous by both the ruling class and the peasantry.

Clerics and their followers are the most outward-looking citizens of the empire. Their magic and world-view is heavily influenced by foreign culture and ideas. Due to their focus on and care of the lower classes, they are seen as a threat by most of the aristocracy but are mostly tolerated in the lands controlled by certain Fire clans. Their existence hints at a greater (most likely undead) outside threat than the Empire has faced in generations.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

An AI Answers Jeff's 20 Questions

It came to my attention via Talysman over at The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms that there is a neural network web toy that will complete the text of a prompt a user types in. I immediately saw this as a kind of random table, and I love me a good random table. So, I decided to use it to make a random campaign setting by having it answer Jeff Rient's 20 Quick Questions for Your Campaign Setting.

What follows I have edited to make more intelligible and concise, but every word was generated by the AI and not me.

What is the deal with my cleric's religion?

I am a Catholic and my faith has been strengthened by the life of the Church (I am one of the few who has not been a bishop, but have also been active in Catholic charity work). I now work as much as I can as a public advocate for the cause of justice.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

There are five main ways to buy your equipment – from your nearest chemist, from your nearest chemist's office, from your nearest pharmacy, or at your nearest specialist shop. Some pharmacies have a chemist service and can be a good first step in buying your first tools.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

That depends on your guild. There will be a vendor standing near the entrance to the dungeon that sells the equipment.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

Dafnaught, Lord of Storms.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Shura: I'm a warrior. No, I'm not a hero, I'm a warrior!!

Who is the richest person in the land?

Henry Clay has a net worth of $400 billion.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?

Let us tell you about it! We will be visiting your local Healing Centre on Saturday at 9 am (local time) to receive your prayers. We plan to talk about how spiritual healing works, how to prepare for it, and provide all you need to get started!

-The Bawthorn (B. Strange)

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

The only place to get cure spells is in scrolls. If you need something, you can just pick up a scroll at the nearest booklifter and pray.

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

You can only join a guild if it is registered. If you do not wish to continue with your current guild, you'll have to contact your guildmaster. Guilds often have a monthly membership fee. You'll need to pay for this once a month, and then pay again over time. (Note: Your current membership fee may be different than the fee you will be charged for joining a guild.)

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

There are algos who carry large inventories, but they're not your typical Alchemists or crafters.

Where can I hire mercenaries?

Your guild has a wide range of mercenaries to hire along with a large number of skilled warriors, fighters and archers.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

Yes, sword and magic are banned in all of the places on the map.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

As of now, there are probably more than four monsters. It has been about three months since the start of the attack.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

Not until the Empire is destroyed.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

If the president wants to put up an entertainment center for his kids, surely he should go for it.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Scienca is a society dedicated to spreading the word about science and technology, and helping to create peace between races.

The Society of the Serpent has never publicly expressed its desire to invade other worlds.

What is there to eat around here?

Oh, just chicken wing salad.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

One of the world's most famous antiquities, the priceless Necrotic Orb, contains the remains of an ancient lich.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

The nearest dragon is the Red Dragonborn in Whiterun. The dragons are coming to Darkshire. The Dragons are coming here. And they are coming for The Dark Lord.