November 29, 2008

Around the blogs...

Wow.. even when out of town I somehow manage to get this weekly update out the door. Let's see what I've been reading this week...
Well... it's a day late, but that's it for this week. Hope the links find some use to you. In the meantime...

TOMORROW IS THE DEADLINE for the RPG Blog Anthology!

If there has been any post from my blog that you might think worthy of the Anthology, please submit it by tomorrow. Since I'm organizing the Anthology, I can't submit (obviously) my own work.

Want to help shape the future of RPG blogging? Click here to volunteer to be a reviewer for or submit a RPG blog to the upcoming 2008 Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs! Also, if you fill out our survey - you can win a free copy of the Anthology!

November 27, 2008

[4E] Ereshkigal's Hatchet - Statblock

I recently wrote about a cursed weapon, Ereshkigal's Hatchet, that might serve as a seed for a new line of adventures for your players. Here's I present the stats for Ereshkigal's Hatchet as I would envision them for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Ereshkigal's HatchetParagon Level
The High Priestess Ereshkigal forged this axe from Far Realm ruinite, imbued it with the madness of the Dreamscape, and finally sacrificed her own soul for the axe so that she could carry out the will of Tharizdun for all eternity.
Ereshkigal's Hatchet is a +4 Jagged Handaxe with the following properties and powers.
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls.
Critical: Ongoing damage 10.
Property: This weapon scores a critical hit on an 18, 19, or 20.
Property: Any wielding Ereshkigal's Hatchet temporarily gains the Weapon Proficiency (Handaxe) feat as long the axe remains in their hands.
Property: Due to the alien madness of Tharizdun that is channeled through Ereshkigal's Hatchet, anyone wielding the axe gains +4 to their Will defense.
Property: Anytime an enemy is reduced to 0 hit points after being hit by Ereshkigal's Axe, you gain your healing surge value as temporary hit points.
Power (Daily • Arcane, Charm): Standard action. You can use delusions of loyalty (warlock 19).
Power (Encounter • Arcane, Charm): Standard action. You can use bewitching whispers (warlock 13).

Goals of Ereshkigal's Hatchet
• Spill the blood of innocents by senseless acts of murder.
• Turn friend against friend and bring about the death of one at the hands of the other.
• Free Tharizdun from his eternal prison in the Ethereal Plane.

Roleplaying Ereshkigal's Hatchet
Ereshkigal's Hatchet communicates with its own through their nightmares and dreams. The axe brings on horrifying visions when angered, and rewards those with whom it is pleased with dreams of power and success. Using an otherworldly, whispering voice that only the wielder can hear in battle, it strongly urges the attack of anyone it perceives is a weak, vulnerable opponent - especially innocents such as children, unarmed working age citizens, and the elderly. These urges are persistent and grow unbearably strong in dense markets or crowded city streets.

Starting Score 5
Owner gains a level +1d10
Owner is a follower of Tharizdun +1
Owner is a priest of Tharizdun +1
Owner kills any non-evil humanoid (maximum 1/day) +1
Owner is defeated in battle -2
Owner spares the life of an enemy -5
Owner possesses Erishkigal's Hatchet for longer than 1 year or one level of experience -15

Pleased (16 - 20)
Eirshkigal's Hatchet is very pleased with the amount of blood that the owner has spilled in the name of Tharizdun. It continues to push its will upon the wielder, but is mindful that all good things must come to an end soon.
Property: The axe grants a +5 enhancement bonus to Bluff and Intimidate checks.
Property: The owner suffers a -5 enhancement penalty on Diplomacy.
Property: Ereshkigal's Hatchet brings dreams of power and success to the owner, granting them an additional +2 enhancement bonus to Fortitude and Reflex defenses for one day following an uninterrupted period of extended rest.
Power (Encounter • Martial, Weapon): You gain the ability to use vorpal tornado (fighter 17).

Satisfied (12 - 15)
Ereshkigal's Hatchet is pleased with the progress the owner has made in spreading madness of Tharizdun across the land. However, the axe urges the owner to continue their episode of bloodshed even further.

Property: The axe grants a +2 enhancement bonus to Bluff and Intimidate checks.
Property: The owner suffers a -2 enhancement penalty on Diplomacy.
Property: If the owner fails a Diplomacy, Bluff or Intimidate check the axe forces them to resolve the situation through violence.
Power (Encounter • Martial, Weapon): You gain the ability to use cloud of steel (rogue 7.

Normal (5 - 11)
The owner feels the need to spill blood as often as possible, and especially is drawn to striking down those who cannot defend themselves. When doing so, Ereshkigal's Hatchet makes them feel invincible and gives them a deep level of satisfaction with every kill.

Unsatisfied (1 - 4)
The axe begins to realise that the owner is not an appropriate subject for meeting its goals. Thus, it seeks nothing short of beginning about the death of the owner at the hands of overwhelming odds. The owner suffers from paranoid delusions of grandeur and believes that everyone is plotting to kill them. The only reasonable solution to the problem is to kill everyone in sight.
Property: The owner suffers a -10 penalty on all Diplomacy and Bluff checks.
Property: The owner benefits from a +5 bonus to Intimidate checks.
Property: The owner must kill at least one humanoid creature per hour or suffer a 5 ongoing psychic damage from the axe (save ends).

Angry (0 or lower)
Ereshkigal's Hatchet now knows that it owner is completely unsuitable for it. It will stop at nothing until the owner is dead and it is in the hands of another.
Property: The axe uses lust for insanity (see below) as often as possible until the owner is dead. Once the owner is dead, it will continue to use this power with each new owner until only one humanoid is alive and standing in the area of effect. At this time, the concordance will reset to 5 (Normal) for its new owner.
Lust for Insanity (at-will; recharge 4, 5, 6) * Arcane, Psychic: Close burst 5. Targets allies and enemies. +17 vs. Will. 1d10 +5 psychic damage and the target believes Ereshkigal's Hatchet is the most treasured artifact in existence. They will attack the owner of Ereshkigal's Hatchet without provocation and will not stop until the owner or they themselves are dead (save ends).

Moving On
Ereshkigal's Hatchet has the ability to teleport up to 100 miles once per month. It will use this power whenever it feels its existence is threatened or if it finds itself in situation where no one is nearby to take ownership of it. In addition, the axe will not stay with the same owner forever. Should one individual keep the hatchet for longer than two years, then the nearest follower of Tharizdun will be made aware of it through their dreams, seek out the owner, try to kill them, and take the axe for themselves if they succeed.

Want to help shape the future of RPG blogging? Click here to volunteer to be a reviewer for the upcoming 2008 Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs! Also, if you fill out our survey - you can win a free copy of the Anthology!

Thanksgiving Greetings!

Thank you for the community we have built.
Thank you for the fun we have had.
Thank you for the support you have given.
Thank you for the game.

November 26, 2008

[4E] Ereshkigal's Hatchet - Adventure Hook

(Part 1 of 2; second part with statblock is here)

Fortunately for the people of the world, the cursed broadsword Druniazth [1] has been missing for centuries. It is a weapon tainted with the madness of the imprisoned Tharizdun and charged with spreading his twisted word. Those who have fallen to its power are said to lay in a slumber of horrifying dreams and visions for all eternity. This blade was not, however, the only armament crafted by Dreamcatchers of Tharizdun. There was another - The Scion of Druniazth that was born from will of High Priestess Ereshkigal and imbued with the elemental power of Tharizdun [2].

Ereshkigal's Hatchet[3] was forged from same vein of ruinite ore that was stolen from the Far Realm and used to craft Druniazth. The mirror-like, narrow head of the hatchet has a dark purple hue and a jagged, razor-sharp blade. A velveteen mist, that seems to carry with it the sweet smell of decay, slowly exudes from its surface. The ashwood haft of the axe is decorated with thousands of branded runes and pictographs that seem to shift about as they are read. Not quite long enough to wield with two hands, Ereshkigal's Hatchet is also too large to be called a throwing axe - although both are proven to be untrue once the axe is wielded in combat.

Ereshkigal's Hatchet is by no means a benign object. The Dreamcatchers sacrificed a small part of Ereshkigal's own soul, wrapped it in the madness of Tharizdun, and buried it deep into the haft of the axe. Sages have said that minutes after it was finally assembled, and the last wrappings of leather had been bound to the haft, Ereshkigal uttered her last words and vanished along with the axe into the dreamscape of the world.
"And through this weapon, may Tharizdun's madness be channeled and may I serve him for all eternity in spreading murder by the hands of innocents." -- Ereshkigal's Last Words
Thus, the weapon was given a life of its own and a sinister purpose as well.

Since that time, Ereshkigal's Hatchet has appeared into the hands of its victims without warning, seemingly out of nowhere. Once in someone's hands, the will of the axe seeks to dominate the mind of the wielder sending them on murderous rampage that only ends with their own death. On a rare occasion, the axe has found itself in the hands of an exceptionally strong willed individual who is able to control the axe's urges to maim and slaughter. But these periods are usually short lived, for a moment of weakness is all that it takes for Ereshkigal's Hatchet to take charge and lay waste to every living creature in sight. These horrifying bloodbaths usually end with the wielder of the weapon taking their own life and the axe disappearing into obscurity.

Most recently, Ereshkigal's Hatchet was thought to be in the possession of Somerled [4], a stone-troll warlord who, after slaughtering his own people, roams the hills and valleys of The Fetherruin searching for his next victims. The few who have seen Somerled and live to tell about it often remark that he uses the axe to carve, out of his own flesh, stone figurines that resembling his victims (who he then promptly eats). Recently, numerous campsites and caravans have been found seemingly abandoned, but tiny figurines of the missing are left to indicate Somerled's handiwork.

I'll post the 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game mechanics for this weapon in another, upcoming post. Stay tuned!

  1. Druniazth is an artifact that was featured in Dragon #294 and is detailed as being a weapon closely associated with Tharizdun.
  2. Ereshkigal means "lady of the great earth" in Sumerian. In Sumerian and Babylonian mythology she was the violent goddess of death and the underworld. Taken from Behind the Name.
  3. The inset image of the axe was illustrated by Dan Scott - an amazing artist who has been work has been featured on many Dungeons & Dragons, Warcraft, and Magic: The Gathering products.
  4. Somerled is the Anglicized form of the Old Norse name SomarliĆ°r meaning "summer traveller". This was the name of a 12th-century Scottish warlord who created a kingdom on the Scottish islands. Taken from Behind the Name.

November 25, 2008

Look what I found...

While doing some research on the backstory and history of Tharizdun for an upcoming post, I StumbledUpon! this page...

Some of the PDFs were busted - so this tool can be used to fix them. No doubt, this might be a real resource for DMs looking for any of those long lost Dragon or Dungeon magazines, or older D&D rulebooks in PDF format.

Well, that's about it for today. Ciao!

** I have NO IDEA who is hosting those PDF's. Make sure you protect thyself with a good virus scanner. I haven't found any, but you can never be too sure.

November 24, 2008

Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs Sneak Peek

Six weeks ago I announced a new project: The 2008 Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs. It was, at the time, a half-baked idea that popped into my head early one Sunday morning after one too many cups of coffee. Of course, I immediately blogged it - and within 48 hours I was honestly thinking "What the hell have I gotten myself into?" I did not, nor do I now, know anything about publishing. Nonetheless, I made a commitment to make this Anthology a reality and blindly put my best foot forward.

My overall goal for the Anthology was simple: To bridge the divide between the RPG blogging community and the rest of the gaming community, both online and off, by creating a printed book that showcased the best talent the RPG blogosphere has to offer. It was a blank slate. A wide open agenda. And certainly one of those "blue sky" ideas.

For the Anthology to be a success, it had OPEN and Community Driven. The later was addressed by having a nomination form for blog readers to submit their favorite blog posts for inclusion into the Anthology. So far, the Anthology has received 91 nominations!!! As for the the former issue - I knew that the process of putting the Anthology together must be a completely transparent process to the rest of the community. To address this I created a working group under Open Game Table, hosted by Google and open to anyone with an opinion to share. This working group has done well in providing me with the guidance I knew I would need (thank you!). For example, Dave Chalker suggested doing some market research so that we might better understand what people would want - so I created a survey to address that issue. To date, we've received responses from 54 people. I've also used it as a lunching pad to find willing volunteers - and created a sign up form for anyone else interested in helping out. So far, thirteen people have offered to lend their time to help move this project forward.

To date, the outpouring of support from the RPG blogging community has been amazing! Call what you will - but I'm simply floored by everyone's enthusiasm!!! The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs has been mentioned on at least a dozen other blogs, and been a featured topic on the Roleplaying Game Blogger Network twice! Hopefully, today I'll be able to tap into your enthusiasm a bit to help this project make the final jump to the next level of development.

You may have some questions - because I've been a bit tight lipped about what has and has not been submitted. You may also be wondering what the results of the survey has been. I'll release the results of the survey next week; the same day as the deadline for nominations (December 1st).

Here is a 'leak' of the RPG blogs (but not the specific 90 posts) that have been nominated thus far.
44 roleplaying game blogs in all - quite a nice selection to be honest. Each nomination that was received was accompanied by a free-form list of tags assigned by the person submitting the nomination. Going over and consolidating this list is a bit of a chore - but here are the top 12 tags associated with the nominations the Anthology has received thus far (and the number of times that tag, or something very similar, has turned up):
  • GM Advice 44
  • 4E D&D 25
  • Campaign Planning 22
  • Game Theory 16
  • D&D 15
  • OD&D 14
  • Player Advice 10
  • Commentary 9
  • History 9
  • Homebrew 7
  • New Items 6
  • Combat Abstraction 5
Of course, D&D dominates the list - but to be fair there are a dozen or so nominations that are for other game systems and many more that are "system independent".

As you can see, the Anthology is coming along strong. It is shaping up to be a very diverse collection of blog posts from the best talent in RPG blogging - the names we know and a few pearls that may have been overlooked as well.

Now comes the part where I ask to tap into your enthusiasm for this project. My goal at the outset was for 100 nominations to be received by December 1st. We are only 10 nominations away! Thus, we can't lose steam now and assume we'll get there. Instead, I'm hoping for a big push as the deadline approaches. But, I can't do it alone. I need your help!

Doing any one, or more than one, of the favors below will be a major boost to the project. Please consider each of them in turn.
  • If you are an RPG blog author or reader :
    1. Nominate one your own posts from your blog for inclusion into the Anthology
    2. Link back to this post so that your readers might become aware of this project and share their own opinions and possibly nominate one of your posts as their favorite.
    3. Volunteer as an Anthology Reviewer or as an Anthology Artist who is willing to donate their time and effort towards making this project are reality.
Free-copies of the printed Anthology will also be given away to a few lucky winners who submit a nomination, send in a completed survey, or who volunteer to serve as reviewers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! And thank you for any help you are willing to lend.

May the luck of the dice be with you!

November 23, 2008

About The Core Mechanic...

HEY! The Core Mechanic smashes down the barriers of conventional RPG theory. It's a blog. It's an obsession. It's daily content, reviews, and news for RPG freaks like you and me. Forget the rest; I'll give you links to them if they are worth reading. Want the freshest perspectives from the vast garden of RPG blogs? Subscribe to The Core Mechanic today and smell perfection for yourself. Your d20 will love you for it. Your miniatures will smile when you're not looking too (creepy but true). Your characters will jump off the page and become the real-life hyperboles every fiber of your nerd soul wants them be.

You know its true - but, I guarantee it.

Don't believe me? Then ask yourself: Who started the weekly rush of "Around the blogs..." that covered the best RPG blogs of the week? I did. Who created Open Game Table - the groundbreaking new RPG blog anthology that is taking the Web 2.0 gaming community by storm? I did. Who started the RPG Blog Carnival - the common ground event that has pulled hundreds of blogs together each and every month? I did - and I'm Jonathan "Rolls 20's While Sleeping" Jacobs and I'm the author and creator of The Core Mechanic. Now get off this elevator and either go pray at the New Temple of RPG or be punished by the intertube trolls of yore. The choice is yours, the trolls are on B1.

[DING] "Level ... 30."

Excuse me, this is my floor...

The Core Mechanic is constantly evolving - in addition to providing content and commentary on D&D, we are also willing and able to provide press release news and product reviews for hobby game publishers looking for an outlet in the RPG blogging community. We are also always looking for new guest bloggers, writers, and artists as well. Interested? Contact TCM today.


Below is the OLD introduction... which was changed to the above introduction after a ProBlogger 31-days to build a better blog event - and some other RPG  bloggers thought I should change my old "elevator pitch". Hahah!


The Core Mechanic is a creative space dedicated to role playing game content, news, and reviews. It is home to new, independent content for both players and game masters of Dungeons & Dragons and other games, as well as the highly reviewed RPG blog anthology: Open Game Table. The Core Mechanic benefits from more than 20 years of experience and always looks to present a fresh perspective on role playing games.

Hopefully you will find something fun and innovative that you can take back to the game table with you.

A note from TCM's creator, Jonathan Jacobs:
In terms of gaming - I've been playing RPGs, mostly Dungeons & Dragons and other d20 games, since about 1981. In addition, about 80% of the time I'm usually the DM at the table. Over the course of my gaming "career" I've run somewhere around 15 campaigns that lasted more than a year and have enjoyed gaming with about 50 or so different people. Other than this blog, my only other contribution to the D&D Internetz was a piece of software that generated equipment for NPCs using 3E and 3.5E rules.
I started this blog in the Summer of 2008 with a bright-eyed and ambitious mindset. Jump first, ask questions later! I wanted to get back into RPG gaming, down low and at a nerdish level I was at in college. Thus, the goal of The Core Mechanic was simple "Hey! I have an idea! How about I write about games in a blog!?"  That's never been done before right? ...

November 22, 2008

Around the blogs...

Saturday means its time to review. What have we here...
  • Rumblings of the Editions Wars have been heard again. It all started this week when RPGCentric explained "Why 4E D&D is geared towards combat" and then a few days later Gamerdome just out'n out says there's at least "One way 4e D&D impedes roleplaying". If you have the stomach for more edition wars - check it out!
  • The Origins of the Cleric in D&D came up again in my wandering. I only wish I had read James Maliszewski's post "Medic!" before writing my own series on this class. I also found Sham's post on the birth of the cleric in OD&D, "Thank You Sir Fang!" and then (using Google's "link:" operator) - I came across Sword & Shields post on a similar aspect of clerics in "Defender's of the Faith". What to know more about clerics in D&D - click those links!
  • Speaking about Old School - Sham's Grog'N Blog has been busy with a long running series that is looking at the Original Dungeons & Dragons booklets from the mid-1970's; currently he's up to Part 11, "D&D Cover to Cover, Part 11". He's literally going page by page - its engrossing if you are into that sort of thing (I am). I'm just wondering if he's going to do the same sort of thing for 1st Edition AD&D. =P
  • New Encounter Templates for 4E are over at in a post by Bartoneous titled "D&D 4E: New Encounters". Despite the fact that it sounds like a new Star Trek Movie, there are three new, fully fleshed out encounter templates any 4E DM can drop into their game. Assassination Squad is my favorite.
  • New Weapons for 4E is always something I'm interested in. Greywulf has made the case that the choice of weapons for Rogues in 4E blows - so, after doing a little research, he presents "Small Swords & Exiles" that includes stats for a historical weapon for rogues. I've also put together a set of new ranged weapons for 4E - an area I found to be lacking.
  • Finally, we all need to give Phil, a.k.a. The Chatty DM, and Dave "The Game" Chalker both a round of applause and cheers! They will be team writing their own adventure as freelancers, and it will be published by Goodman Games. Wohoo! Congratulations to both of you!
  • New 4E Warlock Pact. This was one of the most useful and original posts to have crossed my feed reader this week: "Fleurian Pact Warlock", by Wyatt Salazar over at Turbulent Thoughts was a real gem to read. I'm even planning on using it in my own campaign.
  • And, as my final last link of the day... I present to you a rant of monumental size and scope. Worthy of nothing short of a circus side-show crazy box - Wyatt has busted my guy again with his hilarious tirades of rage. "What is Immersion? A Miserable Pile of Shlock." is pure gold. Immersion is one aspect of RPGs that I enjoy the most - and honestly, this is great stuff. I just could not stop laughing.
Well, that's all I have time for this morning. Have a great day and stay out of the cold!

November 20, 2008

[4E] Leadership Feat

I suppose you could say that I'm obsessing a bit about bringing more things from the earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons into the current age with 4th Edition. So, why break out into new territory? This seems to be fertile ground, yeah?

A quick blog search revealed that no one (that I could find) has updated the Leadership feat from 3rd Edition to 4th Edition. Nor have I been able to find any blog posts about bringing back the OD&D 'end game' to 4th Edition: I'm talking about Stronghold Building here. It is (in my mind) one of the glaring omission from the 4E RAW. In any case, I'm not sure if this is going to be a series about "end-game" for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, or a "one-off" - likely the former.

To get things started, today I'll present my own (unplaytested, mind you) version of the Leadership feat, as well as some additional feats that aim to support and modify the way in which the Leadership feat functions. But first, some background on my design choices.

Some Background on Leadership in Dungeons & Dragons
The OD&D Men & Magic book simply indicates that each character class (Fighting-Man, Cleric, and Magic User) can build a stronghold once they reach a certain level. There is nothing, that I could find, that specifically suggests this is overall goal of the game or how this process even really works. Maybe Sham has some insight that I'm missing.

In 1st and 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the core rules are much more explicit. Each character class in the AD&D Players Handbook indicates that the players may choose to construct a stronghold once they are experienced enough. The minimum level required for stronghold construction varies from class to class, as do the numbers and types of followers attracted by choosing to do so. Again, the rules never say that stronghold construction is the overall goal of the game, but reading between the lines it certainly seems that it was. For players whose characters are prohibited from building strongholds (i.e. thieves), these players motivations would presumably be very different from their companions. Nonetheless, stronghold or not, all player character classes in AD&D attract followers at some point during their career. The general outlay for followers, based on character class in AD&D, looked like this:
  • Clerics at 8th level, who have also built a temple, can attract up to 200 congregants and an armed host of up to 190 low-level armed men-at-arms.
  • Fighters, once they reach 9th level, must construct a stronghold and clear the land of all hostile creatures within 50 miles of it (i.e. a freehold). Once this has been done, they automatically attract a Leader of up to 7th level and up to 120 heavily armed soldiers.
  • Assassins, Bards, Monks, Rangers and Thieves all attract lower level members of their own class once they reach a sufficiently high enough level. Monks and Rangers are not required to build a stronghold for this benefit.
  • Druids, Paladins, Magic-Users, Illusionists may construct strongholds, but they never gain followers automatically as part of their class benefits.
It is important to note that AD&D makes an important distinction between mercenaries, hirelings, followers, and henchmen. Suffice to say that the "spirit" of any 4E Leadership feat should draw it roots from the way the D&D game has dealt with followers and henchmen.

In 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the term "henchmen" was dropped and replaced with the term "cohort". The reasoning for this is beyond me, but they effectively represent the same type of underling:
"Cohorts are loyal servants who follow a particular character or sometimes a group of characters ... They are hired by or seek out a PC or PCs, and they work out a deal agreeable to both parties so that the NPC works for the characters. A cohort serves as a general helper, a bodyguard, a sidekick, or just someone to watch a character’s back. Although technically subservient, cohorts are usually too valuable to waste on performing menial tasks." -- 3.5E Dungeon Masters Guide.
The designers of 3E D&D removed automatic followers for the character classes, but added the optional Leadership feat which was detailed in the DMG. This opened up the possibility of attracting followers for all player characters, regardless of class, but had an important caveat - the players were limited in being able to attract only ONE cohort by taking the Leadership feat. Any additional cohorts, if any, would be attracted only by skillful roleplaying and specifically recruiting them in game (much as was suggested in AD&D for attracting henchmen). Taking the Leadership feat still allowed the PC to attract a host of followers (low-level NPCs) that presumably accompanied the cohort once the feat was taken. The level of the cohort and the numbers of followers was determined by the PCs "leadership score", a new attribute associated with the Leadership feat. A character's leadership score was a function of their level, charisma modifier, and a number of additional modifiers.

Lastly, there is no mention of hirelings, henchmen, followers or cohorts in any of the 4E core rule books. Thus, taking all this in, I've updated a 4E version of the Leadership feat so that you too might step back into time and play 4E rules in the spirit of OD&D.

Leadership [Paragon Tier]
Prerequisites: The character must be at least 11th level to take this feat.

: Having this feat enables the character to attract a cohort (e.g. a loyal companion) and a host of devoted followers over a period of a few weeks or months. See below for what sort of cohort and how many followers the character can recruit. The character's ability to function as a leader and attract followers depends on their leadership score. A PCs base leadership score is calculated as one-half their level plus their Charisma modifier.The construction of a stronghold or other base of operations should provide a minimum +2 bonus to the characters leadership score. Additional situational bonuses or penalties, feats, and even magic items may also modify a PCs leadership score as the DM sees fit.

: The starting level of the cohort is one-half the PCs leadership score + 2, rounded down. For example, a Level 11 character with a Charisma bonus of +7 would have a leadership score of 12 and the cohort whom they attract to follow them would be level 8. The cohort can be an NPC of any race, class, or type that is appropriate, but must always be at least two levels below the character. The DM should use the NPC Design Steps (Chapter 10, Dungeons Masters Guide) to create a fitting cohort for the player.

: Upon taking the Leadership feat, the character will attract a number of loyal low-level retainers as indicated by the table below. These retainers will usually share something in common with the PC such as a common race, class, religion or goal. Use the Monster Manual with your DM to help decide the exact host of followers the character attracts.
Leadership Score Total Levels Highest Level
Below 10 - -
6 1 1
7 1 1
8 2 1
9 3 2
10 5 2
11 7 2
12 10 3
13 14 3
14 19 3
15 25 4
16 33 4
17 42 4
18 52 5
19 65 5
20 80 5
21 97 6
22 117 6
23 140 6
24 166 7
25 195 7
Above 25 228 7
Total Levels: This value represents the total number of NPC levels for the host of followers.

Highest Level
: This value represents the highest level (HL) follower included in the group. There is only one individual with the highest level, two followers with HL-2, four followers with HL-3, eight followers with HL-4, etc.

November 19, 2008

[4E] Parish Priests

[another post for the RPG Blog Carnival on Religion]

This post maybe should be considered an epilogue to my five-part series "The New Cleric is the Old Cleric", but you'll just have to take it for what it is. By the time I was done writing that series, one of the things I ended up convincing myself of was that priests did not have to be clerics, nor did clerics have to be priests, in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. This is because most of the non-combat 'magic' that might be relevant to parish priests could be thought of as ritualistic magic brought about by ceremony and tradition - not necessarily by fiery innate powers handed down by the gods on high. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, but one of the things I love about 4E is that Ritual Magic is available to any character class. This is why parish priests can easily be any class without necessarily breaking the RAW. All a character needs is skill in Religion and the Ritual Caster feat and they qualify.

So, two possibilities jump to mind. The first of which is that each of the core religions and deities presented in the 4E Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide could very well have legions of 'priests' who were fighters, rangers, rogues, warlocks, etc - depending on the tenets of their deity.

It could be that the priests of...
... Asmodeus are Evil warlocks and warlords.
... Avandra are Good bards and rogues.
... Bahamut are Lawful Good paladins and clerics.
... Bane are Evil fighters and paladins.
... Corellon are bards and rangers.
... Erathus are warlords and wizards.
... Gruumsh are Chaotic Evil barbarians and rogues.
... Ioun are artificers and wizards.
... Kord are barbarians and fighters.
... Lolth are rogues and warlocks.
... Melora are bards and rangers.
... Moradin are Lawful Good artificers and paladins.
... Pelor are Good paladins and rangers.
... The Raven Queen are clerics and wizards.
... Sehanine are bards and warlocks.
... Tharizdun are Chaotic Evil artificers and warlocks.
... Tiamat are Evil fighters and rogues.
... Torog are Evil fighters and wizards.
... Vecna are Evil clerics and wizards.
... Zehir are Evil rogues and warlocks.

Of course, the previous list are only suggestions of classes for parish priests. Any character class, NPC, or monster could act be a priest for any of these deities under the right circumstances. They should all have, however, two things in common: skill training in Religion and the Ritual Casting feat. If Religion is not available to them as a class skill, then the character should also choose the Skill Training (Religion) feat at first level. If the Ritual Casting feat is not a class feature for the character, then this feat should also be taken at first (or second) level. By second level, all characters who are parish priests should have both Religion skill training and the Ritual Casting feat. Some religions may also require additional skill training in Arcana, Healing, History, or Nature so that the appropriate rituals would be made available to the parish priest.

The second possibility that comes to mind is that the parish priest concept could easily be fully fleshed out as a multiclass character type - perhaps as a "Multiclass Priest"character type like the excellently written Multiclass Noble that is produced by Aleagames. Maybe if an artist out there wants to join forces with me, we could put something like this together... there are all kinds of cool 'powers' you could think of for a multiclass parish priest class...

Confessions of the Knife (standard; daily) • Divine, Implement
Close Burst 5, [Cha] vs. Will; the target must immediately drop all unconcealed weapons. Failure: the target is overcome with guilt and suffers a -5 penalty on attack rolls until the end of their next turn.

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November 18, 2008

The New Cleric is the Old Cleric (Part 5)

This series already covered the influence of how the rules-as-written shaped how clerics are roleplayed in OD&D (Part 1), 1E AD&D (Part 2), 2E AD&D (Part 3) and 3E D&D (Part 4). Yesterday I took a short break from this series to ask for volunteer Anthology Reviewers, but now in Part 5 we return and finally take a look at clerics in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. After a long, strange road, 4E clerics have arrived home again as dressed up, flashy versions of their OD&D predecessors. In my opinion, the designers have done a decent job of "reseting" the cleric back to a class that embodies the 'spirit' of what Gary Gygax intended while still appeasing those players who want it with the option to play back-row healers.
"Clerics are battle leaders who are invested with divine power. They blast foes with magical prayers, bolster and heal companions, and lead the way to victory with a mace in one hand and a holy symbol in the other. Clerics run the gamut from humble servants of the common folk to ruthless enforcers of evil gods." -- 4E Players Handbook.
In terms of combat, which is the general focus of 4E (like its OD&D predecessor), we can see that the cleric is no longer 'just the healer'. Instead, we are given a cleric who fights powerfully both at range and in melee, who's powers can deal damage while providing numerous beneficial or woeful secondary effects to friends or enemies alike, and who fight as a leader capable of delivering spot healing and other aid in times of trouble. The player whose character is the cleric is now free to focus on crushing skulls, smashing down doors, blasting enemies at range with scorching radiant lights, or even acting as an "off-tank" (to borrow a term from MMORPGs). The 4E PHB even suggests two archetypal 'builds' that players might play, each of which embody once face of the split-personality the cleric has suffered since 1E AD&D: 'The Battle Cleric' or 'The Devoted Cleric'.
"Battle Cleric: If you choose to concentrate on melee, you find a good assortment of strikes to your liking... Devoted Cleric: With this build, you choose to stand back and concentrate your abilities on keeping your fellow adventurers healthy and optimized" -- 4E Players Handbook.
Thus, in 4E your options are limited and gone are the multifaceted, endless possibilities (and endless power creep) for clerics that was the mode du jour for 3.5E D&D (not that it was necessarily a bad thing though).

Gone too are the requirements that clerics are the only ritual casters capable of raising the dead, removing curses, curing the sick, or relieving the diseased. The powerful ritual casting system in 4E allows for any character class, even fighters or barbarians, to fill those roles. Some might even argue that this sort of (Vancian?) magic is also in line with the original creators of the game - that magic was fantastic and there for the tampering by anyone so inclined to do so, regardless of 'class'. It also, more importantly, implies that clerics themselves are no longer shoehorned into being "priests". Community and parish priest NPCs can now easily be played by any character class (or even non at all) and not "break" the RAW. A priest of the God of Thievery does not need even a single level of cleric to be "believable", all they need are the right skills (e.g. Religion) and the right feats (e.g. Ritual Caster) and that's about it.

In terms of roleplaying, this aspect of 4th Edition blows down 20 years of building up the cleric as both a Holy Knight and a Priest and puts them back into the intersection between martial arms and spiritual mysteries.

I started this series with the aim of going in depth into the evolution of the cleric class through every major edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The title was chosen based on a feeling I had - the new 4E cleric just seemed like the OD&D cleric to me, but I couldn't put a finger on exactly what it was that convey this to me. Then it hit me...

In my previous post about clerics in the 3rd Edition D&D I mentioned that the lack of requirement for a deity was a cop-out. Here, to save you time, I'll even quote myself:
"To me, this always seemed like a cop out, and I always have required clerics to choose a deity - even it was a very minor one. This is because choosing a deity prompts the player to ask "What does my character cleric represent? What sort of ethos does she actively work to uphold?"" -- me, A few days ago.
Without the need to have clerics be the ceremonial purveyors of divine magic (i.e. ritual casters), there's also no need for them to be priests at all. In fact, Cook, Tweet and Williams had it right in 3rd Edition - but they were stuck with all the baggage of "clerics as priests", so the assertion that clerics did not need to choose deity seemed out of place in the 3E PHB (at least, from a 2E AD&D point of view). However, when this assertion is repeated in 4th Edition it seems completely appropriate:
"You have been invested with the authority to wield divine power on behalf of a deity, faith, or philosophy." -- 4th Edition Players Handbook.
Because clerics are not priests in 4th Edition and they do not need to choose a deity nor do they even need to be the sole purveyor of divine rituals. Of course, many cleric characters still do and are, but it is also perfectly natural in 4th Edition for cleric to simply draw their power from some inner force of 'divine' inspiration (e.g. a philosophy). In fact, you might even argue that, once invested with this divine source of power and conviction, it is internalized and becomes something that in inextricably part of that character. Something permanent.

This last point is supported by the fact that in 4th Edition cleric powers can not be stripped from the character, even by their own deity (if they have chosen one), once they have been invested with these divine powers.
"What you do with your powers once you are ordained is up to you, although if you flagrantly and openly defy your deity’s tenets, you quickly earn the enmity of the faithful." -- 4th Edition Players Handbook.
So clerics who are abusive of their powers will have to deal with the priests and their congregations - but they run zero risk of loosing their abilities. Compared to previous editions of D&D, where the DM was encouraged to laydown the law and enforce "correct" roleplaying and behavior for player clerics lest they loose their abilities, this seemingly subtle shift has deep implications. The prime effect is that it, once again, positions the 4E D&D cleric to be more similar to a holy knight than a parish priest. It mirrors the Templar or other crusading knights in medieval Europe - they are vested with divine authority to do whatever it takes to smite the infidels and whomever gets in their way in potentially in for a fight. As a result, they are feared by both the enemies of the Church and by the priests and congregants that make up its body.

Keeping all this in mind has a profound effect on the way clerics should be roleplayed in 4th Edition. They may be unable to rely on their own church for support. They very well may have official support, but be at odds with the local parish priest due to their "violent ways". They are no longer necessarily these pillars of the community that bridged the gap between the party and the people (as I suggested was the focus in 2E AD&D and 3E D&D).

No. The 4E D&D cleric is a bad-ass, and he doesn't take no for an answer.

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is still relatively young and much still remains to be seen. On July 29th, 2009 we will see the release of The Complete Divine - and presumably leading up to that release date there will be an outpouring of Dragon and Dungeon articles to support it. It will be interesting to see if the 4th Edition Cleric continues to be portrayed as a blazing fire-brand of conviction, or if the game designers will bring new "character builds" to the table that only serve to continue the cleric's 30-year identity crisis. I hope, instead, we may see a new class (such as a Mystic or a True Priest) that breaks from the mold of the militant priest and picks up where 2E AD&D was headed in remaking the cleric into a wise font of divinely inspired power. The true priest class would benefit from being much more like a Wizard (from any edition): armorless, yet someone not to be trifled with. If this turns out to be the case, then my original assertion will hold true (which I hope it does):

-- The New Cleric is the Old Cleric --

And with that... this series is finally at an end. I hope you enjoyed it.

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November 17, 2008

OPEN CALL for Volunteers!

There are two-weeks remaining for nominations to the 2008 Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs (December 1st is the last day). I am expecting the Anthology to be published in early 2009, but between now and then it is going to take a significant amount of "sweat equity" on my part. I am hoping that I might reduce some of my work load while bringing a level of impartiality to the project by recruiting several volunteers to help with various aspects of the project. Thus, as you might imagine, I will be looking for volunteers to help with is to act as Anthology Reviewers. This is an easy way for you to help shape the future of this project, and put a face on the RPG blogging community!

Once nominations close on December 1st, I will be looking at a list of 100 or more blog posts that will need to be 'scored' for content, creativity, and relevance (these are general terms, specific categories will be rolled out later). It is my hope that an semi-independent cohort of Anthology Reviewers can tackle the scoring of the nominated blog posts so that I can minimize my own bias as to what gets included into the Anthology itself. One goal of the Anthology is to bridge the gap between the RPG blogging community and the rest of the gaming community at large by producing a vetted body of work that is truly representational of our best talent. It is not my intention for this book to be a "Jonathan's Favorite RPG Bloggers" list. I hope you understand why this is important.

If you are willing to volunteer to be a Anthology Reviewer then please fill out the form below.

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November 16, 2008

The New Cleric is the Old Cleric (Part 4)

The 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons represented (in my opinion) the first massive overhaul of the entire game system. Gone were all the familiar trappings of AD&D like THAC0, complex saving throw tables, and complicated, often conflicting, rulings about combat and conflict resolution. Instead, the game was streamlined and re-engineered anew with a completely new set of complex and often conflicting and vague rules. The core mechanics of D&D had fundamentally changed, and thousands of veteran players were forced to revisit the often overlooked pages of the core rulebooks to learn the game, as if for the first time.

The "re-training" that was required also included aspects of the game beyond the mechanics (the 'crunch' if you will). Numerous examples abounded (too many to list here) that suggested that this new, younger team of designers had not only reimagined the ruleset, but they had also reimagined what Dungeons & Dragons was. The core "fluff" had evolved far beyond that of AD&D and the last vestiges of wargaming that remained in AD&D were now nothing more than shadows.

In this series of posts, I am examining the evolution of the cleric character class through each edition of the game as part of my contribution to this months RPG Blog Carnival on Religion. In my previous post I presented my interpretation of the 2nd edition AD&D cleric and prior to that I examined the cleric in 1E AD&D and OD&D. By the time the cleric arrives in 3rd Edition, it has come quite far. In this edition, the cleric class stands on the shoulders of its predecessors but clearly establishes itself as being distinct.

In the 3E Players Handbook, the introduction of the cleric class is broken up into seven sections: Adventures, Characteristics, Alignment, Religion, Background, Races, and Other Classes. For the first time, right off the bat, players are presented with a sizable chunk of material for how to roleplay their character in the (then) new D&D game. The "fluff" came first, and the mechanics of the class followed. Careful reading of the introduction to clerics in the 3E Players Handbook sets this rendition of the class apart from previous editions.
"Clerics sometimes receive orders, or at least suggestions, from their ecclesiastical superiors, directing them to undertake missions for the church. They and their companions are compensated fairly for these missions, and the church may be especially generous with casting of spells or divine magic items as payment." -- 3E Players Handbook.
This further expands on the emphasis that was placed by 2E AD&D on the cleric's implicit role as a bridge between the adventuring party and the community in which they operate. The point is further echoed in the 3E Dungeon Masters Guide.
"Cleric: Most clerics have an organizational structure built right into their class. Religions usually have hierarchies, and each cleric has his place within the structure. Clerics may be assigned duties by their churches, or they might be free agents. Clerics can serve in the military of an aristocrat sanctioned by their religion, or within some autonomous church-based military order established for defense. A high-level cleric can hope to one day be the shepherd of his own congregation and temple, although some become religious advisors to aristocrats or the leaders of communities of their own, with the people of the community looking to the cleric for religious and temporal guidance..." -- 3E Dungeon Masters Guide.
Thus 3E clerics are (probably) part of a larger organization which could be a boon to a fledgling adventuring troupe looking for work (i.e. 'missions'). While this was no doubt a source of many adventures in previous AD&D games I ran, it was never anything codified by the rules-as -written. Using the cleric's church seems like an easy "out" for DMs looking to provide unneeded extra resources to a party and not having work hard for it. But, this trend (power creep galore) was one of my biggest complaints with 3E D&D; I digress. Either way, it is a significant emphasis, and the having clerics that are not part of a larger organization was the exception in 3E. Basically, the RAW is saying "Your Cleric Will Belong To An Organization Controlled By Your DM", and this could be a good or bad thing depending on how your DM runs it.

Another important change to clerics is clarified by the following:
"Some clerics devote themselves not to a god but to a cause or a source of divine power. These clerics wield magic the way clerics devoted to individual gods do, but they are not associated with a religious institution or a particular practice of worship." -- 3E Players Handbook (2000).
To me, this always seemed like a cop out, and I always have required clerics to choose a deity - even it was a very minor one. This is because choosing a deity prompts the player to ask "What does my character cleric represent? What sort of ethos does she actively work to uphold?" By leaving the requirement out, players might conclude they are not required to state upfront what they represent beyond being their alignment. It was also gold to any munchkin player who wanted to combine two powerful spell domains together and reap the benefits of both. It was weak, in my opinion, and they should have left this bit up to houserules and homebrew. Once something is included in the RAW - players will usually seek to exploit it. Of course, I'm a immersion / roleplaying guy - so I'm sure the hack'n slash crowd loved this.

So I mentioned "domains" above. These new domains of power (each cleric had two) opened up a vast array of additional spell-like powers for the characters. In addition, it provided a means to finely tune your characters development and "image". With a real need to choose a deity or religion, the two "best" domains were always chosen. Usually this choice was made at level 1, with the aim to meet the qualifying requirements of some Super Badass prestige class. By the time 3.5E D&D was closing shop, there were literally dozens of prestige classes for clerics to choose from. DOZENS! It was a min/maxer player's dream come true.

Spell acquisition was relaxed even further from 2E AD&D, where we saw the removal of 'face time with your god' for high level spells. In 3rd Edition, clerics merely pray for a short time and its done.
"Clerics do not acquire their spells from books or scrolls, nor prepare them through study. Instead, they meditate or pray for their spells, receiving them through their own strength of faith or as divine inspiration. Each cleric must ... spend an hour each day ... to regain his daily allotment of spells ... Time spent resting has no effect on whether a cleric can prepare spells." -- 3E Players Handbook (2000).
So, 1 hour is all that was needed, and the preparation could only happen during a specified time during the day (e.g. in the morning) although there was no requirement for rest before hand. Note that spell books are specifically mentioned as out of the picture; quite a long walk from OD&D where clerics memorized spells just at Magic-Uers did.

The other big change to spell casting came from the introduction of "spontaneous casting" of healing spells. This new mechanic for 3E allowed clerics to focus on other things, like being a cleric in the game world instead of just a heal-bot (which is what AD&D clerics were often relegated to).

It is also importarnt to draw attention to something that was completely omitted in the 3rd edition Players Handbook - the issue of stronghold building. In every previous edition of the game each entry in the PHB that described a character class included a detailed synopsis of the types of strongholds the character could construct. Clerics, in particular, were always particulary good at attracting followers and recieved a discount on the costs for stronghold construction (as you might expect they would). In 3E D&D, these "rewards" were relegated to the backwaters of Chapter 9 in the PHB under a section titled "Other Rewards". This was very surprising to me - mainly because in all the previous editions of the game this was the goal of character advancement. In addition to being a do-gooder hero type, each PC was expected to build a stronghold for themselves at some point. The 3E Dungeon Masters guide does present rules for acquiring followers (Leadership feat) and some vague info on strongholds for high-level characters, but it seemed obvious to me that the newer, younger game designers did not think this was an important aspect of the game. They may have had a change of heart when The Stronghold Builders Guide was released late in the 3.5 development cycle, but it still fell under the umbrella of optional. Oh well...

In summary, the background and campaign role for the standard cleric also placed them solidly as one person that was part of a larger organization. The clerics church was not intended to be some vague institution that could be whatever you wanted it to be when you called upon it - but it was supposed to be given nearly as much background development as the character themselves. Whereas, the mechanics of the 3E cleric seemed to be all about min/maxing abilities and having tons of character options options options - the spirit of 3E D&D aimed to limit those options and abilities based on the players design choices for his character's church and religion. For example, just because there might have been a very cool prestige class
"The Faithful Lazer Cleric" - this prestige class should only be available to the character if it is part of their church or religion's design (oh, and there's this Order of the Lazer that I could join later in my career). I guess what I'm trying to say here is that although 3E is often thought of as a min/maxing carnival for power gamers, the narrative aspects of the game were intended balance this by acting to limit which options were available to player characters and thereby limit power gamer abuse.

So, that's about it for 3E clerics. In the next post in the series, we will finally arrive at 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and take a close look at clerics intended role in this latest reimagining of the game. Until then, game on!

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