Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Succubi Suck!

The succubus of 1e AD&D is the stuff of jokes because of the picture. Still, she was a classic femme fatale, able to lure the innocent to their doom with a come-hither gaze, copious charm spells, and a deadly kiss. She suffered from being rather fragile in a toe-to-toe fight (unless she could summon in some help), was yet another good reason for PCs to be constantly paranoid, and, honestly, was eclipsed by the more flexible and dangerous lamia.

When WotC took over,the succubus’ repertoire got broadened. She became the ultimate spy, an expert in such skills as bluffing, intimidation, impersonation, and investigation. Toss in her magical powers and she could become the true power behind the throne, a sort of Grima Wormtongue with more sex appeal.

So, what did WotC do with the succubus in 5e?

Frankly, I’m not sure.

Oh, I have the MM. She (and the incubus) are on pages 284 and 285. The flavor text talks about the succubus infiltrating the dreams of a chosen victim in order to weaken their moral resolve. That might be a fun thing to play, or a neat little side-plot to a more developed adventure (“Why is Brother Anselm always looking so tired these days? And why is he so cranky?”). It’s not, however, the sort of thing D&D adventures are typically made of. Nor is her sleep-invading power defined in any way, so exactly how you thwart it is really up to the DM.

She’s got great Deception and Persuasion skill bonuses (+9) and a good Insight bonus (+5) to back them up. But while those skills are exceptional, they’re hardly supernatural. She can still shift her form. But she’s lost all her magical abilities like suggestion except for her charm power.

Which can only be used on a single person at a time.

And only lasts 24 hours at most.

And then, when it ends, can’t be used again on the same individual for another 24 hours.

A harem of inc/succubi could be a really annoying additional obstacle in a fight; you're here to kill the Grand Warlock, but while you're attempting to put the hurt on him, his whatever-cubi buddies are hanging out in the ethereal, tossing charms and popping into the material world just long enough to drop 5d10+5 points of slobbery kootie damage on someone. But, frankly, is that cooler than a wand of lightning bolts, a flock of pet harpies, or a pair of amorous red slaadi?

To put it bluntly, I’m a bit at a loss as to what I’m supposed to do with this critter. She’d probably be most effective popping in, charming some NPC, then going ethereal while she interrogates her new best friend via her telepathic bond that can bridge planes. Useful, sure, but it would seem you could replace the monster with a nifty spell or two. Like scrying.

Scrying is one of the powers the lamia has, in addition to suggestion. She can also toss geas once per day. Her intoxicating touch, while nowhere near as potent as the old Wisdom-draining one, is a lot more fun and useful than the succubus’ boring kiss (which does nothing but deal damage and can only be used on someone she’s charmed, and even then gives the target another saving throw to break out of the charm).

The only thing that the succubus has over the lamia is the ability to go ethereal. It’s a neat trick that will allow the succubus to escape certain death most of the time (until the PCs get a way to thwart it). Whether that allows for a cool repeating villain or creates an annoying and not-fun headache for the players will depend on careful play by the DM.

As for me, right now I’m tempted to replace every inc/succubus with a lamia. They’re both rated at Challenge 4, the lamia has more neat tricks in her bag, and she’s much more likely to come across as challenging rather than annoying.

Monday, February 23, 2015

You're Not Wearing That Tonight, Are You?

Or, 10 Random Facts About Kyma.

Kiel Chenier suggested we share ten “random” facts about our campaigns that make them unique. The campaign that I’m getting the most play in now is my face-to-face 5e game. It’s a (mostly) urban game, taking place in a metropolis that’s heavily inspired by ancient Babylon, medieval Constantinople, and fantasy cities like Sanctuary. The urban random encounter tables I’ve been posting were made for this game.

This was my first attempt at running a 5e game, so a lot of things are fairly bog-standard. I didn’t create any special classes or races, and I made room for all the things that were in the PHB.

However, that still left a lot of space for me to put my own spin on things. Here are ten examples of that:

  1. Orcish Manhood: when a male orc reaches a certain age, he is tried by his clan, found guilty of being a feral beast, and banished. He must then prove his worth to another clan before he’s allowed to join it and fully be accepted as an adult orc. Typically, it’s the females of the tribe who’ve successfully raised sons to the point where they’ve been banished whose approval must be won. Kyma is thus home to a steady population of young orcs looking to win gold, fame, and steel in the city by whatever means necessary. They often end up fighting in the colosseum, acting as thugs to those with money, or forming fraternal gangs in the city’s expansive sewers and catacombs. If orcish females are about, one or more of these “juvenile” males won’t be far away, looking for an opportunity to prove his mettle.
  2. Warlocks: most citizens of Kyma believe that warlockery is illegal. Technically, this isn’t true. What is illegal is fraternizing and dealing with demons, devils, and other inhabitants of the “Lower Planes.” Those whose powers derive from an Archfey are not in violation of the law. Technically, neither are those who’ve turned to the alien Great Old Ones. However, since most folks can’t really tell the difference between a demon and a Great Old One, the distinction rarely saves a warlock from being burned at the stake. However, the warlocks can easily tell, and those who serve Fiends and those who serve Outsiders revile each other. Violence is common when they can get away with it while not drawing too much attention to themselves.
  3. Paladins: in 5e, these come in three flavors. On the streets of Kyma, they come in four flavors. Those who take the Oath of the Ancients serve the Fey Powers. They tend to be hedonists with hearts of gold, and if you think Fandral or Volstagg from The Warriors Three, you won’t be far wrong.
  4. Most paladins who take the Oath of Devotion join the priesthood of Xithras the Defender. When not slaying monsters and routing the undead, they turn themselves to rooting out the warping powers of Transmutation magic. Feeling that the “natural” forms of creatures is sacred, anything that threatens that purity is anathema, even the use of potions fashioned from minotaur milk to enhance fertility. As an organization, they are distrustful of tieflings, seeing them as living examples of the horrors that await anyone who starts down the slippery slope of magical enhancement.
  5. The Hasheeshins of Skotas the Hidden take the Oath of Vengeance. They seek to pierce the veils of lies and illusions people cloak themselves in via the use of powerful hallucinogens. The line between dream and reality is of vital interest to Hasheeshins, and thus they have a harder time of perceiving it than most. However, where others assume, the Hasheeshin looks deeply, and is more likely to root out hidden truths.
  6. The paladins of Phaedre, goddess of War and Love, are all women (though not all were born that way). They can swear the oaths of Devotion or Vengeance. All sorts of rumors swirl around their mysterious rituals and practices: that they are cannibals, that they will remain forever young so long as they bathe in the blood of their goddess’ enemies, that any man who slays one of these Warriors of the Red Dawn will sire a daughter who will be his death. Phaedre’s paladins do little to discourage the rumors.
  7. Calendar: Kyma exists in a sub-tropical zone with monsoon-dominated weather patterns. The calendar I used is a modified version of this one.
  8. Elves: have words, rituals, and patterns to accommodate a large array of what humans would call romantic relationships, from one-night-stands to lifebonds (until death do them part) and even soulbonds (which persist through this life and into the next). What humans would more easily recognize as marriage does exist, but is usually contracted for a period of years divisible by seven. Tradition favors seven, 49, and 210 years. This is the most common arrangement for the raising of children. The most famous such relationship was between Kyma’s great sultan Zafir and the elven princess Kosmyna. It was a time of strong unity between the humans and the elves. Unfortunately, Zafir was slain during a campaign against the tiefling Sea Princes. When word of his death reached Kyma, the harem exploded in a frenzy of bloodletting and murder. Kosmyna was among the first to die. Kosmyna’s homeland, the coastal city-state Galazos, declared war against Kyma. In spite of gifts and abject apologies from a number of sultans over the decades, Kyma's ships still keep a sharp eye out for vengeful elven corsairs. After all, a marriage that took place 88 years ago may seem like ancient history to most humans, but is within the living memory of all adult elves.
  9. Fashion Tips for Men: Pants, and pretty much any bifurcated garment, are seen as barbaric in Kyma. A man in trousers is making a statement, being publicly humiliated, or doesn’t know any better.
  10. Yuppie Street Violence: dominated by middle-class artisans, the Terraces are a bustle of noise and industry during the day and a bustle of noise and revelry (mostly by the artisans’ apprentices) in the night. The streets are mostly clear of crime and gangs from the other parts of the city because the apprentices are quick to defend what they consider their turf (unless they’re busy in guild-vs-guild shenanigans and rumbles). Most of the ruckus dies down by midnight, when the apprentices have either settled into their favorite taverns (the Terraces sport a wide range of them) or moved on to the Night Blooms to spend what coin they’ve managed to scrounge up.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Brandon Liao

Just added a new artist to my art links on the right: Brandon Liao.

His work has a very Numenera-ish feel to me, a sort of '70s-80s-era Saturday-Morning-Cartoons-grown-up feel I find pleasantly inspiring.

You can also see his stuff over at Deviant Art under madspartan013.