Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Replacement D&D - Part the Second! or Fantastic Fantasy Setting for 5e D&D!

I'm not a fan of Tolkien.

It's true.

Sure, he created an elaborate world full of detail and a rich history. He also created some cool languages that are spoken only on film and at Cons. But his writing is slow and bogged down with irrelevant detail and the pacing of the storytelling suffers from his inability to make editing choices. The enduring popularity of the stories of Middle Earth is tied up in its influence on the original and subsequent versions of Dungeons and Dragons. The playable races and character classes are straight out of the fellowship (party) that came together to destroy the terrible ring.

Because D&D went on to influence and inspire a generation of writers, game designers and other entertainers, fantasy including elves, dwarves and hobbits became the the norm. We get a standard fantasy with these archetypes and it seems like we can't escape it. I understand that D&D has to keep these things as it renews itself because it's part of the expectation set 40 years ago. I don't expect D&D to abandon a part of the foundation it's built on. I am constantly surprised though when I see new games and settings that hold to these expectations and include these archetypes with one or two additions. Why are elves and dwarves crammed into every new thing, even when they don't fit?

I'm not invested in the generic brand of fantasy that grew out of this situation. Tolkien was not my first fantasy. I didn't read the Lord of the Rings until my 20s and I never even finished the first book because I didn't have the patience for it. My first experiences with a fantasy novel was Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea. My fantasy experience before D&D included the myths and legends of the Norse and Celts where elves were monsters that stole people and the Greek myths full of meddling gods, monsters and magic. So when I first read the D&D descriptions of the "demi-humans" back in 1983 it was all new and completely original to me.

It's all wearing a little thin now.

In my last post I was talking about the first of two things I wanted to have ready in case my regular game had a cancellation. This post is the one I promised last time that is all about taking 5e D&D in a different direction from the minimalist approach I went with before. Fantasy should be fantastic! The players should have their expectations challenged! The world they explore should be new and exciting!

It is important to note that at the time I write this the Dungeon Masters' Guide is not yet available and I haven't purchased the Monster Manual yet. Both of those, especially the DMG, will likely give me some news ideas. That just means there's another post in this idea.

Fantasy Setting for 5e D&D: the Last World


I like how the early D&D was shaken up every once in a while with injections of super-science and ancient crashed spaceships. I also love the flavour of Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories so I set my world into a far future where a human, interplanetary empire has collapsed and the self-induced cataclysm that caused it has led to the rise of magic. This world is the survivor, the Last World.

The Last World has dragons but they have a few differences from what the players may be expecting. The main thing is there are no adult dragons. All the dragons on the Last World are juveniles. By the time a dragon grows to adulthood it loses it's wings and leaves the world to travel the stars as a celestial dragon. Such a dragon is ancient and colossal. When it first reaches adulthood a dragon is the size of a city (like Manhattan) and will continue to grow. All the dragons on the Last World are from the same spawning, but they hatch at different times, even thousands of years apart so they are all different ages. There is currently only one dragon close to adulthood lairing in the large desert in the east. He may even be within a couple of hundred years of moulting his wings and ascending. The colour of a dragon has no bearing on its abilities and it is as likely to have one breath weapon or alignment as any other. As they age, dragons sometimes manifest extra breath weapons when they approach maturity.

The empire of humanity made the closest dimension, the one used for interplanetary travel, impossible to enter cutting its far-flung empire of planets off from each other and their enemies. The destruction of warpspace forced a long-running galactic war into stalemate. A desperate but effective way to keep them from losing. The gambit had some unfortunate side effects though. The worst and most obvious was the rush of dimensional energy that entered the universe through the warp gates. This energy engulfed many planets, rolling across the worlds like massive storms, mutating the inhabitants and twisting reality.

On the Last World the dimensional energy is held back from the inhabited areas by a mountain range circling an area approximately the size of North America. Even contained, it still allows people inside the ring to access the energy to cast magical spells. The  massive conflagration of warpspace also thinned the veil separating the Last World from the feywild. The feywild wasn't damaged but this circumstance is what makes natural magic used by druids and rangers so potent and the reason curious fey creatures were able to cross-over.

Playable Races


Humans

The humans of the last world are a strange mixture of features and cultures offering almost limitless variety for play. They are pretty much as they are in the Players Handbook. Players can use the +1 for all stats but it is more fitting to use the two +1s, feat and additional skill to help fit them into the Last World.

It was the policy of the Empire to place colonies of a single culture on a planet, but the Last World was colonized in the final days of the empire and several cultural colonies were seeded onto this world out of expedience. In the unnumbered millennia since the Collapse these cultures have grown, mixed, risen and fallen. The result is the current mosaic of humanity living in various technology levels from the bronze age to the early modern era.

There is no common language for humanity and all player character humans start with one human dialect and any other one language.

[Image by Koutanagamouri - DeviantArt]

The Dragonkin

The reptilians lived on the Last World before the humans colonised it. It was the policy of the empire never to colonise planets inhabited with sentient creatures, but in the final days of the empire they were desperate to spread the seed of humanity as far as possible and certain reports were overlooked in the name of expedience. The lizard people, who refer to themselves as the dragonkin, believe they were taught the language of magic by the Celestial Dragon that spawned the Last World with dragon eggs in exchange for their word that they would not destroy any of the eggs and do their best to help her children once they hatched. All dragons are born knowing this is true and will not attack a dragonkin without provocation, although dragons are alien creatures with alien values and easily provoked.

Dragonkin live in clan groups where all tasks are given to the most qualified. This organisation means child-rearing and teaching is usually done by the elders while the younger dragonkin tend to the more physical tasks.

Dragonkin have two fingers and one opposable thumb on each hand. Feet have two toes and a dewclaw.

Ability Score Increase: Dexterity and Constitution are increased by 1.

Age: Dragonkin mature into adults around age 35 and can live to be 800-900 years old before dying of old age. Their scales start to lose their colour after 700 so an ancient dragonkin (around 1000 years old) would be completely grey or even bleached bone white.

Sex: Dragonkin can be both male and female during their lifetime and are only a particular sex when part of a mated group (usually a pair). The rest of the time the sex of a dragonkin translates as: "potential."

Size: Dragonkin range in height from 1.5 to 2 metres or 5 to 6-and-a-half feet and have slim, wiry builds. Their tales are typically as long as they are tall.

Speed: Base walking speed is 35 feet.

Reptile Brain: Dragonkin have advantage on saving throws against charm and cannot be put to sleep.

Dreamtime: Dragonkin do not sleep. Instead they enter a meditative state where they share dreams with all the people of their clan no matter how far away they might be. This allows the clan to share in each others' experiences, learn and heal together as a community. The majority of dragonkin only enter dreamtime for 4 hours in a day but the elders will slide into it for 8-12 hours. This circumstance means adventuring dragonkin and those entrusted with protecting the community at night will not enter dreamtime alone.

Scaly Hide: Dragonkin have a base Armour Class of 12.

Claws: As an action they can make a single claw attack for 1d4 slashing damage.

Magical Background: All dragonkin learn the basics of magic and can cast two cantrips from the Wizard spell list. Intelligence is used for spellcasting. Wizards, Eldritch Knights and Arcane tricksters also start knowing one extra first level Wizard spell.

Languages: Dragonkin, Draconic and one human dialect

Subgroups:

The dragonkin live in two distinct groups on the Last World. There are the plains dragonkin of the grassy hills and plains of the central savannah and the mountain dragonkin of the northwestern Worldspine Mountains. they have lived separately for almost as long as their recorded history and share a common language. They do not know why they parted ways.

Mountain, or High Dragonkin:

Mountain Dragonkin live in the coastal cities of the Worldspine Mountains. They range throughout the mountains and are skilled metalworkers although the mines are usually manned by human slaves. These dragonkin tend to be dark green to almost black in colour.

Ability Score Increase: Intelligence score increases by 1.

Weapon Training: Proficiency with Scimitars, Light Crossbows and Heavy Crossbows.

Extra Languages: Any one bonus language.

Plains or Natural Dragonkin:

The dragonkin of the plains build ziggurats for the protection of their communities. These great earthen terraces rise out of the plains and the larger ones can be seen from great distances. These are often used by merchants to guild themselves safely across the plains. Plains dragonkin tend to be lighter green, brown and tan in colour. They don't work any metal of their own but often trade for it. They make their tools out of bone, ceramic, glass and wood.

Ability Score Increase: Wisdom score is increased by 1 and dexterity score is increased by and additional 1 (for a total of 2).

Weapon Training: Proficiency in Spear, Shortbow and Longbow.

Fleet of Foot: Base walking speed is 40.

Extra Languages: Any two human dialects. The merchant caravans flowing through the plains brings these dragonkin into contact with many people.

Kobold

The Koboldi Grand Federation was the enemy humanity burned warpspace to avoid since surrender meant enslavement. A Koboldi battlecruiser was approaching the Last World for an attack run that would destroy all life when the dimensional energy ripped out of the local warpgate during the Collapse and crippled the ship. They were forced to crash land and were lucky enough to end up within the protection of the ring of mountains. They crashed in the northern mountains and it was hundreds of years before they expanded their population enough to come into contact with the local human and dragonkin peoples. They spent that time reworking their technology to work on the now corrupted, yet plentiful dimensional energy.  They had limited success but also learned many secrets that allowed them to begin arcane spellcasting.

Contact with other races led to new experiments in biomancy in the ship's biovats. Among other things, they created the warrior races of goblins and hobgoblins. When the humans and dragonkin learned the secret of the origin of these abominations a war of extermination began. The kobolds lost under the the weight of numbers despite their superior technology. Some escaped into the tunnels and caverns beneath the mountains while others piled what they could into the ship's escape pods and fired them into the southern jungles where they gathered and formed a new empire. That empire eventually shattered. The details on why are lost to history but what is known is the flying city that served as its capitol is ruined, lost and said to be overrun with demons.

Kobolds are short, hairless humanoids with a crown of horns on their heads. Their skin tends to be a light tan to dark brown colour with a reddish tinge. They have three fingers and an opposable thumb on each hand. Their feet have four toes each. They have no noses and smell with scent glands inside their large mouths.

Ability Score Increase: Constitution score is increased by 1.

Age: They mature by age 20 and usually live 300 years before succumbing to old age.

Sex: Kobolds have four sexes: male, female, shaper and carrier. All kobolds have the potential to be a carrier and this trait can be awaked by a shaper. The majority of kobold sexual organs are in the mouth and neck so they are nearly impossible for other races to recognize. They are also a bit horrified by how casually the humans kiss each other as it closely resembles their reproductive rituals.

Speed: Base walking speed of 25.

Darkvision: The horns on their heads are actually hearing cones and the kobolds can use them to see in the dark (including magical darkness) up to 120 feet using sonar. They can use ambient sound but also whistle to get sharp clarity. Obviously, they cannot use this ability to see colour.

Languages: Koboldi, Goblin and any one other language.

Subgroups:

Koboldan, or Low Kobolds

The low kobolds are the descendants of the group that fled underground. They were hunted relentlessly by the dragonkin, who eventually killed all of their adult shapers, biomancers and spellcasters. Even now they distrust magic and fear it brings bad luck. They live in family-based clans in underground strongholds and trade metals and crafted metal items with the humans on the surface of the western mountains.

Size: Usually 4-5 feet tall and approximately 150 pounds with a stout, muscled build. They are medium creatures.

Ability Score Modifier: Strength is increased by 2.

Resilience: Advantage on saving throws against poison damage.

Weapon Training: Proficiency with Battleaxe, Handaxe, Throwing Hammers and Warhammer.

Armour Training: Proficiency with light and medium armour.

Koboldin, or High Kobolds

The high kobolds are descended from the ones that travelled to the southern jungles in the escape pods. Their great empire shattered, they now live in small communities in great spires that tower out of the jungle or cling to the cliffs of the southern mountains. They are smaller than their cousins and rely on magic, skill and cunning to maintain their scattered domains. They are still served by some of the ferl and feraline they originally created.

Size: 3-4 feet tall with builds running from wiry to pudgy (40-90 pounds). They are small creatures.

Ability Score Modifier: Intelligence is increased by 2.

Artificer's Lore: Double proficiency bonus on history checks related to alchemical objects, magic items and technology.

Crafters: Proficiency with any one set of artisan's tools.

Cunning: Advantage on charisma, intelligence and wisdom saving throws against magic.

Rudimentary Biomancy: Know 2 cantrips from the druid list. Use intelligence for casting these spells.

Extra Languages: Any two other languages.

[Image by Koutanagamouri - DeviantArt]

Ferl:

The ferl are the creation of ancient kobold biomancers. The higher arts of biomancy are lost now so it is unlikely that new races of creatures will emerge. The ferl are furry humanoids with wolflike heads. They are cooperative and fierce. They were bread as warriors to enforce the will of the Koboldi empire that once stretched from the southern mountains through the jungles and all the way to the Werewood and Middle Sea. Now the majority of them roam free in packs, concentrated in the vast darkness of the Werewood. The free ferl refer to themselves as Ferlak.

Ferl have four-fingered hands with an opposable thumb and feet with four toes and a dew claw.

Ability Score Modifier: Strength score is increased by 2 and constitution score is increased by 1.

Age: Ferl mature quickly, growing to adulthood in only 12 years. They rarely live to see much more than 60 years old though.

Sex: They are born as male or female. Females develop six mammaries when they are nursing pups which they tend to have in litters of four to eight. Sexual organs are mostly retracted when not in use.

Size: Larger than humans, but still medium creatures, ferl are typically well over 6 feet tall. They have an athletic build and tend to be heavier than a human of the same height.

Speed: They are fleet of foot and have a base walking speed of 35 feet.

Natural Weapons: As an action, a ferl can make a single claw attack for 1d4 slashing damage. If they hit with a claw attack they can make a bite attack as a bonus action for 1d6 piercing damage but cannot add any positive ability modifier to that damage.

Darkvision: Their keen night vision gives them the ability to see in dim light up to 60 feet as if it were bright light and the same distance in total darkness as though it were dim light. They cannot differentiate colours while using night vision.

Keen Senses: Proficient in Perception.

Fearsome: Proficient in Intimidation.

Ferocious Endurance: When reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, ferl can drop to 1 hit point instead, provided they make a successful constitution save.

Languages: Ferl know the goblin and ferl languages.

[Image by Koutanagamouri - DeviantArt]


Feraline:


The feraline are also the creation of ancient kobold biomancers. They were created to oversee the ferl. They were gifted with increased intelligence, independence and natural leadership ability. The feraline are a race of short-furred humanoids with catlike heads and long manes. Few still serve the kobolds. The free feraline now live small treetop villages in the southern jungles, although many also live alone and in mated pairs. Their natural grace and beauty also makes them excellent entertainers and those that make their way north often join travelling troupes of performers or circuses.

They have four fingers and an opposable thumb with retractable claws on each hand. Their feet have five toes with retractable claws as well.

Ability Score Modifier: Dexterity score is increased by 2 and charisma score is increased by 1.

Age: Feraline mature and age at a pace similar to humans, growing into adulthood around 16 and capable of living to be more than 100 years old.

Sex: Here feraline are closely matched to humans as well with the development of males and females.

Size: Anywhere from 5 to 6 feet tall with a lithe, athletic build.

Speed: Base walking speed is 30 feet.

Claws: Feraline can make a claw attack for 1d3 slashing damage as an action. Extending retracted claws is a bonus action.

Darkvision: Their keen night vision gives them the ability to see in dim light up to 60 feet as if it were bright light and the same distance in total darkness as though it were dim light. They cannot differentiate colours while using night vision.

Keen Senses: Proficient in Perception.

Lucky: Feraline have an additional 1 hit point added to their maximum total per level.

Catlike Reflexes: Proficient with Acrobatics, also rolls acrobatics for climbing checks.

Languages: Feraline know goblin, feraline and any one additional language.

Dragonkind:

Dragonkind are not a race but more of a particular abomination. They cannot reproduce themselves and would not choose to do so even if they could. They are cursed.

Some cultures believe there is a celestial dragon sleeping under the mountain range that circles the inhabited lands and that is what is really protecting life on the Last World from the dimensional energy. The Dragon Cult in particular believes this and has built a temple in the east where they believe the dragon's head is. The temple is designed to cause the singing in the temple to resonate deep into the rock and they sing praise and inducements to sleep to the great dragon lest she wake and destroy the world.

An extreme offshoot of the Dragon Cult called the Keepers believes the dragon will only stay as long as its children are on the world. As soon as the last one moults its wings and ascends into space, the original celestial dragon will shake off the mountains and follow her children back into space. To stop them from aging and to make them easier to control the Keepers created a magical ritual that binds the dragons into a new form. One that does not age and cannot mature into a celestial dragon.

Dragon blood is used to seal the ritual and it cannot be dispelled or reversed. The dragonkind are forced into the shape of an ordinary human while retaining the essence of their draconic nature. They still bleed the black blood of a dragon, their eyes do not change colour and their nails tend to be the colour of the their former scales. They are restricted to their mundane human capabilities. They still have the genetic knowledge of a dragon but have trouble accessing it with their human brains. They are still innately magical but need to relearn how to harness that power.

They appear to be fully grown young adults but are juvenile dragons and as such are not fertile. They are exotic, graceful and strangely compelling. They appear to be normal, albeit slightly weird humans.

Ability Score Modifier: Charisma score is increased by 2, dexterity score is increased by 1 and intelligence score is increased by 1.

Age: Immune to all aging effects and functionally immortal. Appears as young adult human.

Sex: As adult human but sterile.

Size: As human.

Speed: Base walking speed is 30 feet.

Keen Senses: Proficient in Perception and able to detect magic at will.

Innate Magic: Choose two cantrips from the Sorcerer list. Use Charisma as casting ability. These are extra cantrips if the character is a sorcerer. Dragonkind sorcerers also start knowing one extra first level spell.

Draconic Knowledge: Proficient in Arcana, History and Religion.

Draconic Nature: Is the only race that can take the draconic origin for the Sorcerer Class. The draconic abilities that come with increased levels are manifestations of the character's draconic nature that comes from focussing on learning to use draconic abilities in human form.

Languages: Draconic and any three other languages.

Resilient: Even in this fragile form, dragons are hard to kill. Maximum hit points are increased by 1 hit point per level.

Hunted: The character has escaped from the Keepers. They will never forget and will always continue to search for all dragonkind so they can lock them away and keep them safe. Harvesting small amounts of blood for their magical rituals.

Tieflings:

When humanity collapsed warpspace they burned the reality of that dimension and transformed it into hell. Only the most powerful and terrible entities survived. They understood where the attack originated from and are bent on destroying the universe of the Last World out of vengeance. These fiends gained a foothold on the Last World by promising power to a small group of foolish humans. These humans and all who came after them were changed by that pact and the fiends of hell are one step closer to realizing their ultimate goal.

All features of the Tiefling race are unchanged in the Last World.

Character Classes:

Most of the character classes are unchanged but there are some tweaks and clarifications. I think I might leave that for another post since it's all tied up in the setting material.


There it is. The #LastWorld that has existed only in a scattered collection of notes for three different gaming systems in composition books and electronic documents. These are the basics my group needs to make characters and get going in an adventure. If there's interest, I'll include more posts and I'll probably write about what I learn from playing it out with the group regardless.

The chains of standard fantasy are broken.