Saturday, September 25, 2021

Advanced Dungeons and Dragaerans

(Despite the name, this is for 5e; I just found the title humorous.)

This is specifically meant to emulate Steven Brust's Dragaera novels... an extremely high-magic setting, where being brought back to life is easy enough that assassination comes in three varieties, including one meant as an expensive warning, where telepathic communication across great distances is commonplace, and where teleporting is pretty simple to manage. Someone asked Steven about rules for it, he said "It would be cool if someone did that", and I wrote the magic system while going to pick up my roommate from work, and then jammed it all together.

Notes about Classes:
Certain classes are largely inappropriate for games set on Dragaera, or especially within the Dragaeran Empire. Others require consideration for how they work.

Barbarian: There will be very few barbarians among the Dragaerans in the modern age; perhaps some Berzerkers among the Dzur. They may be found among the Easterners, but would be quite rare and exotic.

Bard: A somewhat respectable choice among the Dragaerans, bards would nonetheless use the rules for Sorcery, not their own Bardic spells (though they would still receive spell slots).

Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Ranger: The divine magic of these classes has no place on Dragaera; relationships with the Gods are more akin to the pacts of Warlocks than the devotion of clerics.

Fighters: Champions, Battlemasters, and Eldritch Warriors are all acceptable among the Dragaerans. Note that armor is very uncommon among the Dragaerans (and those Easterners raised within the Empire), due to its ineffectiveness against the ubiquitous magic. As such, Fighters may choose to forgo proficiency in Medium and Heavy armors, and instead gain the Barbarian or Monk’s Unarmored Defense trait.

Monk: While not strictly forbidden, a Monk would be a highly unusual character within Dragaera. However, such disciplines as the Way of the Open Hand or the Way of the Kensai might be found among houses such as Lyorn or Athyra.

Rogue: Rogues require no modification in Dragaeran campaigns.

Sorcerer: Despite the use of the term “sorcery”, the closest thing to the class “Sorcerer” that has been observed in Dragaera might be those with the genetic potential to make use of “pre-Empire Sorcery”... the direct manipulation of raw amorphia. Pre-Empire Sorcerers would be the equivalent of Wild Mages.

Warlock: There are few proper warlocks on Dragaera; mostly priests of the various gods, and few enough of those with real power. However, the Warlock can be used to emulate such priests and their abilities.

Wizard: Wizards, as a class, are relatively common, though a proper “Wizard”, in Dragaeran parlance, will be someone with proficiency in several types of magic, and may follow a different class.

Sorcery is an Intelligence-based skill available to all with the “Citizen of the Empire” trait. Using Sorcery, a citizen of the Empire is able to draw upon their link with the Imperial Orb, which is linked to the Great Sea of Amorphia. There is no limit to how much power one can channel through this link, even with relatively little experience; what limits the user is precision and control, not power.

With this trait, one may make Sorcery checks in order to cast any spells learned; if the skill is trained, the character may add their proficiency bonus. Spells must be learned, but there are no level restrictions on spells known, and someone with skill in sorcery is not obligated to keep a spellbook, nor prepare spells. Learning a spell requires a teacher, and typically requires 50 gold and 2 hours per level of the spell. Sorcery spells do not have material components.

There are two ways to cast a spell: By using a spell slot, or spontaneously, without the need for a spell slot. Casting a spell with a spell slot functions as it does for sorcerers or bards; select your spell from among those known, and the spell slot you wish to use (which must be at least the minimum required for the spell), and the spell is cast. Such a spell takes the normal casting time. Those with spell slots usually also have Cantrip slots; while they may know any number of cantrips, they may only have a certain number “ready to go” at any given moment; this does not pose a significant difficulty, as rearranging the Cantrip slots requires only a minute of concentration.

Casting spells spontaneously does not require spell slots, though it does require time and a Sorcery skill check. Spells cast spontaneously require a number of rounds equal to their level to enact. Spells have a set difficulty of 12 + twice the level of the spell (ranging from 12 for Cantrips to 30 for 9th level spells). If they are proficient with spellcasting foci, they may add their proficiency bonus to the check, if they wield it. There is no penalty for failure, save the wasted rounds.

Witchcraft is a form of ritual magic that uses one’s innate mental powers to effect change upon the world. It is more flexible than sorcery, in many ways, but requires more time to enact, and is more difficult.

Most witchcraft consists of ritual magic, and relies on the Wisdom-based skill, Witchcraft, which may only be used by those proficient with it (others who wish to know about witchcraft would use the Arcana skill). Witches have no need to learn spells; the witch may enact any spell on their spell list by performing a ritual; a ritual that will be unique to them (though those familiar with witchcraft will be able to note the influence and style of various families and teachers), and made up on the spot.

Witchcraft Rituals require a skill check against a DC of 12 + the spell’s level squared (so 12 for cantrips, 13 for 1st, 16 for 2nd, up to 93 for 9th level spells… clearly out of the reach of most practitioners; the most powerful spell mentioned was approximately 6th level, so a DC of 48). Despite these extreme difficulties, there are some bonuses that can be had to the Witchcraft skill roll.

If the character is proficient in Herbalist’s Kit, they may add their proficiency bonus again, plus any bonus inherent to the kit. Likewise, they may add a proficiency bonus from Alchemist’s Tools, a musical instrument, or a spellcasting focus, if they have these available for use. If proficient with Arcana, they may make a check against DC 12 + the spell’s level, and thereby add their proficiency bonus again. If they have a familiar, their familiar may make a Help Action.

The skill roll is made at the end of the ritual. If the roll succeeds by 5 or less, the character suffers the effect of 1 level of exhaustion for 10 minutes. If roll fails, the witch may choose to take the failure, or may choose to suffer a level of exhaustion for every 3 points by which the roll failed. If they can survive the exhaustion (levels of which may be shared with their familiar), then the spell will be a success. Exhaustion due to compensating for spell failure recovers at the usual rate of 1 level per long rest.

The Dragaeran use of Psychics is a formalized study of the phenomenon that, among Easterners, was formalized into Witchcraft. In Dragaerans, Psychics is its own field of magic, similar to sorcery; like sorcery, it may be powered via spell slots or skill checks. If one is practiced in both Sorcery and Psychics, any spell slots will be shared between the two disciplines.

Race: Dragaerans
Physically imposing to an Easterner, the average Dragaeran is seven feet tall, with dark hair (though some lineages will have lighter hair, this is not common). Most Dragaerans are members of one of 17 Great Houses, but the natives of Greenaere and Elde Island do not belong to the Houses (they are grouped under the “Unhoused” subrace, below).

Dragaeran Traits:
Ability Score Increase: Slightly stronger than the average Easterner, Dragaerans have a +1 to Strength and Constitution.
Age: Dragaerans may live for several thousand years; the average is around two or three thousand.
Alignment: Dragaeran are more likely to derive their alignment from their houses; some, like the Dragon, tend to be Lawful, while others, like the Jhegaala, are more chaotic, but these are broad tendencies, not requirements. Relatively few Dragaerans are good, especially in the noble houses, with the vast majority being morally neutral.
Size: Dragaerans stand about 7’ tall, but with an average weight of only 200#. They are Medium creatures.
Speed: Dragaerans have long legs, and a base walking speed of 35 feet.
Languages: Over the millenia, there have been a slew of Dragaeran languages based on House, region, or any other demarcation of person one chooses to make. By the time of Tortaalik, the Interregnum, and Zerika, the language had somewhat standardized across the Empire and other Dragaeran territories, and, so they speak Dragaeran, with more exotic languages being the domain of those interested.

Subraces: As a wise(?) Easterner once remarked, "There is nothing, but nothing, that has more influence on a Dragaeran than his House." There are 17 Great Houses, each with their own traits, plus the unhoused of Greenaere, Elde Island, and other such places; only a few houses are detailed below.

House Athyra
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Intelligence
Noble: The character is considered a Noble, and has the “Position of Privilege” feature from the Noble Background.
Proficiencies: A House of scholars, Athyra receive proficiency in an Intelligence-based skill, as well as fluency in a language.

House Dragon
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Strength
Noble: The character is considered a Noble, and has the “Position of Privilege” feature from the Noble Background.
Proficiencies: All Dragons are proficient in two martial melee weapons, as well as a fighting style (most often Dragaeran Two-weapon style, below)

House Dzur
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Constitution
Noble: The character is considered a Noble, and has the “Position of Privilege” feature from the Noble Background.
Proficiencies: Similar to the Dragon, all Dzur are proficient in two martial melee weapons, as well as a fighting style (though they may prefer many different styles).

House Jhereg
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Dexterity
Noble: The character is considered a Noble, and has the “Position of Privilege” feature from the Noble Background.
Proficiencies: Jhereg are proficient in one of Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Deception, or Intimidation, as well as either thieves’ tools or two different gaming sets.

House Phoenix
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Charisma
Noble: The character is considered a Noble, and has the “Position of Privilege” feature from the Noble Background.
Proficiencies: The incredibly rare (almost unique, post-Interregnum) Phoenix are proficient in Insight and Persuasion.

House Issola
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Charisma
Noble: The character is considered a Noble, and has the “Position of Privilege” feature from the Noble Background.
Proficiencies: The Issola are proficient in Insight, a gaming set, and a musical instrument.

House Teckla
Ability Score Increase: +1 to Constitution
Commoner: The character is a Commoner. When among Nobles, they may choose to engage in Passive Stealth, remaining unnoticed by those without sufficient Wisdom (Perception) checks. This does not work against the Unhoused or Easterner (unless they are also Noble).
Proficiencies: All Teckla have proficiency, and expertise, in a single variety of Artisan’s Tools.

Ability Score Increase: +1 of choice
Proficiencies: The Unhoused are proficient in one skill and two tools of choice.

Race: Easterner
Easterners are Humans, both in fact and in mechanics. They may be Humans or Variant Humans, at the player’s option. At the player’s option, an Easterner may be a Citizen of the Empire. However, they enter into the House Teckla unless they choose the Charlatan, Criminal, Noble, or Urchin background (in which case they may, at their option, be Jhereg).

Citizen of the Empire: The character is a citizen of the Empire and linked to the Imperial Orb. Through the Orb, the character may “consult the Orb” for the time, and use that connection to enact sorcery (though they are not automatically proficient in sorcery, though they may chose to become so if they have an available skill proficiency.). In theory, every citizen may communicate psychically with the Emperor or Empress; in practice, this is a Very Bad Idea, unless the monarch in question knows them very well. Each Citizen is considered to know two cantrips and a single 1st level spell, both from the Dragaeran Sorcery list, but they do not have any spell slots. Though termed a feat, this option may be taken by anyone, at almost any time, by purchasing or earning a title in a Great House, or joining House Teckla.

Witch: The character has been trained in the Eastern art of Witchcraft. They are proficient in the Witchcraft skill, and may use witchcraft rituals. Furthermore, they may use psychic powers for communication with those they know; this is equivalent to the Message spell without effort, or the Sending spell with a successful Witchcraft test against DC 15 (the DM may waive this test among those who have made it frequently in the past).

Weapon Styles:
Dragaeran Two-Weapon: Dragaeran Two-Weapon fighting differs from the standard two-weapon style, relying less on striking with two weapons, and more with creating an opening through which one weapon can strike. As such, the character makes only a single attack roll, but rolls damage for both weapons, choosing the better result.

Fenarian Fencing: A more traditional, side-on, fencing stance, Fenarian Fencing gains a +2 to AC when facing Dragaeran Two-weapon, and adds +1 to strike against any opponent.

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