Thursday, January 20, 2022

Hackmaster: Loving and Living With your Shitty Familiar

So, You Rolled on Table E

Spellslinger’s Guide, Volume 2, has the rules for acquiring a familiar. Table A is the best table, offering the possibilities of magical and intelligent creatures. Table B might get you cool snakes, predators, elephants, or even humans (which is kinda less cool than you may expect)! Table C is pretty cool. Table D is standard for your “not awesome but still respectable” familiars… cats, birds, lizards, maybe even a goat or a giant squid. A couple bugs, but, ya know, kinda cool ones, like scorpions or spiders.

Table E is not that.

There’s crabs and snails. A wide variety of bugs, including fleas and termites and silverfish, sort of topping out at bees, wasps, and praying mantids. There’s some cool stuff in the water-bound category, like barracuda, pike, and swordfish… even piranhas and manta rays, which can be awesome if you live on or near the water. But, there’s also rocks. And plants. And these… kind of suck, especially if you’re an adventurer. You can’t exactly cart around a tree, and your careful devotion to your small pot of moss is gonna get weird.

There’s two reasons you wind up rolling on Table E: You don’t want to (or can’t) spend a lot of Familiar Points (FP) on getting a familiar, or your dice hate you. Table D requires almost three times the Familiar Points AND some Animal Empathy (only novice, but still some), which is going to cut into your Cool Things budget. Table C will cut into your budget even further at just shy of four times the cost of Table E, and requires a lot more skill (including advanced Arcane Lore mastery, which is its own cost). Table B and Table A are WAY more, and require a lot more skill. So, Table E might be where your comfort zone is for cost.

Your dice might also hate you. Every table above E has the possibility that you’ll get knocked down a table, and, if your dice are bad enough, you could wind up paying for a Table A familiar and still roll on Table E. At this point, bribes to your GM are recommended (though you also have the option to pay an FP or four for a reroll).

But Table E familiars ARE familiars, and they have some potential. But, first, we have to think about what they can do.

The Abilities of Familiars: A Recap

Spider-fam, spider-fam, does whatever a spider can.

A familiar can do whatever another member of its type can do. If it’s a bug, it will have statistics as on page 10 of Spell Slinger’s Guide. It will have a low animal intelligence (2-3), which is about as smart as many predators or herd animals. It won’t die of old age. It will share initiative with the mage, but that goes both ways… the familiar can let the mage know something is up, and can be put “on guard” if the mage is busy with something else, allowing the mage both a better initiative die and their own. With spell points, the mage can share the familiar’s senses, and even communicate with it. And getting a familiar even gives you a bit of bonus Honor. In addition, if you have the spare points, you might try to pick up a special ability or two for your familiar.

The ability to communicate telepathically with a familiar should not be underestimated. There is no range to telepathic communication and, while the creature might not understand words, it will be far more attuned to images and other sensory input, which are a lot easier to manage telepathically, and it will have the ability to communicate back the same way.

Critters and Creatures

Table E has several critters and creatures on it. Many of these are Miniscule or Diminutive, and none really qualify as combatants, except against others of their size… a crab may be able to give a pinch, but it’s not going to do even a point of damage. But the fliers can move faster than a human can walk, and, with a +18 to defense, they’re very difficult to hit. Crawling insects are a lot slower, but they’re also effectively invisible to most people; you seldom notice every cricket and crane fly you come across, so a small insect can be an effective spy. A tick, louse, or flea might live happily on its master for years.

Likewise, many bugs are adept at staying alive. Blessed with great intelligence (for a bug, anyway), they are more aware of things around them, and can better understand what big things are and how they might affect themselves and their masters. The senses of bugs can be far different than those of a human, and may allow them to sense invisible creatures by their displacement of the air, or subtle sounds at frequencies or volumes even elves can’t hear.

Of course, these are still bugs. They are fragile, and may have trouble if their master goes swimming (willingly or not). They’re prey for a lot of animals. A wise master keeps their bugs safe, acquiring or creating a small box for them to retreat to to avoid being squished. The master may wear this around their neck, keep it in their bag, or some other place where their familiar can find their way.

Crabs and mollusks have their own issues and advantages. Crabs, crayfish, and hermit crabs are not water-bound, but they can easily function there, and won’t suffer from a dunking; they should use the fish statistics, or have a swim speed of 10 if they’re miniscule crawlies. All are scavengers, and so will live easily off the detritus common to adventurers. More noticeable than insects, they are also stronger; an ant familiar cannot bring much to you, but a crab can, if the object is small enough.

Notably, the crustaceans are excellent at sensing vibrations; they will have excellent initiative scores and the Improved Awareness talent. They see relatively well in the dark, especially for movement, and have good senses of taste and smell. You may not want to taste what they eat -- nothing like 2 week dead rotted orc to wake you up in the morning! -- but those senses help to give them a great picture of the world around them.

Snails and slugs have more limited senses, and cannot hear at all, but they’re sensitive to shadows, and so notice predators and other threats quite quickly. Likewise, while they are not aquatic, both types can survive a dunking better than an insect, and likely better than their master (depending on the species, it may survive up to 24 hours, or even 2-3 weeks underwater).

The sea creatures of Table E are another kettle of fish (pun completely intended). Water-bound, they cannot travel as well as others, and some are quite sizable… a bluefin tuna might be 15 feet long and three-quarters of a ton, and sturgeons can grow even larger. But you might also wind up with a barnacle, or a coral.

Acquiring a water-dependent familiar can make life difficult for a mage, as it requires them to stay near the water. But, for a wizard at sea, it can be the ideal companion. With the increased intelligence granted by being a familiar, and the guidance of their master, the more mobile creatures can provide insight into the underwater world, even helping to locate sunken ships, lost treasure, or caves. If there are places beneath the water with air, the fish can lead their master or others to them. An aquatic familiar isn’t for everyone; it will limit you to the creature’s own environment far more than a terrestrial familiar will; but they can have great advantages if you can or do live on the water.

Let My Armies be the Rocks and the Trees

And now, we get to rocks and trees.

Rocks are difficult familiars to love. With certain special abilities, they can be formidable and useful familiars, and they’re also immune to a number of the flaws common to familiars… it doesn't matter if your rock is clumsy, or a coward, or lazy. Rocks really can’t have foul habits, bad eyesight, or bad hearing. Additionally, they cannot drown, and have a significant DR, so are difficult to kill accidentally. You can slip them in your pocket and carry them along, or even hold them in your hand for a bit of extra weight when you punch someone.

Their senses, though, are limited to vibrations, and perhaps warmth and cold. That vibration sense can come in handy; it can help locate threats approaching if placed on a surface, and may provide early warning of earthquakes, tsunamis, or flash floods. Your rock does not need to sleep, and so will keep a tireless… watch… for unusual vibrations that might harm its master. Their limited telepathic communication with their master allows the master to wake with far greater speed than they otherwise might, since their familiar is ever alert.

But, let’s be honest. They’re rocks. They can’t move on their own. They cannot see, smell, taste, or even really hear or touch. They cannot talk. While some special abilities can make them amazing, others are simply useless (“Oh, look… my rock can Dodge.”) More on rocks in “Special Abilities for Special Familiars.”

Plants, including, for these purposes, mushrooms and toadstools, are, at best, sessile, but have the potential to be absolutely huge. Weeds, flowers, and moss are relatively small, and might be relatively easily carried; a mage with such a familiar might keep them in a pot. Bushes and vines can also conceivably be treated as such, as well as some trees, mushrooms, and toadstools. But the potential of all of these becomes clear when they are in one place.

Plants are incredibly resilient; many can survive if much above ground is cut, or even burnt, off. Without removing the roots, which can be substantial, the plant will continue to grow, especially with a dedicated caretaker. Vines can remain the same plant across their length; cut one in two and you do not kill it, simply create a second plant. Trees can link themselves with another plant and survive horrible damage as a cutting. And you cannot kill a mushroom in a way that matters; more than just the cap and stem, a mushroom is a vast, underground, organism that can spread across miles and put fruiting bodies up wherever it needs.

These traits do not make these fantastic familiars; they make them “Not as horrible as you first feared” familiars, bordering on good in some circumstances. A non-adventuring mage might like having their familiar be a stone or tree; a mushroom that spans acres, or a wild patch of kudzu. A pirate-mage might enjoy being bonded to a barracuda, or gain prestige from being master to a marlin. But the adventurer might find less to enjoy about their friend the flea, or the supreme honor of being chosen by a semi-intelligent dandelion. But this is where special abilities come in.

Special Abilities for Special Familiars

Special Abilities particularly help Table E familiars. Obviously, they’re of great help to any familiar, but some of the unique nature of Table E familiars can make certain familiars pair very well with certain abilities. Others aren’t especially good for a given familiar, or are simply irrelevant. Especially notable for Table E familiars are:

Disease Resistant: The specifics of this ability make it amazing for those with mineral or vegetable familiars… while diseases can pass from humans to mammals or birds, it is far harder for humans to get diseases of plants, fungi, and rocks… you never hear of Mr. Peabody, who tragically died of Dutch Elm disease. In effect, this renders the mage (and their familiar) immune to disease.

Heartiness: While somewhat mediocre on rocks and trees, this talent is incredibly useful for more fragile familiars; adding 3-6 HP to your silverfish familiar, or a flower, can triple their hit points or more. They’re still not tough, but they’re far less fragile.

Ley Line Sense: In addition to the usual effects of Espy Ley Line, a Game Master might consider a bonus for those linked to stone or plants in locating Earth and Ore Ley Lines, similar to that granted to sylvan and fey types.

Life Bound to Master: With the tree-bound, mushroom-bound, or stone-bound, this particular ability, to pool hit points with a stone, a tree, or a mushroom, can be simply immense. Likewise, as the familiar’s life span is that of the mage, the mage’s life-span is that of the familiar. Trees might be hundreds of years old; fungal colonies thousands. While prudence will limit the mage to remaining near their familiar, “near” can spread across a large area. For kudzu, the mage may see their hit points increase exponentially in the first few days, with vines able to grow a foot a day, with deep, resilient, roots.

Stones have many of the same advantages, though perhaps smaller in scale. A rock will have many effective HP, though not as many as an acres-wide spread of fungus or an ancient oak.

Mage Bound to Master: Similar to Life Bound with Master, this can greatly extend the abilities of a mage; with large plants, their reach can be great indeed.

Shapechanger: The limitation that shapechanges must be of table E or lower is a significant one; your crab familiar cannot become a giant crab or seal herder, your silverfish cannot become a giant spider. However, plant and mineral familiars can make amazing use of this.

At 5 point shapechanging, a mineral familiar might become any tool it chooses; it remains a rock, but is now shaped like a knife or a hand axe. A tree may shape a branch into a useful tool, which it then sheds for its master to use; what better staff to enchant than one given to you by your own familiar? The ability to change size can also make a plant familiar more portable; a massive tree might be restricted to a smaller, or immature, version of the same.

As the power grows in potency, these abilities become even more pronounced; a tree may become a flower, or moss, or some other kind of vegetable matter to better suit the environment; your oak in the Rokk woods may become a cactus in the Khydoban, or a rosebush in Tharggy.

Other special abilities are of more or less use on a table E familiar; Ability Enhancement and Hit Point Bonus are nice no matter what your familiar is, and your tree being a deceptive defender is not, perhaps, terribly relevant.

Hackmaster: Talents for Perfect and Near Perfect Defenses

Hackmaster provides for three instances where someone will receive a free attack: When your opponent rolls a natural 1 for defense (and still fails), when the defender rolls a natural 20 for defense and succeeds at defending, or when the defender rolls a 19 (18-19 for thieves) for defense and their defense rolls succeeds.

Several of these Talents mention “Condition”; these are distinct from prerequisites, as they are things that must be true at the moment of use for the talent to apply; you can learn the talent without the Condition, but you can’t use it. For example, a thief who is a Defensive Opportunist might gain this ability with a dagger, as they have a +2 Defense specialization with the dagger. If forced to defend themselves with a club, with which they are not specialized, they would not receive the enhancement to Near-Perfect defense. Notably, these talents do not apply only to individual weapons; if the thief subsequently got a +1 defense with the club, they could use a club without needing to buy the talent again.

NOTE: I am still fine-tuning the costs of these talents. 10 BP is just a placeholder.

Barroom Hero (10 BP)
Prerequisite: +1 Specialization in Unarmed Combat
When taking a Near-Perfect Defense, the character may use the unarmed maneuvers Strike, Overbear, Bull Rush, Tackle, Toss/Take Down, Grab, Hold, or Shield Bash instead of simply doing 2(d4p-2) damage. This will expose the character to the consequences of that maneuver, should it fail.

Defensive Opportunist (10 BP)
Condition: Minimum +1 Defense specialization with current weapon
The character is adept at taking advantage of openings. The range at which they receive a near-perfect defense is increased by 1; most characters will receive an NPD on a successful defense where the die is 18-19, while thieves will receive a Near-Perfect Defense on a 17-19.

Follow Through (10 BP)
Condition: Minimum +1 to hit and damage, and -1 to speed specialization in currently wielded weapon.
If a defender rolls a natural 1 on defense, but falls (either to death or failed trauma check) to the current attack, the character may instead use their follow-up attack on an enemy within reach. Unlike a normal follow-up attack, this will reset the character’s count. The attacker still has the option to use their follow-up attack against the fallen target, without resetting their count.

Opportunist (10 BP)
Condition: Minimum -1 speed specialization with the wielded weapon or unarmed combat
When the character receives a free attack from a Critical Fumble on defense, the free attack is taken in that second, not the second after. A character may learn this talent at any point, but cannot use it unless they have at least a -1 speed specialization in whichever weapon they are using at the time.

Swift Recovery (10 BP)
After a critical failure on defense, or when their opponent scores a Perfect or Near-Perfect Defense, the character defends against the follow-up attack at +2.

Hackmaster: Combat Style Specialization

Combat style specialization involves learning a certain combination of armor, weapons, and basic style more thoroughly; rehearsing moves and routines to perfection when outfitted in a certain way. These styles are very precise about what they are allowed, and to create a style, one must select a weapon (or no weapon), a shield (or no shield), armor (or no armor), and a basic style from among weapon and shield, two-handed weapon (to include one-handed weapon being used two-handed), one-handed weapon only, two-weapon (including both attacking with both and secondary weapon in defense), and, if one is so inclined, shield-only or two shields. The character must already be proficient with all elements of the style.

For example, Dave might choose to specialize in a style that uses a two-handed sword (weapon), no shield, banded mail, and two-handed style. If he uses a halberd instead, or is reduced to leather armor, his style no longer applies. Sarah may choose a style that uses a mace, a medium shield, studded leather armor, and weapon and shield style. If her shield is broken, she can no longer make use of the style, nor can she use the style if she upgrades to banded armor. Seekers of the Three Strengths have several styles that use no weapon, no shield, and no armor, focusing on one-handed weapon only, or two-weapon styles.

Once selected, Combat Styles specialized cost the same amount of BP as weapon specializations, and can apply bonuses to Attack, Defense, and Speed. These bonuses apply whenever the requirements of the style are met, and are in addition to any applicable weapon specialization. If multiple specialization costs may apply (for example, a thief specializing in a scimitar-and-dagger style would specialize at 7 BP, as appropriate for a scimitar, not 6 BP, as appropriate for a dagger. Seekers of the Three Strengths specialize in unarmed styles for 5 BP; styles that include other weapons require 8 BP. If a style is expanded to include weapons that require a higher rate of specialization, all future improvements will require the higher cost.

Expanding Styles:

“But what if I find a really cool sword and my style uses a mace?” Styles may be expanded beyond their initial parameters, but only so far. To expand a style, the character must first be proficient in the weapon, armor, or shield to be added. Then, the character must spend enough BP to become proficient in the object again, specifically for the purposes of expanding the style. For this purpose, adding “No Armor” is treated as requiring 2 BP. Note that, with shields and armor, each individual piece must be paid for separately; adding Splint Mail costs 4 BP, and adding Plate Mail later will also cost 4 BP. If your style begins with Bucklers, adding in Large Shields will cost 6 BP, and adding Medium Shields will also cost 6 BP. Adding an entirely new basic style (for example, transitioning from one-handed only to two-handed, or from two-weapon to one-handed only) requires 10 BP. Each of those would be a separate purchase; if your one-handed only style can also be used with a shield or two-handed, this would be an additional 20 BP. Note that if a class pays only half BP to become proficient with a weapon, this applies as well to combat styles, including armor, shields, and style changes.

To use the above, Dave is a fighter, and his two-handed style includes a two-handed sword and banded mail. If he wished to add a halberd, it would require 2 BP (4 for a medium-skill weapon, halved because he is a fighter). If Sarah, a cleric, wished to add the option to fight with a two-handed grip, this would require 10 BP. Adding Small shields to her style would cost 6 points (for a shield); adding chain mail would require 4 points.

In theory, of course, one could devote themselves to developing an “ultimate style”; a fighter specializing in a style, then expanding it to include other weapons, armors, shields, and basic styles. However, as the style progressed, this would become expensive for the character, and specialized combat styles cannot be taught whole-cloth; just because Dave expanded his style to include maces, battle-axes, and plate mail does not mean that his followers learn all of that at once. Styles must be learned, piece by piece, by each individual practitioner.

5e Subclass: Crusader

A Crusader is a fighter whose devotion to their deity manifests in divine power. Their powers are less expansive than a cleric's, but they are able to combine their martial talents and clerical spells. 

When you reach 3rd level, you augment your martial prowess with the ability to cast spells. See chapter 10 for the general rules of spellcasting and chapter 11 for the cleric spell list. Cantrips. You learn two cantrips of your choice from the cleric spell list. Vou learn an additional cleric cantrip of your choice at 10th level. 

Domain Selection. All Crusaders choose a single domain. This forms the backbone of their spellcasting, as well as many of their subclass abilities. Spell Slots. The Eldritch Knight Spellcasting table (PH 75) shows how many spell slots you have to cast your spells of 1st level and higher. To cast one of these spells, you must expend a slot of the spell's level or higher. You regain all expended spell slots when you finish a long rest. For example, if you know the 1st level spell Cure Wounds and have a 1st level and a 2nd level spell slot available, you can cast shield using either slot. 

Spells Known of 1st-Level and Higher. At 3rd level, you know the 1st level spells from your domain, plus one of choice from the cleric list. At 7th, 13th, and 19th levels, you add the spells of your domain for the new level of spell slots you acquire at that point. At 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th, another cleric spell may be chosen. Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of the cleric spells you know (but not one of the domain spells) with another spell of your choice from the cleric spell list. The new spell must be of a level for which you have spell slots. 

Spellcasting Ability. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for your cleric spells, since you gain your spells through devotion and prayer. You use your Wisdom whenever a spell refers to your spellcasting ability. In addition, you use your Wisdom modifier when setting the saving throw DC for a cleric spell you cast and when making an attack roll with one. 
Spell save DC + 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier 
Spell attack modifier = your proficiency bonus + your Wisdom modifier 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Traveler's Companion 1: Shadesh West

The first book of my series about the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting is out! Traveler's Companion 1: Shadesh West This is likely to be several small files, covering a fairly large area between Shadesh Bay and the foothills of the Krond Heights to the west.