Ravnica & Eberron: The Upcoming Dungeons & Dragons 5E Campaign Settings

So, on 7/23/18 it was announced officially that there were 2 upcoming Campaign Settings for Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. These would be the first non Forgotten Realms / Faerun settings that would officially be created for Fifth Ed (No I don’t count Curse of Strahd, that may be Ravenloft but it’s an adventure, not a setting). The settings are Eberron, and Ravnica. I wanted to take a minute and discuss what these settings are, where they come from, and how I feel about each of them.

I do want to take a quick mention about how these two books were actually spoiled. In case you missed it, both these books were actually spoiled ahead of time partially. Amazon posted the Ravnica product page a full day early, and the DMs Guild suddenly had an option to allow Eberron content alongside Raveloft and Faerun, with no warning. In both cases, these were indicators of things to come. I also hope WOTC does not get cold feet about announcements because of these leaks, and I also hope that companies in the future pay better attention to street dates.

First, let’s bring up Eberron. Many might know of Eberron’s existance. Originally Eberron was created by Keith Baker back in the days of 3rd Ed, and was one of the first settings to really marry magical high fantasy with some actual technology. Warforged as a race came from this setting, as well as the ideas of Dragonmarks (magical birthmarks), a lot of political intrigue and some pulpy action with a mix of tech in there.  High level magic is rare, but low level magic is super common.  For example. there are actual magical Trains in Eberron, and crystal skyships, and things like that. It was a pretty popular setting to, to the point that the only other DND MMO out there (besides Neverwinter) uses Eberron as its main setting. If you have never played Dungeons and Dragons Online, you might not have realized that, but it’s true.

Second, we have Ravnica. What you might not realize however is that Ravnica is NOT a new setting. Rather, its new to Dungeons and Dragons only. You see, Ravnica is a setting in the long running trading card game by WOTC called Magic the Gathering. There were entire expansions / blocks dedicated to the world of Ravnica and its 10 guilds, tons of characters and cards and lore built around this existing world, but in the form of cards. Again, this is another setting where magic coexists with high tech, but it’s a lot more advanced then Eberron, and a lot more colorful. Truthfully, I have not studied Ravnica too much, as I got out of Magic the Gathering right around the time it was really going, but it’s a setting they have gone back to a few times and its very very rich with information, locations, and characters.

Now, gentle reader, you may notice that both of these settings share similar themes. Both are high fantasy infused with technology, both have previously existed in some fashion in other edition or game. And there are, I believe, reasons Wizards has chosen each of these to be their next actual settings.

I want to talk about Eberron first. It’s a known setting, its existed for a while, and has an author / creator who has worked on it pretty much tirelessly. Eberron was born in 3rd Edition, actually had a players guide for 4th edition, and is now being reborn in 5e. This is not a bad thing, honestly, but I personally am not too interested. I know Eberron, I have played in it a bit (more with the MMO), and I own the 3rd Ed book. Its not really new to me, and so this book is not really for me. One reason I think WOTC decided to create this is BECAUSE there is so much already written for it. It’s easy for them, being professionals, to adapt the setting and mechanics to 5e. Further, they are basically putting this setting in Early Access. You can already buy the Wayfinders Guide to Eberron PDF for $20, and there was a tweet by Mike Mearls explaining that the Print version will not be available till everything has gone through Unearthed Arcana Testing, and then added to the PDF. Hell, the Races of Eberron PDF is already available on the Unearthed Arcana page for those who want to read up on the races for free.

There is however a second reason, beyond the fact that a wealth of information already existing, that I think WOTC chose this. I may be completely off, but I find it highly unlikely that this is a coincidence. You see, Satine Phoenix recently (A few months ago) joined the WOTC Team on their DND brand. You may not realize, but she is also the GM of a fairly popular DND Live Stream called Maze Arcana. Which is set in Eberron. Why is this important? Well, if you notice, WOTC is paying more and more attention to the live streaming audience (I am ok with this) and using live play and stream events, such as the Stream of Many Eyes, they are getting DND out to more and more potential people. It makes sense then, that if they have an employee who has a stream with name recognition, in a setting they have not used, to go ahead and create that setting as a physical product, that way they can promote the stream AND their product side by side, with little effort. I feel this is also why the Eberron book is already out, in a “Playtest” like format. You can buy the Guide, watch Maze Arcana, and get a real idea of how Eberron could be played. It’s a smart move, and I applaud them for doing such a thing. Use everything available to you to create the best experience possible! That’s how most GMs work, and I am not surprised that WOTC is doing the same.

Which brings us to Ravnica. Again, this is a setting that previously has existed, but only in the Magic the Gathering trading card game and novels. This is yet another smart business decision by WOTC. You see, Ravnica has a ton of lore, characters, and history already created for it, but most card players will never see it outside of flavor text on the cards, or by reading a novel. This is the first real crossover within WOTC to occur! And it is almost assuredly a business decision.

And frankly Ravnica has tons of stuff already written for it, and tons of art already made. Why not reuse that for a new audience? Its cost effective, and with a little work can easily be adapted for use in the Dungeons and Dragons world. Further, they get to expose DND players to the kind of lore that can be found in Magic the Gathering! Hey DND Players, did you know there is this entire card game with all these cool characters and art work out there? This is an example of what we do with that game! And then you can tap into the potential audience inside Magic the Gathering, the players there who WISH they could be Ajani, or Nicol Bolas, or Chandra, or Lilianna Voss. The ones who want to adventure inside Phyrexia, or Dominira, or Ravnica, or Innistrad. Now WOTC has a setting book to pitch DND to those players, and double dip. It’s a win-win all around! Expanding the game, the hobby, and their own product lines is just a smart move, even if a lot of us old DND players might not be too happy about it. I was not at first I admit.

So which of these will I be purchasing? Which one interests me?

Honestly, Eberron holds little value to me. I am well aware of the lore, setting, and information. Plus I have the 3rd Ed campaign setting book at home, and have read a few of the books written about Eberron, and even played the MMO. It holds little to no secrets for me, and because of this I have little interest in buying the Guide, especially when its unfinished and not in print. I hope that plenty of people who are new to Eberron pick it up, and I hope it shows that bringing back older settings holds interest, but sadly, it’s not for me.

Ravnica however, is a different story. Currently the release date is 11/20/18 with a price of $50 per the Product Page on WOTC. This is a setting I know very little about, which alone is enough to make me want to buy it. But, I admit, despite my knee jerk reaction when it was announced of “Ugh, why is it not Spelljammer or Planescape!” the more I thought about it, the more interested I got. I miss playing MTG sometimes, and as someone who played back when Ravnica was just getting started, I am very interested to see how it makes the transition to Dungeons and Dragons. Other than the Mad Wizards Dungeon, this is the only other main DND book I really want. And I will have it. Truthfully, I will have BOTH if I get my way. Maybe as my Christmas gift to myself.

How about you, dear reader? Which setting interests you the most? Do either of these catch your fancy, or do you wish one of the other many settings out there had been brought back to life such as Greyhawk, Birthright, Planescape, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, or something totally new? Let me know in the comments, and remember: Get those Crits, Take those Hits, keep Pushing Through and remember to STAY NERDY!

Path of Exile Inspired Spells

Hello readers! Today, I bring you 8 unique spells based on abilities from the Action RPG Path of Exile. I am going to discuss each spell here and the thoughts behind the design of them. I will also provide a PDF of the 8 spells in case you want to use them in your game. I got spells for Sorcerers, Wizards, Warlock, Druid, Paladin, and Ranger!

First up, Frost Blades:

So Frost Blades in Path of Exile fires a single projectile out made of ice, and it splits into to. So I went ahead, and basically wrote the spell to do the same function. I decided to make it level 1 to give a bit more area of effect options at that level, and the damage is around something like Guiding Bolt, only split between multiple targets, each one requiring an attack roll (thus having a chance to miss).

Next up, Unearth:

Now in Path of Exile, Unearth actually deals damage by firing a bone arrow out. Where the arrow ends is where the bodies appear. The idea behind this spell was to give a way for the next spell to work (combo!) but also give necromancers and clerics a way to get bodies for things like Speak with Dead or Animate Dead.

And the spell Unearth combo’s with? Volatile Dead:

This spell is generally combined with the above spell in Path of Exile. You basically alternate casts of the two, creating corpses, then consuming them and having the balls chase enemies down and create MORE corpses! To make it work in DnD I had to make it scale with spell slot level to generate more explosives. I also added a bit of danger with the balls going in a straight line, and exploding on contact with ANYTHING.

Now its time to bring up a Paladin Spell. Spectral Throw:

The spell in Path of Exile works almost the exact same, save that the projectile copy of your weapon boomerangs back to you, and if you pair it with certain other gems (like Multiple Projectiles) you can fill the screen with copies of your weapon flying out. This gives the Paladin a way to reach out and touch enemies from a distance if needed.

I didn’t forget the Ranger! We bring Spectral Shot to them:

This allows the Ranger to both hit multiple targets in a single line, as well as do a short ranged AOE with each hit. It does required a ranged spell attack against each target in the line, so it can miss every hit. The original shrapnel shot works similar, but without the piercing unless you add a support gem to it.

For our Warlocks out there, I provide you Summon Raging Spirit:

In Path of Exile, this spell literally summons a tiny angry skull that zips out and attacks your enemies. You can summon tons of the little buggers and they do some heavy fire damage. I wanted to change it up, and instead made it deal Necrotic damage, and made it a concentration spell that basically causes an angry skull to attack your target.

Here is a nasty one. Blade Vortex:

Now this is a nasty spell in Path of Exile. You create a field of knives that just does massive damage every second to enemies inside it. In Path of Exile you have to keep casting it to build up the knives. For the DND Varient, I made it concentration, and an aura. Basically giving Paladins and Rangers a way to really put the hurt on something. Now, one thing to note is this has friendly fire. Its not just ENEMIES who get hit, its ANYONE within 10 feet of the caster. And since Paladin auras only extend 10ft, this basically prevents the paladin from getting their aura effect for their allies.

Finally, we have 3 spells in one. Herald of Elements:

In Path there are 3 auras, Herald of Ash, Ice, and Thunder. Rather then create 3 spells I created one that gives you the choice of which element to use. In Path, each aura has a secondary effect on top of adding damage, so I tried to recreate these effects while also balancing out the secondary effects. I think I did ok but honestly this is the spell I would need to test out to be happy more than any others.

So there you go, 8 new spells. Hope you enjoy them, and thanks for reading. You can download the PDF right here.

And remember: Get those Crits, Take those Hits, keep pushing through and remember to Stay Nerdy!

A Look Into Planescape: Torment (Guest Post)

Welcome back to the blog and today we have quite the interesting article, written by my Brother from Another Mother & DM Saevrick, this time discussing Planescape Torment, but from a narrative perspective rather then a traditional game review.  Its quite the interesting read in my opinion and I am happy to share it with the world!  You can find Saevrick on Twitter, and on Twitch where he runs our BiWeekly Planescape game “Maelstrom of Blades” on Saturdays at 530pm EST.

Scholars have a definitive idea of what they deem the “best” or most well written novel is, one that evokes emotion or is a telling of the truths of man or world issues. The same can be said about movie, television or game critics.

When we discuss the best RPG’s of all time, the top portion of the list is usually very close as well. At the top of those lists usually sits a little game called Planescape:Torment. The question “why” is a loaded one, and it takes a deep look into the intricacies of the game to fully understand.

Speaking of a game that arrived nearly twenty years ago, we’ll assume it wasn’t the game play. Indeed, Torment was based on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition rules, and for the most part, was slightly wonky to play. The ruleset is confusing for most, and didn’t leave much for the player to devour. Even after a re-mastering of the game, which spawned a successor in Tides of Numenera, do we still see this game as a “masterpiece”?

A lot of people would argue that the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is far superior in all aspects. While its own gameplay could be wonky as well at times, the richness of the story and the scenery propelled it to perhaps the status of greatest RPG ever created. I do not argue this point.  I do, however, argue that it is the best story told in the format, and the following is the account of why I find Torment to be the richest story ever told in the gaming industry.

Planescape was a campaign setting released for Dungeons and Dragons, and by most accounts, their most ambitious project to date. Sitting in the center of the cosmos rose the Great Spire, and at its pinnacle sat the sprawling city of Sigil. The City of Doors (due to its numerous portals) or the Cage (for the hidden nature of these doors), as it was could be called, was the extreme of all possibilities and a melting pot for all the worlds, and watched over by the Lady of Pain, a watcher of the Cage of insurmountable power.  Sprawling below this city was the Great Wheel, encompassing all the pleasures and pains that existence could imagine.

These planes not only held a moral compass, they embody it. The nine point alignment system, which most would argue is meaningless in present-day RPGs, had a definitive and real implication. From the Lawful good Seven Heavens of Mount Celestia, the Lawful Evil Nine Hells of Baator, the infinite Chaotic Evil layers of the Abyss, and the Chaotic Good Olympian Glades of Arborea, these realms inhabitants exuded what was most idealized in their respective homelands.  At the center of it all, was The Outlands–a plane of True Neutrality, and the divider and connector to all outer planar existence. It is here where the dead of the Prime Material worlds go to die, and continue their existence in glory or despair.

The thing about the planes is that anything that can be believed can exist. Cities could be built on an ideal, pocket dimensions could explode from a deep and all encompassing sorrow or joy, and the very fabric of existence could tear apart from thoughts. That is what made Planescape so unique–that is what made Planescape a setting for a story that could truly drive at the heart of the player, and was, and rightfully so,  the backdrop for this story.

At the center of the story is the Nameless One–a man who has been cursed with immortality, who awakes from every death having no recollection of the life he lived the day before. It all really started with a man who had fled his past, damned to fight in the eternal Blood Wars. He approached an old crone by the name of Ravel Puzzlewell, and wooed her. He made the hag love him, and he asked only that she make him immortal in return. She separated his mortality, and the two lingered in their own existences from that point forward.

The tale of Torment is not one of saving the world. Unlike most traditional RPGs, the characters are already created for the player, which leads to a more focused story not bound by generic archetypes to base responses off of. Indeed, the game is a narrative more than a game most times–a rich narrative, that peeks into the soul of the player. It is a tale of man who has lived many past lives, and depending on his choices, has lead to either lives of heroism, paranoia, purest evil, and all spectrums in between.

The title itself is a reflection of not only the background of the story, but also the characters involved in it. Each character the Nameless One finds along his path is broken, drawn to the Nameless One in one way or another to satisfy their own torments.  They all have a role to play in the story, along with their own back stories, which make a player really question their lives.

Really, any of the characters can exemplify a feeling that a person could fit their own lives into. They are intense, and they are relatable. Perhaps no soul is more tormented than that of Deionarra. The tale of her suffering at the hands of the Nameless one is truly strong enough to rip at the heartstrings–a tale of false love and broken promises, of being used for a specific end. In most cases, the other characters have already traveled with the Nameless One in one of his past lives, and for their own reasons, choose to omit it.

The githzerai Dak’kon is bound to the Nameless one, having made a life debt in exchange for knowledge.  Having lingered on Limbo, where thought makes reality ebb and flow, Dakkon searched for deeper meaning–in search of knowing himself.  He found it in the Nameless One. Unfortunately for Dak’kon, his oath was to be seen out eternally, as is the lifespan of the Nameless One.

Fall-From-Grace, a succubus who has turned from the path of the yugoloths and sought her own course in life lives in constant reminder of her own past.  Every day she must choose to live this new course, and not succumb to her primal tendencies. Each morning she lives in the torment of living a dual identity, struggling in the space between, her very existence a constant reminder of what monstrosity she truly is, yet tries so desperately to leave behind.

Morte, a floating skull with sentience, is by all reality of the definition a coward and liar. He was plucked from the very Pillar of Skulls, and struggles to find his own place in this “life”.  While his very existence is that of a liar, a cheat, and the embodiment of deceit, he struggles to just find acceptance.

Nordom, a modron severed from the world of Mechanus, searches for his own identity. Little makes sense in a world where everything can only be seen as 1’s and 0’s, and the construct constantly searches for meaning in all things around him. It would seem the true thing Nordom needs is a name, a definitive identity outside of the touch of Primus (the overseer of all modron),and  to realize his own existence as an individual.

Ravel is almost an antithesis of what the planes are all about. Being a night hag, she should only embody the purest of evil, chaotic and all of her ambitions should be for her own ends. She tears apart the moral compass of the alignments altogether, seeing only that all things should known freedom–even if it’s the Lady of Pain. Indeed, Ravel has fled from Sigil in an attempt to open all the doors at once, which would lead to the cities destruction, but also the Lady’s freedom of it.  Ravel believes the Lady is as much a prisoner in Sigil as anyone else, perhaps more so.

When confronting her, she asks, “What can change the nature of a man?”.  The player is given several options, all viable, and none are incorrect. You would think this makes the scenario empty and pointless, but really, it is very compelling.

Why is that, however?

The reason is–this isn’t the first time she’s asked the Nameless One this question. Over several life times, she’s asked this question, and the importance of the answer is focused on the current day. The depth of such a simple question is given new meaning, and really is a reflection of the entirety of the story–how the events one chooses in life affect the individual.

The story stops becoming a quest for redemption for the past, but a quest to accept the Nameless One’s fate.  His fate being–that he has done evil, and he must accept the punishment and that doom is the only means to this end. A quest to finally die, move on and take the first real steps he’s taken in countless lifetimes. To storm the Fortress of Regrets, built out of his own actions of lives he’s ruined and out of people who’ve died in his cause, or who have passed on by his will. To face his mortality, to understand the fruitlessness of redemption, and to embrace and learn to die.

At the end of the game, there is the chance to learn the name of the Nameless One. Upon learning it, the player is not privy to the information. It is for the character alone. It matters to that character as the entire time it was his journey, not the player’s. It is only important to the character as to divide the line between immortality and mortality, to resolve the self, and to end the cycle.

In the end, it is belief that can change the nature of a man and a belief that the separation of mortality, in knowing he name, is what is needed to dissolve the divide, to accept the fate the Nameless One earned, and to suffer that regret alone.

I cannot, to this day, remember of any game that has ever made me feel as much as Planescape:Torment did. I could have been any of these characters with a different choice. I could feel the pain of Deionarra, feel the pain of the Nameless One as he watched his past self destroy the woman’s life. Everyday, I struggle like Nordom, lost in a sea of faces, looking for my own identity.

I’ve never had a game make me feel that acceptance is the end of pain and the path to healing. That you must live with the means of your choices, not the ends of it. All these factors, webbed together, make for an enticing story, that really bleeds sorrow and the beauty of a wonderfully written narrative story. It is a book that unfurls before you, and makes you examine yourself and the world around you. It is truly one of the deepest stories you’ll find in all of gaming, and I hope that one day you choose to partake in it yourself.

Terminally Nerdy’s Note: If you wish to try this game out for yourself, you can purchase the “Enhanced Edition” which has been fixed for modern PCs on either GoG or Steam for $20. Be aware that the gameplay is still built off AD&D rules which are NOTHING like current Fifth Edition so be ready to learn something new.

2 Ways to Enhance your Tabletop RPG Experience: Reskinning and Flair

Hello everyone!  I wonder, did you miss me?  I know, I know, I wrote that custom spell a few weeks ago, and I have had those articles about my history posting, but it’s been a couple weeks since I have done anything really new.

Today, I want to talk about two methods you can use to enhance your Tabletop RPG experience.  One method is mostly for players (but GMs can use it too) and the second is pretty much only for GMs or players starting at a higher level than first.

Firstly, lets discuss the concept of Reskinning.  One of the things that can enhance your experience as a player, and as a GM, is to reskin your characters powers and abilities to better fit a theme.  This can be either purely from a roleplaying standpoint, such as changing how a spell looks visually to changing it mechanically to better fit your character.

For example, you are playing a Raven Queen Warlock.  By default, Eldritch Blast is considered a beam of dark energy that flies out and strikes your target.  But what if instead, it was a blast of Ravens, flying out to peak and assault your target?  The spell, mechanically, does nothing different.  But the visual effect, the way you describe it, fits the theme of the character a lot better.  This is one I saw on twitter and sadly I forgot the user, but it’s a great way to theme a character!

One of my own examples was with my Dragonborn Cleric Vranick.  Every spell he cast was themed to look draconic.  His Scorching Ray (he had sorcerer levels at one point) would fire out 3 Red Chinese Styled Dragons at the target to attack them.  His Spirit Guardians was a literal swarm of red and gold Chinese styled dragons, that would actually sit on his head or his parties shoulders, give em little kisses, and then swarm and assault any enemy that entered the field.

In both cases, the spells functioned mechanically the same.  But visually were distinct.  Even Caleb on Critical Role has done this, where his Fire Bolt spell cases his hand to char and blacken before firing off, his skin burning magically before fixing itself as part of the spell.

You can also theme spells and effects mechanically to fit your theme as well, with your GMs permission of course.  Let’s say you are building a Storm Sorcerer, and want everything to feel like a storm, so lots of thunder and lightning powers.  Sadly, there are no combat cantrips that do lightning damage at range, so unless you want to use Shocking Grasp, getting in close, you will have an issue.

But why not just see if you can change Firebolts damage to Thunder, or Lighting.  Then change its name to Storm Bolt!  The cantrips damage and effectiveness doesn’t change, just the KIND of damage it deals.  Generally, these sort of changes need to be permanent.  You shouldn’t be able to switch your damage on the fly, as that would not be fair (maybe a feat that lets you do it could be good though).  You can add this sort of flair to non-magical abilities too.  Our Modron Barbarian, when he rages, mentions how the gears in his body start spinning at high speed, sparking and whirring.  He calls it “Overclocking”.  There are a myriad of ways to do this sort of thing, giving your character a more personal touch.

The second thing you can do to liven up your games, as a GM more than anything, is to give Magic Items some Flair.

To give an example, let’s put this in perspective as a player.  Which would you find more interesting?  A +1 Longsword?  Or “Foecleaver, a Longsword created by the dwarven smith Halfax to destroy the enemies of his clan?”.  In most cases, the second one is much more interesting.  It’s still just a +1 Longsword, but now its got a bit of history, a bit of flair to it.  And could even spawn an adventure!  Who was Halfax?  Who were his enemies?  Why is the sword here instead of with him and his clan?!

This is especially useful given how rare magical items are supposed to be in 5th Edition DND in fact.  In high magic games, where magical items are super common, only the big stuff should have this sort of history, but in a normal 5th Ed game, perhaps more of your items could have a bit of history attached.  The magical items had to come from somewhere, someone had to make them.  They didn’t just appear out of the ether.  In my games, I intend to attach a sort of mystical imprint of the items history and creation when a player either attunes to the item, or identifies it, so that way they can learn about its history.

And players, if you start at a level higher than 1 and begin play with some magical gear, ask your GM if you can flair it up!  My Divine Soul has an Instant Fortress, for example, that is decked out as a portable home for him (he is a noble) that he found in a dragons horde.  He has a reason for having it, a specific use for it, and its customized to suit him and his needs.

With these simple options you can take a boring old spell, a boring old ability, a boring old magic item, and spice them up and give them more flavor and theme to fit your game, your character, and most importantly, your world!

Thanks for reading, and remember: Get those Crits, Take those Hits, Keep Pushing Through and STAY NERDY!