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5e, Game Mechanics, Items, Tales, World Building

A Matter of Masks

by Jonathan D.

The following is a short story from our upcoming campaign setting, featuring the city of Cantovar. At the end of this post, you’ll also find a fancy new magical item featured in the story. The final published setting will include the adventures of Copper Vrie and several others, along with some of the items, locations, and NPCs featured in them.  Please enjoy!


Copper Vrie skidded across the rooftop, sparks flying from her shoe studs as she drove them deeper into the soft wood of the beam. Sharp furrows stretched in two parallel lines from her boots to the soot-black chimney on the far side of the building. Displaced rain slats clattered down the sides of the roof, gleaming red in the noonday sun as they tumbled through the air and shattered unceremoniously on the distant ground below. She brushed her windswept golden bangs out of her face and glanced over her shoulder at the rocky escarpment behind her. The unsettling robed figures remained yet at the edge of the cliff, staring calmly from empty eye sockets, expressions of consternation or anger hidden behind those dark, impassive masks. Her heart skipped a beat and she shivered involuntary. Seas, but her nerves would be shot after this. The Nameless One only knew why anyone paid to see the shows put on by those creatures. Gistik was right. The old bastard was always right, of course, but this time he was more right than usual. Copper wouldn’t dare to steal from those creeps again.

But the reward, she reminded herself. She would be eating well for a month off of this job. No zwill and porridge for Copper Vrie for a few moons. Mead and seafood, and maybe even a trip or two to the Bohemian. That would be nice, if imprudent. She would have to leave most of the cash with Kartouk, of course. As much as she loved showing off, well, the quickest way to lose a fortune was to let your friends know about it. She used the term ‘friend’ loosely, as of course you had to in her profession. Shouts from the streets below snapped her from the daydream. Now was not the time to count her fortune. Now was time for the fun part. And it would be fun. She was determined to enjoy at least part of this day.

Copper sucked in several deep gulps of the chilly morning air that whipped about her, counting beats in her mind as she regulated her breathing. She tasted the salt spray on the breeze and relished the moment, letting her eyes wander over the red brick and rich brown of rooftops, gangplanks, and barges of Cantovar city, then onward to the sparkling green and foamy white of the distant waves in the harbor. She could probably afford to wait a few more minutes to enjoy herself and catch her breath. She would need to be at her best for what came next. Suddenly, the yelling resumed, louder and coming closer. Someone had caught sight of her perched atop the building. She would have liked to stay here longer, but such was the lot of a thief.

Copper Vrie dashed gracefully over the remaining expanse of rooftop, gathering momentum and throwing herself across the fifteen-foot gap between adjacent roofs. Cool wind lashed her face, straining ineffectively against her lithe body. For an instant, she felt her stomach lift inside her as that wonderfully familiar vertigo mixed with a burst of adrenaline and surged through her. Then, she hit hard on the wood of the roof, her feet skidding as the spurs sliced through the wood, the resistance gradually eroding her speed. She lifted her weight off the spurs and transitioned back into a run.

Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, she let instinct guide her as she chose a path across the upscale merchant dwellings bordering  the tower district. The wooden homes and shops would give way to barges farther out into the harbor, and in this part of town they took good care of their roofs. It was always embarrassing and painful when a roof caved in beneath the force of her jump. She proceeded across the city’s pinnacle, faster by far than any of the circuitous routes below, which wound among the buildings along bridges and alleyways. And then, after all too short a journey, she chose a convenient set of drainage channels to scramble back down to street level. She stood with her back against the building she had clambered down and her front facing a large industrial barge. She glanced down the alley, but saw no one in either direction. This was definitely the right place. Copper knelt at the edge of the wooden quay, and she pumped her fist triumphantly as she found the tiny yet distinctive markings she had etched into the pier. It was always the worst when she misplaced her cache, but she had to hide the indicators well, or else someone else might find it. She quickly followed the marks to a thin, almost invisible wire, and gave it a firm tug. A small black container jolted to the surface, dangling at the end of the line.

She lifted the container from the water and depressed a small button on the front. The cover popped open, and as quickly as possible, she withdrew a small bag of fabric – her ordinary street clothes. She removed her wig and wiped her makeup onto a small cloth before stowing them within the bag and pulling her street clothes over her thief’s outfit. While she skimmed the sky, she was the Kestrel, one of the best thieves in the city of Cantovar. Down here, without her disguise, she resumed her life as Copper Vrie, inconsequential scion to a destitute minor noble family.

She smiled. Being inconsequential was almost as good as being invisible. She strode down an alleyway, climbed some painfully steep and narrow wooden stairs, crossed a water-damaged, partially rotted bridge, and emerged onto a bustling thoroughfare, moving with a confidence born of years spent winding through the labyrinthine byways of the city. Her escape had taken longer than expected, and she had little time to waste. Still, she thought, as a warm yeasty aroma tickled her senses, she did have at least a little time. A few minutes and two of Pella’s signature sweet buns later, Copper emerged from the shop with a skip in her step and a grin on her face.

The cloaked man was already waiting when she arrived several minutes ahead of schedule. She always hated his fashion sense. She supposed that anonymity was useful in their business, but come on—everyone who saw him immediately thought that he looked suspicious. Besides, black really just lacked the flare that made a thief’s life worth living. The man was quite a bit too serious for her tastes, but even so, he generally didn’t arrive early. She clucked her tongue. Ol’ Stekkard’s client must really want this mask. She considered inspecting it before turning it over to the man, then shrugged her shoulders. The less she knew, the better.

“You have the item?” came a distinctive gravelly voice. Cinnet, her contact in Stekkard’s organization. His hooked nose, pale skin, and powder blue eyes always struck Copper as strange. She wondered if he might be albino, which would at least explain his appearance. Not that it concerned her in any way, but the cloak continually obscured his features and made it hard to get a read on the man. She wondered if that was intentional.

“Money first,” said Copper. She wouldn’t take any chances.

The man nodded hesitantly, and produced a small bag of coins from somewhere inside his long black cloak. He proffered it to her. She hefted the bag, listening to the pleasing clink of metal, then opened it up and peered inside. It looked and weighed about right, and it had the clink of real gold.

“And what about my bonus for quick service?” she asked.

The man grunted.

“You receive the agreed-upon sum,” he replied. “As usual. The item?”

Copper sighed, and handed the bundle over to the man. It was worth a shot. She pocketed her payment and turned to go.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” she called over her shoulder, then stuck her tongue out at the tall man.

Copper strode away, contented. It had been an exhilarating day, and she could go home with her pockets that much the heavier for the gold that now resided inside them.

As she left, the cloaked man turned and stepped into the shadows, where another figure waited.

“I delivered, as promised. You’ll let the girl go?” the second figure asked in a grating, nasally voice.

Cinnet nodded, tucking the mask into his cloak.

The second figure stepped forward into the half-light, revealing the pocked features and thin nose of a middle-aged goblin.

“And the fake? Stekkard will be furious if he discovers we’ve tricked him out of his prize,” the goblin replied.

“Here it is,” Cinnet replied, producing an identical bundle to the one he’d tucked away a moment before. “And Gistik? Thank you. It would not have been good to allow one of these out of our clan.”

Cinnet reached up to his face and pulled.  The skin peeled away to form a mask in his hand, revealing a the face of a young elven lad of perhaps eighty or ninety years. The face of Dras Markeli, an adopted child of the Markeli clan. He was not Cinnet, and had never been.

“And Stekkard’s agent, this Cinnet? You will give him the fake?” Dras asked, his voice hale and free of the gravelly tone.

“Yes, yes, of course. I’ve simply delayed him by having one of the lads slip something in his drink. He’ll be here shortly. And I’ll pay you back your fee once I have it from Cinnet. Now, be on your way, or he’ll suspect a rat.”

“Thank you once again, my friend. We Markelis owe you another debt,” the elf replied before turning to leave.

“I’ll have you fulfill your debts soon enough, I think,” Gistik called after him.

Gistik hated betraying one of his own people, but Copper would never be any the wiser, and, competent or no, she couldn’t afford to offend the Markeli players. If she wouldn’t look to her own welfare, Gistik supposed he would just have to take care of her himself. He chuckled at his own private joke as he awaited the arrival of the real Cinnet.


Magic Item: Wood Striders

It had taken her some time, and a lot of bruises and sprained ankles, but once she learned to use them, Copper had to admit that the boots were everything the broker had advertised. Were it not for the steep learning curve, she expected every thief in Cantovar would have a pair already. Well, that and the price tag. Experimental or no, you couldn’t get enchanted gear without expending a pretty penny. Not that she begrudged them the price, she admitted. The boots never wore out, and no matter how much wood they sliced through, the spurs remained as sharp as ever. Actually, exactly as sharp as ever, which meant they always slowed you down at exactly the same rate.

Wood striders make use of several low-level enchantments to achieve a useful effect. By combining a simple conditional grease enchantment with a couple of perpetually sharp spurs, the boots allow the wearer to travel across wood much as ice skaters can move along ice. While quite dangerous for new users, the boots allow veteran wearers to control their momentum and land difficult jumps across long distances, as long as they stick to wood. Unfortunately, the boots also leave behind deep furrows as the spurs cut into the wood underneath. Wood striders are illegal in most cities for this reason.

Wood Striders

Wondrous item, uncommon

If you are not proficient with wood striders, you have disadvantage on Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks and on Strength (Athletics) checks made to jump while wearing them, and you treat all terrain as difficult terrain.  After you roll five such checks over the course of at least a week of time, you gain proficiency with wood striders.

If you are proficient with wood striders, you instead have advantage on all Dexterity (Acrobatics) checks while on wooden surfaces and on Strength (Athletics) checks made to jump to or from a wooden surface. Additionally, your speed is increased by 15 feet while moving on wood.


Image by Raventhorne from Pixabay

5e, Game Mechanics, Spells

Spell: Glamer Object

Today we’re pleased to present a new 1st-level spell for bard, sorcerer, and wizard!  It’s called Glamer Object.  First, let’s take a look at the details:


Glamer Object

1st-level illusion
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: touch
Components: S, F (a glass gem)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

This illusion allows you to slightly change the appearance of a single object. The item could appear to be more lustrous, beautiful, and valuable than it really is; it could also be modified in other ways. This spell’s effects are very subtle. It could, for example, remove an impurity from a gemstone, hide a chip in a vase, alter a signet on a ring, or make an ordinary dagger appear to be made of mithral. It cannot change an object’s nature completely. By using an action to examine the object, a creature can roll an Intelligence (Investigation) check against your spell save DC. If it succeeds, the creature realizes it is an illusion and can see the object as it truly is.


 

So, what is Glamer Object good for?  Its applications in counterfeiting and fraud are most obvious, but it is also useful in myriad other situations.  Found some mephits in a cave and need something shiny to distract them?  Glamer some quartz to look like diamond.  Need access to the queen’s court?  Glamer your ring to make it look like the prince’s signet.  Want to swap out a fake painting for the real one at a ritzy art auction?  Glamer it!  The potential uses are endless, and it beats other illusion spells in situations where the effect needs to be subtle and relatively long-lasting, giving you time to get away.  So go ahead and take this spell, and next time your party questions you about your whereabouts on Friday night, you can just pull out a coaster from that seedy duergar dive and glamer it into something respectable.  An opera program, maybe.  Yeah.  You went to the opera.

Safely past the guards, Chancellor Brigid Stormfeather turned to her students.  “A basic illusion, class.  Best suited for when you need something similar to, but not quite, what you have.”  She turned and walked down the hallway of the treasury, the royal dispensation in her hand shimmering for a moment before turning back into a grocery receipt.  “Next, children, we’ll practice our stealth!  Is everyone ready?”

5e, Musings, Pathfinder, Spells, World Building

Reincarnation and You

by Jonathan D.

Today I want to talk to you about a matter close to my heart: overpowered game mechanics. I’ll admit it—I’ve been known to be a bit of a min-maxer (more on that in future posts). Actually, today’s topic is especially close to my heart because it encompasses another of my favorite rant subjects: realism in D&D. Now, these two topics frequently relate to one another. In a realistic setting, for example, most of us would be surprised if the wood elf barbarian we were fighting abruptly transformed into a bear and ripped out our larynxes. Some abilities are so busted that players will sacrifice realism to make themselves more awesome.

I’ve got something else in mind. Move aside, bearbarian. Who needs Elven Accuracy or Eldritch Blast? I’m not talking about your simple, garden variety busted here. I’m talking world-breaking, history-rewriting levels of busted. I’m talking about a level 5 druid spell called Reincarnate.

Are you underwhelmed yet? Unconvinced of the true magnitude of power contained in this spell? Well, if not, then you probably aren’t aware of how Reincarnate works. I will discuss the 5e version of the spell in particular, but it’s been around since original D&D and the important bits haven’t changed very much. Reincarnate is essentially a weirder druid version of Raise Dead, your lowest level resurrection spell. You can use it on any humanoid that has been dead for 10 days or less, and you need a piece of the body. So, if your half-orc buddy Chris chokes to death on his owlbear steak, just call up your neighborhood druid! 1 hour and 1000 gold pieces (500 more than Raise Dead) later, he’s back to life, good as new…except that he’s a gnome now, and his name’s Christina. To summarize, Reincarnate costs more than Raise Dead, works at the same time interval after death, and you come back as the wrong race. So what exactly makes this spell so great?

Well, first off, it only requires a piece of the target’s body. This is helpful if, for instance, most of Chris’s internal organs are trapped in the belly of a giant squid. But second (and most importantly), it fashions you an entirely new body, free of all the quirks and problems of the prior one. This includes a pesky thing called “age.” Chris’s new body is a fully grown adult body, without his old aches and pains, and with his hair returned to the glorious luster of his youth. For an adventurer like Chris, this benefit isn’t especially attractive since the debilities of age are years away. But what if Chris were an all-powerful monarch, a mighty tyrant, or even the grand progenitor of a great globe-encompassing secret society? This spell is suddenly a very attractive solution.

Every other resurrection spell specifies that the target cannot have died of old age. Not so Reincarnate, because it completely resets your age. For a man of wealth, such as a king, or even the head of a noble family, 1000 gold pieces really isn’t all that much. And time and time again within D&D narratives, powerful sorcerers turn to great extremes to defy the aging process. Some of them become liches, others imbibe strange concoctions, and a few spend their entire lives pursuing the philosopher’s stone. You may say that being the wrong race is inconvenient, but it’s much easier to change your appearance than it is to achieve agelessness any other way. Besides, if you really want, you can always just cast the spell over and over again until you get a body you like. And so why not simply have a friend ready to Reincarnate you as soon as death comes knocking at your door? Why not rise again to lead your family into a new era of prosperity–one in which your dynasty will never end? Besides, it also gets rid of that nasty case of herpes you got from that lamia in Skullport. I’m talking, of course, about cold sores.

5e, Game Mechanics, Spells, Subclasses

Sorcerous Origin: Pandamancer

by Timothy G

Welcome to the Bamboo Digest!

For our first entry, in honor of the founding of Pandamancer Games, we are excited to present our eponymous sorcerer subclass for 5e: the Pandamancer! Give it a try with your gaming group, and let us know what you think in the comments!


Sorcerous Origin: Pandamancer

Powerful panda magic flows through your veins.  Perhaps you descend from a druid who was only willing to befriend panda bears, or maybe your forebear fell into a hot spring and transformed into a panda.  Maybe your mother was blessed by a panda spirit as thanks for saving his sacred grove.  In any case, for better or for worse, you’ve known from a young age that it was your destiny to be a Pandamancer.

Wild Resilience

At 1st level, you may cast Bamboo Growth (see below) at will as a cantrip.  Additionally, you gain advantage on Constitution saves.

Bear-Speech

At 6th level, you gain the ability to speak to pandas as per Speak with Animals.  Additionally, you can spend 1 sorcery point to summon a panda companion as per Conjure Animals.  This panda uses the stats of a Brown Bear.

Take no Jutsu

At 14th level, when an enemy hits you with an attack, you may spend 2 sorcery points as a reaction to swap places with any bamboo stalk within 120 ft.  The bamboo stalk takes the damage from the attack instead.

Heavenly Panda Form

Beginning at 18th level, you can spend 5 sorcery points to transform into the Heavenly Panda (use the stats of a Brown Bear).  This functions as the druid’s wild shape class feature, except that while in Heavenly Panda form you may still speak and cast spells.  In addition, you shed a benevolent blue light in a 20 ft. radius as per the light spell.  This effect may be dismissed or activated as an action.  While in Heavenly Panda Form, you gain resistance to all non-magical damage and your natural attacks function as +3 weapons that deal radiant damage.


There it is!  The Pandamancer.  Let’s look at each feature.

Wild Resilience: Infinite bamboo, and advantage on one of the most common types of saving throw.  What’s not to like?

Bear-Speech: A panda bear friend you can talk to?  It’s a nature enthusiast’s dream.  In addition to being a great conversationalist, he’s also pretty decent in a fight.  And your new friend will greatly appreciate your ability to create infinite bamboo.

Take no Jutsu: This is my favorite part.  Not only is it an excellent defensive ability, it rewards battlefield strategy (smart bamboo placement!) and will leave your enemies extremely confused.  It works against any attack, so spell attacks and ranged attacks are fair game.  You could even save it for when your enemy scores a critical, and then laugh as his perfect swing goes *thunk* into a big piece of bamboo.  Beyond its defensive utility, Take no Jutsu gives you an excellent retreat strategy: place a bamboo stalk in a safe spot before combat, and if things go badly, you can disappear without having to use an action or a spell slot for dimension door.

Heavenly Panda Form: It’s a delightful image.  A gently glowing celestial panda, wandering the forest and giving sage advice to travelers.  Wise and placid, but fierce and deadly in a confrontation.  And if for any reason you want to be stealthy, you can turn off the glow.


Special bonus!  A new spell to complement the Pandamancer.  Check it out!

Bamboo Growth

1st-level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Components: V, S, M (a pinch of soil)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

This spell causes a bamboo shoot to sprout on one patch of soil or sand within range.  The shoot grows at a rate of 1 foot per round as long as you maintain concentration.  Once the spell ends, the plant becomes a mundane bamboo plant and grows as usual, requiring water, light, and fertile soil.


Now, growing a single stalk of bamboo may seem situational, but it actually has a lot of utility.  Bamboo is an extremely versatile plant.  In addition to all of its traditional uses, I hear it can be used to construct crude but effective vehicles.

Seriously, though, it could have a lot of uses, especially if you’re a Pandamancer and can cast it as a cantrip.  Need to lever up a big rock?  Grow some bamboo right under its edge.  Need an improvised weapon to fight the guy you just hit with that boulder?  Good news!  There’s a bamboo stalk right there where the boulder used to be.  Need a ladder to get away from the guy you just beaned with that bamboo pole?  Grow a second stalk, lash them together, and climb to safety!  See?  The uses are endless.

I love this spell because it’s possible to invent a vast array of creative uses for it.  Try out the Pandamancer and bamboo growth in your own 5e game and let us know what you think!