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New Magazine: Kobold Quarterly

posted Friday, June 29th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
News, Reviews & Culture

Industry veteran and former Dragon Magazine editor Wolfgang Baur is conveniently filling the void left by the closure of Dragon with his new online publication, Kobold Quarterly. This new PDF-form magazine looks set to attract a lot of the freelance writers that formerly wrote for Dragon, and with a former Dragon editor behind the wheel it’ll be interesting to see how this turns out.

I wasn’t convinced at first, but at $3 per issue, can you argue that it’s not worth giving a chance? You can find a purchase link here.

Magic Shop Syndrome, Revisited

posted Sunday, June 24th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceGame DesignThird Edition

In March I discussed magic items being too easy to buy and offered some ways to make it more realistic. After a lot of discussion, it strikes me that as unrealistic as Magic Shop Syndrome is, it’s a rule of third edition that magic equipment can be bought and sold, and denying your players their shopping trips in the interests of realism is removing something that many players enjoy.

In other words, if your players are used to carting back unwanted items as vendor trash while treating the back of the Dungeon Master’s Guide as a shopping catalogue, they’re probably quite enjoying this part of the game and even relying on it as part of character progression. Of course, this freedom causes problems that aren’t covered in the manuals, because they didn’t exist in earlier editions and didn’t occur to the original writers. It encourages a new level of powerplay, it’s more paperwork to record and handle all that vendor trash, and it strains realism to buy and sell rare equipment so easily. Thankfully, there are solutions.

In terms of power-play and min-maxing, this can actually be a good thing. Experienced players enjoy buffing their characters with rare and valuable magic items, and have played for long enough to know what items they want.

Realism can be handled by enforcing common sense and a few existing rules. First and foremost, there’s the gold piece limit per settlement – travelling to a sufficiently large settlement takes time, or at least a prepared teleport spell. At 200 gp, a village won’t even have any masterwork weapons for sale, having a few minor potions at best. A small town may offer wands of cure light wounds and all but the top tier of potions, but at 800 gp you’re not going to have significant equipment. A large town is the smallest to offer you a +1 weapon, will have any potion you wish, and any wondrous item up to 3,000 gp, which includes basic staples like the cloak of resistance +1. Traveling to a small city you’ll find anything up to 15,000 gp, which includes +3 armor and +2 weapons and the important “+2 ability score” equipment. A large city (40,000 gp) will see you up to +6 equivalent armour and a +4 weapon, as well as the +6 ability score gear and all but the top tier of rings and wondrous items. Naturally, most adventurers will want to settle in a metropolis, whose 100,000 gp limit offers any item short of the ridiculously expensive: the manual of bodily health +5, ring of elemental command, staff of life, +8 equivalent weapons or better, and artifacts which cannot be purchased.

There’s also the gruntwork of selling, which can be largely glossed over as long as it’s described well enough. The general idea is to make sure players know that they aren’t buying and selling at some anonymous magic-mart. It may take several days to line up buyers and sellers for all the equipment they’re selling, and these rich buyers and sellers have names and faces. Don’t forget that items must be identified before sale, costing 110gp per item. This is your tax for having to look the item up in your notes.

When it comes to the paperwork, a piece of advice I agree with is to let the players handle as much of it as possible. Have one of the players take responsibility for recording “party loot”, ideally using a bag of holding. Next, very importantly, have the players do all the adding up. You should only have to tell them the prices of items that aren’t in the DMG, such as gems and jewellery which you can make up if you don’t know. You do have to trust your players not to embezzle you, but the alternative is that your players hand you an itemized bill and sit bored while you count their money for them. Your players should have that pleasure themselves.

In summary, if you’re DMing for experienced players who know what they want, you might as well just let them buy magic items. Just make sure they get the feeling that there’s no such thing as a catch-all magic shop for high-level items, and make sure it’s the players who get to enjoy the gruntwork.

Changing the World: Classes

posted Thursday, June 21st 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceGame DesignThird Edition

Last week in “Changing the World” I wrote about changing the world’s races. This week, I’m going to look at character classes, and what changes might be made if you’re planning fresh start.

There’s less shuffle-room with character classes in D&D than there is with races. In a standard dungeon-crawl game, a balanced party requires a warrior (barbarian/fighter/paladin), a priest (cleric/druid), an arcanist (sorcerer/wizard) and a rogue. You’re weak without that combination, or something radically different. Let’s focus, then, on the existing classes, how they can be spiced up thematically, how their abilities might be varied and how they interact with the races from the previous article. Continue reading this article »

Kill Gleemax!

posted Tuesday, June 19th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Creatures & NPCsDungeon Mastering AdviceGame MaterialThird Edition

Tempers flared when Dungeons & Dragons players started to fear that their two favourite magazines had been replaced by some kind of brain in a jar website. It turns out that’s not quite the case, but I figured that if enough players have an axe to grind with Gleemax, that they might as well do it accompanied by a mage, thief and cleric.

I’m told it’s some kind of Magic: The Gathering in-joke.

Gleemax, CR20
Advanced brain in a jar psion20 (telepath)
NE Tiny undead
Libris Mortis 90
Init +3; Senses blindsight 60ft., darkvision 60ft; Listen +14, Spot +14
Telepathy 100ft, language-dependant


AC 14, touch 14, flat-footed 11
hp 311 (29HD; turn resistance +8)
Immune undead traits
Fort +9, Ref +12, Will +20


Spd fly 30ft (good)
Space 1ft.; Reach
Psionic powers known (CL 20th, 403pp/day);
    9th–affinity field, assimilate, psionic etherealness, microcosm, psychic chirurgery, reality revision
    8th–mind seed, recall death, true metabolism
    7th–crisis of life, decerebrate, insanity
    6th–mind switch, mass cloud mind, psionic disintegrate
    5th–mind probe, leech field, psychic crush, psionic true seeing
    4th–mind wipe, psionic dominate, psionic modify memory, telekinetic maneuver
    3rd–dispel psionics, false sensory input, psionic blast, time hop
    2nd–ego whip, brain lock, read thoughts, psionic suggestion
    1st–conceal thoughts, distract, inertial armor, mind thrust, psionic charm
Special Atk mind thrust, psionics, rebuke undead


Abilities Str —, Dex 16, Con —, Int 20, Wis 10, Cha 25
SQ Madness, +8 turn resistance
Feats Ability Focus (mind thrust), Alertness, Delay Power, Dodge, Force of Will, Greater Power Penetration, Improved Turn Resistance, Iron Will, Overchannel, Power Penetration, Psionic Dodge, Quicken Power, Skill Focus (Bluff), Skill Focus (Diplomacy)
Skills Concentration +20, Bluff +42, Diplomacy +42, Knowledge (history) +37, Knowledge (psionics) +37, Knowledge (religion) +37, Listen +14, Profession (game designer) +12, Psicraft +25, Spot +14


Mind Thrust (Su): As a standard action, Gleemax can deliver an assault on the mental pathways of one creature, dealing 2d10 points of damage to any creature which fails a DC 20 Will save.
Madness (Su): Anyone targetting Gleemax with thought detection, mind control or any sort of telepathic or psionic ability that makes direct contact with its tortured mind takes 1d4 points of Wisdom damage.
Psionics (Sp): 3/day–suggestion (DC20), telekinesis (DC22); 1/day–dominate person (DC20). Manifester level 20th.
Rebuke Undead (Su): Gleemax can rebuke or command undead as a level 9 cleric.
Unholy Toughness, aka Dragotha Rule (Ex): Gleemax gains a bonus to its hit points equal to its Charisma modifier x its Hit Dice, just because.

Links Roundup

posted Friday, June 15th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Links and ResourcesNews, Reviews & Culture

Here’s what’s cool in RPGs this week:

Changing the World: Races

posted Thursday, June 14th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceGame DesignThird Edition

A lot of cheapskate Dungeon Masters–myself included–like to make up our own campaign settings as we go along. It’s enjoyable, cost-effective, and gives you a lot of flexibility, plus you won’t have trouble with your players knowing the setting far better than you do. Before I decided to set my game in Greyhawk I was considering a few changes to my world just to keep things fresh. You might like to use these if you’re starting a new campaign.

  • Remove the elves. For reasons known only to the elven race themselves – perhaps the end of an era, or to avoid a prophecied cataclysm, or maybe they’ve finally had enough of mankind – the elves have left the world and retreated to some other plane. They have left behind their half-elven progeny, some of whom begin to take their place, and a host of empty settlements and lands which the humans are quick to plunder and war over. Game-wise, many homebrews take the opposite approach and add in too many silly elven subraces.
  • Add in the kenku. Taking the place of the elves as the game’s high-Dexterity race, the kenku (Monster Manual III) begin to grow in number now that the elves aren’t keeping them down. They’re somewhat distrusted by many other races and have a reputation as thieves, but their image is improved by several kenku heroes who have risen to prominent positions in society. Statistically, kenku make good player characters as rogues and spellcasters, with +2 Dex, -2 Strength and a few rogue-beneficial special abilities.
  • No more half-orcs. Orcs in this setting are wholly evil, uncompromising, and violent. Because of this, there are essentially no half-orcs: the orcs leave none of their victims alive, and have no interest in peaceful relations with humans.
  • A new race of rock people are added. I swear, I made this one up before Twilight Princess. Replacing the half-orcs as the Strength bonus race, I hit upon this idea of a race of stone humanoids who could eat certain rare ores and gems to improve their physical ability. Essentially you could eat a lot of your treasure and end up this huge, ogre-like guy. The elders of this race were huge, ancient, mountainous beings.
  • Ironborn make an appearance. For the munchkin who demands to build his own, Mike Mearls’ ironborn race (Book of Iron Might) exist in the setting. Being the offspring of wizards, they hold a certain status of prestige in society, and being as well-reknowned as they are, every powerful wizard has one as a matter of pride.
  • Everyone else stays. Humans are as usual, dwarves are busy being dour and taciturn because they’re awesome, gnomes exist to stop people wanting to play kobolds, half-elves get that bonus skill point and take over as the elfy race, and halflings get their hairy feet back but are otherwise unchanged.

Join me next week when we start screwing around with the character class system to keep things fresh.

5 Things I Don’t Like About Eberron

posted Monday, June 11th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
None of the Above

A few days ago I posted 5 Things I Like About Eberron. In compiling the list I hit upon a few things that I disliked about the setting – not a lot of them, but they really stuck out at me. I’ll see if I can hit five.

  1. Too many cliches and half-baked ideas. There’s a lot among Eberron’s fresh ideas that just tastes a little stale. The destruction of an entire country mimics Greyhawk’s Twin Cataclysms. The demon-filled northern wastes remind me of the home of Lone Wolf’s Darklords. Khyber makes me think of a Carry On film. Nations are composed unrealistically of one race or gimmick each, and frequently evoke images of real-world equivalents. Some of this familiarity is a strength, but at other times it just feels old and unpolished.
  2. “Pulp noir” is kind of vague. I can’t really grasp it, and it seems that Eberron writers are having a little trouble catching on to the writer’s vision. It was a great concept, but I think that it worked better in its original intended setting of a videogame, rather than a pen and paper RPG which relies heavily on game masters getting a feel for the setting easily. Perhaps it’s just me.
  3. Wizards use it for everything. I’m perhaps a little harsh in my assessment here; only two recent D&D videogames are set in Eberron (D&D Online, Dragonshard) while Temple of Elemental Evil is Greyhawk and Neverwinter Nights 2 is Forgotten Realms. My complaint is that while both games use the setting in name, they set themselves in the continent of Xen’Drik, a continent intended to give a place for things which don’t really fit into Eberron. What you end up with is more like standard Greyhawk D&D with different deities and a few new races.
  4. Artificer is no good in regular D&D. As an NPC class or a PC in a game based on investigation and intrigue, I see nothing wrong with artificers. Try to fit those into the standard game and you’ve got a character who’s like a rogue, except he owns more magic items and can’t sneak.

Alright, I’m too sleepy to come up with a fifth. In Eberron’s defence, it has a lot of excellent ideas that I’m a fan of. Clerics able to change alignment and become corrupt is interesting, planar manifest zones open up all kinds of possibilities, the daelkyr add a new category of enemy to the usual hackneyed demons and devils, the quori are likewise an interesting and innovative set of creatures, and the Silver Flame is an interesting myth that fits with an anti-lycanthrope, Inquisition style church.

5 Things I Like About Eberron

posted Friday, June 8th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
None of the Above

Eberron wasn’t quite the success Wizards of the Coast were hoping for, but as an all-new setting it managed to introduce several new ideas that I really like and wouldn’t hesitate to borrow for a homebrew setting.

  1. Half-elves are their own race. In the core rules and almost every other setting, half-elves are relegated to a sub-race, a caste of second-class half-breed citizens who almost nobody plays because they’re mechanically inferior to humans. Eberron makes half-elves their own race – the Khoravar, descendants of humans and elves who met long ago on Khorvaire and are thus, in a clever way, a race native to the continent. As a house rule, I like to beef up this race in Eberron by giving them the human’s bonus skill point.
  2. Outsiders are immortal. Outsiders, whether they reside on the material plane or the outer planes, can never be permanently killed. Unlike Planescape where it’s possible to kill a demon for good, Eberron makes outsiders truly immortal by having them eventually re-form if killed. Weak outsiders are replaced with new ones with none of their original memories, while the more powerful ones (such as fiends with class levels) retain their knowledge and abilities when they eventually re-form. Evil such as this must be sealed away for any sort of long-term solution.
  3. Elemental binding is neat. Logically progressing from the idea of a golem animated by an elemental spirit (a generic phrase I suspect didn’t originally refer to the creature “elemental”, but whatever), you have all manner of convenient stuff powered by elementals, from trains to airships to flaming swords. The thematics of this is really a lot more interesting than the plain “it’s magic” that players have gotten used to over the years.
  4. Low levels are important. In most D&D 3ed games, I find that experienced players feel terribly underpowered at level 1, despite being already significantly above average in comparison to the world’s normal people. The old D&D Basic Rules only went as far as level 4 and by then you were a veteran elite; nowadays, it’s nothing because you’re only one-fifth as powerful as maximum character level. In practice, it’s believed that D&D 3ed was never properly playtested for very high levels, and many games peter out before level 15. Eberron rightly scales down the balance of power in the world so that the low levels mean much more, 11th level is legendary again, and the very high levels command truly world-shaping power.
  5. Intrigue is good. I never managed to get a handle on the meaning of “pulp noir and dark intrigue”. However, it’s frequently the case that experienced players become tired of the same old hack and slash dungeon crawling, and often emigrate to games with less focus on combat and more on exploration, investigation and roleplaying. Eberron offers a fertile setting for this sort of thing, with a low enough magic level that investigations can benefit from magical resources without degrading into a barrage of divination spellcasting.

Join me in a few days’ time when I balance out my praise of Eberron with a few complaints.

Inspired by: Legend of Zelda

posted Sunday, June 3rd 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Player Advice

Alright, I surrender. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii has finally convinced me to write up a set of feats and abilities inspired by the Zelda game series. Some minor spoilers here, but only in terms of what special attacks you learn.

First are some Unearthed Arcana style character traits:

Off-handed (trait)
You are left-handed, if right-handedness is the norm for your race. Otherwise, you are right-handed.
Benefit: You gain a +1 bonus to attack when fighting opponents who are using a shield, and are not also off-handed.
Drawback: You suffer a -1 penalty to AC under the same circumstances.
Roleplaying ideas: Characters with this trait might have trouble fitting into traditional military establishments, preferring to become lone wolves.

Next, some combat feats. I’m afraid I don’t really feel up to my usual level of rules-scrutiny on this one, but it’s more or less balanced.

Ending Blow [General]
You have learned a hidden technique to finish off incapacitated opponents with a reckless sword-first leap.
Prerequisites: Base attack +1, Jump 5 ranks.
Benefit: Whenever you attack a foe who is denied their Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (such as knocked prone) you may leap recklessly at the opponent and deal 1d8 points of bonus damage. If the opponent is still able to make Attacks of Opportunity despite being flat-footed (such as by having the Combat Reflexes feat or feigning his flat-footed condition), he may make one against you; if it hits, or if he is not flat-footed, you cannot apply the bonus damage. You may only apply the bonus to one attack per round. If the foe is helpless, you may make a coup de grace attack instead of a normal attack, but you provoke Attacks of Opportunity from adjacent foes as usual.
Special: A fighter may select Ending Blow as one of his bonus feats.

Shield Attack [General]
Your shield attacks throw an opponent off-balance.
Prerequisites: Base attack +3, Shield Proficiency, Improved Shield Bash
Benefit: Whenever you make a successful shield bash attack against your opponent, he suffers a -2 penalty to attacks or AC (your choice) for one round. Alternatively, you may deny the opponent the use of his own shield for a round. Multiple penalties do not stack, although you can apply separate penalties to to AC and attacks.
Special: A fighter may select Shield Attack as one of his bonus feats.

Back Slice [General]
You have learned the hidden techique of turning to strike your opponent from behind.
Prerequisites: Base attack +5, Tumble 5 ranks.
Benefit: If you successfully manoever to the opposite side of an opponent from where you began the round, all attacks you make this round ignore the opponent’s shield and up to two points each of Armor Class from each of Armor and Natural Armor.
Special: A fighter may select Back Slice as one of his bonus feats.

Helm Splitter [General]
You have learned a hidden technique to vault over an opponent while striking his head.
Prerequisites: Base attack +7, Jump 8 ranks, Tumble 4 ranks, Power Attack
Benefit: Once per round as an attack action, you can vault over an opponent while attacking his head. Doing so requires a Jump or Tumble check with a DC equal to 20 plus or minus 10 for each size category above or below Medium, respectively. If successful, you deal 1d8 points of bonus damage and land behind your opponent, who loses his Dexterity bonus to Armor class relative to you for one round. You must have an unbroken run-up of at least 20ft immediately before the vault, or the DC is doubled.
Special: A fighter may select Helm Splitter as one of his bonus feats.

Mortal Draw [General]
You have learned a hidden technique allowing you to surprise opponents by drawing your sword suddenly.
Prerequisites: Base attack +9, Quick Draw
Benefit: If you are unarmed and draw a weapon immediately before attacking an opponent who is aware of you, they are denied their Dexterity bonus to Armor Class relative to you for that attack.
Special: A fighter may select Mortal Draw as one of his bonus feats.

Jump Strike [General]
You have learned a hidden technique to strike approaching opponents with legendary timing.
Prerequisites: Base attack +11, Jump 12 ranks
Benefit: As a standard action you can ready a Jump Strike. If any opponent comes within ten feet of you within the following round, you can leap toward your opponent, executing a Jump Strike. Treat this as a charge attack, except that the attack is made with a +4 bonus and deals deal double normal damage.
Special: A fighter may select Jump Strike as one of his bonus feats.

Great Spin [General]
You have learned the ultimate hidden technique.
Prerequisites: Base attack +13, Cleave, Power Attack, Whirlwind Attack
Benefit: Whenever you make a Whirlwind Attack, each opponent must succeed at a Reflex save with a DC equal to the damage you deal, or be knocked prone. Furthermore, you may make extra attacks you would normally be afforded, such as from the Cleave feat or a haste spell (although not bonus attacks from a high Base Attack Bonus or fighting with two or more weapons). You can only use this ability when your current hit point total is equal to at least fifty percent of your maximum.
Special: A fighter may select Great Spin as one of his bonus feats.

Finally, a few extra feats:

Twilight Familiar [General]
Touched with shadow, your familiar can draw upon your spellcasting potential to power spell-like abilities.
Prerequisites: Improved Familiar, Knowledge (the planes) 5 ranks.
Benefit: When you prepare spells or refresh your daily spell allotment, you may spend spell slots that day to imbue your familiar with certain spell-like abilities of the same level or lower (see below). Commanding your familiar to use a spell-like ability is a free action. Each spell-like ability can be used once per day per spell slot you expend. You may imbue each spell-like ability once per day, plus once more for each spell level you are able to cast above that spell-like ability. You may choose from the following spell-like abilities: open door, expeditious retreat, detect secret doors, see invisible, fly, dimension door, polymorph (humanoid and animal forms only), teleport, telekinesis, greater teleport, and any spell-like abilities your familiar already has.

Your Sword With Power [General]
You have learned a magical technique to strike even distant foes with your sword.
Prerequisites: Proficiency in any martial or exotic weapon, Knowledge (arcana) 3 ranks.
Benefit: When wielding a magical melee weapon, you may use that weapon to fire a magical force bolt as an attack action. In effect, your melee weapon can be used as a ranged weapon with a range increment of 30ft., using the normal rules for ranged weapons. Apply the weapon’s magical enhancement as normal, but do not apply your Strength modifier or any bonuses or magical abilities which can only apply to melee weapons (such as Vorpal). You can only use this ability when your current hit point total is equal to at least fifty percent of your maximum.
Special: A fighter may select Your Sword With Power as one of his bonus feats.

I Told My Friends, It Was a Dumb Idea [General]
You and two friends have gotten a Triforce tattoo.
Prerequisites: Intelligence 13 or lower
Benefit: You have a magically enhanced tattoo representing one of three parts of an ancient symbol of Power, Wisdom and Courage. You gain one of the folllowing abilities:

  • Power: a +2 bonus to Intimidate and saves vs death effects
  • Wisdom: a +2 bonus to Sense Motive and saves vs illusions
  • Courage: a +2 bonus to Survival and saves vs fear effects

These bonuses to saves are morale bonuses.
Special: You must take this feat simultaneously with two other people. When you take this feat, deduct 50gp.

Only Pagerank 3

posted Friday, June 1st 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Site Announcements

Welcome to June! Back in October I reported that D20 Source had made it to the lofty heights of pagerank 4. Unfortunately, it seems that since then I’ve dropped to only pagerank 3. Pagerank is Google’s method of determining a site’s significance based on how many websites link back to them.

This means that you need to link more!

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