All posts by Ammon

Cyna Hewe – Human Folk Hero Abjurer

This post was the first of many I wrote for my DM’s Binder project last year, which I have since decommissioned and am slowly re-releasing over here instead. Originally published on April 12, 2017, it describes a 5th edition D&D character suitable for use as an interesting NPC or as a quick-and-dirty PC with a background, personal baggage, and advancement choices planned out through level 12.

Cyna Hewe

Cyna grew up in a very remote human village in the foothills of a large mountain range where the only regular contact with the outside world was in the form of mostly annual visit by small groups of either desperate or curious merchants. These merchants were always well received, but rarely considered the trips worth the trouble as while they could reliably expect to sell everything they brought with them… the goods they got in barter were mostly common foodstuffs and textiles that they could have acquired much more easily closer to civilization.

Cyna was the youngest of three children. Her older siblings were both married with families before she reached adulthood herself, leaving her alone at home to take care of their aging parents. The years passed and she never did meet anyone in town that struck her fancy, and had never caught anyone else’s eye as far as she knew. So when her parents died in Cyna’s 24th year, she inherited the family farm and continued to live and work out there alone, just outside of the village’s normal social circles.

With no one left to care for, and no particular interest in finding anyone, she reduced the scope of the farm, simply raising enough food to sustain herself and her small flock of sheep. She spun the wool and made fine cloth from it, which she bartered with the village or traveling merchants for anything else she needed. And books. She loved books.

In her second year alone, Cyna traded a heavy blanket for a small book of spells from an elderly halfling merchant who seemed to think that he had gotten the better end of that particular deal, and who left the village almost immediately after concluding the trade.

She wasn’t entirely sure at the time what she had done, and she never told anyone in the village about the book – most certainly not her family. But she devoted tremendous amounts of free time to studying from that moment on.

The book did not actually contain many spells, but what it did contain were remarkably useful to Cyna in her everyday life. She started relying on magic as part of her daily routine – so long as she was alone inside the farmhouse or out in the hills with her tiny little flock. She used magic instead of candles to read by at night, she used magic to repair things around the house, and she even used magic on one occasion to nurse an injured lamb back to health.

But the aspect of magic that fascinated her was wards. She placed an alarm on the sheep pen every night. She practiced shielding magic to protect herself in case of an accident. And she loved every moment of it. It made her feel more alive, more connected with the world than anything she had ever experienced.

All of this went well for the better part of a decade, with Cyna growing more potent, but also more distant from the villagers. It wasn’t that she thought herself above them, but she did not feel like she belonged in the village any more.

That winter, the snows were terrible.

Like most of the village, Cyna had been worried about the inevitable spring melt. Unlike the rest of the village, however, she was able to do something more than worry; she maintained wards on the snow banks uphill from town for the last several weeks of winter.

When the melt finally came, it happened almost instantly. Cyna rode into the town to warn people of the pending flood. They did not have much time to prepare, but they tried, with Cyna right there reinforcing the embankment with everyone else. When the surge hit, it carried debris with it from upstream, with some of that debris dragging along the top of and rapidly eroding the newly built-up embankment. When one log got wedged into the wall, several villagers scrambled down to release it before it collected too much more debris and created a dam… As they struggled in the mud to release it, they grew oblivious to the danger and didn’t see the second log rolling down the wall. They didn’t even notice when Cyna deflected it, but the rest of the collected village did.

Overall, the flood defense was mostly successful, with only minimal property damage – but Cyna was outed as a witch.

The village was unsure how to treat her after that, even her family. They were certainly grateful, but they also began to fear her. She didn’t stay in town for much longer. She left the farm to her oldest nephew’s family, took her book and an old pendant that had belonged to her mother, and went into the world to protect people who couldn’t protect themselves.

Personality

Trait – If someone is in trouble, I’m always ready to lend help.
Ideal – Sincerity. There’s no good in pretending to be something I’m not.
Bond – I protect those who cannot protect themselves.
Flaw – I can never go home again; living a lie for so many years cost me the trust of everyone I knew growing up.

Cyna believes that magic is a tool to help people, and is very resistant to using it directly as a weapon. She prefers to attempt to diffuse dangerous situations with words where possible and misdirection if that fails. She is by no means a pacifist, and won’t object to party members using magic as a weapon – but if she has to fight, she prefers to use a bow or some other more obvious weapon whose primary purpose is already violence.

Outside of that necessary to sustain herself, Cyna is largely uninterested in wealth – outside of magical knowledge. She is also completely uninterested in sociopolitical power, fame, or romance. Cyna is motivated by little more than a desire to grow in knowledge and ability to use her magic as a shield.

As she advances in level, she will gradually grow less reluctant to use her magic offensively – but prefers offensive magic that requires a melee touch. However, even at the highest levels, she recognizes that her strength is in preventing and unraveling harm before it occurs, and is more than willing to let others blow stuff up instead.

Human

Stats – +1 Str, +1 Dex, +1 Con, +1 Int, +1 Wis, +1 Cha
Speed – 30′ (M)
Language – Common

Folk Hero

Defining Event – Saved people during a natural disaster.
Proficiency – Animal Handling, Survival, Weaver’s Tools, Vehicles (land)

Equipment

  • weaver’s tools
  • shovel, iron pot
  • common clothes
  • belt pouch: 10gp

Rustic Hospitality

  • You fit in with the common folk.
  • You can find lodgings or a hiding place among commoners.
  • They will shield you from pursuit/cops as long as you don’t put them in danger.

Wizard

Hit Dice – d6
Saves – Int, Wis
Proficiency – daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaves, light crossbows
Skills – Insight, Medicine

Equipment

  • dagger
  • arcane focus (mother’s crystal necklace)
  • explorer’s pack
    • backpack, bedroll
    • tinderbox, 10 torches
    • mess kit, 10 days rations, waterskin
    • 50′ hemp rope
  • spellbook

References

Two of her starting spells (healing elixir and snare) come from the Unearthed Arcana: Starter Spells list.
Everything else is vanilla PHB material.

If you do not wish to use UA content, then replace those two starter spells with sleep and protection from evil and good instead.

Note: The spells specified below are only those that Cyna is guaranteed to have learned through advancement. Any other spells she has undoubtedly also collected through her adventures are entirely up to the player/DM.

Advancement

Level 1

1st level spells

Arcane Recovery, 1/day

  • Recover spell slots equal to half wizard level (rounded up) at the end of a short rest.

Cantrips

  • blade ward
  • light
  • mending

Spells

  • alarm (ritual)
  • detect magic (ritual)
  • healing elixir (UA)
  • mage armor
  • shield
  • snare (UA)

Level 2

Arcane Tradition – Abjuration

Abjuration Savant

  • The gold and time cost to copy abjuration spells into spellbook is halved.

Arcane Ward, 1/long

  • Whenever you cast an abjuration spell (1st level or higher), create a ward on yourself that lasts until the end of your next long rest.
  • This ward has hit points equal to 2 x (wizard level + Int mod).
  • Whenever you take damage, the ward takes the damage instead.
  • If the ward is at 0 hp, it remains, but does not absorb damage; casting another abjuration will replenish the ward for 2 x (spell level).

Spells

  • identify (ritual)
  • fog cloud

Level 3

2nd level spells

Spells

  • arcane lock
  • invisibility (concentration)

Level 4

ASI – +2 Int (18, +4 mod)

Cantrip

  • shocking grasp (cantrip)

Spells

  • blur
  • misty step

Level 5

3rd level spells

Spells

  • counterspell
  • dispel magic

Level 6

Projected Ward

  • As a reaction, use your Arcane Ward to protect a creature you can see within 30 feet from taking damage.

Spells

  • magic circle
  • remove curse

Level 7

4th level spells

Spells

  • banishment
  • private sanctum

Level 8

ASI – +2 Int (20, +5 mod)

Spells

  • confusion
  • wall of fire

Level 9

5th level spells

Spells

  • mislead
  • conjure elemental

Level 10

Improved Abjuration

  • Add proficiency bonus to ability checks made when casting abjurations.

Cantrip

  • message

Spells

  • vampiric touch
  • hold monster

Level 11

6th level spells

Spells

  • globe of invulnerability
  • guards and wards

Level 12

ASI – Observant

  • +1 Wis, (14, +2 mod)
  • Can read lips (known languages)
  • +5 to passive Wis (Perception) and passive Int (Investigation) scores

Spells

  • mass suggestion
  • contingency

dm binder import

About this time last year, I had an idea for putting together a collection of interesting stock characters for D&D campaigns. The thought was that they would be useful as either NPC’s or as quick replacement/disposable PC’s. They were intentionally not perfectly optimized – in fact, some were intentionally designed to be subpar from a game mechanics standpoint. But they would be interesting, fleshed out, and ready to fill voids in a game.

I called this project the DM Binder because it reminded me of my old binders of notes. I spent weeks on it, writing for hours every day. I built spreadsheets to make sure I was balancing my selections across the full spectrum of character options. I used the full set of official sources and pulled in Unearthed Arcana rulesets. All told, I stubbed out basic ideas for 67 different characters.

But then I started to choose their abilities, planning advancement decisions up through level 12. This took longer. I spent a few more weeks rolling up characters until I had about 10 fully planned out, with another dozen or so mostly planned…

But I still hadn’t really written backstories and the like for many of the characters. Many of them only had one or two sentence histories. But most had even less – a single word for their concept beyond the race/gender/subclass/background/etc… selections that I had already made.

So the project stagnated. I’d started with the foolish goal of finishing a full write-up every week, and even organized the characters into a schedule that would last a year and a half. I had set up a subdomain here to post things onto, with the intent of waiting until I had achieved some degree of traction before publicizing it… but that never happened. Summer had passed and I still wasn’t in a position that I was happy with showing to people.

So, in an attempt to consolidate projects, reduce my compute load on the server, and generally make myself appear to be less of a slacker, I have shut down the other site and absorbed these other posts into this one.

I’ve not re-published any of the completed characters yet, but will be doing so as soon as I am happy with them, regardless of the schedule involved.

Lightning Review: Surviving Mars

Howdy! This is the first in what I hope will be an interesting set of “short” game reviews. I don’t plan to spend time grabbing screenshots or talking with other people, I’m just going to write my quick (for someone’s definition of quick) impressions and opinions (with words) and move on. Mostly this will be a vaguely organized brain dump.

Surviving Mars

Formally released one week ago (Mar 15, 2018) by Haemimont Games and Paradox Interactive, Surviving Mars is precisely what it says on the tin. It is a game about keeping martian colonists alive.

Nothing witty to share about this screenshot. It’s a secondary landing area where I’m mining rare metals in an attempt to keep up with my electronics addiction.

It costs $40 for the base, non-sale version. There are more expensive editions available, the priciest of which includes a season pass for future DLC for $35 more. The season pass promises 2 full expansions and 2 content packs, and can be purchased by itself if you already have the base game (same total price).

Haemimont is a veteran Bulgarian game studio responsible for Tropico 3-5, Victor Vran, and a number of games that I have not played. I have a generally good impression of them and the fact that they’re not the ones writing Tropico 6 is my big worry for that upcoming game.

Paradox is a Swedish publisher most famous for their complex military strategy games, many of which are the product of an in-house dev studio. They’ve also published a variety of other games, but the bulk of their products are simulators and the bulk of those are military in nature with steep learning curves.

There’s no in-game tutorial this time around (as the community tends to expect for a Paradox title, but not one from Haemimont). But they did partner with strategy game YouTuber Quill18 to sponsor an instructional video series for the game. I watched his first 3 episodes before playing for myself.

The game is available via Steam or GOG. Steam keys are additionally available through all of the normal resellers, including Humble and Fanatical. It nominally runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux… but the Mac build had major rendering and crashing bugs at launch (I was personally unable to get past the game’s initial menu screen). On March 20, they released a patch for OSX builds, but I have not tried it since then.

There is meant to be strong modding support (at least via Steam Workshop), and Haemimont has published a number of sample mods.

I have played 7 hours of the game on Windows plus whatever time I wasted trying to run it on the Mac.
Continue reading Lightning Review: Surviving Mars

i sii what you did there


Well, this post took me entirely longer to write than I planned. Actually it didn’t – 95% of this was done in January… but I was unhappy with just about everything about it and my entire family decided that it was a perfect time to get sick, so attempts at editing proved futile.

On the bright side, this extra delay allowed me to advance the character to GL6, which adds some interesting perspective to the whole mess. Also, this post may not be of very general interest… but it is a topic that interests me, so here we go.

– Al (Feb 9, 2018)

When I returned to 3k, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t expect my muscle memory to be able to take me directly to the ATM from the northern entrance to town. I didn’t expect the Witch and Warder guilds to have closed. I certainly didn’t expect to see mechanics for giving lower level players autoloading equipment in a game like this. But I did expect to see a new guild or two, and I was not been disappointed on that front.

This “new” (circa 2006 it seems) Sii guild appears to be based on a comparatively unique concept. Unlike, for example, the aforementioned Warders or the Juggernauts, who are based directly on Battletech’s Elemental armoured infantry units – which are not to be confused with the Elemental guild, who are… well, a bunch of elementals (like fire and water and stuff).

What follows is a (hopefully organized) explanation of this newfangled guild’s mechanics, and the things that make them interesting to me from a game design perspective. But like I said, it may not be of any interest to anyone other than myself (and possibly to new players of 3k who are trying to decide between the game’s roughly 20 guilds).

After several attempts at googling the Sii, I have found nothing but references to the guild itself. It’s possible that their exact analogue does exist somewhere in some sci-fi novel or show that I’m unfamiliar with… but I’ve read a lot and I’ve watched a lot more… so *shrug*

The sii are… well, they’re telepathic parasites.

Continue reading i sii what you did there

return of the three kingdoms

September 1996 changed my life forever. I was a naive college freshman trying to make friends with the other guys in my dorm. We were all part of a special technical program for younger students that I won’t go into now – but suffice it to say that we were a bunch of geeks.

The internet was still youngish and only one room in our entire building (a lab on the ground floor) was wired for ethernet. If we wanted to connect to the net, we had to tie up our room’s phone line. I had a 40mhz 486dx processor, 8mb of ram, and a 33.6kbps dial-up modem. This was better than half of the other computers on the floor.

Apart from all of the standard hobbies that one would expect (tabletop role-playing games, computer RPG’s, boardgames, MTG, SNES, usenet, anime, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, etc…), many of my classmates spent a significant amount of time playing muds. Like a SIGNIFICANT amount of time.

And on September 6th of that year, under only the mildest of coercion, I dialed into the university’s modem bank, typed telnet, and logged into a mud for the very first time.

No client. Raw telnet. … Yeah.

Continue reading return of the three kingdoms

new year new blog

So, it is January of 2018. In one form or another, I have been writing “here” for almost 15 years now. That is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

I’ve talked about linux systems administration, video game development and depression. I’ve reviewed newly released anime and 10-year-old anime and free to play mmorpg’s. I’ve attempted various strategy game let’s plays and fiction writing challenges. I’ve speculated about the future of various games and theorycrafted ways to play them. I’ve apologized numerous times for not writing anything.

What I haven’t done is stick to a reliable release schedule 🙂

There have been times when I posted 10 times a week… and times when I never actually completed a post over the course of a year (as per recent history). But I’ve always been writing – even if posts never came out, there are stubs that never quite hit completion.

Seriously, though. My historical ratio of completed to uncompleted posts is rather poor. Right now, I have 16 things that I tried to write over the past two years but never got around to… and of them, I only feel one post is worth trying to finish… and IT was originally written in the context of Borderlands 2, a video game that shipped over 8 years ago. So maybe?

I want to set and stick to a schedule for the coming year, but at the same time I also want to increase the quality of what I produce here. I also want to start streaming gameplay (or game development) on Twitch and releasing video content on YouTube somewhat regularly.

I’ve contemplated scrapping all of this backlog of history in favor of a clean slate… but am not going to do that right now. If I wipe the blog, I’d only do so as part of a migration to a new domain – which is only likely to happen at this point if I somehow wound up making a living off of the blog… which, yeah. Nope 🙂

So… this is my semi-regular announcement to nobody in particular that things are going to be different. We’ll see how that goes.