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“Celestial Heroes,” An Adventure Sketch (With Notes for 4 Game Systems)

I’ve wanted to do a full write-up for this adventure for years, but never had time. So, here’s a sketch of the general idea.

Players their PCs are all very junior angels–celestial outsiders who mostly sort through prayer requests to see what to pass up to higher ranks of the divine bureaucracy, but who also get an occasional flash of excitement by being summoned by the faithful to aid in a fight. The players should give their characters names and personalities, but not worry about game stats yet.

The PCs are spending time sorting through prayers, and notice that a specific priest keeps praying for guidance about the impending destruction of the Astral plane (the “Catastralphe”). There’s nothing in their sorting guidelines about that topic, so protocol is to take it to a one-rank-higher angel, who assures them there is not such thing, and to file the prayer requests under “mortal paranoia.”

Then, on their way back to their duties, the PCs are summoned… by that selfsame priest! She’s 1st level, so she can only keep them for a limited about of time.

If you are running this as a 5e game, the priest has used a scroll with a 1st-level variant of conjure animals, and gets the PCs as minor celestials instead, but can’t give them verbal orders and she can only concentrate on it for up to 1 minute. If this is a PF 2 game, the PCs are summoned with a summon lessor servitor spell and can be around for up to a minute if the priest is able to maintain concentration. If PF 1, it’s summon monster I to call up celestial animals for 1 round. If Starfinder, it’s summon creature at a 1st-level spell, again for 1 round.

Rather than just sticking with the creatures those spells normally summon, allow each PC to select a creature of the same power level to represent their summoned form, AND let them pick anything vaguely appropriate for their appearance. If the rules would let them be an eagle, but they want to be a winged housecat, let their imagination loose. Note to the players that they are celestial spirits in a temporal mortal body regardless. Death has no consequence for them here.

(Art by lenka)

The priest doesn’t speak any of the languages they do, so they have to guess what she wants them to do — but they are summoned while she and four other people (clearly adventures — a fighting type in heavy armor, an arcane type, a sneak, and some kind of sage) are fighting for their lives (all already badly damaged) against what appear to be negative wind elementals (just use air element stats and have them do cold or shadow damage) in an ancient stone chamber that clearly depicts the Astral Plane being rended to destruction, and all the planes of the multiverse being flung apart (no longer able to connect to each other).

With a bit of luck the summoned celestial PCs can save the heroes (if not, just replace any that get killed in future encounters), and regardless of how the fight goes the PCs see that the ancient temple clearly has some real eldritch power connected to it, and the impending Catastralphe.

When their time is up, whether the priest and her adventuring party are safe or not, the PCs return to the angelic plane. They can take up the issue of whether the Catastralphe is real or not, but the celestial bureaucracy considers it to be much more likely that a set of junior angels misinterpreted what they saw than for there to be a true multiplanar threat the Angelic Host never heard of.

Later, the PCs get summoned again… but it’s clear that months have passed on the mortal plane, and the priest is now 3rd level, so she can use more powerful spells to summon more powerful allies. The PCs can maintain their appearance (or evolve it, perhaps from winged housecat to winged bobcat), get to choose new higher-level creatures for their ability scores. This time they are helping defend the priest and her adventuring allies who are being attacked at night, in an inn, by humanoid assassins who have no face, just a lamprylike fanged maws taking up the whole of the front of their heads. (Pick any CR-appropriate monsters and just give them new descriptions).

The priest is clearly surprised to see the PCs, suggesting they are not what she thought she was summoning, but she is also happy for their help.

Upon their return to the Angelic Host, if the PCs bring it up the event, they are directed to the Conjuration Control Department, where they discover there’s at least one other angel that believes in the Catastralphe, a planar traffic controller who is directing them to answer the priest’s summoning when she is showing to be near an important moment in her life.

The adventure goes on like this, with PCs working their way up through the ranks of the Celestial Bureaucracy, most angels not really believing in the interplanar threat, but grudgingly suggest the Pcs should look for specific clues when summoned. The GM should come up with a list of things — specific sigils, or eldritch currents, or the scent of the abyssal influence, so PCs can have investigating they can do when summoned. Meanwhile the priest continues to gain levels and summon the PCs with higher-and-higher level spells, months or years passing between the times they see her, and her quest is also clearly taking a toll on her. Some of her companions die, and are replaced. She loses and eye, from then on having an eyepatch when the PCs are summoned. At some point, she manages to learn their language, so she can speak to them when they arrive… but they can only go to her when she summons allies in a crucial moment in her life, so communication is always rushed during a desperate fight.

As the PCs gain influence among Angels, they are allowed to explore Forbiddings –places within the Heavens once kept by angels that fell and became devils. These encounters are to seek out lost lore on the Catastralphe, as their recurring encounters with cultists and supernatural entities on the Mortal Plane trying to kill the priest and her adventuring party suggest it might be real after all. However the Forbiddings are in the same heavenly reality as the PCs. While they use the same game stats as when they were last summoned for adventures in the Forbiddings, death there is permanent even for up-and-coming angels.

Eventually the combination of clues gained when summoned and when exploring the Forbiddings expose that the Catastralphe is real, and it is the eons-long plot of a fallen angel who wishes to rip the planes apart so it can become effectively a god of whatever bit of the multiverse it has access to after the Astral plane is destroyed. Once this revelation is in place, there are two more major encounters. First, the Fallen Angel can only be stopped with a weapon found in the most dangerous of Forbiddings, and that weapon can only be wielded by those who procure it, so the PCs must go get it. Second, the Fallen Angel’s ultimate base of operations is impossible for any celestial to enter without being summoned from within. So the PCs must wait for the priest to call them for aid one last time, and hope she does so in time for them to use their newly acquired relic weapon to stop the impending Catastralphe.

Obviously, this can be as quick as a 3-4 session mini campaign, or as long as a 1st-20th game, depending on how many encounters the GM decides to fill into this vague sketch of plot points. But I love the idea of Pcs being summon creatures (originally the idea was celestial badgers, back in 3.5 rules days), who have no fear of dying in most of their fights, but have to get anything they want done in the mortal realm done quickly, when summoned, while another fight is already going on. I also like the idea of players not having to make characters in any traditional sense, though it would be easy enough to let them pick special abilities as they “gained levels,” like being to reroll one attack roll per fight, or one saving throw, or teleport once, to represent their angelic nature growing stronger even as they hop from stat block to stat block as more and more powerful spells call them to battle.

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Under the Weather: Minor Ailments for 4 ttRPGs

So, I have a bug. Not covid, according to the testing I have available, but something more like the “Con Crud” of days of yore. And, while I can still do stuff, I’m tired, achy, slow, and my mind is generally focused on being under the weather.

So, you guessed it, I’m writing game rules for it.

These are minor ailments, representing colds and mild flu, things bad enough they impact a hero and reduce peak performance, but not crippling. If caused by a disease, remove disease or similar effects end it. Otherwise, you get a saving throw at the disease’s DC each day to end the ailment.

Pathfinder 1e & Starfinder: Lesser Sickened. You’re achy and sniffly enough to make things unpleasant, but not enough you can’t generally function. You need of the 150% the sleep and rest to regain abilities or end the fatigued or exhausted condition, take a -2 penalty to Constitution checks and Con-based skill checks, Fortitude saves, and Perception and Stealth checks. These penalties do not stack with those of being sickened, which is largely just a worsened version of this condition.

Pathfinder 2: Lesser Sickened. You take a -1 status penalty on all your checks and DCs. You require an additional 1d4 hours of sleep each night to recover daily abilities or end the fatigued condition.

5e: The idea of adding another condition to 5e, especially one as crunchy as this suggestion is, goes against a lot of the design philosophy of 5e. OTOH, having a situational rule that comes up once as part of a plot (“Expedition to the Flu Season Peaks”) can be a fun change of pace.

Achy: You’re gnerally not at your best, but the situation isn’t bad enough to give you disadvantage to all rolls. When you roll a 10 or 11 on a d20 roll, you must roll a 2nd d20. If the second roll is a lower result, you take the lower result. If it is a higher result, you use your original roll. This is a lesser form of disadvantage, and if you have disadvantage on a roll, use the normal rules for that roll in place of these.

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Guard Dog Feat for d20 Games

Look, guard dogs are a common element of fantasy and feudal adventures, but they can add a lot of hassle for bookkeeping and worrying about their well-being in a ttRPG. So, maybe we just let people take a feat so they can have a dog that barks when assassins creep up in the night, and otherwise don’t worry about it?

This can also be used as a group benefit a GM passes out as a reward for PCs buying a stronghold, or saving an animal, or having an official group name and working together.

This is written to work in a number of d20-baed ttRPGs, so the formatting and language may need to be tweaked to perfectly match the exact game you are playing.

If they don't keep dogs, maybe.
(I *love* The 13th Warrior)

Guard Dog

You have a guard dog. It doesn’t put itself at risk during combat, does not make attacks, and just serves as an early waring system when you are stationary. You cannot use it to send messages, threaten prisoners, carry equipment, or any other task.

As long as you have access to your normal equipment you are expected to have access to your guard dog, unless the GM specifically says otherwise. While the GM can have your guard dog involved in other matters if they wish, doing so is specifically under the purview of the GM’s discretion. This game mechanics of this feat provide for a guard animal’s senses to help protect you out of combat, and in return for expending the resource of the feat and limiting the animal to early warning, you are not required to track its exact location, hit points, food needs, and so on. If the guard dog needs special accommodations to survive in the area you are adventuring, and everyone else in the party has them, you are considered to have managed to cobble together what the guard dog needs.

When you are camping or otherwise staying in one place for a long period of time (such as hanging out in a tavern, sleeping, having a picnic, crafting objects in a shop, and so on), the guard dog can make a Perception check with a bonus equal to half your maximum possible Perception bonus without any spells or equipment augmenting it. The guard dog can see, smell, or hear threats. If the guard dog perceives a threat, it barks loudly, alerting everyone nearby who then may act as if they had successfully made a Perception check to notice the threat.

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Holiday-Themed Constructs

Look, maybe you want to run a fantasy ttRPG with giant animated fruitcake warriors… and maybe you’ll just get a giggle out of my actually taking this topic seriously. But if you want to reskin some class iron, clay, and stone constructs (or any construct-type creature) into holiday-themed materials, here are some options for powers to add based on the holiday material used.

Figgy Pudding/Fruitcake: Take half damage from bludgeoning attacks. Are sticky, so they gain a climb speed.

Gingerbread: As almost 2-d, flexible creatures, they can get through spaces a creature 2 size classes smaller could, without taking any penalties. Any fire damage sets them on fire, both damaging them and causing their attacks to do fire damage.

Holly: Anyone hit by the construct, or adjacent to it for a full round, must make a mental save or move towards the person present they would be most interested in kissing (though once they take that move, all compulsion stops).

Hot Cocoa: Gains all the powers of both a fire elemental and a water elemental of the same threat level. takes double damage from bite attacks.

Peppermint: These constructs are “curiously strong.” Tracking them by scent is easy, but they cover all other scents, and after being in an enclosed space for a minute, scent can no longer pinpoint their exact location with that space.

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Me, NaNoWriMo, and 52-in-52

I keep wanting to try to participate in National Novel Writing Month, and it almost never works out. That’s sad to me, because there is an energy, expectation, and support system in place for NaNoWriMo’s goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days that makes it ever-so-slightly easier to get a lord of wordcount produced in November than times where you’re doing it largely alone. The groundswell of support, suggestions, public accountability, and even people talking about hard times they are having can help buoy a writer past obstacles that might stop them on other months.

But, yet again, I can’t do NaNoWriMo this year, because if I have any spare capacity beyond my regular monthly writing contracts and obligations to people depending on me for projects to move forward so they can make money on the labor they’ve already put into them, it has to go into 52-in-52.

You remember 52-in-52, right? It was my big swing at doing something new, announced in November 2019. The idea was to produce one new product every week in 2020, with each product being released in four different versions–on each for Pathfinder 1e, Pathfinder 2e, Starfinder, and D&D 5e. It was a big, ambitious subscription model and something I knew would take all my focus.

Obviously since I am still talking about needing to work on it nearly two years later, it did not go as planned.

The Covid pandemic is part of the reason why, along with moving twice in 2020, being hospitalized, having friends die, losing a beloved pet–seriously, it’s been among the roughest 24 months of my life. I tried to allow for complications and interruptions on the schedule I had for creating 108 game products in a year, but I never could have guessed at even half the things that were going to hit during that production time.

And this was not a Kickstarter, or some other crowdfunding campaign, where the entire budget is covered in advance. The idea was a classic pre-order, with enough money from early orders to get started, followed by ongoing sales to keep funding the project as it went along. I had carefully noted that my plan was to personally write or develop each product in the line. That meant if I fell behind on writing things, I could hire writers I knew to take on one or more parts of the project. I had a decade of sales information to extrapolate from, so I was confident that I could get things done that way if I had to. I was covered… as long as a major economic disaster didn’t have a huge impact on how much money people spent on tabletop rog products on a scale even ten years of sales data couldn’t predict.

Cue sad trombone.

So, that’s why now, ten months past the original deadline, the project is still only about half-finished. Under any other circumstances, I’d consider doing more than 100 game products cover 4 different gam systems over two years to be a triumph of productivity. But I promised customers a series of products, and while I can’t change history so those things arrive on-time, I can make sure everyone who pre-ordered gets everything I promised them.

So, what does all that have to do with NaNoWriMo? Well, I’m going to produce 50,000 words of 52-in-52 this month.

No, that won’t be all the rest of what is missing. Nor is it really what NaNoWriMo is about. But it’ll be closer to doing NaNoWriMo than I have been able to try in recent years, and 50k words produced towards overdue subscriptions will go a long way towards providing material I am dedicated t putting in people’s hands.

So, I’ll be tracking my Na52WriMo at the beginning of each day. It’ll be in the form of Words Prepared for layout/Words Turned Over to Layout (Words Sent to Subscribers)/50,000. So if I have 1,000 words prepared but none turned over yet, that’d be 1,000/0/0/50k. I’ll update each weekday, with the stats from the previous day.

It won’t fix things being late, but it will move a lot of materials forward on this much-overdue subscription model.

Koufrawraiths – A simple d20 monster template

This is designed as a simple template for monsters in a wide range of d20 games. It has a horror/mystery theme, and the GM should consider its use carefully. Certainly it’s going to be as dangerous as a creature 1 level or CR higher, and if PCs do not yet know how to deal with it, it may be much more dangerous. On the other hand, a group could walk right past one and never know it, so it needs to be used in an intentional way with forethought, rather than as a random encounter.

Koufrawraith

(Sleepless art by likozor)

A koufrawraith is a creature that exists in the dim fog between the waking world and the Plane of Dreams. They cannot be encountered by anyone fully in either realm, but do cross into any other reality where creatures able to sleep exist. Despite the name koufrawraiths are not necessarily undead, though undead koufrawraiths do exist. Many are hags, fey, monstrous beasts,and rarer examples exist as constructs, dragons, and oozes.

A koufrawraith’s existence can only be experienced by those who are fatigued or exhausted, but conscious. For any other creature, they cannot be perceived or effected, and the koufrawraith similarly cannot directly effect those who are ineligible to perceive it. It does perceive waking and sleeping creatures, but no action it takes (including things like casting spells that leave lasting effects, such as a wall of stone) can be perceived by, effect, or be effected by such creatures. Secondary effects can be–if a koufrawraith damages an exhausted person, the damage is visible and can be healed, but there is no evidence of how it was caused. Any effort to identify a koufrawriath from secondary observation or description suffers a -10 penalty.

Also known as sleepgaunts, koufrawraiths often prey upon lone insomniacs and those suffering great loss or toil. If feeds on the suffering of the tired, and prefers to hurt and frighten its food source, rather than kill them.

The ancient order of the Wearied Guard once drove koufrawraiths to near extinction, but once they were no longer a common threat, societies stopped supporting, or even believing, those who claimed their crucial work had to be done in the still of night, while bleary-eyed and staggering from fatigue.

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The Gelatinous Cylinder, Part 3

Yep, yet more abilities for Gelatinous Cylinders, to round out the holiday week. Add them to the gelatinous foe of choice in your favorite d20 game. Each gelatinous cylinder can have just 1-2 abilities from this series, or you can mix and match up to all 6.

Goes Great With: Gelatinous cylinders with this ability have formed a symbiotic relationship with some other creature. The how and why of such bonding it not well understood, and even creatures that benefit from such partnering have no idea why the cylinder came to accompany them.

A gelatinous cylinder does no harm to the creature it goes great with, and can even provide air and water if the creature is within the cylinder. Additionally, the accompanying partner gets to roll all attack rolls, saving throws, and skill checks twice and take the best result when within 30 feet of the gelatinous cylinder.

Old-Fashioned: A gelatinous cylinder with this power has two forms–one the standard cylinder (which emulates the stats of a gelatinous cube), and one a more lumpy, spread-out jelly. While still bright red, in this form the gelatinous cylinder emulates the stat block of one slime, jelly, or mold selected when this ability is picked. The gelatinous cylinder can switch back and forth between the two forms at the beginning of each round as part of the first action it takes that round.

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The Gelatinous Cylinder, Part 2

Yep, more abilities for Gelatinous Cylinders, the bright red, reshaped gelatinous cube variant. Add then to the gelatinous foe of choice in your favorite d20 game.

(Art by the amazing Stan!, used with permission)

Phantom Faces: Though gelatinous cylinders are no more intelligent than other forms of gelatinous monster, some can form a face, generally locked into one or two expressions, and repeat overheard phrases. They often repeat things said by those they consume, from prior to the victim realizing they are in trouble. This mimicry is mindless, but the sound is so perfect it cannot be distinguished form the original voices.

Tantalizingly Preserved: Gelatinous cylinders with this ability stop the passage of time for any nonliving material stuck within them, and do not dissolve items that were not living when they entered the gel. Thus they often have foodstuffs, valuables, and even high-end clothing preserved and visible, juuuuust out of reach unless you want to plunge a hand into the cylinder…

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The Gelatinous Cylinder, Part 1

Yeah, it’s themed and silly. But there are some ideas here you can apply to gelatinous foes in your d20 game of choice.

There are more abilities in Part Two.
And even more in Part Three.

The Gelatinous Cylinder

Gelatinous Cylinders are a reshaped, deeply-red-colored offshoot of gelatinous cubes. While sages agree they are magically created rather than naturally occurring mutations, and it’s generally accepted the cylinders aren’t the desired end result, there are numerous competing theories as to what the creators were trying to do.

It’s often suggested their coloration was either an attempt to make sewer-cleaning creature that was more easily spotted by repair workers, or to make gelatinous foes more frightening by seeming to be soaked in blood. The cylinder-shape is also often held up as proof these were custom-built sewer cleaners, designed to fit through pipes. Others theorize are that they were literally made to be festive and silly-looking, possibly to serve as court jesters for the Oozing Empire of sentient slimes.

Gelatinous Cylinders can have a variety of strange powers. You can emulate a gelatinous cylinder by adding one of more of these abilities to your gelatinous cube state block of choice.

Sliceable: A gelatinous cylinder with this ability takes no damage from slashing weapons. However, when a slashing attack hits it, the gelatinous cylinder has a “slice” taken off. This slice is a gelatinous cylinder one size category smaller than the original and has the same stats, but with 20% of the original’s max hit points. The original loses 10% of its max hit points each time is spawns a slice. Slices cannot themselves form slices.

Small and Innocent Looking: A gelatinous cylinder with this ability can shrink down at rest, compressing itself to Tiny size. While in this reduced form and motionless, any ability or skill check to identify it as anything more than an innocent bit of edible food takes a -15 penalty. Once touched, the gelatinous cylinder explodes out to its full size and begins attacking.

We’ll do more gelatinous cylinder abelites tomorrow and Friday!

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d20 Spotlight Tokens

d20 Spotlight Tokens are an optional rule for most d20-rule based (or “T20”) games. The tokens are designed to give players a concrete way to grab some spotlight time (real-world time where they are getting the most done, being the most impressive, and having the most attention paid to them). These are absolutely a power-up in terms of what a group of PCs can handle, and that’s both intentional and, in my opinion, a good thing. It’s not an increase in what characters can do all the time, but it is a way for a player to decide to have remarkable success when the going gets tough… or when the player just wants that to be the way the story goes.

These are a mechanical solution to spotlight time. A player can’t help but be the focus of attention when one is spent, even if they are shy or not big talkers.

Once you have played with d20 Spotlight Tokens for a few game sessions, it should be obvious how to adjust for them as a GM. It may be the players simply choose to take on more encounters in a row, taking overnight rests or breaks to recharge abilities less often, in which case no adjustment may be needed. Or it may be appropriate to treat the characters as being one or two levels higher, so they face more dangerous opponents that require them to expend some tokens to succeed.

(Art by Grandfailure)

Spotlight Token Rules

You get one token per session, plus one per 5 full character levels. If no other player takes the same spotlight token as you, you gain 1 extra token per session.

Select one of the following tokens. This should be done, together, as a group. If two players choose the same token, they can decide if they want to overlap, or one or both of them change their choice. Once this choice is settled, it cannot be changed until you gain a level or another player selects the same Spotlight Token you already have (in which case, again, you discuss it and one, both, or neither of you can change your choice).

You can spend a Spotlight Token immediately any time the relevant game event occurs, even if the action has already been resolved. For example, if you select the Attack Token, you can spend it after an attack misses, or after it hits but does less damage than you want. When you spend a spotlight token, you also get one additional full round of actions you get to take immediately. This additional round of actions does not benefit from the powers of the Spotlight Token–for example if using the Assault token attacks you make as part of your bonus round of action do not also automatically hit.

Currently, here are the token choices. They are designed to lean into common character focuses, and to have more than one options for each broad focus.

ARMOR – You take no damage until the end of your next turn.

ATTACK – Your attack (anything requiring an attack roll) hits and does 150% its max damage.

ASSAULT — Your attack (anything requiring an attack roll), and all attacks you make before the beginning of your next round, hit.

CRITICAL — Your attack, effect, or spell (anything requiring an attack roll) is a critical hit, if it has rules for being so (for example of a spell does not require an attack roll and has no rules for being a critical hit, it does not benefit from this token).

DEFENSE – An attack misses you, as do all other attacks from the same source until the beginning of your next turn.

EFFECT – One foe fails a saving throw against a spell or effect of yours. If there are degrees of failing a saving throw (such as an additional penalty if the save is failed by 5 or more), it takes the worst effect.

MANA — You activate one spell or ability you can use at least once per day without it counting against your normal uses per day.

OVERCOME — You get to take a single action that can be performed in one round or less, that you would be able to take if your character was not suffering any damage, penalties or effects, and without applying any penalties for current damage, penalties, or effects. Yes, even if you are dead.

RESIST — You succeed at a saving throw, and at all other saving throws from the exact same effect (such as all saves against a poison, or against one ongoing spell).

SKILL — You may choose for one skill check (regardless of how much time it represents), or all skill checks you make in a single round, to be treated as if you had rolled a 20 and the d20 roll.

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