Welcome, gentle readers. I am back from Australia, and, yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. What an experience!
Fear not, though, I've kept our D&D Next campaign, Beyond the Borderlands in the back of my head. As I was flying for hours, I would take our my iPad with the D&D Next Playtest rules on it, pondering other details that could be discovered from the sections we haven't explored yet. Sure enough, little gems surfaced as I worked.
Here, then, is an article summing up the little nuggets I was able to sift from the rest of the D&D Next rules.
One of my favorite new rule sets in D&D Next involves adding Backgrounds. This was something that was added late in the game in 4E, and I think character backgrounds really add a lot to the game, making a third axis, along with race & class, for defining who your character is, what they can do, and how to roleplay them. If you're not familiar with these rules, I'll sum them up by saying that, a character's background helps define how they've made money prior to being an adventurer.
A lot of these backgrounds, while excellent, don't necessarily offer much we couldn't have already guessed. The world tends to model on medieval Europe, with Commoners, Nobles, and, presumably, a Merchant Middle-Class (which the Artisan background would fit firmly into.) Some of them, however, make certain facts likely about the campaign world.
That Merchant Middle-Class includes guilds, reminiscent of those of Germany in the Middle Ages. These guilds are important to both the Artisan background (which includes an ability to seek refuge with your guild if you're accused of a crime, the ability to seek food and lodging from other guild members, and the need to pay dues) and the Guild Thief background. As I mentioned in my last article, I love the idea of a Guild of Thieves, so this pretty much cements for me that they'll exist in this campaign setting.
The Bounty Hunter background says that you can stop in areas of civilization and get information on wanted criminals, as well as the legal authority to take 'em out. I find this idea instantly fascinating, especially since one of the ideas in BtB is that there's no central authority any more but that various people have smaller keeps and more local power. I think our various robber barons, knights, and such, may be unable to pursue foes into the wilderness, so a bounty hunter system would be very useful to them. It makes for a kind of rough, frontier-justice concept which I rather like.
One other background that immediately suggests story or campaign elements is the Spy background. Traditionally, spies gather information for one country, getting it from that country's enemies. The write-up for Spy is a little more general, making them people who're good at collecting information. I like this idea, but it does make me think about the more traditional role of spies, as well. Perhaps one or more of my robber barons and knights will be paranoid enough to hire a spy, or even to keep them in his employ like a secret police? It gets my thoughts working.
BAUBLES, BANGLES, AND BEADS
A spin through the magic-item section raises some interesting ideas. I really like the tables for determining things like what culture made an item, quirks it has, and so forth. Makes magic-items more special. The current table for the culture that made an item is sorely lacking, since it only goes through G, but I'm sure more complete tables will come along. Still, it's fascinating to think about the differences between something forged by elves and something forged by demons. Some items will naturally suggest an origin, but tables are always fun to play with.
There aren't a lot of story details in the various magic-items, but two entries (Ioun Stones & the Tome of the Stilled Tongue) bring back some familiar names - Ioun and Vecna. I don't particularly want to make these two deities in my current campaign, but I hate to discard such a wonderful piece of D&D history, so I decide on a new origin for them.
Ioun and Vecna were brothers, mages who were particularly masterful members of their craft. Both were seekers after knowledge, but, where Ioun generously gave of the knowledge he found, Vecna became more secretive and withdrawn. Despite their differences, Ioun remained loyal to his brother, until the day when Vecna revealed that he sought immortality at any cost performing an experiment that killed the woman that both brothers had loved. Ioun then became Vecna's sworn enemy, leading others to try and overthrow him. Vecna, however, withdrew away from the living and eventually found he secrets of a terrible way to cheat death. He became a powerful lich who remains in existence to this day, finding forbidden secrets that remain scattered through the world, seeking some as yet undefined goal.
A spin through the bestiary section shows that, at least for playtest purposes, these are just blocks of stats. Nothing immediately story worthy here except that I know these monsters, and I know a lot of traditional lore about D&D creatures. Looking through, there are some things that I notice.
Asmodeus appears with a powerful but not deific stat block in the section on devils, suggesting that he's earned a demotion from his days as a God. I'm 100% okay with this, as I've always found a few "Monsters as Gods" difficult. A campaign to ultimately defeat Asmodeus might be interesting.
Stats for a human berserker are included. I immediately know that these will be perfect for powerful warriors of chaos, dedicated to the powers that we know are trying to strike out of the Borderlands, to shatter civilization. Demons, also, will be powerfully tied to chaos.
One other thing that jumps out at me is the return of two monsters that haven't been around for a while - the phanaton and the rakasta. I'm not shocked with the phanatons, since the Isle of Dread was one of the first modules that was converted to Next stats, but I am a little surprised to see the rakasta. These cat-like humanoids with a somewhat Asian flare were never a huge favorite of mine, but they are a very furry part of D&D's history. I will likely keep them rather tribal and nomadic in this version of things, to keep them in line with what's going on with other humanoids.
We've pretty much made our way through the D&D Playtest Packet, and it had tons of information we were able to use to come up with ideas for our Beyond the Borderlands campaign. The cultures of Civilization fall into traditional roles of nobility, the peasant class, and a middle class of merchants and artisans, largely ruled by their guilds.
With everything else gelled, I intend to start thinking about moving forward to create more solid details about the cultures that've ruled Civilization in the past. With our next article, we'll begin to conceive of the history of our setting. For now, please feel free to add any comments. Love to hear from you.