Monday, December 27, 2021

Firework Wand

 Here's a useful low-level Wand for your D&D game. It's an upgraded version of the Wand of Pyrotechnics from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, rendered more useful (and less harmless) but still weak enough that you could give it to 2nd level characters without it wrecking game balance. 

Wand of Fireworks:  (Wondrous Item, Wand, Rarity: Uncommon).   Description: This redwood wand has a blackened tip that faintly glows with a smouldering inner red light like an old coal not quite extinguished. Despite this appearance, it's not particularly warm to the touch.
Properties: This wand has 7 charges. While holding it, you can use an action to pick a target creature, item, or space that you can see within 120 feet, expend a charge, and decide whether you want the effect to be harmless or dangerous.
The harmless effect is a burst of multicolored light and sparks. The burst of light is accompanied by a crackling noise that can be heard up to 300 feet away. The light is as bright as a torch flame but lasts only a second. The controller may choose the color of the flames.
The dangerous effect is as above, but the flickering firework is briefly hot enough to actually burn things or start small fires. The target must succeed on a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, or else suffer 1d10 fire damage. If the target is a flammable object, it ignites if it isn’t being worn or carried.
The wand regains 1d6 + 1 expended charges daily at dawn. If you expend the wand’s last charge, roll a d20. On a 1, the wand erupts in a harmless pyrotechnic display before burning down to ash, destroying itself. 

It's basically the Wand of Pyrotechnics, plus an optional damaging effect that's a modified version of the Fire Bolt cantrip. 

Clever characters will quickly figure out its not a great attack, and often better used for distractions or signalling. The color-change aspect was added specifically to empower that utility, so that even if that's all you're using it for, it's a minor improvement on the Wand of Pyrotechnics. Evil characters will quickly figure out that it's even better for arson.

Why'd I make such a thing? Well, I'm gearing up for some D&D on Roll20 over the New Year. At the end of the previous session, the PCs had surprised me by searching a place that totally made sense for a recently deceased NPC wizard to have hidden something. In fact, it was unintentionally implied by something I'd narrated, and they'd picked up on my unintended implication. I'd been focused on the main plot, and had nothing prepared for this hidden stash, but wanted to reward their clever thinking. Since it was near the end of the session, I told them they found a wand hidden there, and left the discovery of what type of wand for next time.

Well, "next time" is almost here, and I've made myself a minor problem. My characters are just third level, so there's not really a good wand for them.

A Wand of Magic Missiles is probably a too large step up in offensive power. Even at just using 1 charge per turn, it's 6-21 guaranteed damage per turn at a time where the PCs are still rolling a single damage die and no one has Extra Attack yet. Dropping 4 or 5 charges would vaporize the campaign's current big bad in a single turn. So that's out.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything has some common Wands, but I hadn't read through them yet at the time. They're cute, kinda fun, but have sort of the opposite problem of the Magic Missiles: they aren't useful in a fight at all. If the dour old wizard hid away a wand for safe-keeping, it's got to be a little better than making people scowl, or grow a single flower. My players were excited at finding a wand because there have been relatively few magic items in the game, and now they've had some time to imagine what the wand might be and do, so it's possibly built up a bit in their minds.

Unfortunately, all the Uncommon Wands are either too powerful for the current moment in my game (Magic Missiles, Web), or so limited as to be nearly useless (Wand of Secrets in a group that already has two Rogues with pretty decent Perception/Investigation skills).

So I need a wand that's a little more useful than any of the common Wands in XGE, but not such a step up that it causes the group's fighter or one of the rogues to give up their normal attack in favor of the wand for the first two rounds of every combat. Something that's cool and useful, but requires some cleverness to get the most out of.

I went with an custom upgraded version of the Wand of Pyrotechnics because it fit nature of the deceased NPC wizard: he was a bit of a show-off in his youth, but was old and frail and not so great at magic anymore. This wand was his crutch. D&D doesn't really have provisions for growing old, so there's no official reason why he couldn't just use a cantrip that would probably do more damage since he was at least a 5th level wizard in his youth, but it makes narrative sense for him to have lost most of his magical edge in his final years. The "old coal not quite extinguished" was a pretty apt metaphor for the character before he was murdered.

Also, currently the PCs are at odds with the local Duke, and I like the idea of them being tempted by the newfound ability to burn down the Duke's manor. I think that will lead to some fun role-play moments as they debate the ethics of such skullduggery.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Tree Full Of Holes

Thinking a bit about a quote from Nine Princes In Amber by Roger Zelazny, and how I wish I'd paid more attention to it at the start of my campaign more than a year ago:

I was a prince of Amber. It was true. There had been fifteen brothers and six were dead. There had been eight Sisters, and two were dead, possibly four.

The nine princes active during the original novels are: Benedict, Eric, Corwin, Bleys, Brand, Caine, Gerard, Julian, and Random.

The four princesses active during the original novels are: Deirdre, Fiona, Llewella, and Florimel. 

So that leaves 6 dead princes, 2 dead princesses, and 2 princesses of unknown status. Let's just call them 6 and 4 to keep it simple, as in many Amber campaigns any off-camera death is instantly suspect.

A few books into the series, we are told about Osric and Findo, who long ago died "for the good of the realm", so that leaves 4 and 4.

In the later novels, we are told briefly about Sand and Delwin, so that leaves 3 and 3. 

We're also introduced to a few others in the later novels, such as Dalt and Coral, but they presented in a way that makes it incredibly unlikely that they should be subtracted from that total. They were never part of the family when the "kids" were growing up, anyway.

The various third-party guidebooks about Amber (the "Complete Amber Sourcebook" and the "Visual Guide to Castle Amber") mention a princess Mirelle, so that leaves 3 and 2, for a total of 5.

Those 5 are presumed dead, and completely open for GMs of the Amber DRPG to fill in. A lot of word-count is spent in the novels telling us how Corwin and his kin are fratricidal and traitorous, so presumably several of these 5 died in ways that were memorable and/or suspicious. They could potentially give you great backstory and motivation details for the existing Amberites: lots of axes to grind over the tragic deaths of beloved siblings.

For some reason, I always forget about them when I'm starting a campaign. At the outset of Amber, I make individual decisions about the status of Osric, Findo, Sand, Delwin, and Mirelle, but I never remember during session zero that there's 5 others I need to decide on as well. I very commonly make a detailed birthorder chart that's canonical for my campaign, complete with pictures of the major NPCs to help new players wrap their heads around the massive family, but I never seem to remember to add 5 entirely new names to that list.

I need to put that on my checklist for future campaigns, I guess.  Make up some new siblings, and kill them spectacularly before the first session.

While I'm on the topic, I might as well mention that there's a couple different birth orders in the various sources, with the most important bone of contention being the switch-up being whether Caine is a full-brother or half-brother to Corwin. The novels give mixed messages about him. The guidebooks muddy it further, with the "Complete Amber Sourcebook" by Theodore Krulik claiming they share a mother, while the "Visual Guide to Castle Amber" by Neil Randall list Caine's full brothers are Gerard and Julian (and puts their births in slightly different order, as well).

Other places where the guidebooks contradict each other include:

Benedict, about whom the lineage charts in the two books disagree about whether he was the eldest or the youngest of the three children of Cymnea. He's the surviving one, and that's what matters, I guess.

Sand and Delwin are listed as the children of Harla in one guide, and children of Lora in the other. The two books also disagree about whether Sand and Del are older or younger than Random. To make it more confusing, the book that names their mother Lora says that Oberon did also have a wife named Harla, but that it's unknown if they had any kids. So there's no chance that Lora is a nickname for Harla.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The King Is Dead

 Crazy session of Amber tonight. Semi-accidentally killed off King Random. 

Over the past 15 sessions or so, a villain was using a network of special jewels to cast devastating attack spells at a distance, blasting anyone who had one of these gems. Two or three sessions previous, this had nearly killed 1 PC and her mother (Princess Sand), but the actions of 3 PCs working together had saved them both. One of them figured out how to use the Pattern Lens to seal the gems that Sand and the other PC had on them so they couldn't get blasted, and then rushed the injured Sand to a high-tech sci-fi hospital to save her.

These 3 PCs, it should be noted, all really liked King Random, and would genuinely want to save him.

Tonight, one of them was present when suddenly the King started getting blasted by the same methods, only through the Jewel of Judgment instead of these other Spikard-y stones. The first two shots incapacitate him, but since the one of those 3 PCs was nearby, and he knew the other 2 PCs were present at a high-tech hospital, they spring in to action. He Trumps his cousins, and passes the King's unconscious body through to the PC who had sealed the other gems. 

Who then doesn't seal the Jewel, and instead loads the KO'd King into medical scanner (kind of like an MRI tube) to diagnose his injuries, and leaves the King alone with just the NPC scanner technician while he steps out of the room to make a call.

This is a really bad idea, so before I pull the trigger, I subtly remind him that the King is wearing the Jewel and he could do something with it. 

This instead makes him consider running off with the Jewel for himself. Steal it, head to Amber to attune to it, draw his own Pattern, etc. He thinks about it a bit, and then ultimately decides to be better than that. He leaves it on the King, because there's a chance the Jewel might be all that's sustaining his lifeforce. 

(Which, to be fair, is a thing that does happen in the books, more or less. Corwin gets stabbed and says the Jewel may have saved him. But he's not really sure if it's saving him or dooming him, so Corwin stashes the Jewel in a compost heap.)

So, having resisted the temptation to steal the gem, the player instead leaves the KO'd king in the medical scanner, still wearing the Jewel that they know for certain was just used to blast him with sorcery twice. It was a great little moment of temptation and moral victory. Good stuff.

"Okay," I say to the players a few heartbeats later, "I feel I've given you enough warnings. About that, there's a series of explosions in the other room, centered on the Jewel." 

"Enough warnings -- oh, crap! You're right, I should have realized that!"

"Oh, it's okay," says one of the other players, "I'm sure the King has several centimeters of plot armor."

Nope. No he doesn't. No one does. Mistakes like this need to have consequences.

"Oh, no! He died in my hospital, on my watch. All his siblings are going to think I did this!"

Yep. Yes they will. And my game is suddenly pivoting in an entirely new direction.