Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sign of the Zodiac

A recent discussion on class roles and multiclassing versus no-multiclassing got me to thinking about the creation of a campaign world where multiclassing was discouraged (or even forbidden) in-game, not just by an arbitrary distinction of the rules. Something similar to this exists in the Rokugan campaign setting, where you can't multiclass into shugenja, because you either hear spirits or don't, and shugenja can't multiclass into samurai, because of ancient spiritual taboos.

At the same time, I was considering some of my old campaign concepts, specifically a campaign where the starsign of your birth literally determined your destiny. After all, in a fantasy world, anything can be true with the right background and setup; you just need some level of consistency. The fact that astrology is hokey and fake is meaningless in a world where the stars are living gods that influence heroic destinies for their own reasons.

To this end, I introduce "Signs of the Zodiac," a campaign seed that uses the twelve signs of the Western zodiac as the model for the base classes. While I'm using d20 as the default here, this could pretty easily be adapted to other games; Exalted already has Sidereals, and a "different Exalted" could have Zodiacals instead. In this post, I'm just putting down my ideas for each class, its general abilities and tendencies, and some sample powers. If people show some interest, I'll try to develop it further (with any outside input that looks good, of course).

Basic Concepts

People with heroic souls are those with Signs. While everyone is influenced by their birth Sign to some degree, individuals with heroic souls (i.e., player characters and major NPCs) actually gain special powers from their Sign. These powers must be trained to gain their full effectiveness, but they begin to develop unbidden at puberty (or sooner for some prodigies). Academies and training schools exist to help the Startouched gain full control over their powers, and many Startouched go on to become great heroes or terrible villains.

Multiclassing is possible, in a very limited fashion. Your highest-level Sign must be your birth Sign, and you cannot take a Sign that is more than two steps removed from your birth Sign. So you could be Virgo 7/Cancer 6, if you were born a Virgo, but not Virgo 7/Cancer 7 or a Virgo/Gemini.

The Signs of the Zodiac

Aries: The Ram
The master of warfare and strategy, Aries offers its followers melee combat prowess unmatched by any lesser warrior. Any weapon is deadly in the hands of an Aries, and every bit of terrain a key element to victory. An Aries thrives in situations that require courage, leadership and strength, though their aggressive nature sometimes leads them into rash or impulsive action.
Class Features: Aries are consummate fighters. They get a bunch of melee-oriented attack abilities, like maneuvers from Bo9S. They're focused on offense, and don't get much in the way of defense.

Taurus: The Bull
Resourceful and dependable, the Taurus is the epitome of defensive combat just as the Aries is the epitome of aggressive combat. A Taurus masters her own body to become tough and stable beyond the ability of others to move or harm her. Because of their desire for stability and forethought, however, a Taurus can often seem dull, argumentative or conservative to others.
Class Features: Taurus are all about defense, defense, defense. Their class abilities allow them to avoid negative status conditions, take hits for friends, and exhaust enemies.

Gemini: The Twins
The Gemini is a dualistic individual, on the one hand adaptable and articulate, and on the other fickle and insensitive. A Gemini’s abilities focus on interaction and the ability to become what others seek to see and hear. Cunning diplomats and moving speakers, a Gemini’s greatest flaw is his inability to be his own person—a Gemini ever mirrors others.
Class Features: A Gemini is like a mimic from the Final Fantasy games. They're good at monkey-see, monkey-do, and at "faking it." They have a bunch of social interaction abilities as their basic stuff, and then can imitate skills, feats and weapon proficiencies. They're best at mimicking other party members, but can "mimic" people they've seen before too.

Cancer: The Crab
Cancer is generous and devoted, capable of offering healing and care to others even at greatest cost to herself. Visionaries, teachers and lawgivers, the sign of Cancer lends itself to those that place the good of others over their own well-being. Unlike Taurus, who seeks to defend their physical selves, Cancer protects their rights and souls. Their devotion can easily turn to zealotry, however, and Cancer can seem controlling or even domineering at times.
Class Features: Cancer's primary abilities revolve around healing wounds, protecting people from negative energy-type effects, and maybe harming the undead. They're like non-religious clerics. They can probably choose to accept status ailments in place of their friends.

Leo: The Lion
Ambitious and independent, but ultimately noble, a Leo finds his truest calling as a leader of men. From magistrate to king, a Leo is born to greatness. Perhaps because of this regal bearing and their aristocratic calling, Leos also have a reputation for being overbearing and luxurious, without any concept of the value of money. A Leo does not request—he demands, and expects to be heard.
Class Features: Like Nobles from SWSE - powers focused around getting people to listen to them, pushing people around, and intimidating others with their sheer presence. Leos can compel others to obey them, even against their will, and they can become so fearsome that enemies flee from them in terror or become allies.

Virgo: The Virgin
Purity is the watchword of the Virgo. Not just physical purity but spiritual purity as well. Not all Virgos are literal virgins, but even at their worst they seem virginal. A Virgo values innocence and justice, and is willing to pursue truth and moral uprightness to almost any extreme. Their modesty and discretion can make them seem prudish and perfectionists to those who have lower standards of excellence.
Class Features: I see Virgos as being like D&D paladins. Evil ones could exist; they'd be like neat-freak villains (think Darken Rahl or Bijomaru Mogami) who seem nicer than they really are until it's too late, or moralistic zealots who smash every "evil" creature they meet without mercy. They can cleanse people of spiritual ailments and smite corrupted beings (like demons and undead),

Libra: The Scales
The sign of the Libra is one of the most valued in the Zodiac. With its penchant for balance and moderation, and talents that lend themselves to fairness and equality, Libras are judges, peacemakers and builders. Unlike the Gemini, who is skilled at copying another’s viewpoint and mimicking it, a Libra excels at actually understanding both sides of complex issues and finding ways to balance them. Some see Libras as easily swayed thanks to their willingness to shift views, however.
Class Features: Like the half-moon caste in Werewolf, or the Eclipse caste from Exalted, Libras are about seeing both sides of an argument and rendering fair judgment. They could gain other Signs' class abilities permanently, and seal pacts and oaths to make them spiritually binding. A Libra would be good at "reaching balance," such as by ameliorating or negating status effects on himself.

Scorpio: The Scorpion
Secretive and intense, a Scorpio revels in mystery and enigma. They understand that knowledge is the truest currency—and that the fewer people who know a given thing, the more valuable it becomes. Their innate talents lend toward being spies, thieves and infiltrators, and some Scorpios take their assets a step further to become assassins. Even friendly Scorpios hide things from their loved ones, and their inner passions often drive them to become manipulative or cruel.
Class Features: Rogues, through and through. A Scorpio would be a master of the sneak attack, uncovering hidden truths, and convincing people to say more than they really want to. Leos are Intimidate, Geminis are Diplomacy, and Scorpios are Bluff. Scorpios would also be really good at concealing themselves from perception, physically and mentally.

Sagittarius: The Archer
Born with an eagle eye and a steady hand, a Sagittarius is a master of archery almost before he can walk. Freedom-loving and idealistic, the Sagittarius hopes that someday every person will embrace his broad-minded philosophy. At his best, a Sagittarius is open and honest, accepting of others, while at his worst he is impulsive, tactless and rebellious without good cause.
Class Features: Their Sign is called "the archer," for crying out loud! What do you think they do? ^_^ A Sagittarius is preternaturally good with ranged weapons, eventually able to threaten bigger and bigger areas around them with ranged attacks. They would also be good at throwing off bindings, both physical and mystical.

Capricorn: The Sea-Goat
With their birth sign so closely resembling the traditional emblems of devils, it is no wonder that Capricorns are regarded with mistrust and suspicion. A Scorpio might stab you in the back, but she would do it in a moment of passion—a cold, ambitious Capricorn would do it with perfect calculation, having decided your doom months beforehand. A Capricorn’s mystical powers make them no less strange and terrible to others, but their hard-working and serious natures make them reliable allies to anyone willing to associate with them.
Class Features: I'm thinking "warlock" here - weird, sinister magical powers that make other more than a little nervous. You would never know if your Capricorn buddy really likes you, or is sizing you up for a pine box. Their powers are all about dissecting the soul and neatly rending the body, but they can also shrug off emotion-affecting abilities. They have emotions to affect, but they're really good at suppressing them.

Aquarius: The Water-Bearer
The Aquarius looks into the depths of the human mind, seeking meaning in the pursuit of the intellectual. The urn held by Aquarius in myth does not hold only water, but the very water of life—the urn is the receptacle of all knowledge. Though somewhat detached because of their intellectual pursuits, an Aquarius is friendly and progressive in his personal life. He seeks knowledge not just for its own sake, but to share it with others and improve their lives by doing so. Their erratic pursuit of esoteric learning can make them eccentric and self-centered, though.
Class Features: Traditional wizard type here. They learn magic and mysticism as their primary class abilities, and they're wise sages seeking knowledge of the universe. Maybe some abilities relating to knowing things they never learned by tapping into the "wisdom of the stars" or somesuch.

Pisces: The Fishes
With a sign that governs both beauty and health, a Pisces almost literally glows with attractive well-being. Where a Cancer would heal wounds, and a Virgo would heal spirits, a Pisces wipes away disease and pain. As well, their focus on appearance lends itself easily to the manipulation of appearance—illusion and reality mix freely for a Pisces. Sometimes impractical and even escapist in their fantasies, a Pisces is sensitive, creative and artistic. “Enchanting” applies to a Pisces in every sense of the word.
Class Features: Illusionists and enchanters. Pisces can cure diseases and poisons, but they also are adept at bending people's perceptions, or bending their emotions and minds. An advanced Pisces can also shapechange, or maybe change the shapes of others.


Well, that's what I've got so far.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Monte Cook's World of Darkness: Wraiths

I've been kind of obsessed with Monte Cook's World of Darkness since it came out. It's probably my favorite purchase from this most recent GenCon, and a lot of my recent design thought has been based around it. It hasn't yet won the place of love and devotion that Monte's other game, Arcana Evolved, hold for me, or the charm of Mutants & Masterminds, but it's got a lot of interesting concepts and cool mechanics.
One of the earliest things I started working on was a conversion for wraiths into MCWoD.
I thought I'd post that up here so that it's a little more accessible for people.


When the Iconnu invaded our reality, they chose to make war upon humankind by using the souls of our dead against us. The stalwart strength of humanity in fighting back against this threat has been a thorn in their side since the Intrusion—but even more surprising has been the resistance they found in the dead themselves.

The Underworld is the ultimate destination of all human souls, good and evil. In this shadow-filled realm, only the strongest-willed souls retain their identity and memory, with the rest becoming shades and faceless ghosts. These strong-willed spirits, called wraiths, created their own society in the Underworld, building a realm that existed as a shadowy reflection of the mortal world. At the peak of this society sat the king of the dead, a being called Charon, and his advisors.

Charon saw it as his duty to ferry shades and other weak-willed ghosts across the River of Death, which would erase the last vestiges of their personality and return them to the ocean of souls from which humans were drawn. For many long millennia, he fulfilled this duty admirably, showing wisdom and strength to the wraiths that chose to exist under his rule. Many were discontent with Charon’s leadership, however, and these renegade wraiths formed their own scattered societies throughout the Underworld, some resembling the hells of various religions or other afterlife constructs. The renegades even stooped to kidnapping shades and wraiths newly arrived in the Underworld to indoctrinate or use them for their own purposes.

Though it pained him to do so, Charon was forced to create soldiers to oppose the renegades and enforce his rule. The rank-and-file soldiers were called legionnaires, and the elite were known as reapers. Over the course of history, the numbers of these soldiers swelled and fell, depending on the number (and attitude) of the renegades.

Despite their experience and power, Charon’s legions were powerless in the face of the Intrusion. At the moment the Iconnu invaded the world, the Underworld suffered a powerful storm of souls, a maelstrom unlike anything it had ever experienced. In the wake of this maelstrom, thousands of souls were snatched up into the black winds, thousands more were destroyed utterly, and entire swaths of the Underworld vanished. When it had passed, the Underworld was full of more shades than at any point in its history, and many of them had turned malevolent and violent. These evil shades became known as specters. Worse still, Charon and his most powerful advisors had vanished in the storm, leaving the Underworld in chaos.

A few industrious wraiths, renegades and legionnaires alike, investigated the cause of the destruction and uncovered the truth of the Iconnu, as well as the fact that many souls had been smuggled out of the Underworld for use as weapons by the Iconnu. The Intrusion had caused the River of Death to flow the wrong way, giving the inhabitants of the Underworld passage back to the mortal one. Those caught up in the river’s flow lost all memory of their time in the Underworld, however, much as they would have lost all mortal memory had they traveled down it in the other direction.

Eager to aid their living friends and relatives, or simply to protect the world in general, hundreds of wraiths chose to make the journey up the River of Death back to the mortal world. Because their wills were so much stronger than those stolen by the Iconnu, they did not lose their memories of the Underworld, but they did find themselves greatly diminished in personal experience and ability. Many wraiths also came back to the mortal world simply to have another chance at life, or to drink deep of the passions of the living. Whatever their motivation, more wraiths come back to the sunlit lands with every passing day, and the barrier between the living and the dead thins further.

Hit Die: d8

Hit Dice at 1st Level: 4d8 (+4 × Con modifier)

Skill Points: 4 + Int modifier

Feats: A wraith begins play with two feats.

Ability Increase: You gain a +1 bonus to a single ability score of your choice. If you like, you can choose an ability that already gains a bonus because you’re a wraith (see below).

Movement: A wraith has a movement speed of 30 feet.

BAB: +3 (medium)

Defense: +2 (as Awakened)

Fort: +1 (poor)

Ref: +1 (poor)

Will: +4 (good)

Wraith Core Abilities

Wraiths gain a +2 bonus to Wisdom and Charisma.

Corpus: A wraith is not a creature of flesh and blood, but an undead spirit comprised of will and a substance called ectoplasm. The wraith’s self-image from life and manner of death reflect on this ectoplasmic form, creating a “body” called the corpus. This corpus is vulnerable to dissolution, possibly destroying the wraith (see below), but it is somewhat harder to damage than a normal human body in some ways.

First of all, a wraith’s natural form is partially incorporeal and nearly invisible, making it difficult to strike the wraith in the first place. Any physical attack targeting the wraith has a 50 percent chance of missing the wraith completely unless the attack is magical in nature. While supernatural beings can vaguely see wraiths, this only allows them to determine the wraith’s combat square; the combination of their partial incorporeality and concealment still gives the miss chance listed above (except to vampires, see below).

Second, wraiths react to critical hits in the same way as vampires and demons; instead of suffering Constitution damage, they are stunned. A wraith still suffers damage normally from impacts and falls. Wraiths cannot walk through walls without special effort.

When a wraith suffers hit point damage, he can choose for his corpus to become completely immaterial for up to a number of rounds equal to 1 + his Constitution modifier (minimum 1 round). During this time, the wraith is completely unaffected by physical attacks, and even those generated by magic have a 50 percent chance to miss. As well, the wraith can pass unimpeded through solid objects.

A wraith’s corpus form isn’t all fun and games, though; see below for drawbacks.

Lifesight: Wraiths see the energy of the living and the dead all around them. Such things are clearer to them than reality in some ways. A wraith observing a being automatically knows if it is living, dead, undead (such as a vampire), or unliving (like a golem or a demon). When viewing a living or undead creature, the wraith knows how many Hit Dice it has in relation to the wraith’s own (less by 2 or more, within 2 less to 2 more, or more than 2 more), as well as if the creature is currently suffering from any diseases, poisons or reduction in Constitution. Finally, the wraith can estimate the amount of hit points remaining to the creature (full, more than half, less than half, less than one quarter, less than 0).

Darkvision: Wraiths can see normally in the dark, though areas that lack real light appear illuminated in a murky and distorted glow to them, making it impossible to discern colors.

Pathos: A wraith’s powers flow from his emotions and his connection to the world of the living. See below for more information on Pathos and its uses.

Wraith Weaknesses

Corpus: A wraith’s corpus is a hindrance when attempting to interact with living beings. In their natural state, wraiths are completely invisible to mortals, and visible only as a vague outline to most supernatural beings (except vampires). (A wraith is also inaudible to mortals, and audible to supernatural beings only as a whisper.) With concentration, a wraith can make himself clearly visible (and audible) to others, but this tends to be a strain. Also, a wraith normally has only a 50 percent chance to have any physical, non-magical attack he makes strike an animate target. While totally incorporeal, the wraith is as incapable of affecting physical objects and creatures as they are of affecting him.

Wraiths are nearly incapable of affecting physical objects. They can strike at creatures because of the animating spirit within them, but inanimate objects are effectively invulnerable to a wraith without using Arcanoi. A wraith that becomes fully immaterial can pass through solid objects, but even at his most solid he cannot affect them. Physical attacks only have a chance to hurt wraiths because they disrupt their ectoplasmic matrix too suddenly for the wraith to cope with.

Just like living beings, wraiths have a dying threshold that represents their corpus slowly dissolving under the weight of damage. Unlike living creatures, who can be stabilized while dying with a successful Heal check, a wraith reduced to his dying threshold becomes immaterial on instinct. During this time, the wraith slips into the Gauntlet, where he remains until he stabilizes on his own, is stabilized by a creature occupying the Gauntlet (or otherwise able to affect things in it) using the Heal skill, or dissipates. Dissipating in this manner triggers a harrowing (see below).

Vampires: Vampires and wraiths have a mutual weakness in one another. Since vampires are the souls of the dead installed in new bodies, they possess a special solidity to wraiths. A vampire is never incorporeal to a wraith, and vice-versa; they are always mutually solid to one another and vampires can see and hear wraiths clearly. A vampire’s unarmed attacks can always strike a wraith, and a wraith’s unarmed attacks or attacks with ghostly weapons can damage a vampire normally. Vampires see wraiths clearly, and cannot actually tell them apart from living beings without effort (DC 25 Spot check, or the scent ability).

The Gauntlet: Wraiths are vulnerable to attack by creatures within the Gauntlet, which includes spirits serving the Iconnu and some werewolves. In return, wraiths can interact with such beings as though they were mutually solid.

Harrowing: When a wraith’s corpus is dissipated through hit point damage, all that remains behind is the wraith’s will to survive. This powerful will allowed the wraith to transcend death and return to the mortal plane in the first place, but the destruction of the corpus tests that resolve to its breaking point. A dissipated wraith is drawn through the Gauntlet and back into the Underworld, where he relives his most painful life experiences as his psyche attempts to rebuild his shattered corpus.

The wraith must attempt a DC 25 Will saving throw; on a successful save, the wraith loses a level of experience permanently and returns to the mortal world in 1d4 days, near the spot he was destroyed, at 1 hit point and full Pathos. On a failed save, the wraith loses an additional level and must attempt the saving throw again; this continues until the wraith succeeds at the save or fails enough saving throws to be reduced to 0 levels. A wraith reduced to 0 levels in this fashion is permanently destroyed.


Arcanoi: Arcanoi (singular Arcanos) are special powers available only to wraiths—the ability to travel swiftly between one place and another through the lands of the dead, wails that turn the mortal heart to terror, manipulating objects by will, and other abilities. Arcanoi work like feats, and many of them are powered by Pathos, the emotional and spiritual energy that charges wraiths.


As spirits of the dead, one might expect wraiths to be drab and pathetic. In truth, wraiths are spirits of great energy and passion compared to those that remain in the Underworld, though still somewhat subdued compared to their living selves. A wraith’s power flows from his emotions, and from the emotions of those around them.

Maximum Pathos: A wraith can store Pathos equal to 10 plus his Constitution modifier; if he gains excess Pathos, it is wasted.

Starting Pathos: Wraiths start with their maximum amount of Pathos (10 + Con modifier).

Pathos per Round: Wraiths can spend one Pathos per round, no matter what effect they want to achieve. A wraith can take the Ghostly Vigor Arcanos to improve this rate.

Wraiths can use Pathos for several effects.

Activate Arcanos

Some Arcanoi require Pathos; others do not. See each Arcanoi’s description to see if the Arcanos uses Pathos, and how much.

Become Incorporeal

Rather than suffering damage to achieve their full incorporeality, wraiths may spend one point of Pathos to become completely immaterial for a number of rounds equal to 1 plus their Constitution modifier (minimum 0). The wraith may choose to prematurely end this duration.

Heal Corpus

Spending one Pathos heals the wraith of 5 hit points of damage or one point of ability damage. Spending two points of Pathos can heal the wraith of one point of ability drain. Wraiths can spend Pathos for these effects even while unconscious or dying.


A wraith can become clearly visible to a supernatural being, or dimly visible to a mortal, by spending one point of Pathos. This causes the wraith to become visible (and audible) for a number of minutes equal to his level.

Regaining Pathos

A wraith automatically regains one point of Pathos per day if his corpus is not damaged. A damaged wraith does not regenerate Pathos in this fashion.

If a wraith spends at least one minute aiding a dying mortal peacefully meet his end, he regains one point of Pathos from the effort. Should the mortal not wish to move beyond this world, the wraith may need to convince him to do so (possibly requiring a Diplomacy check or roleplaying). A mortal that rises again as a ghost or other undead grants the wraith no Pathos.

A wraith that destroys a vampire gains one Pathos for doing so, plus an additional Pathos for every four full experience levels of the destroyed vampire. Part of a wraith’s duty is sending the escaped or stolen souls of vampires back to the Underworld, and fulfilling this duty is emotionally satisfying.

Surviving a harrowing allows a wraith to recover his total maximum of Pathos all at once, though few wraiths consider the loss of a level a suitable price for this benefit.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Design and Development Blog

Since all the cool kids in the gaming industry are doing it now, I figured that I should start up my own design and development blog. This little space on the internet will take up my commentary on my games at home, the work I'm doing in the industry, my trials and travails as a freelancer, and the random ideas for games and game-related projects that come into my head. Hopefully, this will turn out to be a useful web space and not fall into some sort of ugly obsolescence.

Right now, I'm sitting at home and relaxing, putting together the notes for the next system update for my homebrew. I'll try to put up some of the work for it later tonight while I'm on the job. Really, this post exists mainly to inaugurate my shiny new blog. Woo!