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Barbarian

Let’s start with the charts:

Barbarian XP Modifier
Category Skill 19.25
THAC0 THAC0 Warrior 3
Magic Items Items Warrior 0.5
Followers Followers Warrior 1
Armor Armor Limited 1
Weapons Weapons All 1
Shields 0.5
Hit Dice d12 4
HP/10th 4hp 0.75
Strength Ability Bonus 0.25
Constitution Ability Bonus 0.25
Special Abilities Brawling 1
Favored Enemy 1.5
Leap 0.25
Non-core Class -0.75
Rage 2
Shapechange 2
Sprint 0.25
Two-weapon Fighting 0.25
Weapon Focus 0.5
Level Barbarian Fighter
1 0 0
2 2,500 2,000
3 4,750 4,000
4 9,750 8,000
5 19,250 15,750
6 38,500 31,500
7 77,000 63,000
8 154,000 126,000
9 308,000 252,000
10 601,500 492,250
11 962,500 787,500
12 1,323,500 1,082,750
13 1,684,500 1,378,250
14 2,045,250 1,673,500
15 2,406,250 1,968,750
16 2,767,250 2,264,000
17 3,128,250 2,559,500
18 3,489,000 2,854,750
19 3,850,000 3,150,000
20 4,211,000 3,445,250
  • Favored Enemy: Generally the same as the ranger ability of the same name. Following 2E rules, this skill provides a +1 bonus to attack and +2 to damage against a chosen foe. The barbarian isn’t limited to just one enemy, though; they get to pick more as they go up in level.
  • Leap: Simply put, barbarians (and monks) can launch themselves to great heights, both vertically and horizontally.
  • Rage & Shapechange: As I haven’t had a barbarian play out in my world yet, I haven’t solidified the rules for these abilities. They’re similar (in concept) to the abilities from 3E (across a couple source books). They’re also extremely significant where combat is concerned; they turn the barbarian into a literal beast that can tear opponents to pieces in a matter of seconds.
  • Sprint: Barbarians (and monks) can break into a sprint – which is really just running faster than other characters – and they can push themselves to higher speeds, and maintain them for longer. Normal characters can’t break into a max run right off the bat. They have to build up to it first. Also, anyone who pushes themselves too fast and for too long has to make a save to avoid taking damage. Based on my training, I find the concept applicable to real life. If you’re wearing 50+ lbs of equipment (some ill-fitting, some not) and you break into a sprint across an open field, 1) you’re not going to move very fast at first and 2) you’re going to come away seriously winded and/or bruised. I think a point or two of damage is very reasonable.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: I didn’t include this in the fighter’s breakdown, but both classes (and the ranger) have it. It’s not much different from other abilities of the same name – the intent is to make it easier to fight with two weapons (or, at least, to offset the penalty). I’ve got a spreadsheet that breaks down the advantages and disadvantages of using different weapons or different combinations of weapons and shields. I’ve found it useful for assigning modifiers such that they provide a meaningful choice to players.
  • Non-core class: This is a modifier that applies to all classes except fighter, cleric, thief and wizard. I use ability score requirements and the core classes are the easiest to qualify for (9 for prime stat, 6 for secondary). The other classes require better stats (15/12/9), so I reduce the experience modifier by a bit to compensate.

Fighter

Since the 2nd Edition DMG fails to deliver a consistent set of rules for making classes, I thought I’d offer my solution. Let’s start with the fighter.

Fighter XP Modifier
Category Skill 15.75
THAC0 THAC0 Warrior 3
Magic Items Items Warrior 0.5
Followers Followers Warrior 1
Armor All Armor 0.25
Weapons Weapons All 1
Shields 0.5
Hit Dice d10 3
HP/10th 3hp 0.5
Ability Bonus Strength 0.25
Ability Bonus Constitution 0.25
Special Abilities Brawling 1
Experience Bonus 0.5
Fighter Proficiencies 1
Multiple Attacks 1.5
Tower Shield 0.25
Two-weapon Fighting 0.25
Weapon Focus 0.5
Weapon Specialization 0.5

Categories:

  • THAC0: A measure of the character’s combat skill. Fighters have a warrior’s THAC0, meaning they advance 1 point every level.
  • Magic Items: Warriors are limited to arms and armor, as well as protection scrolls and potions. They can also use some rings and rods. For the most part, however, they’re limited compared to wizards (who can use pretty much any item).
  • Followers: All classes get followers when they reach higher levels. My rules allow for multiple henchmen which effectively improves the party’s combat power. Warriors receive the best options for followers.
  • Armor & Weapons: Naturally, warriors receive the best options for equipment.
  • Hit Dice and Bonus Hit Points: Likewise, warriors generally have the best hit points. All-around, they can hit harder and more often, and they can take more damage.
  • The ability bonuses represent modifiers that only warriors can take advantage of – higher to-hit bonuses and bonus hit points.
  • The other skills are particular to fighters (and a couple other classes):
  • Brawling: Generally, warriors are better at fighting. But beyond having the best THAC0 or hit points (or AC, with the best armor options), the rules from 2E don’t do a good job of explaining how to express
  • Experience Bonus: A fighter (as well as a few other core classes) receives additional experience (+10%) for having a Strength score of 16+. (This is a rule that I will examine in the future to determine if there’s a basis for its presence or if I should drop it.)
  • Fighter Proficiencies: Fighters have the best options for weapon proficiencies – 4 slots at 1st level and an extra slot at every other level, and they can select from any weapon. They also suffer the smallest penalty for non-proficiency (a paltry -1).
  • Multiple Attacks: I prefer a combination of 2E’s extra attacks for specialization and 1E’s extra attacks against low-hit die targets. Thus, fighters get the best benefit here.
  • Tower Shield: A small consideration, to be sure, but I use rules that take advantage of a tower shield’s presence (such as taking cover or creating a shield wall). Therefore, proficiency is required and only fighters (and paladins) have it.
  • Weapon Focus & Specialization: Bonuses to attack and damage, and extra attacks per round; but only if the character spends the proficiency slots on the weapon.

Altogether, this gives us an experience modifier of 15.75. This is the final experience chart:

Level Base Fighter
1 0 0
2 1 2,000
3 2 4,000
4 4 8,000
5 8 15,750
6 16 31,500
7 32 63,000
8 64 126,000
9 128 252,000
10 250 492,250
11 400 787,500
12 550 1,082,750
13 700 1,378,250
14 850 1,673,500
15 1,000 1,968,750
16 1,150 2,264,000
17 1,300 2,559,500
18 1,450 2,854,750
19 1,600 3,150,000
20 1,750 3,445,250

The equation I use is: (Base * Class Multiplier * 125) rounded off to the nearest multiple of 250. I came up with the base values through trial and error, mostly, but also by looking at the experience charts in the Player’s Handbook and guessing at the pattern they suggested. Finally, I rounded the numbers because I prefer the visual element of whole numbers on the chart.

This is the baseline for comparison for the other classes. A new skill or ability gets an experience modifier and I always check it against other, current modifiers. For example, what is the Turn Undead ability worth? It forces undead creatures away from the party so it a high value where combat is concerned. However, experience is earned for fighting monsters, not making them run away. So that should lower its value. Whatever number I decide on needs to consider these elements.

Coins

2nd has an optional rule for XP: award 1xp for every one 1gp gained through adventuring. This is a holdover from 1E and it was dropped entirely in 3E/4E. Why? Why was it present in the first place? Why was it removed? Is it something I should keep for my game?

Among the OSR, it’s generally accepted that XP for gold is a rule worth keeping. But I haven’t seen any discussion about the ‘why’ of it. Let’s consider what I wrote a couple posts ago: that a person learns by engaging in activity that identifies with his profession. A cook learns by cooking; an engineer by designing and planning; an adventurer by… well, by adventuring. And we already have one means of measuring success at adventuring: the strength of the adversary you’ve dispatched. And there is another means, provided by the original rules: the acquisition of material wealth.

Still, maybe this isn’t a convincing argument. I mean, I’m not certain of the rationale I’m working on here, so I don’t expect you’ll agree. What if we try a different approach?

What do coins mean? What does money mean? After all, a coin or a piece of paper (or in a modern sense, numbers on a computer database) have no inherent value. You can’t eat them; they don’t keep you warm; they have no value… beyond what they represent to the people who use them.

They represent power. In ancient history, the ability to mine precious metals and mint coins (especially in large quantities) meant the ability to organize a large labor force, and the military might to protect the investment.  Anyone who minted couns was saying to the world: “Here we are and we are important.  Do not ignore us. Do not mess with us.”

Coins also represent history. The iconography on a coin says things about the person or people in charge when it was minted. In the ancient or medieval world, this information may be the only connection people had with their past. Coins may have been used as storytelling aids, a way to remind the teller of the story’s details and to illustrate a point or lesson.

When an adventurer sits down to count his haul at the end of a week or more of trudging through wild caverns and ruined strongholds, what does he learn from the coins before him? What reflections or stories pass through his mind, and how does he relate these to his recent experiences?

AD&D (2nd Edition) DMG, pg32-35: Creating New Character Classes. This is an optional rule, but one that has always piqued my curiosity. I played with these rules when I first started as a DM and I quickly threw them out. They proved difficult to use as they tended to produce classes with little to no focus, and the experience requirements were too high compared to the standard classes. It was an interesting concept, but one that player out poorly.

Fast-forward to 3rd Edition and we had so many different classes, with more added every few months, that it seemed unnecessary to explore new ideas. When I included prestige classes (and who didn’t, really?) it was as though the market was saturated with options. Most of the time my players read about the different classes and conducted thought experiments, or ran test scenarios, to determine the best combination of race + class + prestige class + feats + magic items… but rarely did we see any of these played in the game. They were either too complicated or convoluted – after all, what kind of background will lead a barbarian to take levels in bard and then druid and then assassin and then… – or they just took too much time away from the game itself.

Keep in mind, too, that during 3rd Edition there were no formal rules for creating a balanced or reasonable class. (I’m not advocating balance as a necessary, core design feature – far from it – but without a standard, it’s entirely up to the DM to artfully craft a class that is useful without overwhelming the game.) The entire process was one of trial and error, with not the slightest reliable guidance.

So 2E tried to provide guidance but failed because, in practice, the rules did not produce satisfactory results. And 3E provided no guidance but suggested that all DMs can create whatever class they like (by saturating the market with options).

All that aside, here’s the one thing that’s always bothered me: why can’t I recreate a core class using the 2E method?

If you don’t have access to the book, I’ll sum up: each class feature, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is assigned a numerical value. Take the list of class features and add up their values, and you have the class experience modifier. Multiple that modifier by the base experience table and you have the necessary experience for that class to achieve each level.

There are three ways that this method, as written in the 2E DMG, fails: 1) the modifiers were not balanced against each other. For example, in 2E AD&D, wizards and rogues use different base to-hit values. Yet the experience multiplier for a wizard’s and a rogue’s THAC0 are both -1. Or bonus hit points (beyond 9th level) of +2 or +3 are each worth +2 experience modifier. 2) The base experience chart does not follow the pattern suggested by the various experience tables. So even if the multipliers were reasonable and representative of the actual benefit an ability gave the player, you aren’t guaranteed that the final experience table will work against the core classes.

#3 is the biggest concern for me: I can’t recreate the experience chart of any core class. Consider the fighter:

Category Modifier
Race Any +1
THAC0 Warrior +2
Weapons All +0
HP 9lvl+ +3 +2
Saving Throws Warrior +0
Hit Dice 1d10 +2.5
Armor All +0
Proficiencies 4 +2
Abilities
Fighter Strength +1
Fighter Constitution +1
Total 11.5

Keep in mind that this chart is based on the modifiers listed in the DMG and thus excludes fighter abilities like followers or allowed magic items (since the DMG doesn’t break magic item use into sub-categories).

This gives us an experience table like this:

Level Base XP Modified XP Actual XP
1 0 0 0
2 200 2,300 2,000
3 400 4,600 4,000
4 800 9,200 8,000
5 2,000 23,000 16,000
6 4,000 46,000 32,000
7 8,000 92,000 64,000
8 15,000 172,500 125,000
9 28,000 322,000 250,000
10 58,000 667,000 500,000

Clearly, there is something wrong here.

Yet I feel the concept is solid. All we need do is adjust the numbers and we’ve got a method for assigning a fair experience requirement for each class. It would also allow us to create hybrid classes, or entirely new classes, as required to fit whatever world or genre we’re playing in.

One last note: the core experience award method for D&D is, and always has been, based on fighting and defeating monsters. Experience awards for taking treasure were present in 2E and removed in 3E, but the core remained the same. Adventurers earn experience by fighting monsters and NPCs. Therefore, when we set the experience modifier for a class ability, we need to consider how that ability impacts the class’ strength in combat. The warrior THAC0 clearly offers the best to-hit chance and should be worth more as an experience modifier than a rogue’s Hide in Shadows skill. So long as we keep this in mind, I believe it’s possible to balance the classes in a way creates a dynamic, fluid and interactive playing field for the players.

Experience

I want to talk about experience in D&D (specifically) and roleplaying (in general). It’s a topic that occasionally comes up among bloggers but rarely have I seen an in-depth analysis of its purpose or its relationship to the game. Sure, people will talk about the metagame and how experience awards drive player actions; but what does that experience mean to the character? And is the acquisition of experience the only driving force for the player?

Let’s divert the conversation for a moment: in the real world, I’m an industrial engineer. Management sets goals and direction. Engineers develop and implement the plan. But my role is different from others in the field. I specialize in logistics and work in a factory. Where my peers are concerned with the detailed workings of the assembly line, I’m concerned with the methods and processes of moving and storing supplies.

I’m also the only engineer for the logistics department. I have my hands in a lot of pies, but I only ever take direct ownership of a few. This leads to confusion for my coworkers: they assume that I have more responsibility for planning our projects than I really do. Add to this my work ethic – I never say ‘no’ without offering an explanation and a solution – I despise the phrase, “That’s not my job” – and the result is that I take on more work than I should. So when things go wrong (which they invariably will, because the people who should plan, don’t), I work hard to fix ‘em.

In other words, I get beat up a lot. It’s good in the sense that it’s a (relatively) new job and I’m learning a lot. And that’s where experience comes into play.

I learn from the things I do right. I learn more from the things I do wrong. And, like most people, I learn despite my own faults.

As an engineer, I earn experience for designing and developing processes; for planning; for coordinating with others, especially large groups; for leading and implementing a plan; etc. When I’m successful, I earn a little experience. When I’m not, I earn a lot because I get to see the results of both a bad plan and a good one.

I used to be a cook. As a cook, I learned about… well… cooking. I also learned about organizing inventory, scheduling and ordering product, but only by observation; I never took a management role. I learn a lot more from being an engineer than I did from being a cook.

There are two points to this: 1) we learn as much, if not more, from our failures as we do from our successes; and 2) we learn from different experiences according to our professions.

What is the player character’s profession? Player characters are adventurers. They are the opportunists of the world. They explore and conquer. Traditionally, they live on the fringe of society, but they are not limited to it. Adventurers thrive on conflict and defeating their enemies. How, then, should we qualify their experience awards?

By the system that’s already in place: you get experience for killing things and taking their stuff.

The State of D&D

I prefer to ignore politics when it come to gaming. However, this issue is one that demands attention. I’ve seen posts and threads from this guy before. And I’ve read this guy’s blog. Both are terrible people. Oh, they may be perfectly decent in real-life, but I suspect that has more to do with the listener’s ability to punch them in the face if they step over the line. The internet allows for insane levels of bad behavior, a fact that both The RPG Pundit and Zak S. exploit for business reasons. Though it’s not limited to just financial concerns: Zak S. does this sort of thing which is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is awful. As a member of a community and a fan of our hobby, I feel compelled to break my standards for posting on this blog to say: do not support these people. If you follow the links to their sites, please do so only for as long as it takes to see the same things I’ve seen. Don’t share their work; don’t buy their products; speak out against them if you see their posts anywhere on the ‘net. Let the community know that we do not tolerate assholes like this.

(For my own part, though I wasn’t interested in 5th Edition D&D to begin with, I now know for certain that I don’t want to purchase a product that uses RPG Pundit or Zak S. as consultants. WotC should be more discerning in choosing who they work with. The fact that they are not – and that they’ve dismissed all warnings about these people – suggests that they are not fit to handle the publication of my favorite game.)

Clerics

Nine and Thirty Kingdoms presents a neat concept of clerics without spells. This is not a literal title: the author simply means to show a different way to present clerical power. It is a method apart from the Vancian model used by wizards. I was rather enamored of its simplicity and so I’ve chosen to steal it.

Clerics have prayers instead of spells. When a cleric uses a prayer, the player rolls 2d6 + levek against a target set by the prayer’s power. This target is 7 for prayers, 11 for meditations and 14 for devotions. Success means the prayer goes off; failure means it does not (for who know the will of the gods?). There is no limit to how often a cleric can pray but each attempt imposes a -1 penalty to future rolls. This penalty remains for a period of time based on the power of the prayer: standard prayer penalties go away at the rate of 1 point per day; meditations, 1 point per week; and devotions, 1 point per month. The full list of prayers a cleric has access to is set by the DM (and in my case, I’m still working out the details). One last note: there are no auto-success/fails with the prayer roll. Instead, a natural 2 indicates double the standard penalty and a natural 12 indicates no penalty for the attempt.

Honestly, without testing the system, I have to say I’m rather proud of my improvements…

I’ve made my mind up. I’m returning to D&D for my Planescape game.

The choice was not very difficult to make. I’ve been following the Tao of D&D for over a year now and I’ve found a few OSR blogs that provide some good insight. Having saturated myself with old school mores and opinions, I find myself agreeable to the change.

I guess I’ve known for a while that I want to return to D&D (specifically, AD&D. it’s the edition I started with and thus the one I’m the most familiar with). This is my admission: the time I spent “searching” for an acceptable system was a response to the crap that D&D became with 4E. I liked 3E well enough during my time, but I see its problems through the learned hindsight granted by 4E. And I want nothing to do with 5E, seeing as how so much of it is designed to appeal to “classic” or “old school” gamers.

Which brings me back to the dilemma I faced when I first decided to run Planescape: how do I deal with alignment? I agree with Tao that alignment (as first conceived by Gygax et al.) is a terrible concept. But it’s become something more. It’s possible to use alignment in a game and to not let it ruin your game. Unfortunately, it’s something that so many people get terribly, terribly wrong.

Alignment is this: Good refers to an individual’s ability to empathize with others. Evil refers to a lack of empathy. Neutral (on the moral compass) is a person who can empathize but, at the same time, is not bound by the emotions generated by that empathy. Law refers to a person’s connection to the prevalent social structure. Chaos is the opposite: the need for individualism or the recognition that laws are artificial (and can be ignored at whim). A neutral (ethical) character is one who straddles the line. They are not compelled to act in one way or the other.

Alignment is not a straightjacket. If it’s used that way, you’re doing it wrong. But how, then, can you have alignment in the game if you’re not going to criticize how its employed? If a player says, “I’m lawful neutral,” but behaves in a manner that suggests chaotic evil, won’t the other players feel… odd? Out of sorts? “Hey, dude, I know your god is all about order and stuff, so why are you trying to burn the village to the ground?”

Naturally, the biggest problem comes from the DM. I can solve that problem in my game by simply not demanding any kind of behavior from the players (in regard to whatever alignment they write on their sheet). But, if I do that, then what’s the point of an alignment? Well, in Planescape, it’s to illustrate the relationships between the planes and the characters. A lawful evil being will be uncomfortable on Celestia (a lawful good plane) or worse on Ysgard (a chaotic good or chaotic neutral plane).

But how does that discomfort manifest? In 2E, the only really tangible effect was magic. And those affects weren’t tied to alignment. There were a few other effects that did depend on alignment, but they were scattered here and there; nothing consistent. In 3E, the impact was a penalty to Charisma-based checks (and possibly Will saves; I can’t recall exactly). Who cares?

Here’s the thing: I can’t ignore alignment in Planescape. And I don’t want to. I’ve already found one good use for it.

Assume that mortal creatures (humans, humanoids and similar beings) from the Prime Material have alignments. This does not need to apply to player characters. For the purpose of this discussion, we are ignoring PCs. If we assume that mortal beings have alignments, and we assume that the primary alignment for a given mortal is the one provided to us in the Monster Manual (whichever edition you want to work with is fine; for monsters, I’m using a mix between AD&D, 3rd Edition and Pathfinder) – if we assume these two facts, we can figure out where a mortal goes when it dies.

Naturally, religion can throw this method off kilter, so we’re going to ignore it. For the most part, let’s assume that whatever religion the majority of a mortal race follows is in keeping with that creature’s alignment. In this way, we can assume that a neutral evil character will go to the Grey Wastes when it passes away.

However, there are two things that can impact this transition. First, not all members of a given race are of the given alignment. The alignment listed in the MM is a suggestion. I read it to mean that a significant portion of the race belongs to that alignment, but it’s always possible to have variation among individuals. The second factor here is the arrangement of the planes – the Grey Wastes is not the only neutral evil plane; we also have Carceri and Gehenna. Likewise, the Abyss is not the only chaotic evil plane; it’s bordered by Carceri and Pandemonium. So there’s some “bleed” going on. A few members of a race will go to a different plane because they have a different alignment from the parent race; and a few members will go to a different plane because they align more closely with one of the “mixed” planes.

We can represent this using math. Further, can we represent the total number of a given race among the 2.5e35 universal population (over time).

First, how many goblins are there? Take the rarity of all mortals and give each rating a numerical value. Add them all together; divide the individual rating by the total for all mortal races. This gives a base percentage for a given mortal race among all mortal races. Then break that population into alignment groups. Again, give each alignment a numerical rating based on the most common alignment. The most common alignment has the highest rating, while the rarer alignments have lower ratings. Add them all together; divide; the result is a percentage of a given population that follows a given alignment. Finally, use a similar method for deciding which percentage of a given alignment population goes to a given plane.

It’s about as complicated as it sounds…

The end result, however, is that I know exactly how many mortal souls end up in the Grey Wastes as opposed to Elysium. (Interestingly, because there’s more evil races than good, according to every edition of the game, the number of evil souls dwarfs the number of good at a ratio of about 10:1, or something similarly crazy.)

Where do we go from here? How about deciding how many angels and demons are in the planes? If we assume that these proxies come from mortal souls that have “grown” into a greater state of being, then it stands to reason (as we know how many souls have died over all of time) that we can say how many angels vs. demons exist. (The answer is 1:3.) Or what about coins? Or goods and services? If I know how many people occupy each plane, I should be able to make a connection to that plane’s economic strength. Which means I can create a model for an economy which means I can provide players with rational, accurate information about the cost of equipment.

But all of this is background dressing. It’s numbers and calculations that I run behind the scenes. It has an impact – potentially – because it may be important for the players to know how many souls inhabit Acheron (in case they were planning a major invasion or something). But in the end, it’s background material. I don’t intend to use any of this as justification for telling the players how to play their characters. Or for punishing them when they don’t follow an alignment, which is the same damn thing.

Contact Other Plane

Following up from the last post, here’s the first draft of the spell Contact Other Plane, that I intend to use in my game.

—————————————–

Contact Other Plane

Spell Level: 5th
School: Divination
Casting Time: 5
Duration: Special
Range: Special
Target: Special
Saving Throw: None

With this spell, the wizard can send her mind to another plane of existence in order to receive advice and information from the beings that dwell there. The player must decide which type of extraplanar being she is trying to contact: petitioner, planar, proxy or power. She may ask up to two questions per wizard level. For every two questions, the player must roll to see if a) the target knows the correct answers, b) the target is willing to cooperate and c) the wizard can withstand prolonged contact with a foreign intellect. The relative power of the wizard and the subject determines the chance of success:

Chance to Know Answer / Chance for Insanity
Wizard Level Petitioner Planar Proxy Power
9 11% 20% 34% 60%
10 13% 22% 38% 67%
11 14% 24% 42% 74%
12 15% 26% 46% 80%
13 16% 28% 50% 87%
14 18% 31% 54% 94%
15 19% 33% 57% 100%
16 20% 35% 61% 100%
17 21% 37% 65% 100%
18 23% 39% 69% 100%
19 24% 42% 73% 100%
20 25% 44% 77% 100%
Chance for a Cooperative Subject
Subject’s Alignment
Wizard Alignment CG NG LG CN N LN CE NE LE
CG 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40% 35% 30%
NG 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40% 35%
LG 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40%
CN 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35%
N 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40%
LN 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45%
CE 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40%
NE 35% 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45%
LE 30% 35% 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50%

To determine if the subject is willing to cooperate, consult the above table by referencing the wizard’s alignment against the alignment of the subject’s home plane. This check is made once, in secret and when the spell is first cast. An uncooperative subject will answer questions, to the best of its knowledge, but will be intentionally evasive, curt and misleading.

After the wizard has asked (and received the answers, right or wrong) two questions, the DM must check to see if she is stricken temporarily insane. This check is made after every two successive questions. The more powerful the subject, the more likely that its mind will be too much for the wizard to handle. The insanity lasts for one week per extraplanar category (one for petitioners, two for planars, etc.). The effect is similar to a Quest spell: the wizard takes on the alignment and demeanor of the subject’s plane and the subject may demand a service of the wizard which she will attempt to fulfill to the best of her ability (making it her first priority while the insanity lasts).

The wizard is not required to ask all her available questions and may end the spell at any time. However, contact with another plane may not be prolonged. The wizard must ask her questions in one sitting, without a break; if an interruption occurs, the spell ends.

—————————————–

Maps and Spells

Here’s one way to map the planes (2E)…

OuterPlanes

Here’s another (4E)…

520px-4e_FR_cosmology

Here’s a third (3E)…

d0130714_510b2ee6db536

Here’s an attempt from the real world to describe the higher and lower planes of existence. Here’s another. Here’s an interpretation by JDJarvis at Aeons & Augauries.

What’s our point?

Your compaign world should not be limited to one map of the planes. These are not literal maps. They do not show places. They do not represent borders or nations or peoples. There are no mountains or rivers or grasslands in these maps. They are a representation of the relationship that exists between the Prime Material and the Planes of Existence. As such, there are can be more than one interpretation. All that matters is that the interpretation contains some accurate information. (The quest for accurate information is a task that your party can take on for itself. The rewards should be self-evident.)

Delta D&D started a conversation about the spell Contact Other Plane. It has other bloggers talking about the arrangement of the planes. It has me thinking about how to structure the spell for my own game.

This is where the “map” of the planes is so critical: This spell (and others like it, such as Gate, Etherealness or Summon Monster) is dependent upon the arrangement of the ‘verse. How we map the planes, and the relationship we define between the planes, will impact how we structure this spell.

Roughly speaking, this is my map for the planes: the Inner Planes (the Elemental Chaos) is the “center” of the ‘verse. It’s the seed where all physical matter begins. It has no permanent internal borders. We may loosely describe how water and fire are opposed to each other, and thus they do not “share borders;” and for the most part this is correct. But not always.

From there we have the Prime Material. This is the universe as we know it. There are billions of galaxies. In each galaxy there are billions of worlds. On each world there are billions of people. They live, they die and their souls depart for the Outer Planes.

The Outer Planes are arranged (roughly) according to the Great Wheel map. Limbo does not share a border with Mechanus. However, there are pathways that connect the Outer Planes in ways that are not immediately obvious. The World Tree, for example, links Ysgard directly to Pandemonium, though the two planes do not share a border.

The Astral and Ethereal represent the realms of the mind and the soul. They are the primary conduit for travel through the planes. They connect the Prime to the Outer Planes. They are largely uninhabited, though the Ethereal is home to most non-corporeal undead.

Now we come to the point: how does a spell like Contact Other Plane work?

I understand the intent of this spell is to reach out to an intelligent being on another plane and probe its mind for answers to specific questions. As such, I’m not sure how well it should work with regard to elemental creatures. The Inner Planes are not connected to the Ethereal or Astral. Elementals do not have souls and their “minds” are only rudimentary at best. I realize that, according to D&D and the Planescape setting, there are intelligent elementals and there are mortal denizens of the Inner Planes; this is a conundrum that I must solve for my game. In the meantime, however, I think it best to accept that Contact Other Plane cannot reach to the Elemental Chaos. Another way to explain this is that Contact uses the Astral plane to make the connection. If the Astral doesn’t reach the Elemental, then the spell can’t work that way.

Then we have the Outer Planes, which are arranged in a circle or wheel shape around the Prime Material. There is no distance involved here. Reaching to Celestia is the same as Carceri or the Grey Wastes. Instead, the deciding factor should be the power of the creature contacted. There are four power levels for the Planes: petitioner, planar, proxy and power. (I’d like to add a fifth, though I’m not sure where it would go and what it would represent. Again, we have to work with what we’ve got for the moment.) Naturally, petitioners should be the easiest to contact and should carry the least risk (such as insanity). They also are the least likely to know the answer.

Let’s break down the possibilities for the petitioner. How can we know if a given, random soul knows the answer to a question? (Random because I’m assuming that the caster does not know the name of the being she is trying to contact. That’s an element we can add to the spell after we’ve established some base parameters). I use a demographics table (very similar to Tao of D&D) that I think can be re-purposed here. The basic principle is that the individuals in a population are not equal. Some are clearly superior to others. In the context of Contact Other Plane, the inequality lies in the knowledge of the subject. Some people will know the answers we’re seeking. Some will not. At the petitioner level, given how many of them there are (2.5e+33 for the whole of the Outer Planes), I think it’s fair to assume that the chance you’re going to get a known answer every time is not very good.

Let’s assume that the NPCs of the world who have 3d6 for their attributes are the most likely to actually know anything about anything. About 2% of the total population have stats that are almost that good. (I would post my version of the demographics table, but I think I deleted it from my cloud storage.) That seems like it might be a decent baseline; let’s assume a 1.5% chance (per level of the caster) that the petitioner knows the answer to a given question (this requires a roll for every individual question).

Planars represent mortals that live on and travel through the planes, thus they might have more knowledge than a petitioner. The same applies to proxies and powers, and since there’s only four categories…

Chance to Know Answer
Caster Level Petitioner Planar Proxy Power
5 7% 14% 28% 56%
6 9% 18% 36% 72%
7 10% 20% 40% 80%
8 12% 24% 48% 96%
9 13% 26% 52% 100%

etc…

I think the other components to the spell depend on other factors. The chance for insanity depends on how powerful the contacted being is. Proxies (such as angels and demons) are certainly ‘otherworldly’ and, combined with their immortality and different concepts of morality, logic, ethics, etc, should pose a chance of rendering the caster temporarily insane. (The precise reasoning behind this, however, should be explored in a later post.) The chance that the subject tries to mislead or lie to the caster should be based on its moral inclinations. Good creatures are more likely to empathize with the caster and thus less likely to lie to her. However, I’m not certain that I have a solid methodology for determining the chances of these components. I want to avoid compounding the issue (for example, by rendering a known answer useless when the caster becomes insane for a long period of time) but I don’t have a solid answer just yet.

The bottom line, therefore, is this: careful thought should go into the design of your world. In the case of Planescape, it’s possible to create spells that are dynamic, rich and distinctly unique to your world if you are aware of the details of that world.

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