Tuesday, April 14, 2020

What Do I Know About First Impressions? Unearthed Arcana 2020 Psionic Options Revisited (D&D 5e)


Psionics continue to evolve in Unearthed Arcana. If you haven’t been keeping track, WOTC’s first playtest of psionic material was the Mystic, the dedicated psionic “caster” class. That disappeared for a while, and last year, WOTC introduced several psionic subclasses, flavors of existing classes with psionic themed abilities.

Online, many voices cried out that anything psionic must have a unifying mechanic to brand the subclass as authentically psionic feeling. There was also some buzz that a wizard that studied psionics was muddying the perceived lines between what people wanted in psionics. I didn’t mind, even though, yes, psionics does feel more like a sorcerer thing. That said, today’s Unearthed Arcana release is a response.

The Psionic Primer

There is a little more information upfront discussing where the designers' heads are at with this design strategy, outlining how psionics have been used in past editions, how psionics have been referenced in 5e, and the overall concept behind them. The concept is rooted in powers that are generated internally, and manifest externally as telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, etc.

There is a further clarification that sometimes psionics take the form of spells when they are manifested, which means they are affected like spells, and sometimes they are manifested as an effect, which are not spells unless so referenced. That’s the page we’re all on at this point.

A Note on Flavor Text

So I don’t end up repeating this with each subclass, it might be worth looking at what flavor text is used to introduce these options, as an idea of what is informing this information. These subclasses, when giving examples, mention elves, githyanki, githzerai, and kalashtar ancestries, and Eberron and Dark Sun for settings repeatedly. I’m not saying this is a solid promise, but of all of those things mentioned in the flavor text, only one of them isn’t currently represented in current D&D 5e products.

The Unifying Mechanic

Just to get this straight upfront, I was definitely not one of the voices saying that you need a mechanical overlay as a unifying feature for all psionics. I was just happy to see abilities that played up telepathic, telekinetic, or precognitive abilities.

The unifying mechanic that we have in this document is the psionic die. If you are psionic, you get a psionic die (unless you got powers mentioned as being psionic before this point, like from some Warlock patrons . . . ah well).

Each psionic subclass gets a d6 die that they can use to augment different abilities based on the subclass. If you roll a 1 on the d6, the die size goes up. If you roll a 6, the die size goes down, and if it goes down below a d4, you have exhausted your psionic die until you rest.

As a concept, I kind of like that as a replacement for power points to create a unifying mechanic. It doesn’t look like anything else in D&D currently, but it also doesn’t add a fiddly currency to track, and leaves classes that manifest their abilities as spells still using the same resources as other classes.  The die type goes up in size at 5th level, 11th level, and 17th level, and you know what that means:  we have another use for the d12!

Everybody that gets a psionic die also gets the ability to use a bonus action to reset their die to its starting value, usable once per long rest.

I’ll touch on something I think is a the downside to this later, but as a unifying mechanic for something I’m not sure needed a unifying mechanic, I like it. It does create a constrained box within which all psionic subclass design must reside, which in general is good, but may mean that early attempts are a shot in the dark.

Psi Knight (Fighter)

The Psi Knight is a replacement for the previous Psychic Warrior subclass. Since there were some rumblings of making this the vaguely “Jedi” like subclass, I’m not sure if the renaming happened to play into that theme, or if it’s to tie it more closely to the role it plays in Githyanki society, but we’re drifting from the established 3rd edition naming conventions.

The Psionic Die

The Psi Knight can use their die to use a reaction to reduce damage by the die type, add distance to their jumps, or to add force damage to their attacks within 30 feet. That makes this a potentially more mobile fighter, and allows them to use their die to boost their (to use 4e terms) striker or defender abilities.

  • 7th level—Gain the ability to knockdown opponents when adding force damage, gain telekinetic movement if your psionic die is available (downgrading it after the usage)
  • 10th level—Resistance to poison and psychic damage
  • 15th level—Create telekinetic cover for several characters (once per long rest, unless you downgrade your psionic die)
  • 18th level—Minor telekinesis is now the full telekinesis spell


First off . . . other than the levels where they get extra benefits from their subclass, fighters are REALLY different depending on their subclasses. That said, while none of these abilities feel too far off, most fighter subclasses don’t have to worry about a mental stat, except for the Arcane Archer. Even the Echo Knight leans into Constitution as a secondary means of establishing powers.

Soulknife (Rogue)

Apparently people like the name Soulknife more than Psychic Warrior, I guess?

The Psionic Die

The Soulknife can use their psionic die to add to a failed ability check to see if it actually succeeded, and they can form a telepathic communication link to their allies, the number of which depends on the number rolled on the die.

  • 3rd—Psychic blades, the revised text of which mentions the blade manifesting when you attack, rather than spending a bonus action to create them (your off-hand blade is one die less when you dual wield)
  • 9th—Homing Strikes and Psychic Teleportation, you get to roll your die and add it to your attack roll if you miss, and if you throw your knife, you can teleport to where it lands (both abilities decrease die size)
  • 13th—Invisibility once per long rest, unless you downgrade your die
  • 17th—Once per long rest, force a save on sneak attack damage or stun opponent, unless you downgrade your die


The Soulknife gets to use dexterity for its save DC, so it’s doing a little better than the fighter. They get an accuracy enhancement over a damage enhancement, which kind of makes sense given how often they will likely be dealing sneak attack damage. I’m happy they retain the “teleport to where your knife hits” ability, because I love that imagery for this subclass.

Psionic Soul (Sorcerer)

Congratulations, you have some kind of Feywild or Far Realms influence that awakened your mind! Nice work. There is an origin table for this subclass (I’m really liking these, by the way), this time with 10 separate entries to flavor your origin. Interestingly, one of the entries mentions the sapphire dragon, which to date has only appeared with the limited edition commemorative dice set, or as a purchase on D&D Beyond.

The Psionic Die

Psionic Souls can use their die to get spells not on their spell list for up to their roll in hours (divination or enchantment spells), cast spells without components (if you roll over the level of the spell), or form a direct telepathic link for a number of hours equal to the number rolled.

It feels weird to have two different telepathic communication features work differently. Also, unless you roll 1s on the die, you could potentially have multiple links going, with different timers, to the whole party, and that feels like it could be a pain.

By itself, I’m not a fan of “I get an extra spell I didn’t know before” as an ongoing effect, but coupled with tracking another set of variable hours, I’m even less thrilled with this application. Other than risking rolling a 1, there isn’t really a limiter to this either, meaning you could just have someone get lucky and add a bunch to their spell list. Since you can do this after 10 minutes, and it can be done as part of a rest, you could do this six times during a short rest.

  • 6th—You can replace one of your damage dice with a spell with the number rolled on your psionic die
  • 14th—Spend a sorcery point to gain special senses or movement abilities, with the psychic die determining the number of hours
  • 18th—If you have your psionic die available, you create a damage field around you


I like the potential to cast without components, but I almost wish that was a default mode, and that you only needed to roll if the component has a listed cost. I actually wish instead of the potential extra spell added to the spell list, the sorcerer could use their psionic die for concentration. I’m not thrilled with the damage boost, because it feels like a very limited story. “I’m psychic, so I’m more dangerous” is certainly a theme, although it’s usually a theme for an uncontrolled ability.

Spells

Ego Whip, Id Insinuation, Mental Barrier, Psionic Blast, Psychic Crush, and Thought Shield, which previously appeared as spells, aren’t around anymore. Mind Sliver, Mind Thrust, and Intellect Fortress have been included in this document.

Feats

Last time around, we got some simple feats that let you flavor your character as telekinetic or telepathic without taking a subclass. The abilities weren’t quite as impressive as the class features, but they could represent someone with a minor natural psychic gift.

Because we have a unifying mechanic, we’ve now got a feat tree in order to have telepathic or telekinetic abilities. Before I go too deep into that, let’s look at what feats are included this time around:

  • Metabolic Control (boost physical ability, decrease psionic die to not need food or water, decrease psionic die to take a short rest by resting for 1 minute, which you can only do once per long rest)
  • Telekinetic (similar to the previous version, mage hand with a shove function, but now the distance is determined by psionic die)
  • Telepathic (boost mental ability, talk to anyone telepathically within 30 feet, send only, not receive thoughts, detect thoughts by decreasing your psionic die
  • Tower of Iron Will (use a reaction to add psionic die to you or someone nearby that just failed a save to add to that save)
  • Wild Talent—let's dig into this one a little bit more, because it’s the prerequisite for all of these if you don’t already have a psionic subclass that grants you a psionic die.


You can increase any ability score by 1, then you gain a psionic die (you don’t get more than one if you pick up a psionic subclass as well). You can add your psionic die to ability checks, but only before you know if you succeeded or failed (so slightly less useful than the rogue ability). You can also replace a damage die with the psionic die’s number when making an attack with the ability score you increased with this feat. You also gain the ability to reset your die once per long rest like all of the subclasses with a psionic die.

Two questions spring to mind:

  • How does Psi-Boosted Ability interact with the Soulknife’s ability?
  • How does the Psi-Guided Strike interact with the Psionic Soul’s ability?

None of the psionic abilities say that the die has a limit per character turn for application, so would a Soulknife, under the right circumstances, roll before they know if they failed, and then after as well? Would the Psionic Soul making a Charisma attack, having boosted Charisma, roll to replace damage on one die, then another?

Both of those are corner cases, but potentially a pain to deal with. My biggest complaint is that, if I just want to burn a feat to say my character is psychic, taking Wild Talent as the first available feat isn’t that much fun. I can’t say that I’m telepathic. I can’t say that I can move something with my mind. I can just say that I can invisibly manipulate the numbers underlying the probabilities of the universe.

I know not everyone thinks like me, but I’ll burn a feat for flavor once, but I’m not sure the chain is worth burning more than one unless it really plays into a concept. I liked it when these were kind of fun feats that didn’t need to be focused on playing into a theme. I get that the general complaint was that psionics didn’t have a unifying mechanics, but I think adding this extra level of qualification to unify the feats with the subclasses makes them way less flexible for me, as far as a character’s story goes.

A Copper for My Thoughts

I like the unifying concept of the psionic die, for all of the subclasses, but it messes with what I liked about the feats. Is it necessary for “flavor” feats as well as subclasses? That’s hard for me to answer, since I’m not one that was overly concerned about having a unifying mechanic. I would almost just kill Wild Talent and give the feats with once per long rest abilities the kicker that IF you have a psionic die, you can downgrade the die one step to use the ability again. That way there is an interaction with a psionic die, but not the requirement to add one before you gain the “flavor” psychic feats.

Looking at some of the similar abilities granted at the levels where the psionic die is added, I am less enamored of the die increasing in size. Many abilities introduced at that level are (ability score bonus) per rest, and it’s hard to judge how much more versatile an ability might be if someone manages to not only not roll a 1, but rolls the maximum on the die several times. It's weird, because its an ability that could be really off-kilter, or fizzle fast. At the very least, since the psionic dice have the replenishment ability once per long rest, I think they should only go down in size. Again, that’s a hard call, because this is the first “variable” ability we’ve really seen in a D&D subclass, versus X per rest abilities.

Speaking of story over balance, I get why the Arcane Archer has its intelligence based abilities, although I think that makes it a harder sell for a lot of players, but given the fact that part of the story of psionics is “internal generation,” I really think the Psi Knight could base its abilities on constitution.

It's actually pretty fascinating to see a design initiative that not only attempts to design across other subclasses of the same class, but also across other subclasses with the same theme, of other classes. Since that wasn’t the way other class designs were built, this is, if nothing else, an interesting thought experiment that should be fun to watch.

Note: When I first published this article, I misstated that the die types changed in the opposite directions, i.e. a 1 caused the die type to go down, versus a 6. While it is kind of innocuous as a misstatement, given the "story" of why the die is going up and down, it's kind of important, because it means when you do something bigger and more substantial, you are draining your reserves, and when you are barely using your power, you are saving up in your psionic batteries. Flavor matters in this instance, so I wanted to correct that mistake. Sorry!

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Streets of Avalon D&D 5e Campaign . . . Game With ME! (Potentially)

I'm planning on running a Streets of Avalon Dungeons and Dragons 5e game on Friday nights, via Zoom. I'm interested in recording these sessions and posting them to my YouTube account. I'll be running these games every other Friday at 7pm Central time, for a group of up to five intrepid adventurers.

Don't know what the Streets of Avalon setting is? Check out the review that I did here:

What Do I Know About Reviews? The Streets of Avalon

So, if you are interested in gritty, neighborhood and city-based sword and sorcery fantasy using D&D, that's what I'm going for in this game.

If you would like to look at the campaign standards for the campaign, the PDF is posted here:

The Streets of Avalon Campaign Standards

Still with me? Still have a burning desire to learn the secrets of what lies beneath the city streets, to make your fortune in the shady alleyways, or just to take care of the neighbors you have grown to care about? Well, then, step right up and fill out this form:

Jared Rascher's Streets of Avalon Campaign Sign Up Form

I'll leave this form open for a while, and then will go about populating our neighborhood in our session zero on April 24th.

Don't upset the guilds, make sure to tip your local Griffin patrol, and when it gets dark, don't get in the way of the Lamplighters. And if you hear something, don't look over your shoulder. Just find someplace safe.

Or grab your sword and your spellbook, and stick your neck out.

What Do I Know About Reviews? Skullport: Shadow of Waterdeep (Dungeon Masters Guild Product)


Way back in ancient days, when boxed sets roamed the land, and armor class descended, I had a second edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game that spent a lot of time in Waterdeep, the Yawning Portal, Undermountain, as well as Skullport. I even ran a short 3.5 campaign set in Skullport, with my players all being agents of various nefarious and/or criminal enterprises with a stake in the hive of scum and villainy.

Skullport is touched on in Dungeon of the Mad Mage, but it’s largely a somewhat dangerous stopover for PCs while exploring the dungeon complex, as it’s detailed primarily as an extended stronghold of the Xanathar. Seeing a Dungeon Masters Guild product detailing 5e Skullport caught my attention, so I picked up Skullport: Shadow of Waterdeep, and today on the blog I’m going to take a deeper look at it.

The Decree

Skullport: Shadow of Waterdeep is an 86 page PDF. There is a front cover, an endplate, Table of Contents, and the main body of the book, which includes a gazetteer of Skullport, an adventure outline, adventure hooks, NPCs, monsters, PC options, spells, and magic items.

The formatting of the product looks very similar to standard D&D 5e books, with a two-column arrangement, sidebars, black and white maps of Skullport and its environs, and various half and quarter-page illustrations.

Forward, Chapter 1: Skullport Overview, Chapter 2: Getting to Skullport, Chapter 3: Skulker Politics, and Chapter 4: The Thirteen Skulls

The Forward to this product introduces some shorthand terms for the various locations of Skullport, as well as providing content warnings about the material that is included in the product. This includes discussions of addiction, alcohol, animal cruelty, disease, mental compulsion and illness, parasites, self-harm, sex work, slavery, suicide, and torture. In addition to providing this content warning, the foreword includes a link to the Consent in Gaming product from Monte Cook Games. I appreciate this level of content discussion in a Dungeons and Dragons product.

The Skullport overview discusses the geographic locations of the city and how they relate to one another, but in addition to this geography lesson, there is also a section that discusses how Skullport functions compared to the three pillars of Dungeons and Dragons game philosophy. I like that kind of core loop mapping to the expected norms of the game.

The Overview also provides some quick links to Skullport for Dungeon Masters looking for good reasons for their player’s characters to become entangled in the Port of Shadows, and wraps up with a discussion of what resources are important to the city, and from where those resources are derived.

Chapter Two looks at ways to get to Skullport, which is a pretty an important topic to address. It’s one thing to wander into the city when exploring Skullport, but if Skullport itself is the destination, players need a clear means of arriving that doesn’t involve wandering through two and a half dungeon levels to get there. It’s even more important to know about the various connections to Waterdeep’s sewers and back alleys now that one of the most common means of entry in previous editions, the South Sea Caves, aren’t being maintained the same way as in the past.

Of the passages presented, there is some great connective tissue to events in the setting’s past, including the ancient Netherese origins of Skullport’s caverns, and ties to the weird long term aftereffects of the Time of Troubles. The ways into Skullport are flavorful enough to make just traveling back and forth, without navigating the bulk of Undermountain, a memorable trip.

Chapter three details the various factions that have a vested interest in the environs around Skullport, and those factions include a mix of long term interests in the region, with existing power groups newly moved in, and newer power groups introduced in more recent products. Drow mercenaries, traditional drow houses, and drow adherents of good and redemption can all bump up against one another while dealing with hobgoblin factions, everyone’s favorite beholder crime lord, long term aboleth manipulators, slime cultists, shapeshifters, local gangs, and borderline proto-unions. I’m a big fan of continuing the Realms tradition of having power groups, big and small, interacting in a location, as well as rectifying an issue with the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide by providing plenty of factions for player characters to come into conflict with, and other factions to work for or against.

Chapter four looks at the skulls themselves, and gives them an upgrade from recent quick descriptions that classify them as flaming skulls. In this case, they literally are skulls that are on fire, but given their origins as Netherese arcanists, they get an upgrade to demi-liches, with a few modified quirks, which feels appropriate for the long term rulers of the Saugauth Enclave.

Chapter 5: Locations in Skullport, Chapter 6: A Brief History of Skullport, Chapter 7: Adventuring in Skullport

Chapter five details many, many locations in Skullport, from inns and taverns to prisons and fortresses, to monster lairs. In addition to locations literally in Skullport, several adjacent regions, like the local temple of Eilistraee, the Xanathar’s Lair, and the local hobgoblin encampment are also detailed.

As with the previous chapter detailing the various factions, there is a mix of old, familiar denizens and locations in Skullport, with newer additions to the city. You can find your favorite hag-run zombie shop next to a guild of Malar worshipping thrill-seekers that poke around Undermountain for fun. Mixed in with this is the tension of the Xanathar’s patrols and “tax collectors” and the less lucid than normal skulls.

It’s very clear with the amount of detail and how locations are written that most of the areas detailed are meant to be adventure sites. PCs are meant to go to these locations and interact with the NPCs, and this ties into how Chapter 7 is structured later in the product.

Chapter six is what it says on the tin. It provides a very functional history of Skullport and this particular section of Undermountain, without being too worried about a hyper-detailed timeline. The history presented is weighted in favor of background that explains what the skulls are, why they aren’t acting the way they have traditionally, and how a long term NPC can be restored in a manner that allows them to reclaim their place of primacy over the Xanathar’s operatives.

Chapter seven includes an opening encounter to introduce the player characters to NPCs that can bring them into the plot to restore the skulls as the masters of Skullport, displacing the Xanathar’s Guild. It presents them with a retrieval quest for a ritual that will get them an NPC ally, who can then set them looking for an item that will weaken the Xanathar’s hold on the region. It is an adventure largely detailed in outline, but part of the reason for that is that the outline references the highly detailed locations provided in chapter five. Given that the adventure assumes tier two characters, that means that the DM may be on their own presenting adventures for tier-one adventurers and seeding the desire to rebel against the Xanathar’s Guild if they want to start a campaign completely native to Skullport.

Appendix A: Events in Skullport, Appendix B: Rogues’ Gallery, Appendix C: Denizens of Skullport

Events in Skullport provides two pages of paragraph-long adventure hooks for adventurers in Skullport, ranging from infected adventurers wandering into town from Undermountain, to mysterious figures trailing adventurers, to bodies that show up and beg to have their murder investigated.

The Rogues’ Gallery section revisits NPCs from the past, with an eye towards where they are now (for example, the ranking priests of the Promenade and Xanathar’s agents), as well as introducing new NPCs, or NPCs that are new to the region (for example, Jarlaxle makes an appearance now that he’s interested in spreading Luskan’s influence).

I particularly like the introduction of the Umain Twins as Elistraeean operatives from the Promenade. Fraternal twins that are male and female, neither is the gender assigned to them at birth, and part of their affection for the faith of Eilistraee is the freedom from the assumptions placed upon them in childhood.

Appendix D: Character Options, Appendix E: Spells, Appendix F: Equipment and Conditions, Appendix G: Magic Items

Character options include a Skulker background for natives of the city, with their special feature providing an urban version of the foraging abilities that some wilderness backgrounds receive. There is a bard college that adds clerical spells to the bard’s spell list, and a clerical domain that adds bardic abilities to the cleric class. There is also an Abomination domain for ooze focused clerics, allowing for formless shapeshifting, a channel divinity option to deform opponents, and the ability to make an ooze servant out of your own blood. The Oath of Liberty Paladin is focused on freeing slaves, and their oath tenets focus on making sure all of their allies are willingly serving in any situation. That’s the opposite of the Mantrapper Conclave ranger, that focuses on capturing humanoids, at least in part in connection to the slave trade.

I like how the College of Hymns, the Song Domain, and the Oath of Liberty all work as being tied into the church of Eilistraee, but all of them can function as broader player options. I got a bit turned around with the College of Hymns wording of the Hallowed Field ability, which essentially creates a free-floating region of inspiration, rather than assigning inspiration dice directly to a character.

Call it a weird quirk that it bothers me less to have a domain for an ooze worshiping cleric as a potential player option than it does to have a ranger who learned their abilities based on working as a slaver. Tying any kind of PC behavior to supporting the slave trade is a very hard sell for me, even if you are going for reformed slaver making better use of their abilities.

There are two pages of spells, many of which are thematically included because of their ties to NPCs or organizations local to Skullport. Long term Realms/D&D fans will potentially remember a few of these spells from the past. The appendices don’t end their 5e conversions of older material with spells, however. The section on equipment adds in 5e stats for weapons like courtblades (finesse two-handed swords), bolas, and lassos. If you don’t want to reference the DMG and mentally replace “smokepowder” for “gunpowder,” this section also has you covered with stats for pistols. New gear also includes a Body Modification Kit, which includes tools for piercings and tattoos, and I’m kind of surprised no gear has referenced those activities before now.

The appendices also address new conditions and diseases, including Haunted, Addicted, and the disease Darkrot. I actually like Haunted as a substitution for all kinds of clumsy translations of mental health issues. Essentially, it makes it harder to get the full effects of a long rest until the character can shake free of the issue bothering them. Addicted is interesting, but since it involves tracking an increasing number of -1 penalties, it feels a bit too fiddly for 5e’s usual means of adjudication.

The magic items section include some of Jarlaxle’s signature magic items, the singing swords of Eilistraee, complete with a summarized history and location for all of the named swords, and the super handy Ring of Readiness. All of that said, I really like the Dread Helm, a common magic item whose only purpose is to make your eyes glow red when you wear it. Warduke cosplay!


Safe Haven

This is a wonderful amalgam of lore on Skullport, and while it respects the current state of Skullport as presented in recent adventures, it also presents a scenario that assumes player character intervention to restore Skullport to a still dangerous, but less restricted, base of operations. There is a very nice balance of previous lore with accessibility.

There is also a surprisingly robust number of player options included in the product as well. I wasn’t expecting the number of mechanical offerings included, and many of these are very thematic and well-executed. The content warnings and links to the Consent in Gaming document as a means of bringing more of a discussion of potentially troublesome elements in D&D to a DMs Guild products are welcome.

The Grinning Skull of Death

The product itself acknowledges this, and it has always been true of Skullport, often visualizing the relative positions of the various parts of the city and points of entry can be a little confusing. A few of the class options and at least one of the spells gets a little complicated, and drifts a bit away from 5e’s usually more streamlined nature. It’s a bit of a balancing point that one of the strengths of this product is that it’s really good at focusing lore on what’s core to the story of Skullport, but where it drifts a bit into the complicated is on the mechanical side of things.

Despite content warnings and links to broader discussions, having a ranger subclass that is closely tied to slavery is still a little uncomfortable for me as far as something that might be referenced as a player option.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

If you loved Skullport from “back in the day,” this product is a bridge between the history of the location and the way it has been introduced in 5e. If you were intrigued by Skullport for the first time from the references to it in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, this is going to provide you with a good amount of fuel for continuing adventure.

There is a strong mix of home base information, adventure, and player options that should provide broad appeal for this product. Unless Skullport really isn’t of interest to you, I don’t foresee fans of the Waterdeep adventures being disappointed with this purchase.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

What Do I Know About Reviews? Legendary Bestiary, Legendary Actions for Low-Level Monsters (Dungeon Masters Guild)


For a while I have been discussing how I would love to see more alternate monsters with slightly different traits for D&D 5e, or more monsters with legendary actions. I have also mentioned how I like the idea of that one really tough, singular beast that lives in the woods, a creature that doesn’t need to be overtly supernatural to still be a much tougher example of it's kind.

It turns out, a product appeared on the Dungeon Masters Guild that addresses some of these concepts, The Legendary Bestiary. It’s a book focused on creating legendary actions for CR 1 through CR 3 creatures. I thought I’d take a look at it in today’s blog post.

The Monster Book of Monster . . . Actions

The PDF of the product is 35 pages, which includes an inside cover, a table of contents, and two pages dedicated to random tables for naming legendary creatures. The product has an eye-catching cover and title font, and makes good use of the DMs Guild art assets.

Individual monster images are accompanied by example titles, and a few of these also include a paragraph of description for various legendary monsters, all of which are monsters of a type detailed in the product itself. Font is very similar to D&D 5e standards, with a few variances from the typical headers, but the overall look is very polished.

The Belly of the Beast

The introduction states that the desired purpose of this book is to allow DMs to have a wider range of creatures available for climatic encounters, especially to create more circumstances where a single opponent can be a challenge for a party of adventurers. It mentions that this should be something you can do even for low-level adventurers, with situationally “legendary” creatures like bandit captains.

There are some notes on how the legendary actions included were designed not to move the monster away from its current “niche” in the game, and includes some quick ideas for boosting XP rewards when turning a standard creature into a legendary challenge. There is a little bit of wording under the bullet points for the design principals that feels like the sentence is incomplete, but overall, the introduction provides the thesis statement for the product.

Expanded Monsters

The general guidelines that the product follows for legendary actions are that CR creations only get one legendary action, CR 2, two, and finally, CR 3 get the typical range of three legendary actions. Lower CR creatures usually don’t get the typical “may make an extra attack” legendary actions that many of the Monster Manual legendaries get, and several thematic “leader” creatures get actions that set up or support other creatures.

Support abilities often grant movement, temporary hit points, or even extra attacks (sometimes with disadvantage, to represent the lower impact of these legendary actions). There are also a good number of “setup” abilities, legendary actions that allow a creature to gain advantage on a later attack, to do more damage, or potentially recharge an ability earlier.

In several cases, various animals are given abilities that are very much either thematic for the animal, or directly references hunting or defensive tactics for those animals. I appreciate this, because it feels like a lot of real-world animals get less design space to make them interesting than fantastic monsters, and that’s a shame. Bears can slam an opponent to the ground or scare them with a roar. Lions can bolster their pride with a roar. Eagles can snatch an opponent and fly up into the air with them. Several animals get the ability to use their senses to sniff out prey.

Another style of legendary action that makes several appearances in this product are “partial” uses of other abilities that the monster has access to. For example, Duergar can buff up just a little to do extra damage, or turn partially invisible to cause opponents to have disadvantage, but not need to pinpoint their locations. Quasits can partially shape change to get a new movement mode for their next turn. Imps can make it darker and murkier, creating cover, without fully casting darkness.

Some creatures have some interesting extrapolations of their current abilities. For example, Gelatinous Cubes can spit those little undigested bits at people for small amounts of damage. Ghouls and ghasts get the ability to each corpses to regain hit points, and can then cough up crawling claws. I love that. Ochre jellies can detonate jellies that split off from them, and Nothics can echo spells that they have seen cast in their presence.

There are a few of these legendary actions I wanted to look at because I think they attempted to get a little too ambitious, or maybe pushed the general boundaries of 5e logic a little. Both dryads and harpies get an ability that lets them command a charmed opponent to make an attack for them, and since both of those monsters very specifically call out that they charm their opponents, and charm has a very specific effect in 5e, I feel like these legendary actions muddy the current boundaries of what charmed entails, and might cause confusion over the effect more broadly. Githzerai get an ability that lets them reroll initiative, and I can’t help but feel like that’s just too disruptive, especially as an action that they might take every turn in combat. Quaggoths get an ability that let them steel themselves to the damage they take, and take in a variable number of rounds later, and while that sounds cool, that feels like fiddly bookkeeping, again, especially if it gets used more than once in the same encounter.

Some of the CR 3 monsters have very situationally useful legendary actions, and I worry that they won’t get much use out of all three of their actions as written. Additionally, some predators, like tigers, don’t get a damage boosting ability, or an attack probability boost, but get the ability to move and hide, but given the tiger’s size and the requirements for hiding, this probably isn’t going to help them all that much without an accompanying alteration for the conditions under which they can make a stealth check.

Legends

There are a lot of imaginative expansions of creature abilities included in this product. I especially like the idea of making sure that a monster can use even a lesser version of one of its signature abilities before the fight is over, or more often than usual. The fact that animals that use these abilities feel more dangerous and more like themselves is a big plus as well. Beyond just using these additional actions as legendary actions for lower CR creatures, some of these feel like just good abilities to add to the creatures' stat blocks to make them more varied or more versatile.

Tall Tales

Because of the action economy of D&D 5e, if you try to turn a CR 1 or CR 2 creature into more of a “boss fight” but only allow them 1 or 2 legendary actions instead of three, I don’t think it’s going to create the desired effect. I also feel that several creatures have legendary actions that are so situational that their legendary actions will go to waste. There could stand to be a few more “all-purpose” legendary actions for those creatures.

In many cases imagination pays off in creating evocative abilities, but in a few places, what sounds good on paper (roll initiative again, prepare multiple kickers for actions to be taken later, delay damage) may be a huge pain to actually utilize at the table.

Qualified Recommendation--A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

If you are like me, and wish 5e had more “nastier specials” like 13th Age monsters get, and generally want more mechanical toys for monster stat blocks, you may be interested in this product, but I can see how the lower CR range, and even using the product exactly as detailed may not appeal to every 5e dungeon master.

What I saw in this product does make me want to see additional volumes with a wider range of creatures, maybe with just a little bit fewer of those “delayed” opportunities or very useful but only in limited circumstance abilities. When this product resonates, it resonates hard with imaginative abilities that are in tune with the “story” of the monster.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

What Do I Know About Reviews? Shadowmancer (5e OGL, Dungeon Masters Guild)


I love the concept of shadow magic in fictional settings. I have ever since I saw characters like Cloak, who could tap into a dimension of darkness for their powers. There is something compelling in going against the tropes of many stories and having a hero that controls the darkness as a weapon to do good.

I was not a fan of the Shadow Weave in the Forgotten Realms lore of 3rd edition. There had been references to shadow magic before, but there had never been an underlying separate power source for magic. The additional lore wouldn’t have been so much of a problem, except that the additional power source was, in various contradictory fashions, not evil, but also the creation of Shar and part of her master plan for taking over/destroying Toril, and also portrayed as the Dark Side to the Weave Light Side of the Force, without, you know, being evil.

All of this is a huge digression, however, because what I’m really looking at here is one of my favorite 5th edition 3rd party pass times, seeing creators from earlier editions recreate a class from an earlier ruleset for 5th edition D&D. Previous examples of this were the Warlord and Warden as envisioned by Rob Schwalb, and today, I’m looking at the Shadowcaster, as created and now re-envisioned by Ari Marmell.

The Shadowcaster wasn’t directly tied to the Shadow Weave in Forgotten Realms lore, because it didn’t come about until the 3.5 book, The Tome of Magic, which was one of my favorite rules expansions for 3.5. I’m not going to say everything worked mechanically well from that book, but I will say that I liked it because it took more risks with what it did with the rules of 3.5, and didn’t turn into “look, here are more of the same options, but better,” which cause a lot of rules bloat and escalation in the late game of 3.5. Shadowcasters didn’t quite use spellslots the same way as other casters, studied and trained more like wizards, and sort of cast more like sorcerers.

Of the classes presented in the Tome of Magic, the 3.5 Shadowcaster was probably the best realized, followed by Binder and trailed way behind (unfortunately) by Truenamers.

That’s a lot of preamble, but I guess the concept of shadow magic casts . . . a long shadow?

The Silhouette

The Shadowcaster PDF is 32 pages long, with grey on grey bordered pages, and bold red and blue formatting for headers and sub-headers. There are several full, half, and quarter page images of various shadow themed characters throughout.

There is a front and back cover, and a credits page, which includes the DMs Guild boilerplate, and because this is a DMs Guild product, there is not a full page OGL page included.

Introduction and Class Basics

The introduction of the class goes a bit into the philosophy of shadow magic, reiterating that it is neither good, nor evil, but it tends to have a negative reputation, and then it details how Shadowcasters get along with other spellcasters.

Looking at the class features section and the Shadowcaster chart, the class is structured in a similar manner to Warlocks, with the biggest departure being that Intelligence is the Shadowcaster’s casting stat, instead of Charisma. They have the same armor proficiencies and hit dice, and share a similar spell progression, complete with a shorter number of spell slots that default to a base spell level, which refresh on a short or long rest.

The Shadowcaster also departs from the standard Warlock structure in that there is no pact bond equivalent. The subclass is chosen at first level, much like a patron is for the Warlock. Mysteries share a similar function for the Shadowcaster as the Invocations do for Warlocks, with an added mechanic. Various spells are grouped into Spell Paths, and the number of spells known from different Spell Paths may serve as the prerequisite for various Mysteries.

The Shadowcaster picks up the following tricks as they gain levels:

  • 2nd level, Eyes of Night (Free darkvision with some additional benefits)
  • 3rd level, Gloaming Feast (You subsist on shadows, so sleeping and eating are different for you)
  • 7th level, Shade-Touched Soul (You get another proficient save)
  • 20th level, Never-Ending Night (You get a spell slot back if you start a fight without any)


All of these feel pretty thematic for the class (5e really does hate for people to go without darkvision), although Gloaming Feast feels a little awkward. If you are a species that doesn’t have the elf’s four hour rest feature, that’s what you more or less have now, but unlike, say, giving darkvision out to a species that already has it, elves specifically now only trance for two hours. Given the story of how and why elves “trance” instead of sleep, I’m not sure this tracks, but the main thing I wanted to point out is that as this ability progresses, you really need to remember that you only get the benefit of a long rest once per 24 hours, because if you forget that detail, this gets really wonky.

Penumbral Ways

The Penumbral Ways are the subclasses for the Shadowcaster. Those subclasses are as follows:

Dread Witch (exploring the personal ramifications of shadow)
Noctimancer (the scholarly pursuit of the study of shadow magic)
Shadow Scion (exploring the boundaries between the material and the Plane of Shadows)

Each one of these subclasses adds additional spells to the character’s spell list, in keeping with the theme of the subclass. For example, the Dread Witch adds fear and controlling spells, the Noctimancer adds a lot of “metamagic” style spells to the spell list, and the Shadow Scion gets shadow flavored weather effects to simulate calling in a touch of the plane of shadow.

Dread Witches add the following tools to the toolbox:

  • 1st level, Dread Presence (intimidation and a fear aura)
  • 6th level, Fear-Weilder (even more intimidation, and a bonus inspiration effect when fear targets you)
  • 10th level, Dread Master (resistance to psychic damage, reflect fear at other casters)
  • 14th level, Living Nightmare (gain a foothold on a creatures mind for dream effects)


This is probably the subclass that gives the class it’s worst reputation. I’m actually a little disappointed to tack “witch” on to this one, to be honest. The “adrenaline boost” effect of being targeted by fear is kind of interesting, but I have to admit, even though fear is less onerous in 5e than it has been in previous editions (not moving closer is much better than running away until the effect ends or whatever breaks the effect), it’s still not one of my favorite things to have make a major foothold in the player character’s profile.

The Noctimancer subclass abilities are:

  • 1st level, Knowledge Arcane (comprehend language and identify as rituals)
  • 6th level, Eldritch Ward (use your reaction to impose disadvantage on spell attacks against you)
  • 10th level, Arcane Secrets (pick up wizards spells not on the Shadowmancer spell list)
  • 14th level, Mystic Siphon (capture magical energy when you counterspell or dispel other magic)


The player in me is very interested in this subclass, and I like the flavor of this subclass as the “scholarly” version of the class. The DM in me is not as excited about the potential to encourage people to frequently use counterspell, but that’s a deeper issue baked into 5e from the start.

The Shadow Scion rounds out the class with the following abilities:

  • 1st level, Warding Shade (you can use your reaction to have your shadow make an attack)
  • 6th level, Child of Two Worlds (ignore weather effects, choice of resistances at the trade off of vulnerability to radiant damage)
  • 10th level, Flesh of Shadow (turn into a shadow elemental)
  • 14th level, Maelstrom of Shadow (restrain creatures with a storm of shadow stuff)


While I don’t dislike the Dread Witch, I can’t quite warm up to it, so I’m glad that I like the Shadow Scion in addition to the Noctimancer, as it serves as the more aggressive counterpoint to the more studious and defensive Noctimancer.

While the Shadowmancer isn’t a Warlock, the similar structure does give us some benchmarks to look at, and most of the abilities, while unique, don’t feel too far from the scope of what the individual patron abilities look like for similar levels.

Mysteries of Shadow

The next three pages of the product are the Mysteries of Shadow, special abilities that the Shadowmancer gets at various levels that either modify existing abilities, or grant them abilities outside of the scope already provided by the class and subclass abilities.

This mechanic begins to play more with the Paths, which are concentrated areas of study that have spells grouped within them. Some mysteries have a prerequisite that require a Shadowcaster to know spells from various Paths, while others require a Shadowcaster to know all of the spells of a given path to gain access. In general, requirements that call for broader knowledge grant access to broader abilities, while Mysteries calling for specific mastery double down on how well you can do things associated with that path.

For example, Path Savant lets you cast all of the spells in that path without using components, while Greater Path Savant lets you cast one of the spells from that path without using a spell slot every long rest. Darkest Creeping Shadow, which has a prerequisite of learning spells from multiple paths, grants access to new cantrips and lower level spells.

Beyond the Mysteries that play with the Path mechanics, you have other mysteries that provide shadow familiars, add your ability score damage to cantrips, potentially regain more hit points when resting in shadows, the ability to cast invisibility in areas of low light, and, of course, Mysteries that let you access 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th level spells.

Shadowcaster Spells

The Shadowcaster spell lists include spells that are considered class spells for the class, and in addition to listing the spells by class, the spells also note what paths they belong to as well. In addition to noting the path in parenthesis behind the spell name in the regular list, there is a follow up list that summarizes the paths and what spells are in each path.

In addition to brand new spells presented, there are also spells from the existing spell lists in the game that have entries noting how the spell functions for the Shadowcaster. For example, Control Weather has a more limited range of weather that can be generated, and Conjure Umbral Servant is Conjure Elemental that only summons Shadow Elementals.

Side Note: In the copy that I’m writing this review from, it looks like the modifications to Storm of Vengeance is tacked on to the end of Spirit Guardians, without a distinct header.

As you might guess, there is a lot of cold and necrotic damage, illusion effects, and the ability to move through shadows. Some of the added spells for the subclasses tack on spells that play with fear, even more spectacular damage effects, and dispelling/countering options.

Spell turning is a returning spell from older editions, which instead of being an active spell used with a reaction, is an ongoing ward that deflects a given number of spell levels. Investiture of Shadows creates a shadow flavored version of the other Investiture spells. Hypnotic Shade creates a hypnotic pattern that is adjudicated in a slightly different manner, and Shadow Out of Time slips the caster out of synch into the plane of Shadow, watching what’s going on in the real world and able to take extra rounds to prepare, not unlike Timestop. There are a lot of other spells, but the point is that many of them do similar things to existing spells, and have a similar scope, but adjudicate effects in just a slightly different manner.

Arrow of Dusk is the Shadowcaster equivalent of Eldritch Blast, but with far fewer Mysteries tied to its use. If it knocks you to 0 hit points, you stabilize instead of dying (which I remember from the 3.5 version of this spell). Black Candle may be one of my favorite utility spells, as it is effectively a light spell, but it can’t counter darkness, and the only people that can see what you illuminate are the people you designate when you cast the spell. That’s a nice touch.

I Have My Weaknesses
The final page of text is the stat block for the Shadow Elemental, which can be summoned and is also the alternate form used by the Shadow Scion subclass. This is the part where I have to say that I love the concept of shadow elementals, and the shadow elementals that were in the 3.5 Tome of Magic got used as part of the final encounter for my multi-year campaign that I ran for that edition, where the players wrapped up their adventures at 13th level, versus a ton of shadow creatures.

Soothing Shadows

While it’s always hard to get a handle on a 20 level class in an initial read through, this looks very thoroughly mapped to the power curve of the existed expectations of the Warlock, but with the added benefit of not being quite so tied to the Hex and Eldritch Blast pattern of that class. All of the subclasses look good, even if I lean much more heavily towards two of them. I really enjoy that the new spells map well to existing effects, but add some interesting thematic kickers or slightly different means of adjudicating the effects they produce.

Lost in the Darkness

I have seen complaints that Warlocks are one of the less powerful classes in 5e, which means if you are one of those people, mapping the power curve of the Shadowcaster to that class may not be what you want to see. I don’t know if I agree, but I do know that the Warlock is one of the trickiest classes to get a handle on, with all of the interactions between spells, invocations, pact bonds, and patron abilities.

While the Shadowcaster doesn’t have a commensurate pact bond ability, the path system may actually make the Shadowcaster a little bit trickier to master than even the Warlock abilities. It may be challenging for people to tackle unless they have a pretty good grasp of what the class does and how the mechanics interact.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

There is a certain irony in that I liked the 3.5 version of the class because it didn’t stick too closely to how other classes worked in staking out its own way of doing things, and I like this version of the class because they found a good analogous set of parameters and readjusted to fit the shadow theme. That said, I think that’s because the hard frameworks of 3.5 existed more nebulously, i.e. what hit dice, how many good saves, what’s the attack progression, while I think the framework of 5e is more constrained, but can contain more individualized effect.

I knew that the 5e Warlock was very much a hybridized version of the 3.5 class with trappings from the Binder from the Tome of Magic, but I had forgotten that there really is some Shadowcaster DNA in that class as well, and I think that’s part of why using Warlock as a base works well for the Shadowcaster, even though the class itself has a different story to tell.

I was a little more hesitant to give this a flat “recommended,” because of the complexity of the class, but honestly, that’s also part of what I like about it. The complexity may be daunting, but it doesn’t feel random or awkward. It’s something I kind of want to engage with to see if I can make the class sing.

I’m just sad I can’t figure out a way to shoehorn Toll the Dead into the Shadowmancer’s known spells.

Friday, April 3, 2020

What Do I Know About Product Lines? Conan, Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of RPG (With an Eye Towards Culture and Representation)


In light of the recent Modiphius Conan release and the reaction to it, I did a LOT of research into the Conan, Adventures in a Time Undreamed Of RPG line. In 2018 I picked up the package where all of the books get added as they are released. I had originally started breaking this down by individual release, but it  makes a lot more sense to visit the line in chunks.

I also wanted to say that this is the kind of mistake a lot of company’s make when they produce material for an intellectual property. I like some elements of the game. They nail the tone of the game, and the 2d20 system does a lot with turning the dials on the game currencies, and I’m currently running Star Trek Adventures, which uses the same core system, but manages a much different tone using the same base.

Prehistoric Issues

The biggest problem the line has is that it is VERY concerned with being true to Howard, and that translates badly to presenting a setting. While it isn't good, it is a lot easier to forget some (definitely not all) of the racism in the story when it happens in framing a story.

It is 100% white privilege to do this, and it's not good, but it's too easy for a white man to read a Conan story, read about the racist framing of the culture Conan is visiting, and then lock that in the background once Conan takes center stage in the story.

However, when the sourcebook is about the setting, and you can't suddenly have Conan occupy center stage, you are building on the details, and all of the details, in the background, are built on a structure of racism and dismissive reductivism.

Core Conceits

One of the worst ideas that is baked right into the rules is that you might have an "Ancient Bloodline" that makes you more likely to take certain actions over others, and rewards/punishes you based on what that bloodline drives you towards.

The core book spends a lot of time mentioning that they are working with Howard scholars to do the setting justice, and they are primarily concerned about "getting it right." There are few to no disclaimers about Howard and the world he presents, especially in the main book.

The closest we get to that is the section mentioning women in the setting, and how there are a lot of "damsels in distress," but there are also women action heroes, so you can play the action hero women if you want.

Art-wise, the covers and the big chapter pieces are very much inspired by the Frazetta paradigm. Nearly naked people, women in passive poses, big powerful Conan. The interior art depicting things like PC archetypes are more varied and less sensationalized. Even at that, there are trends that tell a story, even if that wasn't the intent. Black characters are almost always from "less civilized" archetypes. Even scholarly types from Stygia are always portrayed as more middle-eastern in presentation than black.

White presenting characters might be barbarians, knights, scholars, nobles, merchants, whatever. So even if there are tribes of white barbarians, they aren't the only white representation. That's not exactly true of the black characters presented. There are all kinds of references in the books that use terms like "this culture doesn't mix blood with outsiders," that just sounds awful. They use Howardian prose, in Howard's style, at the worst possible time to do so.

Narrow Cultural Lenses

Even before the Conan the Wanderer sourcebook came out, there is a jaw-dropping comment about Khitai in the Books of Skelos supplement:

"The Khitan mind is nearly as alien to the West as that of pre-human cultures."

Wow.

I have heard people mention that in the old West End days of Star Wars, a lot of alien cultures were extrapolated on what little we saw of a character, so you got cultures like Rodians all being hunters, because Greedo was. That's what most of the cultures look like in Conan. If Conan ran into someone and thought they were debased and slothful, that's how the books depict the culture that character came from.

This isn't a defense, because there is a part of the core rulebook where they clearly outline the inspirations, but it’s almost like there is a disconnect between the racist and harmful stereotypes because these are fictitious cultures that never existed, based on actual historical cultures.

I think because a lot of cultural connection to Conan comes from visual representations in movies and comics, those mediums remove us from the same kind of framing that Howard's stories provide. We see commoners affected by evil nobles, so we disassociate them and don't get Howard's narrative that the culture has certain intrinsic shortcomings. We see Conan associate with characters that are people of color, and we don't get Howard's framing that they are "the good ones."

We certainly don't ever hear Arnold or Jason Momoa saying that it would be better for white women to die than to be ravaged by black men. And yes, that's something Conan said in a Howard story.

We do get a brief disclaimer at the beginning of Conan the Adventurer, the primary sourcebook on the Southern Lands, which includes what Howard imaginative named The Black Kingdoms. None of the Conan books include the same kind of "H.P. Lovecraft was racist" disclaimer that you see, either in soft or hard form, in most Lovecraft related material now. Possibly because instead of being in the public domain, Howard's IP is managed by a media management company.

Unreliable Narrators

There is a framing device that could have been used to great effect in the line, in that most of the setting material is presented as historical records, written by different scholars in the Hyborean Age, discovered by a 1930s era historian.

The problem is, most of these historians, instead of giving a more nuanced view of the settings they are presenting, either reluctantly trash their own culture by saying all the worst things are true, or embody the worst aspects of their setting (like the narrator from Khitai).

The 1930s narrator that they present is taken from Howard's mythos stories, so that it’s all tied in to his IP. The problem is, a 1930s perspective historian isn't all that great at trying to give context to ancient era racist portrayals. There is a section in Conan the Mercenary that has the 1930s era historian criticizing the rise of nationalism, but then he kind of praises the virtue of mercenaries just fighting to make money and get by in a world that just can't help but need killing done.

Defined Boundaries

There are also a lot of uncomfortable archetypes presented for players, and without much in the way of safety discussions, that makes the inclusion of those archetypes a bit fraught. For example, in Conan the Barbarian, one of the player character archetypes is slaver.

The biggest problem is that I don't think Modiphius CAN add a lot to the setting that wasn't expressed in some manner by Howard, and what was expressed by Howard has its basis in racist reduction and misunderstanding. Without being able to criticize and expand, it's hard to escape.

Where it Works

I love how the momentum spends and skills work in the game to present the kind of visceral fantasy that Howard writes. There is a lot of good work in the books, especially in translating genre to game mechanics.

There are a few books in the line where Modiphius appears to have a little more breathing room. For example, there is way less cultural reductivism in the Kull of Atlantis sourcebook, because Howard didn't detail the setting as much or draw as many direct lines. Conan the Exiles is a tie in product to an online game, which creates a separate region within the Hyborian Age were people from all over all exist, trying to survive, which allows for diversity of characters without inherent cultural coding provided by Howard.

I'd throw in that the Horrors of the Hyborian Age book is an interesting read as a general bestiary, although it's got a lot of Howard's propensity for throwing the word "black" in front of anything evil or dangerous. I mean, he does that A LOT.

Honestly, if I knew up front what the books would detail, and I just had to run a licensed Howard Conan game, I'd probably skip almost all of the setting based supplements, pick up the Kull and Exiles books, and do my best to avoid the worst depictions that Howard wove. While I still felt it was a bit too apologetic towards Burroughs, the John Carter of Mars RPG put out by Modiphius does a much better job of actually addressing some of the issues with that material, and instructing GMs to avoid the worst aspects of those stories.

The State of the Game

What I really wish we could get from this line is more direct criticism of Howard, and the ability to frame all of the setting information as "the stories came from one set of histories, but we're presenting an alternate set of histories, with more context," allowed to move beyond. But in all honestly, much like with John Carter, I kind of think it’s almost easier to just play in a setting LIKE the books, without some of the book's baggage, that can rebuild the genre without including some of the setting's worst aspects.

"Look at all these neat building blocks, but what's this goo all over them?"

"Sorry, that's intrinsic racism. If you use the building blocks, you have to use them how they
are provided."

"Fine, I'll just try to turn whatever I build so that you can't see the puddle underneath."