Wednesday, April 8, 2020

D&D: Alternate Vision Rules

Hey there Greyhawkers! Today is an off day for me, because I want to discuss D&D instead of setting lore. Strange I know, but this issue popped in my head recently and has been a concern of mine for a very long time I imagine, but has only become more pronounced in recent 5E rules. I am talking about playable races with darkvision. I apologize in advance if you've read a rant like this on other blogs years ago, it's caught up to me finally.

I will not get into a lengthy comparison with previous editions for expedience sake. I know AD&D had varying degrees special sight like infravision, later low-light vision, etc. I am going to assume the nine presently playable races in the PHB have traits consistent over their D&D history. Okay, my gripe is that darkvision (seeing normal in dimly lit conditions or seeing dim in darkness) is an easy crutch for D&D games to get around pesky things such as lanterns and torches. Sure, human and halfling characters still need to use these devices, but can easily circumvent this need through simple spells or magic items. Why is this important to me? Because as a DM, having a party that is either intentionally or unintentionally comprised of characters entirely with darkvision takes an entire tool out of your storytelling tool bag; fear of the dark. For a game that is traditionally built on dungeon crawling and cave exploration, PCs venturing into the darkness is part of the challenge. If this challenge is nullified easily by the game itself, then the DM may as well provide ample lighting for the PCs and move on.

Quick note: yes, magical darkness can be used to nullify superior PC vision, but if it's used too much it becomes obvious and personally directed at the players which isn't cool either.

Out of nine playable races in the 5E PHB, only three do not have darkvision. That means if a group of five players randomly picked their race at character creation, there would 3.33 heroes with darkvision at start. If the number leans to 4 out of 5, from my experience, that one outlying player is immediately pressured to make up for this visual deficiency somehow or become a burden to his night-sight allies. In my opinion, an option to remove this mechanical advantage, is to leave darkvision to creatures or races that live a majority of their life underground, which is logical, and give them a more personalized vision trait. Now let's examine these six races with darkvision and what can be given alternatively.

Side note: why don't Dragonborn have darkvision? Intuitively, being related to dragons you'd think they would! I saw this as the designers realizing that there were too many races with darkvision and made the unfortunate choice to exclude this new race from the club. Moving on...

Dwarves: Most PC dwarves are either hill or mountain. Sure, they work in dim conditions at home, but do they not have lighting in their stone halls? Of course not! Now the subrace Duergar deserve DV being a true Underdark culture. For those dwarves who tend to spend most of their time in the light I'd instead give them Expertise in Investigation skill (double proficiency bonus to checks) based on their years of detailed crafting in dim conditions. I'd also give dwarves, a martial culture Blindfighting, a trait which will negate the disadvantage of combat in darkness.

Elves: Again, elves who are an above-ground race are assumed to be superior to humans in every regard. This is summed up in the Keen Senses trait which gives them advantage to Perception checks. This is huge on its own because perception is all the senses, not just sight. So the fact they have DV is overkill. Drow, like Duergar deserve it because they are a true underdark culture. Instead of DV I'd give elves as a whole the ability of Telescopic Sight, so they suffer no range penalties and give them advantage on a single aimed shot per round (think Legolas archery in LotR).

Gnomes: Deep Gnomes, Underdark, yadda yadda. Rock gnomes however, more so than dwarves I gather, tinker in dim places so their eyesight should be ideal for up close things. This is why I suggest Keen Senses on Investigation (advantage on all checks).

Half-Elves: Not totally cool like parent elves, these characters still deserve some good eyesight, but certainly not full on darkvision. Let's make them resilient since they are typically outcasts by giving them Keen Senses on Survival (advantage on all checks). Think Tanis in Dragonlance.

Half-Orcs: Okay half-orcs have darkvision, why? Cause orcs like to raid at night, might be sensitive to light, I don't know, but that shouldn't make these characters on par with drow or duergar or heck plain elves! Let's scale them back with Expertise in Perception (double proficiency bonus on checks) and Blindfighting like above.

Tieflings: The newest, popular entry to the PHB, these characters have fiendish heritage. They are not necessarily from the Underdark, but neither are they from the Abyss either (I'm sure all demons and devils have DV). Let's make Tieflings unique by giving them Infravision, a trait that gives them Keen Senses on Insight (advantage on all checks), to spot lies and read people's intentions and Expertise on Perception (sight only) to locate creatures who are hidden, based on the ability to see faint heat signatures. Obviously this only works on living creatures.

How's these house rules look? Got a better idea or tweak? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

New: Faiths of the Flanaess

Greetings Greyhawk faithful I hope everyone has been staying healthy in these trying times. Keep Incabulos at bay! And speaking of deities and faithful, it's time to promote Joseph "Greyhawk Grognard" Bloch's last and best 5E adaption of Greyhawk material. His book, Faiths of the Flanaess covers an amazing 69 deities with all the requisite game info you need to steep your 5E clerics in Greyhawk lore. Go follow Joe on Patreon so he keeps making more quality publications like this, and then if you haven't already, go back and download the other 5E books in his collection plus a host of many Greyhawk themed works. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Hand Drawn Oerth Polar Map

Hail Greyhawkers! Today I am sharing one of my ancient hand drawn maps that I evidently did for my own amusement, because this was pre-2000 and I clearly never did anything substantial with it until now. My best mapping buddy Anna Meyer has been doing among many current projects, an Oerth globe projection using scientific methods and cool software. My totally artistic, not scientific attempt back in the day looks like this: 

This zoomed in beast of a polar map is based on the expanded Oerik inset map in the boxed set Glossography. Back before the Dragon Annual #2 Oerth Map took the Greyhawk community by storm, I favored a looser continental distribution of my own. Mind you, I knew nothing about Aquaria back then, so no that is not on this map. Likewise, I didn't have the Scarlet Brotherhood, so I don't recall if my Hepmonaland is a large island or part of a greater southern hemisphere continent. Also, on this scrap map I drew migration routes that exist in the published source, but mine goes into where the Flannae migrated in ancient times!

Back then I had some intriguing ideas that the Flan were very old, but very advanced contemporaries of the Suloise Empire, but they had collectively declined by the time the Suel and Oerids migrated into the Flanaess. Notably, the Flannae at every turn were destroyed by the corruption of Tharizdun somehow; Sulm in the Bright Desert is one example. Where else did these Flan go? That's where this polar map shows their paths (marked "F")  and I have notes on the margins which I'll try to decipher for your consideration. Note that, the Flan originate in what is present day Land of Black Ice (and Blackmoor?). This was influenced less by Dave Arneson unfortunately since I didn't own much of his D&D stuff back then. Using the cursed black ice cap the Flan spread around my globe haphazardly. Let's see if this makes sense...

The Flan "eastern" migration leads to a pincer-shaped coast where there is Tdon, of Arnd's Invulnerable Coat fame. Tdon is a peaceful land of psionicists. Also in that bay I have notes in this region for illithids who take Tdonian slaves, an area of psioncists who are very lax and drugged all the time and an isolated island realm called Nuplacia. Sweeping north along that continent the Flan have "5 coastal kingdoms" bordering a valley of avariels. The eastern spur that breaks off an curls back toward the Flanaess I believe ends up being the Sinking Isle civilization seen in Greyhawk Adventures, that is gone by the time the Aerdi show up. If I recall, I theorized Tharizdun (of course) ruined these people long ago and turned them all into sahuagin!

The Flan migration trail that goes "due-north" over the ice into some subcontinent encounter snow elves, spirit lands.There is also contact with people influenced by Gygax's Oriential Adventures rules, realms called Edosaka and Morioka. The "northwest" trail of the Flan migration runs into another smaller continent of my own creation. Here there is a xvart culture, a mountainous enclave like Tibet, and a Pleistocene region with Neanderthals. The "western" trail splits through and curls back to Oerik interestingly running counter to Baklunish migration. Of course, before I knew anything of Beyond the Flanaess I had this branch of Flan pass through some places like the Forsaken Desert, the Valley of Spiders and instead of the lamentable "Orcreich" I have a place ruled by Jann. These notes are faded and written very small.

All in all it's fun to do world building with Greyhawk. I'm not crazy about my old mapping efforts, but I do still hold to my theories on ancient Flan being more advanced. Maybe if I find my old Flan notes I'll write up that treatise another day. If you have any comments feel free to add to this madness. Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Custom Greyhawk Dicebag

Howdy Greyhawkers! Today I'm showing off a wonderful present I got from my good friend and regular Greyhawk players, Brandi. You guys think I'm creative? She is multi-talented at music, athletics, gaming, art, crafting, cosplay, streaming, etc. Oh yes, and she currently works in the senior health care field, so she is very essential as a worker too. Because I'm her favorite DM (or so I imagine), Brandi recently customized this amazing dice bag for me and I must say, I have a lot of dice bags, but I don't have one that says Greyhawk on it, much less "Greyhawk Grognard" (sorry Joe you can't have it). She knows me well, even remembering that I started playing Greyhawk in 1982. Good times! 
While we are all homebound during these crazy times, check out and follow Brandi's stream (twice a week) on Twitch. If you are into variety video gaming, chill chats and occasionally music, this is the place you can find me online when I'm not doing my own Greyhawk streaming. Until next time!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

New Greyhawk Stuff to See

Well met Greyhawkers! Fresh off our Virtual Gary Con seminar on Twitch, I have a few links to share for more creative stuff to read on the internet. Those who were present that day probably have already been to these sites, but I gotta keep plugging away. Let's get to it!

Joe Bloch over at Greyhawk Grognard does it again, this time he has a new must have download titled T5: Beneath the Temple of Elemental Evil. What is T5 all about? Joe writes:

"The first in my series of expansions/addenda/replacements for the classic T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil, and the GDQ Giants/Drow modules is finally here. 
Based on literally years of research and speculation here on the blog, this first module is an expansion to the Temple of Elemental Evil, detailing a (real) shrine to the Elder Elemental God far below the Temple dungeons..."

If you are a fan of the classic Temple you will have to see what Joe has in store with this publication and what surely is left to come. No one ponders and improves on the classics like Greyhawk Grognard!
Next up, as promised is the newest issue, Oerth Journal #32 now available for download over at Greyhawk Online. This issue the theme is "Infinite Oerths" and here is the line up of authors and articles:

  •  Making Greyhawk Your Own by Amy G. Crittenden
  •  Gord's Greyhawk by Cal Scrivener
  •  Ravilla: the Sundered Dragon Empire by Kristoph Nolen
  •  The Many Castles Greyhawk by Joe "Greyhawk Grognard" Bloch
  •  Going to the Source by Jason Zavoda
  •  If It Smells Like a Viking by Jason Zavoda
  •  A Reign of Death by Gary Holian
  •  A Decidedly Disastrous Day by David Leonard
  •  The Howl From the North by William "Giantstomp" Dvorak
  •  Unconquered Hold of the Sea Princes by Michael Bridges
  •  Diadem of Zosiel by Thom "Oronir" Vandevenne
  •  History of the Wild Coast by Aaron Froke
  •  Legendary Axes of Varnifane by Jay L. "Lord Gosumba" Scott

Lastly, head over to Greyhawk Stories to read Thomas Kelly's incredible interview with Paul Kidd the author of a trilogy of Greyhawk novels starring his unique character, the Justicar. If anyone had a chance to get a Greyhawk novel line going post-Gygax it was Kidd. Go over and check this article out, you'll want go out and find a copy of White Plume Mountain or Queen of the Demonweb Pits
Kudos to Mr. Kelly on this coup of an interview!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Rivers of Greyhawk

Good day loyal Greyhawkers! Today I have another treat for you as we head into what should have been Gary Con 12 weekend. Now with a slate of Virtual Gary Con events, we can proceed with more streams on our favorite setting. What I have posted today is dedicated to Anna Meyer, who tirelessly maps every known coast, forest, hill or yes, river of the Flanaess. I swear she is an avatar of Delleb, or Fharlanghn, or both! Speaking of Greylore, check out this new comic. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

More Classic Dragonmirth

Welcome back Greyhawkers! Those who are long time readers of the blog might recall the comics section "Dragonmirth" in the back of Dragon Magazine. A couple years ago I mused over some of these random Dragonmirth strips because much like the classic comic strips of the daily newspapers, they inspired me to be a cartoonist. When you're caught up on my previous post, check out this next run of mirthful D&D comics. Enjoy!

Dragon #95 Richard Tomasic
Dragon #100 Tony Moseley
Dragon #107 Richard Tomasic

Dragon #107 Ted Goff

Dragon #111 Denton Elliott

Dragon #118 Joseph Pillsbury