Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sword of Kas Through Editions

It's one of those slow weekends off from gaming so let's do some comparative study of the many versions of the famous Sword of Kas! All fans of Greyhawk should know the legends of Kas, Vecna and their named artifacts by now so let's continue on. Way back in 1976, the Sword of Kas was first published in Eldritch Wizardry. I don't have this rare booklet so for purposes of this treatise I'm starting with the 1st Edition AD&D version and moving onward. The Sword of Kas like many iconic things D&D related has continually changed over the decades and editions. Let's see how they vary (SPOILERS BELOW):

1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide: Gary Gygax's version of the Sword of Kas starts it all off. The artifact is intelligent and has an overriding desire to kill Vecna and his cult. This is common across all the editions so let's call this "a given" from here on.  In this book, the blade is a +6 Defender short sword with an 15 Intelligence and 19 Ego, doing double damage against non-Prime Material Plane beings. This is significant because no item in D&D lore is +6 anything until this point. The sword is also merely a short blade which is a major point of difference in the future. AD&D always allowed DM's to fashion artifacts to their own need, allowing them to choose from a list of powers and drawbacks. For simplicity, the Sword of Kas has 5 benign powers, 2 major powers, 1 minor malevolent power, 2 major malevolent powers, 2 prime powers and 1 side effect. These extras would be expanded upon more definitively in later publications.

Vecna Lives!: David "Zeb" Cook brought us the module that launched Vecna from mystery lich to major story villain. The Sword of course figures prominently in the adventure, but this time it is a two-handed sword. This is probably because fighters (like Kas we assume) are more prone to choosing longer blades unlike thieves who are suited to shorter backstabbing blades. Beyond length, Cook's sword stays fairly true to the AD&D version being a +6 Defender with a 19 Int, 20 Ego and double damage versus non-Prime Material Plane beings. He further enumerates the powers giving Immunity to Fear, Magic Missiles, Charm Person and Hold Person spells. The sword pollutes holy water and can cast Foresight, Plane Shift and Shield plus grant Fire Giant Strength and Paralyze foes limited times a day. Cook gave the weapon a higher intelligence in my opinion to better outsmart the fighters holding it. The sword's drawbacks are devious, it needs to be sated with blood daily or it tries to take control and second the sword shuts down within 60' of Vecna or his artifacts.

Book of Artifacts: David Cook also wrote this AD&D manual and the sword is again here in a similar fashion to Vecna Lives!: +6 Defender, 19 Int, 20 Ego, holy water corruption, Foresight, Shield, Fire Giant Strength, no Paralyze touch, and 3 random immunities and 2 random major powers. Gone is the double damage to "outsiders" and the sword gets nastier doing 2d20 damage when first touched among the usual shutdown drawbacks. Also gone is Plane Shift, never to return.

Die Vecna Die: This 2E module tries to put Vecna down for good and authors Bruce Cordell and Steve Miller put their own spin on the sword: +6 Defender short sword (why?!) with Foresight, etc. etc. however there is no Fire Giant Strength 3/day. This time sword gets an upgrade of Fire Strength, plus immunity to Fear and Paralyzation only if the wielder also has the Eye or Hand of Vecna. Seems excessive and contrary to the sword's theme, but okay. The cursed sword also only deals 2d10 damage on first touch, I guess 2d20 was killing too many candidates.

3rd Edition Dungeon Masters Guide: Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet and Skip Williams had to include this famous artifact in their new edition of D&D and their version is more streamlined and fighter friendly: +6 unholy, keen, vorpal, long sword, granting +10 Strength. This is the first time the blade is a long sword and vorpal. The keen kind of takes care of the double damage lost during 2E, but the continuous giant strength boost is over the top with everything else already included. It is dumbed down, 15 Int, 13 Wisdom, 16 Charisma but a whopping 34 Ego. It has some new tricks too, casting Call Lightning, Blasphemy, Unhallow and Slay Living.

Open Grave: 4th Edition's supplement, Open Grave by Bruce Cordell , Eytan Bernstein and Brian James continues the legacy of the sword and with the new rules-set the blade gets quirkier yet: Now it becomes  a +5 vicious short sword (of course) with a 5d12 damage critical. It deals even more damage to allies (2d10), grants +5 during total defense (naturally) and among its weirder properties (which I won't detail all them because they're pointless) it is invisible until it strikes a target and even does +5 damage to Vecna and his cultists. The sword gets various upgrades which I won't get into except one, anyone who possesses both the Hand of Vecna and the Sword of Kas deals a 5d12 crit on every hit against Vecna or his gang. That's a major reversal for an artifact that at one time shut down completely in his presence. It was the whole point of Kas' failure to slay his master with the sword. Will 5E redeem the Sword of Kas?

5th Edition Dungeon Masters GuideJeremy Crawford, Chris Perkins and James Wyatt's chance at the sword goes like this: +3 long sword, 19-20 critical, extra 2d10 damage to undead. It has 2 random properties and 2 random drawbacks. It has a 15 Int, 13 Wis, 16 Cha. The sword's bonus is scaled back like much of the edition's combat, but I see it's still keyed to killing undead things like Vecna. At least there is no vorpal properties or fire giant strength boosts. The sword adds d10 to initiative and the attack bonus can be put towards AC. That's the old Defender ability with a new twist. Spellwise, it has Call Lightning, Divine Word, Finger of Death. The sword still doesn't lose it's power when facing Vecna or his items so the futility of the sword's purpose isn't as bad as in the old days.

Well that's all for now. I'm sure with all these factors in one place one could distill the properties of an average Sword of Kas with general D&D rules. Strangely if I had to pick one version I'd go with the Vecna Lives! one because it's setting canon, but hey that's me.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Castle Greyhawk: Tending Wounds

Welcome back diehard Greyhawk fans! It's time to promote a new page in the third chapter of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Check out page-sixteen and read some accompanying material by sensational scribe Scott Casper. On our site you can also check the archives and follow the entire Castle Greyhawk story from the very beginning.

Artist's Commentary: This was one of my most satisfying pages of chapter three. I was very happy with all the angles and compositions. I also felt I did amazingly good depicting the torn fabric of Tenser's robes. I've drawn him enough by now that I should have him down pat. Serten the cleric has always been a challenge too. Compared to veteran fighters Yrag and Terik, I like to give his armor a newer sheen that has gradually got dingier as time goes on.

I am likewise pleased with Serten's gauntlets and the festering wounds of Tenser. Those areas where the eye is focused on the most is the part of a drawing that I like to get right. Usually extraneous details and stuff that might get cut off in the bleed of a page I don't try as hard on. As always continuity is important to me, so keeping track of Tenser's rips and wounds will be essential and oh man, what will Tenser do without his helmet? This may be a turning point in his fashion style. Stay tuned to find out.

Monday, April 20, 2015

More Greyhawk More Dyvers

I extoll the virtues of all things Greyhawk related on Greyhawkery, but Charles Akins over at Dyvers is better at cutting to the chase. The latest snub by Wizards regarding their long term D&D plans to not update any settings or even feature them in an adventure, yet still update and fully support Forgotten Realms has made Mr. Akins inspired to create humorous Greyhawk themed posters. I have no doubt that between Twitter, and ENWorld these posters will get some notice or at least get under the skin of D&D's head honchos a bit. Greyhawk fans are tenacious. We'll get along fine without any books or video games or whatever passes as D&D these days.

Keep up the good work Charles!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Edition Five Shall Be One

Anyone who knows me should know I have it pretty good when it comes to gaming. At our Monday group we just finished a Shadowrun campaign and are now doing classic Star Trek. On Wednesday I'm in our weekly Gamerstable gaming podcast and we're gearing up to do a Shadowrun actual play record followed by 5th Edition Princes of the Apocalypse. Then on Sunday we're currently finishing up 5E Rise of Tiamat. Once any of those are finished I could conceivably jump back into the DM's chair.

My first inclination is to return to my ongoing Sea Princes franchise of campaigns which has only been 3.5/PFRPG rules. In the event I feel like trying out running 5E however, I have an urge to try converting a module or two. My favorite option so far is a rework of Five Shall Be One and Howl From the North.

These 2nd Edition modules were the lead up to the Greyhawk Wars and From the Ashes era by Carl Sargent. The quest for the five Blades of the Corusks is a worthy goal especially for a game group of five. The last time I ran this series, for whatever reason, my friend played all five heroes and it went well enough, even though the ending was a huge letdown (no spoilers). Back then the two of us enjoyed it and spun more stories from the published material, but with a new edition and a few new eager players, I'd really like a do-over of Five Shall Be One. It's also mainly because I know I can rewrite it to be better than the original.

For those not familiar, the adventure is set in and around the mountainous Thillonrian peninsula in the northeast of the Flanaess. By chance a search is started for the lost swords of five renowned heroes of the north which are the only thing that can help free the Great God of the North and unite the barbarian nations together into one force to be reckoned with. With some tweaking I believe I can expand the scope of the quest beyond the corner of the map, create some more riveting adversaries and without a doubt give the players a climatic story that doesn't fall flat at the end. My first concern however is whether or not to tailor character classes and alignments to the blades in the story. The original mods came with pregen characters for this reason. I may try to leave it open-ended on who can use what blade though making characters native to some part of the north would seem a prerequisite as well.

My second concern is that FSBO was made for character levels 7-9. I used to routinely start campaigns at 5th level, but since 3e I prefer to allow players to enjoy the entire career of their character. This of course means I need to run a lead in adventure to FSBO and/or else dial back the module to at least levels 4-6. That shouldn't be too hard. If I don't end up running this campaign I still intend to convert the five Blades of Corusk to 5E someday. Until next time!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Castle Greyhawk: Traps & Teamwork

Welcome back loyal Greyhawk readers! It's high time to promote a new page in the third chapter of our ongoing Castle Greyhawk graphic novel. Check out page-fifteen and read some lead-in lit by comic composer Scott Casper. On our site you can also check the archives and follow the entire Castle Greyhawk story from the very beginning.

Artist's Commentary: Everyone remembers the time their character fell in a pit, perhaps even a hundred times. How many times do you remember the effort put into getting your PC out of the pit? This little impediment for our Castle Greyhawk split party was fun to illustrate. The call back to Serten looking down the pit from last page was nice and the lighting we use in this comic only improves the more it's used.
By now I'm sure a lot of readers are also wondering what Tenser fell on, is he lucky or not? That's probably going to be important to know in the near future.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Conversion: Wand of a Wonder

It's a slow week for me so it's time I did something easy yet useful like a 5E magic item conversion! One of the best part of old school modules was the appendices at the end of each book. This is where we used to find some of the best new setting material, monsters and nifty magic items. T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil is high among those resources. Here, along with backgrounds on Iuz, Zuggtmoy and the famous sword Fragarach is a lesser known version of the iconic Wand of Wonder called the Wand of a Wonder. For those who aren't familiar with this AD&D era item it's exactly what you would expect, simply now in 5E game terms:

Wand, very rare (requires attunement)

   Quite similar to its cousin, the ever-popular wand of wonder, this item produces strange and unpredictable results for users of any class. This wand has 7 charges. While holding it, you can use an action to expend 1 of its charges and choose a target within 120 feet of you. The target can be a creature or object. Roll d100 and consult the following table to discover what happens.
   If the effect causes you to cast a spell from the wand, the spell's save DC is 15. If an effect covers an area, you must center the spell on and include the target. If an effect has multiple possible subjects, the DM randomly determines which ones are affected. The wand regains 1d6+1 expended charges daily at dawn. If you expend the last charge, roll a d20. On a 1, the wand crumbles into dust and is destroyed.

d100     Effect

01-02     The target temporarily loses all hair, fur or feathers.
03-07     A pit 10 foot deep (any necessary width) opens under the target's feet.
08-09     The target gains advantage on all rolls for the next 3 rounds.
10-11     100 small bats appear, swarm around the wielder's head for 1 round causing disadvantage, then flit away.
12-13     The target grows useless wings, arms or tentacles (1 hour).
14-15     A cage of heavy iron bars (10 foot cube) surrounds the wielder.
16-17     Each piece of non-magical headgear within 20 feet (including helmets) changes to a skullcap topped by a bladed device, the blades turning in any breeze.
18-22     The target’s color turns to hot pink for 1d10 days.
23-25     All gold within 10 feet of the wielder permanently turns to lead.
26-29     The target is covered with a thick layer of honey. This causes disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws until removed.
30-32     In each of the next 5 rounds, 2d4 sp shoot from forth from the wielder’s ears.
33-34     The target is garbed in a beautiful, well-tailored, embroidered silk coat (2000 gp value but it is magical and can be dispelled).
35-39    You cast polymorph. Target must make a Wisdom saving throw or turn into a giant rabbit.
40-41    The target grows a large moustache in 1 round (possibly with goatee).
42-43    Thousands of horseflies fill the area within 30 feet of the wielder, causing disadvantage and interfering with concentration of spells. They remain for 5d4 rounds but will not leave the area except to follow honey.
44-48    You cast Otto's irresistible dance. Target gets no saving throw and is affected for 3 rounds.
49-52    A stream of acid shoots out to 10' range inflicting 4d6 damage on a failed Dexterity saving throw or half as much on a successful one.
53-55    Band instruments appear between the wielder and the target. They play loudly and march back and forth for 1d4+2 rounds, as if used by invisible musicians, then vanish. Anyone trying to interfere takes 2d6 damage and is knocked prone.
56-57    A tree grows under the wielder, lifting to the ceiling or 50 feet height, whichever is less.
58-62    100 dead and putrid fish rain down within 30 feet of the wielder.
63-68    You cast faerie fire on the target (no saving throw) for 5 rounds, and then the wielder vanishes (greater invisibility) for 1d4+1 rounds.
69-70    The sound of bells ring forth from the wand, drowning out all noise and speech (deafened with no save) for 1d4+1 rounds.
71-75    You cast dispel magic on everything within 20 feet of the wand.
76-77    You polymorph yourself into a mule-centaur (no saving throw).
78-84    You cast conjure minor elementals.
85-86    The target gains 1d4+9 hit points (as the spell false life) which last for 1 hour.
87-90    You cast levitate on yourself (no saving throw), hovering 20 feet up for 1d4+2 rounds before suddenly dropping.
91-95    Eight fiery spheres of different hues shoot forth one at a time from the wand, striking the target and seemingly causing great amounts of damage (actually 1 hp damage from each).
96-99    All non-magical weapons held in hand within 30 feet of the wand turn into bunches of flowers.
00         You cast disintegrate at the target (60 foot range).