Conan the Intelligent, Tactical Polyglot Barbarian

I just finished reading The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard. I have been talking about barbarians on and off Twitter even blogging about them here earlier. Barbarians own a unique and very well known place in pop culture and I wanted to go back and take a look at part of their origins.

This volume contains the original thirteen Conan stories as written by Howard in the order he wrote them. I had never read any Conan stories before and was only familiar with the character through osmosis from living in a pop culture world.

1ef18fd29418aac3e6119db859b50cbd

Savage Sword of Conan – Boris Vallejo

As many note in the Goodreads reviews, I was surprised to learn that Conan as he was originally created was not the hulking brute, all brawn and no brains as I have come to know him. Conan is an intelligent, clever, resourceful and combatant.

Yes he is quick to anger and often there are depictions of his size and strength (and his steely bronzed thews) and requisite description detailing his smoldering blue eyes. But just as frequently Conan is depicted as “pantherish” or “tigerish” in his ferocity he is also described as being stealthy, silent when he moves. Not only is he strong but he is fast, able to move and react in the blink of an eye.

Conan is also a polyglot able to speak several languages at least passably, he has adventured all over the world and has several careers behind him including: thief, warrior, captain, sailor, king, pirate, rebel, chieftain and more.

conan-the-barbarian-arnold-1038x576

Encapsulating all of these qualities themselves means our first pop culture barbarian has fallen far from where he started, but there is more. Conan is stubborn and fearful, jealous and covetous. Notwithstanding his willingness to kill at a moments notice. In “The Pool of the Black One” Conan kills a man to after joining a crew of pirates, just to “earn his place” and is clearly plotting to kill the captain and usurp him as soon as he is able (which he does).

Conan again is more than muscle and steel. He carries within him a duality that markedly resembles people in the real world. He is capable of kindness and generosity and callous murder all the while harboring realistic fears and anxieties.

Conan as originally written is a deep and complex character capable of good and evil, love and hate. He is well-traveled, intelligent, taciturn, loyal to his word and quick to take advantage of opportunity. He is a killer who knows the Arts will outlast him and that life is ephemeral.

Dungeons and Dragons

From a D&D perspective I can see where the basis for the barbarian was drawn.

Conan is described as raging, fighting through injuries that other men could not. He is able to exert himself for hours displaying unnatural endurance. He is preternaturally aware able to sense traps/danger and avoid them as well as displaying almost superhuman strength.

All of this can be seen in the current and original version of the Barbarian. They are not exactly the same but the roots are there.

Barbarians Today

Perhaps it is simply my experience in popular culture and at the table that  barbarians are pigeon-holed as mindless rage-machines good only for killing and well, more killing. I am not so naive to believe this is the only way they are portrayed, there will of course be contrary examples but they are not the norm.

One such “against type” barbarian that I really enjoyed when I was encountered him was Logen NineFingers from The First Law books by Joe Abercrombie. I initially thought he was unique in his depth and his “complete” personality. Having gone back and read Conan I see that Joe Abercrombie’s character seems unique in this day but he is truly the successor to Howard’s Conan.

If you have not yet I recommend reading The First Law trilogy. See for yourself just what a complete, fully fleshed out barbarian character. In all honesty all of the characters are so finely crafted they will defy expectations. And in truth The Bloody Nine is the best version I have ever encountered of a raging barbarian. EVER.

Do yourself a favor and go read Howard’s Conan stories. They are fast-paced, easy to read and filled with action and adventure. Most of them are quite short as they were originally submissions to magazines for easy consumption.

Enjoy the ride!

Featured Image by Mark Schultz

 

Advertisements

Xanathar’s Druids

Similar to the last post about Clerics I wanted to review and discuss the Druid options in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Druids are my favorite D&D class so I’ll have plenty to say, but I shall try to be succinct. Or at least less verbose.

Circle of Dreams

(Or I wish I was Fey)

forest-scene

Circle of Dreams feels pretty well put together to me. The Feywild and the creatures that dwell there are natural allies to good-aligned or neutral druids and sharing their power feels like a natural evolution.

Balm of the Summer Court – This is a pretty straightforward 2nd level ability: d6’s that heal and grant 1 Temp HP.

Why the 1 temporary hp? What is that really going to do for anyone? Forget the 1 hp and instead let the affected character regain the hp and re-roll to remove a negative effect they are currently under (Blinded, Exhaustion level etc). That feels more like supernatural healing.

Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow – Nice flavor ability that doesn’t have much active influence but allows essentially for uninterrupted rest.

I just had a thought: It could also be used to buff Stealth or Perception checks in a known space, thus making whatever space you choose as an ideal site to ambush enemies. Rogues would love this. Tag team!

Hidden Paths – This is a fun and flexible movement feature. Teleport 60′ as a bonus action OR teleport and ally up to 30′. This is super useful and could be a great way to populate the battlefield or escape from a cell.

Walker in Dreams – At the end of a short rest you cast Dream, Scrying or Teleportation Circle. This Teleportation Circle send you back to the last spot you had a long rest. Basically a WoW Hearthstone. It’s a nice ability I just wouldn’t tie it to the end of the short rest. Have the short rest recharge the ability otherwise you are resting in order to teleport out or use the Dream or Scry ability. I think it’s more evocative to be able to use the teleportation circle to quickly escape from enemies that are bearing down on you. Less exciting to take a break so you can port back to town.

Circle of the Shepherd

Shepherd druid

Ok I have not been shy of my issues with Shepherd Druids but it is mostly put together well. The issue for me is the Totem ability does not jive with the rest of the abilities. Let’s explore.

Speech of the Woods – Sylvan as a bonus language, Yes please! On top of that you get an always on Speak with Animals. You don’t know the spell for free or cast it willy-nilly, you just understand animals and they understand you. Bam! very nice and fitting with a protector of beasts.

Spirit Totem – Summon nature spirits to a spot and beneficial effects take place for you and your party members. One use per short or long rest with the following abilities listed:

  • Bear spirit-temp hp = 5+druid level and Advantage on Strength checks and saves.
  • Hawk spirit- Use your reaction to give Advantage to an ally’s attack. Advantage on Perception checks.
  • Unicorn spirit-Advantage on checks to detect creatures in the aura and bonus hp when casting a healing spell.

I don’t have any issues with the ability, I really like it actually but I don’t think it fits the overall theme of the Shepherd Druid. This feels like a separate ability from another class that doesn’t really have to do with protecting and promoting the welfare of the creatures of the world. The flavor text at the beginning of the sub-class description talks about seeking aid from and communing with spirits but to me it feels like it was put there to explain this one ability.

I would take Spirit Totem out of the Shepherd Circle (and out it into a different sub-class such as Spirit Shaman, something that focuses on interacting with the spirit world). This would be a great place to give the druid an animal companion and perhaps expand on it a little. Whereas the Ranger can have one companion allow the Shepherd to have multiple so long as they don’t exceed the 1/4 CR cap. (1 CR 1/4 creature or 2 CR 1/8 creatures). That would allow the Shepherd to exploit that Animal Speech regularly and would foster a player playing a Shepherd surrounded by animals they care for/travel with.

Maybe have the CR cap grow as the druid levels? Much like wild-shape grows, a Shepherd druid could bond with beasts of increasing power as they advance? I actually really like that though it would need to be balanced so the advanced beast companion(s) don’t outshine the party.

Hmm Going to try writing this out to explore it.

Mighty Summoner – Beasts of fey summoned by your spells have increased hp and their attacks overcome immunity to non-magical attacks and damage.

This is perfectly fitting for a summoner/beast class. I like it.

Guardian Spirit – Your summons beasts and fey gain hp when it they end their turn inside your totem aura.

Again a solid ability for a shepherd to regenerate the beasts they summon. Assuming I moved the totem ability off this sub-class I would just have the regeneration occur when the beasts/fey are within a certain distance from you. Role-play that you are their care-taker and nearness to you strengthens and safeguards them.

Faithful Summons – When you are reduced to 0 hp  or are incapacitated (can’t take actions or reactions) against your will Conjure Animals goes off as a contingency spell summoning 4 beasts of CR 2 or lower they automagically protect you from harm and attack your enemies.

This is perfect flavor and a nice defensive ability the enemies may not be expecting. Again I feel the intent of this sub-class is to be a guardian, advocate and companion for the beasts of the world and having them come to your aid, reciprocating your service to the natural world feels right.

As I stated at the beginning, Shepherd is mostly built around summoning and augmenting animals, remove the imperfectly placed totem ability, give them animal companions and boom, the class is complete.

Let me know what you think of my suggested changes. Did I make any sense? Did I miss the intention of an ability or the sub-class in general?

Discuss and share!

 

 

Xanathar’s Clerics

I know there are lots of these posts and reviews out there now and I am very grateful they are there. Seeing what others think and how others interpret the same information allows me to learn and to grow, to experience something I wouldn’t have normally come up with.

In that vein I want to start by offering my own take on the Cleric options presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Contrary to perceived popular opinion (maybe it’s just clerics) I really enjoy clerics. Not only for their abilities but for the role-playing and depth their divinely granted powers enable us to play.

 

Lets start by taking a look at the Forge Cleric.

forge2bdomain

Right out of the gate (racing idiom) I like the class and abilities but I have issues with the name. “Forge” implies use of the forge for melting/smelting metal and it even says so in the class description.  I would however prefer (and I will in my homebrew) to expand the abilities to items beyond metal. Specifically in my homebrew world The One World, a certain group of dwarves have specialized in making arms and armor completely from stone. Works just like the normal items but slightly heavier (though I don’t much pay attention to encumbrance unless it is just getting ridiculous.)

That being said it is not a big stretch to expand this to these dwarves or perhaps the lizardfolk who make so much from natural materials. “Forge” evokes a stronger more fearsome mental image than “Craft” or “Artisan” so I get that. Expanding teh definition also includes such settings as Dark Sun, where there are lots of other materials used besides metals.

Domain Spells- As they go I think most of them make sense. Especially Identify. Personally I can’t stand that spell. It’s cheating. It is the quick and dirty way of divining the powers of your shiny new magic item. I obviously prefer to have my players test and play with their new items but I don’t make them agonize over it. That just isn’t fun. However Identify in the hands of those clerics specifically empowered to create and manipulate magic items makes perfect sense to me.

 

Blessing of the Forge

This is a solid utility ability at low levels. Granting a +1 bonus to a weapon or armor is huge. Yuge! It however will fade in importance once the party begins acquiring their own magic items.

“Sorry my dude, I don’t need your +1. I got my Vorpal bastard sword now.”

I would propose the following to keep it relevant as the party accumulates their own powerful magic items:

Increase the number of items the Forge Cleric can modify as they level. Say 2 items at 8th level and 3 at 17th level but only once per mundane item. In addition: the Forge Cleric has the option of adding a +1 bonus to a mundane item OR another ability such as Flaming. If the Cleric adds an ability to a mundane weapon then it would count as magical for overcoming resistances but you would not benefit from the +1 to hit.

You have a +2 longsword? Let me see that for a second lad…

Taking this even further, I’d consider allowing the Forge Cleric to manipulate the abilities on an exiting magic items. Take that +2 longsword let the cleric play with it a bit and he hands back a +1 flaming longsword. Again once per item and this would only last until the next long rest. You could even make manipulating items this way cost two uses of the Blessing of the Forge.

This would make a Forge Cleric very (almost too powerfully) utilitarian as they could tailor the party items for known encounters. Now there are of course ways around that or that the DM could limit that but I’ll leave it out there and you just think about it for a minute.

The other abilities (Artisan’s Blessing, Soul of the Forge, Divine Strike and Saint of Forge and Flame) I think all fit the mold pretty well and are balanced appropriately for how they are spaced. It feels like appropriate progression.

 

Grave Domain

1206620b2d1682d713b26e2d574f5520

OK that’s not the art from XGtE but what was up with that guy anyway? What’s with the wineglass? Creepy.

I will say I like the flavor text of Grave Clerics as the Guardians of Death. Destroying undead and those who would create them. Don’t immediately see how one would play that in an evil fashion but I’m not going to try too hard.

Circle of Mortaility – Max heals on a 0 hp creature is nice. And when you don’t want to spend a spell slot the 30′ range Spare the Dying as a bonus action is a solid backup. Seriously a nice but not overwhelming set of abilities granted here. No one should fear death with a Grave Cleric in the group.

Eyes of the Grave – Sounds like a fun ability. I would love to surprise my characters by having them use this ability in a social encounter and discovering their host or maybe even their employer is undead!

Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave – This is a solid feature. Creating a vulnerability on a creature is a nice debuff to be able to pull out and will help overcome resistant creatures and those with high hp. Wording is a bit muddled. States the curse ends on the end of your next turn and also states the curse ends after the next successful attack from you or an ally. So you have a turn to use it or you lose it? Probably but I don’t think it would be overpowered to keep it in effect until used.

Sentinel at Deaths Door – While the ability to cancel a critical hit and any associated effects is cool, it doesn’t quite fit the flavor for me. That doesn’t feel like delaying death. I think it would be more fitting to mimic a barbarians Relentless Rage. This keeps the PC up when they shouldn’t be. You could also have the PC that was sustained make a Con Save or gain a level of Exhaustion. A little good, a little bad. The price to pay for cheating a little.

Potent Spellcasting – Nothing exciting here. Damage boost to Cantrips is nice but what does it have to do with being a Cleric of the Grave?

Keeper of Souls – This is a very good visual but I’m not sure how useful it will be at 17th level. Lots of Hit Dice when an enemy drops to be sure but it is what a massive heal to someone at the end of a big fight? I guess I’ll need to see it in action to really understand it. But yes I like the flavor it provides. I kind of picture whoever receives the healing from the departed soul might take on a few of their mannerisms for a time.

Looking at these two I would definitely play a Forge Cleric, especially with the modifications I suggest. Grave Clerics have some very nice abilities but don’t feel as polished as the Forge domain.

 

The Extras

The Temples and Keepsakes are good ideas and they threw a bunch of those kind of random character backstory tables in for each of the classes so that’s not unexpected. I really like the Secrets though. I particularly enjoy the concept of a person of faith that struggles with that faith. Being the walking and breathing proof of Divine Beings would put you at the center of a lot of attention, wanted and unwanted.

How would a cleric deal with that? A living example of proof of the Gods is still a normal person and is as fallible as any other normal person on the planet. Fun thoughts.

What did you think of the Cleric domains? Have you played as either of them yet? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on my takes. Let’s have a discussion.

Religion in Dungeon and Dragons

Polytheism in D&D

Just what does it mean to live in a world with more than one God? In our very real world we struggle with the concept of one God versus many versus God having multiple manifestations. I’m not here to discuss real world religious doctrine or faiths (though that is a favorite topic).

For the purposes of many D&D and RPG game worlds there are many Gods present in the world. Think of the Greek or Roman pantheons we learned about in school. One God rules over one aspect of the world or perhaps many but not everything. “God of the Seas? You bet! But uh, I can’t do anything about your crops drying up…go ask her.” This means there is a great deal of diversity for players to choose from and almost endless role-playing and flavor potential.

In my experience however each character still acts as though only one God truly matters: their particular God. In fact many characters don’t acknowledge the gods at all. This I think, is a problem.

Let’s explore this from the perspective of the characters shall we?

There is an adventurer, lets say a fighter. A mercenary. She travels the world selling her sword-arm to the highest bidder. While in the north she meets a shaman able to speak with the dead! While in the south she faces a priest of the Sun God able to call down columns of fire on his enemies! During her time as a pirate (you know it) the ships cleric calls on the favor of the Sea Goddess to grant her the ability to breathe water and she swims to the hull of an enemy vessel and bores it full of holes!

All of these are actual events the character experienced and benefited from. Factual evidence of the existence and power of the Gods!  She personally experienced the power of all of them. How can the character in question support the existence and power of only one of these Gods?

She cannot. Each deity is as real to her as the other. So my main question in this: How  does a character worship in a world with multiple Gods? A la carte.

buddy_christ

They worship all of them in the situations that require it. About to cross the sea? Pray to that Sea Goddess. Pray fervently. Entering a maze/dungeon? Pray to the finder of lost souls. Each God or Goddess has a place and a role and the characters in that world must honor that. Yes a warrior would serve the God of Battle first and foremost, but he would pray to The Mother to watch over his family while he is away, to the Lord of Storms for favorable battle conditions and so on.

Now even if they are not your favored deity they are a deity and they demand worship. To use a D&D example look at what happens when Tanis encounters just the slightest shadow of Takhisis in the DragonLance novels. He kneels. She is the epitome of evil, the very thing he is fighting against and even the slightest, the weakest version of her demands his respect. He bows before her.

tak

So what’s the point? I think we as players are missing out on a huge role-play opportunity. Devoting oneself to one particular God does not negate the Godhood of the other deities, merely how you interact with them and their followers.

DM’s: encourage your players to utilize religion beyond the God the Cleric or Paladin follows. A rogue  or fighter or barbarian will have just as much need for divine guidance as a cleric.

Players: Think about how your character views religion? Are they religious? Very much so or a bit of a Sunday morning Paladin? Do they devote themselves to one God or keep their options open?

Let me know how it goes. I love hearing and sharing stories of our games.