Bridge to the past: Circle Of Spirits

I’ve talked repeatedly (every chance I get) about how much I love druids in Dungeons and Dragons. Not only that, I’ve spoken of and shared my home-brew druid circles with a number of folks on Twitter and a few other friends and gamers.

I wanted to take the time to go through it and share my thoughts behind it and how it looks in my mind’s eye and what I was thinking behind the scenes.

First a bit of (made up) History

In The One World, the lizard-folk were the first race, born from the dual being that is both the Earth God and Earth Goddess (Ometeotl). The lizardfolk were present before the Gods came into being and as such primarily venerate the earth and themselves.  They do not consider themselves equal to or better than the four Gods that came later, but they know and remember: they were here first and before them was Ometeotl.

Being first to live in the world, the lizardfolk developed a deep connection to it and saw their place within the natural cycle. They revere nature and their part in it and this  developed into a strong form of ancestor worship practiced in their culture. They honor and remember their ancestors among whom they include Ometeotl as their original ancestor (often referred to as Grandfather/Grandmother) and the spirits of the natural world with whom they are closely allied and view as distant cousins of a sort.

This makes the lizardfolk perfectly suited to have a shaman as the primary “religious” figure in their cultural lives. They revere and worship nature in it’s entirety of which The Gods are simply a more powerful part. There are clerics among them but that is less common and may be viewed as focusing on one aspect of the larger whole.

Lets get into the specifics of the Circle of Spirits starting with the 2nd level abilities.

Spirit Guide (2nd level)
You have found (or been found) by a spirit companion that joins you on your life’s journey. The spirit’s form or appearance may be determined by you or your backstory or by your Dungeon Master.
Your Spirit Guide connects you to the spirit world and enables you to commune with spirits, to see and speak with them. This allows you to offer thanks and praise and to ask boons that can benefit you and your party.
You can sense the presence of nearby spirits and at will you can see into the Ethereal Border up to 60’. You can communicate with spirits regardless of language though they are not compelled to obey your requests or even listen.

This is the introductory ability. It is the wellspring from which all the other abilities and mechanics are derived and provides vast role-playing opportunities. The ability to see and interact with nearby spirits allows not only combat benefits (I see you phase spider!) but role-playing. Requesting a boon from a forest Spirit, thanking the river spirit for letting you pass, there are as many possibilities as you can imagine.

Blessing of Spirits
Starting at 2nd level, you gain the ability request the aid of spirits and use them to influence the world around you. As a bonus action, you magically summon a Medium spirit to an unoccupied space you can see within 60 feet of you. The spirit creates an aura in a 30-foot radius around it, it doesn’t occupy its space, it is immobile, and it counts as neither a creature nor an object. As a Bonus Action you can request the Spirit move up to 60’ to a point you can see.
The spirit persists for 1 minute. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
The nature of the aura depends on the type of spirit you ask for aid:
Spirit of Fortitude- Often appearing as a bear or a mighty warrior, this spirit grants you and your allies its might and endurance. You and your allies who are in the aura when the spirit appears each gain temporary hit points equal to 5 + your druid level. In addition, you and your allies gain advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws while in the aura.
Spirit of Rejuvenation-This spirit often takes the form of a tree or majestic forest creature. At the beginning of your round any allies within the aura may save to remove any negative effects they are currently affected by. Characters making a Death Saving Throw do so with advantage. In addition if you cast a spell with a spell slot that restores hit points to anyone inside or outside the aura, each of your allies in the aura also regains hit points equal to your druid level.
Spirit of the Pack-Many spirits appear and increase the combat abilities of you and your allies. You and your allies have advantage on attack rolls against creatures in the aura if at least one ally is within 5 feet of the creature and is not incapacitated.
*If you have ideas for other spirits and effects work with your DM to create and put them into play.*

I ripped this ability strain from the Circle of the Shepherd. I mentioned in my last post how I didn’t think it fit the Shepherd thematically but how much I really liked it as a concept. I ported it into the Spirit Shaman and tweaked the descriptions.

By generalizing the names: (Fortitude, Rejuvenation etc) it falls to the player to fill in the details, thus creating a richer experience at the table. If the Spirit of Fortitude a mighty warrior, A great bear or perhaps an enduring mountain? This can be done for each of the spirits and more spirits can be created. A Spirit of Combat, a Spirit of Protection, of Travel, or Insight. Options are wide open.

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6th level abilities or Break on Through to the Other Side

Ghostly Warrior (6th level)
Your Spirit Guide gains the ability to confer upon you the ability to physically interact with the Spirit World. You are able to touch, interact with and if necessary attack spirits and incorporeal creatures even while they are within The Border Ethereal. Weapons wielded by you can affect incorporeal creatures normally but lose this ability 1 round after leaving your hand.

This changes it up a bit. Your druid can now not only see and hear those spirits and creatures in The Border Ethereal but the Shaman can touch and harm them without crossing into the other world. This means the druid can damage ghosts (and similar creatures) normally. It has big implications for any creature that might use that space as a refuge or ambush point.

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10th level ability or I Can See Right Through You Man

Spectral Form (10th level)
Your Spirit Guide is able to pull you partially into the the Spirit World, lessening the danger from the physical plane you are currently on.
As a Bonus Action your body becomes translucent as you fade from this world and you gain Resistance to acid, fire, lightning, thunder damage and damage from bludgeoning, piercing and slashing weapons that are non-magical.
In addition you can move through objects or other creatures as if they were difficult terrain. You take 5 (1d10) force damage if you end your turn inside an object or creature.
This effect lasts for one minute and recharges after a short or long rest.

This is a fun ability in which you become something of what you deal with, pulled partially into the Spirit World. I think this makes for immense RP value when you wildshape into a Spectral Bear! Not only are you a tanky-bear but you are a GHOST tanky-bear! You are the Guardian Spirit! Out of combat options could include entering a locked room, escaping a prison or presenting yourself as a spirit to to someone else for who knows what reason.

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14th level ability or Here Hold My Beer.

Guide Magic (14th level)
You and your Spirit Guide have become so entwined that you can channel some of your power through it. Once per Long Rest you can assign your Spirit Guide the task of concentrating  to maintain a spell or spell-like ability. You may act normally while your Spirit Guide does this, including casting another spell that requires Concentration.
Your Spirit Guide doesn’t make Concentration checks when you are distracted, interrupted or take damage. If necessary your Spirit Guide uses your Concentration modifier for checks made to maintain Concentration.

This is obviously a very powerful ability, but I feel like it fits well with the theme of the class. Asking a boon of or being granted a benefit by your strengthened relationship with your spirit guide. Perhaps the Guide won’t grant this benefit unless you perform some task for it? Put a local spirit to rest, appease a nearby river guardian or maybe honor your ancestors with food and drink whenever you eat?

I don’t know what having two concentration spells active at a time would look like (my folks haven’t tried this out yet) but I feel it must be reserved for later levels and would be a great surprise to the other players if the Shaman kept this secret until then.

OK that was a longer exploration than I intended. If you stuck around this long: Thank You. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on this configuration. What works? What doesn’t work and what would you do differently?

Feel free to comment here or find me on Twitter where I’m always talking about D&D. Or Trailrunning. Occasionally both at the same time.

Featured Image from Alex Shatohin https://alexshatohin.deviantart.com/

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.