Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dryads as a PC/NPC Race

I've always been a big fan of dryads, probably because one of my first exposures to epic fantasy was the Belgariad by David Eddings, and a dryad figures into that series as a major character.  Official dryads in Pathfinder have certain limitations that prevent them  from being a usable character race, most notably the fact that they are essentially 'tethered' to their tree and straying too far from it is eventually fatal.  Dryads are mysterious and insular by nature, but the dryads presented below are somewhat more worldly than their Pathfinder-canon counterparts.  Due to their fey nature, they have certain special racial traits and abilities, but I've tried to balance those out with disadvantages that I believe make sense.

Racial Traits

  • +2 Charisma, +2 Wisdom, -2 Strength: Dryads are wise, beautiful, and subtle, and tend to prefer magic over brute strength.
  • Medium: Dryads are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.
  • Normal Speed: Dryads have a base speed of 30 feet.
  • Fey Immunities: Dryads are immune to charm effects and get a +2 racial saving throw bonus against other enchantment spells and effects.
  • Fey Magic: Dryads get a +2 racial bonus to their caster level for enchantment spells.
  • Aversion to Metal: Dryads get a -4 penalty to skills, attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks when touching metal or carrying metal anywhere on their person.  However, metal weapons have no special bonuses against dryads.
  • Treebound: A dryad's life force is bound to the tree of her choosing.  She may undergo a 24-hour ritual to bind herself to a different tree.  If a dryad's tree is cut down or otherwise killed, she becomes sickened and takes 1d6 points of Constitution damage per day until she is bound to a new tree.
  • Forestbound: Dryads become sickened if they are ever more than 1200 yards from the nearest tree.  In addition, after every hour spent in a polluted, blighted, or densely populated area (anything larger than a small city), dryads must make a DC 15 fortitude save or become nauseated for the next hour.
  • Natural Armor: Dryads receive a +3 racial bonus to their natural armor.
  • Tree Meld: A dryad can meld with any tree, similar to how the spell meld into stone functions. She can remain melded with a tree as long as she wishes.  Dryads must Tree Meld in order to rest.  Tree Meld is a supernatural ability.
  • Weapon Familiarity: Dryads are proficient with longbows (including composite longbows), quarterstaves, and shortbows (including composite shortbows).
  • Wild Empathy: This works like the druid's wild empathy class feature, except the dryad has a +2 racial bonus on the check, and an additional +1 for every 4 class levels. Dryads with druid levels add this racial modifier to their wild empathy checks.
  • Woodcraft: Dryads receive a +2 bonus to all craft checks involving wood, and an additional +1 for every 4 class levels.
  • Languages: Dryads begin play speaking Common and Sylvan. Dryads with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Celestial, Draconic, Elven, Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, and Orc.


Dryads are always female, and their skin and hair take on the color of the bark and leaves (respectively) of their bound trees.  Apart from this, Dryads appear similar to half-elves in most other respects. 

Aging and Lifespan

Dryads accrue normal bonuses and penalties for aging, do not appear to age beyond adulthood.  Dryads have the same lifespan as elves.


Dryads are typically Neutral, although with slight Chaotic Good leanings.


Dryads typically gather in small communities of five to thirty, called groves.  The eldest dryads in a grove typically form an elder council, and one member of the council is chosen to be the Grove Mother, who is considered to be the leader of the community.  Dryads have a loose social structure, and the Grove Mother often acts more as a first-among-equals than a ruler.


Dryads are insular and naturally suspicious of outsiders, but their tendency toward good makes it difficult for them to completely ignore people in need, and they are often willing to allow outsiders to prove themselves in order to earn their trust.  Dryads refer to humans, dwarves, and gnomes as "metal folk" due to their unusual habit of covering themselves with metal.  However, their physical aversion to metal does not translate to an aversion to races that use metal; instead, dryads view metal users with curiosity and bemusement.


Dryads have a strong preference for charm magic and any magic involving nature or plants.  They tend to shy away from fire, and are strongly averse to necromancy.  Dryad necromancers are exceedingly rare, and are considered traitors to their race.  Neutral dryad clerics (and other classes with spontaneous cure magic and channel energy) will almost always choose positive energy due to the association of negative energy with necromancy.


Dryads are able to reproduce with any humanoid or fey race (including other dryads), and people of either gender.  The resulting offspring are always full dryads, although they may take on some minor characteristics of the non-dryad parent.  (Notably, dryads that have not come into contact with humans tend to be more elven in appearance.)


Dryad adventurers are somewhat unusual, but they do exist.  Dryads generally take to adventure out of a sense of wanderlust, although some do so because they are driven from their home forest for whatever reason (due to logging, etc).  Dryads adventurers tend to take levels in Cleric, Druid, Oracle, Sorcerer, and Witch.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lendrick's Musings on Alignment

This post is adapted from a comment I posted on Reddit, in response to a discussion on whether or not alignment is actually useful.  It includes a few reasons that alignment can be helpful in a game like Pathfinder, and (more importantly) a summary of how I rule on alignment, which allows for a more complicated Grey and Grey (warning: tvtropes) morality system while still allowing people to use alignment to resolve spell effects and such.

Here is why alignment is useful:
  • Certain classes, like Paladins, are somewhat more powerful than other classes. Forcing them to act a certain way or lose their powers is a good way to balance that out.
  • Reigning in terrible roleplaying. Since D&D has nothing in the way of real world consequences, there's nothing stopping an (ostensibly) good D&D character from suddenly deciding to murder everyone in town for no reason at all. Alignment allows the DM to impose a consequence for that by docking experience, which is particularly relevant if the character is so powerful that no one in the game world is able to do anything about it.
  • Determining spell outcomes in a somewhat predictable way.
Now, before someone else points it out, I'll happily admit outright that it's not, strictly speaking, necessary in any of these cases. In the case of the second example, it's entirely possible that a character has been evil all along and is just pretending to be good, but it's also quite possible that the player in question is just a terrible roleplayer who needs to be reigned in so they don't ruin the enjoyment of the game for the other players.
All that being said, for experienced roleplayers it can be pretty constricting, so here's how I prefer to handle alignment in my games:
  • Alignment is malleable, and doesn't require a great ordeal to change. I don't see the point of docking experience points for people who are just playing their characters. If an alignment change is believable, I have no problem with it, even in the middle of a session (I don't think I would like people changing their alignment every session, but I've never had anyone try that).
  • The good/evil axis is about willingness to take risks or make sacrifices for the good of people you don't know (good), versus willingness to harm innocents for your benefit (evil). Most people believe themselves to be "good people", but are in fact neutral. A neutral character may want to be the sort of person who puts themselves at risk to defend people they don't know, but can't bring themselves to do it most of the time. Taking risks and making sacrifices to help your loved ones is a neutral act -- it doesn't affect alignment one way or another. Even evil people can care about other people.
  • The law/chaos is about adherence to a meaningful personal code or obedience to authority, or lack thereof. This code can often include obeying the law of the land, but it doesn't have to. To be meaningful, the code has to involve some sort of "sacrifice" on the part of the character. For instance, when a lawful character is faced with a difficult choice about whether to follow their code of honor (or a lawful order from a superior), they choose to do so, even if not doing so would be the easier path. A chaotic character, on the other hand, has no qualms about fighting dirty in order to achieve their goals and has a problem with authority in general (this of course doesn't preclude them from being good -- they're just more likely to stab the villain in the back rather than taking them on face-to-face). Neutrality on the law/chaos axis is again the path of least resistance. Neutral characters obey the law (or their personal code) most of the time and don't have a particular problem with the concept of authority in general, but will break the law to further their goals if the benefits outweigh the consequences.
Running alignment like this allows for more complexity in a story. Good people aren't all automatically on the same team; there are cases where both sides of a conflict can have good people, and sometimes those good people kill each other. The point being, it's possible to use alignment as a tool for resolving spell effects and such while still allowing for stories that are perhaps more tragic and complicated that the typical good-versus-evil teen fantasy fare. This also prevents the old "I'm good and goblins are all evil, so I'm morally obligated to kill every goblin I see" style of gaming, which drives me crazy.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fun with Low Level Undead

One of the things that's always bothered me about lower level undead creatures is that by and large you need a relatively powerful necromancer to create them.  To create even the weakest undead, you need to be, at bare minimum, a level 5 cleric (or a level 7 wizard), which means that realistically, if your low level (1-2) group is on an adventure fighting off large numbers of undead, there's a boss waiting for them at the end of the adventure who's at least a little bit above their pay grade.

Now, a DM can get around this most of the time with a little bit of hand-waving.  Maybe the dead are coming to life because of "residual dark energies" or something of the sort that you might find in an ancient temple to an evil god.  Or maybe there's some sort of artifact that's flooding the area with negative energy.  This is all well and good, but these sorts of explanations have gotten more than a little bit cliche over the years, so rather than falling back on something like that, I'd like to make things a bit more interesting.

So, here's my idea:  Imagine a necromancer who's a little too ambitious for his own good.  If you think about it, this is likely a common trait among people who are willing to desecrate the dead to achieve their own ends -- many of them are probably megalomanic sociopaths.  So it's not that much of a stretch to assume that at least some of them might overestimate their own abilities and attempt things that maybe they're not quite up to in terms of skill -- like turning themselves into a lich...

Failed Lich (template)

Alignment: Chaotic Evil

Type: The creature's type changes to undead.

Senses: A Failed Lich gains darkvision 60ft.

Armor Class: A failed lich has a +2 natural armor bonus or the base creature's natural armor bonus, whichever is better.

Hit Dice: Failed Liches lose any class levels, and their racial hit die changes to 1d8.  They receive an additional 2 racial hit dice.

Defensive Abilities: A Failed Lich resists 10 points of cold and electricity damage.

Melee Attack: A Failed Lich gains a touch attack, similar to that of a normal Lich.

Damage: A Failed Lich's touch attack does 1d6 + 1 damage per two hit dice in the form of negative energy.  The Failed Lich may use this ability to heal other undead, or use it on itself as a full-round action.

Special Attacks: A Failed Lich gains the two special attacks described below. Save DCs are equal to 10 + 1/2 their HD + their Cha modifier unless otherwise noted.

Horrid Shriek (Su): A failed lich can shriek as a standard action, and any non-deaf creatures of 5 HD or less must make a will save or become shaken for a number of rounds equal to the Failed Lich's hit dice. A creature that successfully saves cannot be affected again by the same failed lich's shriek for 24 hours. This is a mind-affecting fear effect.

Weakening Touch (Su):  An living creature hit by the Failed Lich's touch attack must make a fortitude save or take 1d3 points of Strength damage.

Abilities: A failed lich is not completely mindless, retaining a glimmer of its former intelligence.  Its intelligence becomes 2, and it has no constitution score.  All other ability scores remain the same.

Skills: A failed lich has the normal number of skill points for its hit dice (generally 1 point per HD due to its low intelligence).  Failed lich's gain perception as a class skill.

Half Elf Failed Lich (CR 4)
XP 800
CE Medium Undead
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60ft; Perception +8
AC 20, touch 13, flat-footed 17 (+2 natural, +5 armor, +3 dex)
hp 22 (3d8+9)
Fort +3, Ref +4, Will +5
Resist electricty 10, Resist cold 10
Spd 30ft
Melee touch +3 (1d6+1)
Str 10, Dex 16, Con --, Int 2, Wis 14, Cha 15
Base Atk +2; CMB +2; CMD +2
Feats Toughness, Weapon Focus (touch attack)
Special Abilities

Horrid Shriek (Su): A failed lich can shriek as a standard action, and any non-deaf creatures of 5 HD or less must make a DC 13 will save or become shaken for a number of rounds equal to the Failed Lich's hit dice. A creature that successfully saves cannot be affected again by the same failed lich's shriek for 24 hours. This is a mind-affecting fear effect.
Weakening Touch (Su):  An living creature hit by the Failed Lich's touch attack must make a DC 13 fortitude save or take 1d3 points of Strength damage.