Monday, September 29, 2014

Pumpkin Zombie

October is my favorite time of year for gaming. I love seeing ghoulish pumpkin faces illuminated on porches in the neighborhood. The tradition of the Jack-o-lantern finds its origins in Ireland with the legend of Stingy Jack. People would carve scary faces on potatoes or turnips and display them outside their windows or doors to ward away wandering evil spirits and fey.

This sounds like a tradition that commoners would adhere to in just about any fantasy realm. In a game such as Dungeons & Dragons malicious fey and horrific undead are not an imagined problem. What if pumpkin patches were growing on top of some ancient grave site? Or maybe deep in the rich soil were the corpses of murder victims long forgotten.

The pumpkin harvest is well underway and night has fallen with a full moon. A group of dark fey happens upon the scene and senses the tormented spirits under the pumpkin patch. They excitedly hop from foot to foot and perform an evil ritual calling forth the tormented dead souls. Slowly the pumpkin matter is corrupted and calcified to form a likeness of rotted corpses. Then the unspeakable happens, as they animate and shamble forth toward the cottages of the nearby village.

Below I have outlined a fun alternate version of a zombie for DM’s to toss at their players this October. The pictures I used in this post are the incredible work of Ray Villafane. Please check out his website for further inspiration as you carve up your own pumpkins this Halloween!

Pumpkin Zombie

Medium undead, neutral evil
Armor Class 8
Hit Points 31 (4d8 + 9)
Speed 20 ft.

STR 14 (+2)
DEX 6 (−2)
CON 16 (+3)
INT 3 (−4)
WIS 6 (−2)
CHA 5 (−3)

Saving Throws see below
Damage Immunities necrotic, poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8
Languages understands the languages it knew in life but can’t speak
Challenge 2 (200 XP)

Rejuvenation. If the pumpkin zombie is destroyed anywhere near soil, it regains all its hit points in 1 hour unless holy water is sprinkled on its remains or a dispel magic or remove curse spell is cast on them.

Detect Life. The Pumpkin zombie can magically sense the presence of living creatures up to 5 miles away. They know the general direction but not their exact locations.

Magic Resistance.
The pumpkin zombie is created with fey magic and has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.


Decaying claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 2) necrotic damage.


Pumpkin zombies move with a jerky, uneven gait. They appear to be a yellow-orange shambling likeness of a corpse. The smell of a ripe pumpkin field permeates any area they enter.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Brain in a Jar familiar

This morning I read the following tweet by Insane Angel Studios and thought it was great:

With Halloween around the corner the idea of some necromancer or warlock with a brain in a jar familiar really inspired me. Below is the find familiar spell from the current 5E Player’s Handbook. I like the new iteration of the spell and think its generic enough that there is plenty of wiggle room for a fun home brew tweak.

Find Familiar
1st-level conjuration (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 hour
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M (10 gp worth of charcoal, incense, and herbs that must
be consumed by fire in a brass brazier)
Duration: Instantaneous

You gain the service of a familiar, a spirit that takes an animal form you choose: bat, cat, crab, frog (toad), hawk, lizard, octopus, owl, poisonous snake, fish (quipper), rat, raven, sea horse, spider, or weasel. Appearing in an unoccupied space within range, the familiar has the statistics of the chosen form, though it is a celestial, fey, or fiend (your choice) instead of a beast.

Your familiar acts independently of you, but it always obeys your commands. In combat, it rolls its own initiative and acts on its own turn. A familiar can’t attack, but it can take other actions as normal. When the familiar drops to 0 hit points, it disappears, leaving behind no physical form. It reappears after you cast this spell again. 

While your familiar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. Additionally, as an action, you can see through your familiar’s eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any special senses that the familiar has. During this time, you are deaf and blind with regard to your own senses. As an action, you can temporarily dismiss your familiar. It disappears into a pocket dimension where it awaits your summons. Alternatively, you can dismiss it forever. As an action while it is temporarily dismissed, you can cause it to reappear in any unoccupied space within 30 feet of you.

You can’t have more than one familiar at a time. If you cast this spell while you already have a familiar, you instead cause it to adopt a new form. Choose one of the forms from the above list. Your familiar transforms into the chosen creature.

Finally, when you cast a spell with a range of touch, your familiar can deliver the spell as if it had cast the spell. Your familiar must be within 100 feet of you, and it must use its reaction to deliver the spell when you cast it. If the spell requires an attack roll, you use your attack modifier for the roll.

As you can see a brain in a jar obviously would not be able to perform the regular functions of a familiar since it is sedentary and without vision. So below I have outlined some changes for this very cerebral familiar.

While your brain in a jar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. You may ask the brain to help you unravel some arcane or historic mystery. This comes at a cost however as the madness of the brain’s memories flash before your eyes. Make a DC12 Wisdom saving throw or suffer 2d6 points of psychic damage. Succeed or fail you gain advantage on one Arcana or History skill check on the next round.

Additionally, once per day, you may sustain two concentration spells at once. During this time, you must hold the brain in the jar and may take no other actions save movement.

So maybe this All Hallows Eve your players will wander into some dust covered alchemy shop at the end of dark alley. Inside they find a twisted old man with a droopy eye selling pickled monster parts and an odd assortment of pulsing brains inside glass jars. Be warned however rumor has it that certain undead are attracted to brains and may pursue any arcane practitioner using one as a familiar!

Get your brains here for 100 Gold!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Black Root Poison

Poison has been used by nature and mankind for ages and fantasy worlds are no different. It has been represented in various forms by the Dungeons & Dragons game over the past four decades. The mechanic almost always used is hit point damage to represent the debilitating effects. In 5E poison is given both a damage type and a condition as defined below.

Poison Damage. Venomous stings and the toxic gas of a green dragon’s breath deal poison damage.

Poisoned Condition. A poisoned creature has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks. 

The 5E Player’s Handbook also contains an example poison and kit which are available for purchase by adventurers as follows:

Poison, Basic. You can use the poison in this vial to coat one slashing or piercing weapon or up to three pieces of ammunition. Applying the poison takes an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 poison damage. Once applied, the poison retains potency for 1 minute before drying.

Poisoner’s Kit. A poisoner’s kit includes the vials, chemicals, and other equipment necessary for the
creation of poisons. Proficiency with this kit lets you add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks you make to craft or use poisons.

Now while I think this is a good start it leaves poison as a tool relatively weak and not overly useful. Especially when you consider the second level spell Protection from Poison which makes it a non-issue for prepared adventurers.

Protection from Poison
2nd-level abjuration
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 hour
You touch a creature. If it is poisoned, you neutralize the poison. If more than one poison afflicts the target, you neutralize one poison that you know is present, or you neutralize one at random. For the duration, the target has advantage on saving throws against being poisoned, and it has resistance to poison damage.

So what can we do to kick poison up a notch and give it some O5R feel? I think the answer is to look at our own world's poisons and get creative. For example Curare has been used in tropical South America as an extremely deadly missile poison for ages. The resin like sap is harvested primarily from the genus Strychnos. It is then boiled and reduced to a thick, black paste into which arrows and darts are dipped. Interestingly, Curare is only hazardous in the bloodstream, not swallowed by mouth. That being said, users of this poison must be careful not to cut or poke themselves with the poisoned tips of arrows or darts, lest they become the victims.

So how does it work? Curare is absorbed by the skeletal muscles and then interrupts them causing complete paralysis. Since those muscles are also needed for respiration the target eventually dies from asphyxiation. Death by curare is described as slow and dreadful, as the victim is awake and aware but cannot move or even speak.

Curare poison paste
Curare is a very popular poison used still in the Amazon basin for hunting since a well-placed shot will paralyze an animal quickly. Most importantly it has no effect on the meat of the animal so it remains a fantastic tool for any hunter to use. The poison emulates scorpions, spiders, and venomous snakes in that it paralyzes prey so it may be consumed.

When reading about Curare all I could think about was a tribe of kobolds or goblins dipping their arrows, javelins and spears in a similar substance. With Curare as inspiration I present to you Black Root Poison. Your players will never underestimate kobolds and goblins again!

Black Root Poison 

Black Root is a very rare flowering plant which can be found in warm to temperate climates. It is not unusual for it to be mistaken for a common weed and only the most learned rangers and druids will recognize it. The plant is most famous for its spongy deep roots which are filled with a chewy tar like substance. Black Root is sometimes relied upon as a teething cure for children as it has no effect when ingested. However if collected and boiled down it reduces into a foul black paste. Kobold and goblin tribes have been known to use this extract as a vile paralyzing poison.

One dose of Black Root can be used to coat one slashing or piercing weapon or up to three pieces of ammunition. Applying the poison takes an action and once applied, the poison retains potency for 1 day before flaking off. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC10 Constitution saving throw or become instantly paralyzed for 1d6 turns. Subsequently the victim must continue to make this constitution saving throw for 1d6 rounds or until paralyzed. Once paralyzed the victim takes 1d4 constitution damage per round as the poison asphyxiates them to death.

If a victim is hit with multiple black root poisoned weapons or missiles increase the paralyzation saving throw DC by +1 per successful attack.

Another player may make a DC15 Medicine check to assist a paralyzed target with breathing. This is considered an action every round and does not cure the victim’s paralyzation but stops ongoing constitution damage. The medicine check will also reveal that only time or a magic cure will make the poison pass.

Black Market Price: 500 GP per dose 


Thursday, September 4, 2014

5E Background: Brewer

With Oktoberfest around the corner and my love of good Microbrew I felt compelled to create this background.


You learned how to craft various alcoholic beverages either at home or in a commercial brewery somewhere in the realm. Your philosophy of quality and diversity has served you well.

Skill Proficiency: Intelligence (Nature); Charisma (Persuasion)
Tool Proficiency: Artisan Tools
Languages: Pick any 2
Equipment: Artisan’s Tools (brewer’s supplies), set of common clothes, recipe book, lucky tankard, a belt pouch containing 15gp.

Feature: Brewpub Legend

You have a reputation for crafting drinks with a stronger taste and frequently more alcoholic content than what most commoners are used too.  In some cities and towns people have either heard of your creations are even tried them once. When other aficionados recognize you they tend to be interested in talking and very helpful. Because of this minor celebrity you may be able to gain access to important community leaders with relative ease.

Suggested Characteristics

d8 Personality
1.    I’m fanatical and obsessive about the brews I craft and drink.
2.    I grow bored quickly crafting the same alcoholic potable over an over.

3.    I’m a beer snob. I know arcane bits of knowledge about things brewed 1000 years ago.
4.    Unless it’s Dwarven made its just flavored water.
5.    I prefer to go with the trends when I craft various brews. I want to make money.
6.    My goal is to win every competition I can until my brews are on the King’s table.
7.    Did someone say hops? Please try this ground breaking brew. Bitter? No way!
8.    I’m just as happy drinking a good brew as crafting it.

d6 Ideal
1.    Giving: I want everyone to partake in my delicious creations (Good)
2.    Respect: My brew should only be made available to those responsible (Lawful)
3.    Diversity: I grow tired of the same boring brews. My creations will be everywhere. (Chaos)
4.    Avarice: When I’m filthy rich from selling brews you will all grovel before me. (Evil)
5.    Esoteric: I want to brew magical drinks for the most discriminating customers (Unaligned)
6.    Recognition: I want to be known for the brews I craft. (Any alignment)

d6 Bond
1.    I know the secret ingredients to a renowned recipe from a famous brewery.
2.    I’m still in debt to a dwarven brewer who took me in and taught me the trade.
3.    I have been tasked by a wealthy noble to create a brew using completely outlandish ingredients.
4.    I cannot resist visiting a new tavern to experience the local competition.
5.    I promised an ill brewer I would finish his/her research into a unique recipe.
6.    My family brewery was destroyed by a fire. I plan to return one day and rebuild it.

d6 Flaw
1.    I really enjoy excessively partaking in most everything that I craft.
2.    Alcoholic beverages crafted by others I find lacking and I’m boisterous about it.
3.    I like to brag about my brewing accomplishments.
4.    I often cut corners when I brew and hope I don’t get caught.
5.    I’m not nearly as experienced at my craft as I lead others to believe.
6.    I’m completely inflexible when it comes to brewing methodology.