Saturday, March 19, 2011, 5:17 PM
Merfolk Observer (previously knows as Ilori's Spy) by Anthony Francisco
New archetypes for a new world
One of the most fun things about "converting" Zendikar to D&D is building characters for it.
There are more than a hundred cards in the MtG Zendikar block that represent "playable characters", and they are a great source of inspiration. - Here's a post by me with what should be the full collection, organized by type and presented as full scans and in a images-only, 3-column layout - A look at illustrations, a look at card mechanics, and a draft of D&D character already comes to mind, and chances are it's an original concept, a new take on an old one, or either way something fun to build and play.
Such is the extension of the cool factor woven into Zendikar by its designers.
And even without looking at a particular card, consistent themes are there too, ingrained in the flavor of Zendikar races, regions, and "story".
But in what do Zendikar characters differ from other seetings' characters?
Well, the characters themselves, if "abducted" from Zendikar mechanically, would not seem very different. They do use homebrew races more often than not, but apart from that, you could see them easily in the Forgotten Realms or in Eberron.
Well, I guess it depends on who builds them too, but strangely enough, the characters of our PbP game taking place here in the group, are all peculiar in some way, they are solid in a particular way: they have Zendikar feel! You can take a look at out game in this section of our forum.
I think I'll also make a separate blog post talking about our characters and maybe their first encounter, but you can peek at their character sheets hosted at Obsidian Portal in the mean time:
- - - Cylonea: Merfolk (Zendikar race), hybrid Artificer/Shaman (Worldspeaker)
- - - (Unnamed): Genasi Cindersoul, Mage (Pyromancer) MC Ranger
- - - Sigg Starleaf: Wilden, Sentinel Druid (Spring) MC Assassin
- - - Hoist en-Kor: Kor (Zendikar race), Seeker (Spirit Bond)
So let's define what would this "Zendikar feel" be, speaking of characters, with a handful of brainstormed bullets (by a bulletstormed brain? )
- Adaptability: Zendikar is a really treacherous place. Not in the Dark Sun's utterly-killer-way, but more in an Elemental Chaos physical-unpredictability-way. The environment is subject to abrupt changes, and the beasts and hazards that adventurers face are still alive or active because they have adapted to this unpredictability, often by becoming unpredictable themselves. A one-trick-pony character is quite at risk in Zendikar, because hardly will a single trick work more than a few times in the plane's wilds or dungeons.
- Skilfulness: It's quite clear that skills play a major role in Zendikar, more than in other places, because combat with monsters or enemies is not the most frequent or arguably the most dangerous challenge of the setting. And because of the previous point, having a few maxed-out skills won't help much either, unless there's a very high level of optimization party-wise. And it's not just about the actual mechanical Skills. By "Skilful", a intend a character which has tricks up his sleeve for non-combat situations. Feats, powers, and quite about every mechanical element can be geared towards this, and it should be: Zendikar characters can't afford to focus all their resources on combat prowess.
- Teamwork: This is of course true in any setting, but in Zendikar, due to the previous points, it simply goes to different levels. It's not just about having the right roles covered up in the party (our party is working great without any Striker or Defender, two leaders and two controllers!), but more about being able to rescue critical situations, being skilled in a helpful area of expertise, or helping other party members to be more adaptable. Thinking about it, this is exactly what Leaders and Controllers do best, this is probably the reason behind our party's strength.
- Terrain awareness: Terrain is crucial in Zendikar. Difficult Terrain is just the mild start. Characters should be built with an eye towards terrain, and that's also why all the "core Zendikar" races have at least one feature geared towards movement or terrain coping. Which brings me to...
- Verticality: Nearly all places in Zendikarare characterized by strong verticality. In other words, if your character is not able to climb, jump really well, or fly in some way, he or she is in trouble. The core races play a good role in helping this, but it's easy to overlook this during character building. Again, any mechanical element can be of help, whether it's feats, skill powers, combat powers, or items. Which brings me to...
- Tools: Adventurers have a difficult life in Zendikar, but it happens to the way of living of Zendikar. Nearly every civilized outpost is completely bent on adventuring, with the "expeditionary houses" being among the most important organization of the setting. So adventurers at least have it easy when it comes to prepare for adventures. So they have no excuses: they must be prepared. Which means you got to fill that backpack and fill it well!
So let's get in the middle of things, and build a character inspired by the heading artwork and the card it appears in!
Observer. This will be the underlying theme of the character, and as you can see it's something original, not a major buzz-word of the D&D language. It's not even something that sounds heroic. So again, let's do some brainstorming on the theme.
- Observer means knowing when not to act: this is a spy-type, a character whose first purpose is to gather information, or "intel." about the enemy or the objective. A solitary type that goes behind enemy lines in "recon"-like missions.
- Stealth: this should be central to the build. If your purpose is to gather potentially vital information on the enemy, your first objective is to survive surrounded by hostiles, and no better way to do that than by hiding.
- Ranged: when it's time to attack, better do it from a safe distance, and wait for reinforcements.
- Movement: movement is crucial for this character.
- Leading: at least partially, this should be a leader. And in particular, a leader that uses the information he gathered to direct his allies in the right places, or at the right moments.
- Martial: even if not entirely, this character should be martial. Especially because he/she must not be some rare exception of his race or group, but one of many individuals that undergo a similar process of specialization in forward observing.
- Merfolk are natural experimenters and innovators: besides being the masters of the arcane arts in Zendikar, Merfolk are famous for being solitary and able to teach to themselves (and others) many different things. So there's potential for a hybrid character, possibly mixing two very different classes.
- There are game elements that serve this character well: and here they are:
- Rogue, and in particular the Shadowy Rogue, using the Cunning Sneak tactics. A focus on Stealth, some points into Intelligence, a martial striker.
- Warlord. Since Martial Power 2, it's able to use Wisdom (which should be good to have a high Perception modifier), and has a power that i already quietly cited: Forward Observer. This power is not exactly spectacular, but it's an at-will utility which enables other characters to benefit from the advantageous point of view and superior perception of our Merfolk Observer.
- Dune Trader, the character theme from Dark Sun, is spectacuarly fit for our concept. It focuses on shifting allies, its attacks can be ranged or melee weapon without incurring in MAD problems, and it's also very Merfolk-like. Just refluff it into "Wave Trader" or similar.
- Ranger is another class that fits. Because our observing will take place in the wild mostly.
- Assassin. Strangely enough, it fits, mostly due to one feature/power: Shade Form. Even if it can feel to magical for this character, it's quite obvious that a Merfolk would recur to these kind of tricks. It requires the character to refrain from making attacks to sustain the form, but combining it with Warlord, it's quite possible to stay in it while making the allies do the attacks!
A strange hybrid
So here is the first try at this strange build: a strange hybrid Warlord-Assassin!
- Hybrid Warlord/Assassin
- Hybrid Talent: Shade Form
- Warlord Leadership: Battlefront Shift (use heavy shield if needed, extra shifting)
- Psionic cantrip: Sensing Eye (just perfect!)
- - - Direct The Strike (doesn't brake Shade Form!),
- - - Executioner's Noose (and frequent ranged basic attacks)
- - - Forward Observer (at-will, any ally who can see or hear you doesn't suffer from partial concealment or partial cover penalties while attacking an enemy you can see)
- - - Shadowed Legion (daily stance: allies share your Stealth modifier, which is insanely high due to background, racial bonus, and high Dex)
- - - Provocative Order (doesn't brake Shade Form: make an aly charge with a +1W damage bonus)
- - - Delaying Strike [Dune trader Theme]: melee or ranged, slows the enemy and each nearby ally shifts half their speed!
- - - Camouflage (+5 stealth in the wild with partial concealment or partial cover),
- - - Mark Of Detection (roll two times for Perception, some thematic rituals),
- - - Scouting Team (Merfolk racial: enables another character to gain an extra move action during a Surprise Round. Merfolk already benefit from this)
- - - Swift Footwork (extra 2 squares of shifting when shifting due to Encounter or Daily powers)
- - - Multiclass: Ranger (Warrior of The Wild)
Here's a a link to Google Docs-hosted character sheet made with the Character Builder (ability scores are unoptimized). As you will see, we got a character that is able to stealth with ease, let her allies do the dirty work, intervening only when needed and always in a meaningful way (but striking hard), and has a focus on perception.
The role-play opportunities and non-combat playing with this character are incredible in my opinion. We got a completely new concept, a support character that can occasionally strike hard and is a movement focused enabler of actions for his allies. It can render the whole party stealthy, it can benefit from Insubstantial while still being useful with Shade Form + attack enablers, and is perfect for surprising enemies and let other party members benefit from it.
If by any chance you'd like to play such a character inside her native world of Zendikar, I shouldn't be reminding you that you're in the right place.
Monday, November 22, 2010, 4:05 AM
When a red planeswalker wants to summon the biggest, meanest, most powerful creature it can, there is only one creature to turn to. The dragon. But red planeswalkers don’t summon dragons very often. The creature they use most is the goblin. Dragons are the iconic red creature. Goblins are the characteristic red creature.
According to Mark Rosewater, this is how you know if you’re a characteristic Magic creature:
1. You show up many times per set.
2. You show up in all rarities, especially at common.
3. You appear on many mundane, basic cards.
The characteristic creature types are usually: soldier, merfolk, vampire, goblin, and elf. For Zendikar’s white creature, however, Wizards replaced soldiers with a creature type that hadn’t been seen for nearly ten years - the kor. Along with the all-colour humans, these are the six ‘core’ races of Zendikar. As you can see, this leaves out a large portion of the ‘core’ D&D races.
On the other hand, this is how you know if you’re an iconic Magic creature:
1. You show up only a few times per set (and many times only once).
2. You are almost exclusively rare or mythic rare.
3. You show up on splashy cards.
The iconiccreature types are: angel, sphinx, demon, dragon, and whatever--feels-like. Individuals of each of the iconic races have demonstrated intelligence - but they are too powerful to be player characters. So we had a group of Zendikar races who didn’t work in D&D, and a group of D&D races who didn’t work in Zendikar.
But, what, I thought, if there was some middle ground?
From the Journals of the Gamma-Mage...
Fifth of the Third, Two Years after the Conflux.
Sea Gate Lighthouse, Tazeem, Zendikar.
The Lighthouse had a visitor from the Magosi Falls today. She belonged to a race I had not heard of before, the enigma. She looked a little like the vedalken of Esper and Ravnica, but far prettier, with downy hair, and an elegant grace that they do not have. I do not know the reason for her visit – after all, I am only a guest here. I did ask Pharos about the enigma, however. He organised for a very interesting scroll to be copied for me. According to this scroll, they are a very secretive race from the the mysterious island of Jwar, off the coast of Ondu. There is also small colony of them near Magosi Falls, and another one somewhere on the arctic continent of Sejiri. The cold doesn’t seem to bother them much. But the most interesting thing the scroll said about them was that they claim to be descended from sphinxes.
I would dismiss this as fanciful nonsense – except for something that I heard when I was investigating the ruins of Emeria above Halimar lake, before the kor came and built their makeshift city on the lakeshore. My guide, an Enclave merfolk, told me that after the floating castle exploded during a cataclysmic battle between the angels and some unknown foes, many angels woke up on the ground below, stripped of their wings, their powers, and most of their memories. These angels renamed themselves the deva, and their descendents still walk the earth today, though they are often mistaken by us for kor. On face value, it is an obviously moralistic tale used to teach young merfolk to treat their neighbours the kor with respect, because you never know when one could be an angel in disguise. But I had the feeling that there was something more to the story. Now even more.
I must think more on this matter.
Seventh of the Third, Two Years after the Conflux
Wren Grotto, Tazeem, Zendikar
The first few lines of the entry are hastily scrawled and difficult to read, but after that the writing becomes clearer.
*Our children are our legacy, our lineage is [illegible] among [them/theirs].
* We adapt [illegible] the strategy of the enemy. The deva were first, the [----flings] second.
*The secrets of the light are hid in [plain?] sight.
The enigma grotto was simple and functional, as are all refuges on Zendikar. But like the people themselves, their home had an elegance that I find difficult to put into words.
I half-expected to be refused entrance, but they welcomed me, calling me ‘one who comes from beyond’. So much for pretending to be a normal human druid. But though they could see my secrets, I couldn’t penetrate any of theirs, even they took me to meet Jarius, the Sphinx of Magosi. He was not what I was expecting either. Apart from his wings, and the icy blue glow in his eyes, he looked rather like a giant shaggy lion. He looked less human than the sphinxes of Esper, yet at the same time he felt far more human than those etherium-laced monsters ever did.
Jarius was happy to answer my questions about the enigma and the deva. I’m just not sure what his answers mean yet. I suspect that sphinxes like him aren’t intentionally cryptic. They are the epitome of blue mana, so their minds are much more powerful than ours. I think they just make leaps in logic that are obvious to them, but pass way over our heads.
Time to solve some riddles.
Tenth of the Third, Two Years after the Conflux
Temple of Emeria, Tazeem, Zendikar
I went to see Kalli, the dissident kor cleric I had met the first time I went to see the Ruins of Emeria. When I asked her about the deva, she said ‘I've been wondering how long it would take you to discover them.’ Seems the kor try to keep the deva’s existence quiet. They regard them as some sort of secret weapon that will help them against...well, whatever it is they’re preparing for.
Despite the secrecy surrounding the deva, Kalli took me to meet one. Shara had the white-blue skin and platinum hair of the kor, but also an unearthly beauty and an aura of peace. Her eyes almost glowed, like those of the enigma - but white instead of blue. Shara seemed to like talking about her race. ‘We are not like the others,’ she told me. ‘We are not the children of the angels who were cast down. We do not have children. If we die, our spirit returns to the Ruins of Emeria and is given new life in a new body.’ It sounds strange, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes to me.
My experiences on Bant demonstrated how difficult it is to permanently kill angels. Angels are beings of pure mana, and that mana comes from the lands they protect. Angels can be destroyed for a time, but as long as their lands remain, the mana will eventually reform them. This is even more true on Zendikar, where the lands and mana seem almost intelligent. Emeria lies in ruins, and so do most of the angels who once protected it. But it is not completely destroyed, and neither are they.
There was, however, one question Shara would not answer. When I asked her what tieflings were, she told me to forget about them, and to visit Oran-Rief instead. ‘There you will find the wilden,’ she said. ‘They are the youngest of us, but they are also the wisest.’
Saturday, November 13, 2010, 5:12 PM
I've recently came back to the community after a relatively short hiatus, and I quickly put some more material up in the Zendikar-D&D project's group, more specifically its forums.
I started the project myself, but only because after doing some teasing on the forums and setting up a poll, I noticed that (as I suspected) I wasn't the only one out there thinking Zendikar could be one hell of a D&D setting, other than a beautiful Magic The Gathering "plane" in which the big block of cards is "set".
Besides putting up two new races (Kor and Surrakar) bringing the total of new playable races to four (with Merfolk and Guul Draaz Vampires), I've been doing some "recruitment", as I like to call it: I visit the People section of the community website and perform an advanced research, looking for people who plays both D&D and Magic and who read Magic novels. The idea is that if they both play and read about Magic The Gathering, they surely know about Zendikar, and if they also play D&D, they could appreciate the spirit of the Zendikar-D&D project, and maybe participate in the realization of the needed material.
Most of the times, recruited members become silent watchers of the forums, but some times I score big and find someone who is really enthusiast. It was the case with Veritatis, who even did an adaption of Zendikar in D&D putting it nothing less than inside Eberron! And cleverly "disguising it" as the continet of Xen'Drik, which is clearly perfect for the job - I wonder why I didn't think about it before.
While waiting for Veritatis to explain us the details of his adaption after his teasing first post about it, I also made contact with PaladinOfSunhome, who is instead a beginner on the D&D side, but an RP lover nonetheless. Having understandingly confused the project with some kind of play-by-post group, he gave me another "why didn't I think about it before?"-moment: after all it would be nearly impossible to play a D&D game set in Zendikar locally, since probably no one knows enough people who love the two things at once. But the Zendikar-D&D group is just tailor-made for those people and it already reunites 38 of them and counting, so which better way to really play inside Zendikar for the first time than organizing a PbP game inside the group!?
I did a bit of research on the matter, since I never really understood how PbP worked, and it turned out to be much simpler than I expected. I first thought I would have needed a "PbP expert" to join us and help us setting it up, but I quickly discovered there's no need of such a thing. All we need is someone creative enough to be the Game Master, and players!
I'm actually thinking of splitting the Game Master role in two: the GM that invents the story and everything and interacts with the players and the "technician" who creates missing mechanics such as monsters and traps on the fly when they're required (and I would be that one, thank you! ). One could even volunteer to be the GM without even having to invent the adventure and story: a third person could create that and let it be run by the "Face"-GM.
So, here are some useful links, both poiting to the awesome Play By Post Haven group:
The game will of course require some discussion first, and I set up a brainstorming thread in our group for anyone to discuss about the possible adventures and locales, and another one for aspiring players to post their characters or character-ideas. I even already put them in a dedicated sub-forum of the main Zendikar - D&D forum.
Note that these forums are open to anybody even if they reside inside a group so feel free to post, everyone.
For more info on Zendikar and its D&D adaption you can go directly to the intro post I made for the project, which is filled to the brim with links to official lore and material (not to mention awe-inspiring artwork), and you could also take a look at my blog post detailing how Zendikar as a world is a perfect Points Of Light type of setting.
Thanks to everybody who supports the project/group and thanks in advance to anyone who will like to contribute even with a few posts in the forums!
And of course, happy play-by-posting in Zendikar to anyone who will embark on the mission!
- ALL THE IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF WIZARDS OF THE COAST. -
Thursday, November 11, 2010, 5:57 AM
After the long hiatus you probably noticed, I can finally post some new content and updates!
Very briefly, since I'm always on the move these days (and I'm glad I am), the news are about two new races you can playtest, comment and critique, bringing 4 of the 5 main Zendikar races to our pool of material!
Goblins are still missing (and so are Elves, but they're going to be very similar to canon core D&D), but we have a very playable version of the interesting or at least more uncommon Surrakar!
So here's an index of the races currently available, from the latest to the first I did:
The Kor are the only ones that currently lack any racial feat, but since they are the ones with the weirder racial power, it would be best to playtest them in their "vanilla" feat-less version first.
Goblins will be the next race along with the adaption of the Elves.
Previewing/teasing what I'm thinking to do about them, I'll tell you that Goblins will have some human-like versatility and a random feel to them, while the various tribes of elves will differentiate them into being either more combat, mobility, or spiritually oriented, depending on the choice. The Tajuru elves for examples (the mobility-focused ones) will get a Climb speed, adding to the spectrum of mobility options presented by all the races. Goblins will instead have their obligatory movement feature as a reaction to other things...
Enough for now, I must study as if I had my ass on fire, as we say in Italy :D
To the next weekly update, and... POST ON THE FORUMS!
UPDATE!! I also updated Merfolk and Vampires, since they both lacked features, and Vampireshad one family trait that was way cooler than the others (Nirkana's Vampire Glide) so I made it a basic trait, giving another thing to the Nirkana.
Monday, October 11, 2010, 8:18 PM
Just few hours short of one entire month! And the group now counts 28 members, growing at a steady pace and now without direct invitations.
The newest member, I'm happy to say, is not even a Magic player, so she's showing a very welcome interest! Let's see if you'll fall in love with "something Zendikar" too, I_smile_alot!
There have been less submissions this week, because I was dedicating too much time to this and I should better dedicate more time to my studies! After all, if I create Zendikar videos out of the blue, there's no telling how much time can I waste!
However, there are some cool updates and news, some of which I'm going to report here as a preview of what's to come.
First of all, and staying on topic with time-consuming activities, I submitted a Zendikar entry to the latest Expert DM Competition (community.wizards.com/xdmc) which is/was Create a Subversive Villain. And I submitted no less than Anowon, the vampire Ruin Sage. After all, it needed to be done anyway.
And speaking of Anowon, the book has arrived from Amazon... I now own In The Teeth Of Akoum (besides a Red Box, Rules Compendium and Heroes of The Fallen Lands..!) and I started reading it today!
Whoa, there's some action in there.
I think it's ok to link here to the community profile of the author, Robert B. Wintermute. Maybe he will be happy to answer to some questions about Zendikar, if no top-secret policy by WotC is upon him! I also invited him to the group, but I think he's not logged in anywhere near recently, so who knows.
However, the important bit is that even within the very first pages of the book, I already learned something about the differences between the two main elven clans of Zendikar, the Tajuru and Joraga, and it was one of my main concerns in the Races department!
And speaking of races, news revolve around them this week.
Gamma-Mage gifted us with quite a lot of insights in the "Native, Outsider, and Unknown races of Zendikar", the sticky thread of the Zendikar Races forum. Summarizing it all, we now have a clear idea about:
- Surrakar: Zendikar native reptilian or possibly amphibian humanoids that will end up taking the niche of the Dragonborn in some ways and will be presented as the first race that will only (initially) be able to communicate through non-verbal means..!
- Wilden/Vengevine: which are disovered to be one and the same on Zendikar, because Zendikar's "vengevine" are plant creatures totally akin to our Wilden!
- Deva: who are basically like all Zendikar's angels, since they're all "tied to the land". Devas could simply be the lesser ones, or the ones who failed the most at their duties, needing to live as mortals to redeem themselves... And if you read the fluff about angels in Zendikar, you'll discover that the Eldrazi constitute the angels' failure themselves!
- Goliaths: that in my opinion make perfect "Ondu Giants", who are known to be smaller humanoids made large by the particular primal forces of Ondu, also matching a lot of the Goliath's primal flavor, if not for the fact that Ondu Giants are probably more wood-themed than stone-themed (but the wood of certain trees of Zendikar is hard as stone, so it's a quick conversion...).
- Changelings: who, as noted by enthusiastic new member TelirBerrywind, may all hail from nighmarish Jwar, The Isle of Secrets, and are better called Shapeshifters.
- Goblins (preview!): thanks to a thread I started in the Flavor and Storylines forum on the Magic boards, I discovered/remembered that are particular in Zendikar for their use of a mineral called "Grit". I'm pretty sure that it gives them some elemental resistance, and each tribe makes a different use of it, making the Goblins yet another Zendikar D&D race that will present options...
Speaking of racial options, here are the current and planned ones:
- Vampires: three main families, different ability score bonuses, skill bonuses and minor feature.
- Merfolk: very studious and solitary, I gave them a bonus At-Will power as humans, but they must swap it with one of their main At-Wills during short rests, a bit like a wizard spell-book. Their racial power can have different effects depending on their power source, favoring multiclassing or classes with multiple power sources, such as the new Assassin and Ranger.
- Kor (preview): they will be able to choose to master different weapons and tools and will have either features or power that will make different things depending on the weapon/tool used, favoring those that gain proficiencies in many, according to their racial flavor.
- Elves (preview): the clan could determine the secondary ability score bonus, will surely give different skill bonuses, and will of course have different racail feats, much like Vampires.
- Goblins (preview): their different uses of Grit will give them different resistances and maybe even different powers depending on the clan. To represent a bit their risk-taker simply-mindedness, they could have triggered effects when they take damage of the type they are resistant to, making them them more effective when targeted by friendly fire, blasts of energy and such!
- Surrakar (preview): too small/rare a race to justify tribal differentiation, but I think having ones who can speak and ones who can't is enough! (Even if the difference will be determined by a single feat).
And to end up staying in theme, here are the things that should still be dealt with by all of us:
- Vampires: feedback is needed, especially on the strange ability bonuses...
- Merfolk: feedback is needed.
- Kor: I only posted a proposal for a racial power, and it needs feedback. Plus, I'm not sure if they can be made more as +2 Dex & +2 Wis or +2 Str ... or... +2 Wis & +2 Dex or +2 Str.
And of course I'm not sure about Strength.
- Elves: it must still be decided how much of the original Elves (and/or Eladrin and Drow) will be used and how much will change or not be used. Joraga for example may be similar to Drow stats-wise.
- Goblins: even brainstorming is needed. I thought about making them another +2 to Any human-like race, let's see what you'll think about it.
And that's all for this little blog. But wait, can't post a Zendikar - D&D blog without at least one cool image... And I have two personal favorites, only one of which truly relevant, but both awesome!
See you on the forums, post anything youi want, don't be shy!