+GodBeastX , +Anne Hunter , and Wright Johnson joined me for three hours to kick off the “second” playtest group (of three) for Dragon Heresy.

We did not play. Nonetheless, they stuck with me for three hours of chatting, with interruptions by my 6yo, something outside, and tea. We talked setting and character generation from the perspective of three people with varying amounts of knowledge whose first experience with the rules as I’ve written them is getting the draft in their mailbox.

Anne actually followed one of the character generation guidelines I had laid out: the Journey of Discovery.

I’ll quote it selectively:

JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

Sometimes you might not have a great idea of what class you want to play, or the GM might stipulate some of the more old-school methods of character generation. That need not limit your available choices, and some very interesting characters can result.

Assign Ability Scores. Starting with generating ability scores gives the player an idea where the character’s natural talents will lie. This option of picking attributes before anything else will tend to be best used when attributes are generated randomly, rather than assigned.

Choose a Race. The attribute scores rolled don’t necessarily dictate the choice of race. Not all dwarves or dragonborn are stronger than all humans and gnomes, but they are stronger on the average than humans or gnomes. Having rolled attribute scores, decide if your combination of scores and race makes you a particularly unusual member of your race (a very strong member of a very strong race), or if your attribute scores make you stand out in a different way (a very strong member of a race known for being nimble and gregarious). Either way can be interesting!

Background. Choosing he background next allows the player to start with the basic origin of the character, and sets the stage for future development.

Class. With so much background and characterization accomplished, picking a class at this point sets the direction for the character’s adventuring life. You probably have a good feeling for why the character is going out into the world to risk life and limb, as well.

There’s an example worked in through the text as well. But she rolled her dice (and rolled them very well; I’d estimate she was in the 80-90th percentile on 4d6 drop lowest) and wound up with a Barbarian with the Path of Primal Runes as her subclass. Excellent. 


Wright wanted a non-caster, so he picked barbarian. He chose to roll 4d6 drop lowest and then asked me, since he rolled so poorly, if he could take the standard array instead. I said yes – this is a playtest, and I want my playtesters happy with their characters.

Merlin is going with a paladin, with the Oath of Justice, with the call from Skadi, goddess of Winter, hunting, and the justice of righteous anger, of white-hot vengeance in a just cause.

We had a great discussion over whether one of the level boosts I gave at 2nd level was overpowered (it was), and found a really neat way to tone it down:

Channel DivinityWhen you take this oath at 3rd level, you gain the following two Channel Divinity options. 

Lodestone of Justice. By performing a ritual with a piece of lodestone (magnetite, or iron ore) and praying to your god you can mystically mark a target that is thought to be guilty of a crime or other transgression against law or righteousness. You must know both the identity of the wrongdoer, and the supposed nature of the crime for the mark to take hold. Note that the mark taking hold is not evidence or proof of guilt – just that there’s enough information to allow your deity to acknowledge your request.

By placing the mark, the stone becomes attuned to the target, and can be used in further rituals to help you track down your quarry. You may make a DC 15 Charisma check to petition for guidance. If successful, you will gain knowledge roughly as specific as a compass rose (“Northeast” or “south”) that will take you to something that might help track down your target. The GM will provide a piece of information, some examples of which might be the person’s location (if your god is feeling benevolent), but might be a piece of evidence, a physical token of the target’s presence, or a person who has seen or spoken with that creature. Once you find that lead, you may petition again, but until that new information is obtained, you get a busy signal.

Yeah, I’ll be rewriting the busy signal bit. The original version was basically a perfect detection system for both guilt and location for any criminal, partially due to my design intent, but also the wording left it open to great mischief. This may not be perfect, but it’s way better.
Lots of good back and forth on setting – the backgrounds were acknowledged as thematically unified with the implied setting, and they were compelling (yay). The fluff text for character classes brought them to life usefully (yay), and it was clear, for example, that barbarians are such in the terms of “Conan the . . . ” not “not belonging to a great empire or culture.” So good there, too.
They’re making 7th level characters to give the upper ranks a workout. I’ll be getting three sheets from these guys, and still trying to recruit 1-2 more players, so a pretty mighty band will be setting out for a “real” game, which may occur as soon as next week.
The importance of getting playtesters with a fresh perspective to the work cannot be overstated. I have now learned my game is approachable even if you’re not steeped in the rules engine that is the SRD5.0/5.1. Vital tidbit!

In keeping with the Norse-ish theme of the country from which most adventurers in Dragon Heresy will originate from, I decided that the magic would be a bit more flavored. 

Here’s a look at the box for the flavors of magic. You’ll recognize some of the text as right from SRD5.1, as is appropriate. Some is new.

Magic and the Runes of Power

Magic flows through the world in many forms, and some forms
have been studied and refined such that particular flavors or applications of
power can be manipulated. These are described by the meaning of some of the
runes of power. There may be other schools or methods of magic in other lands,
but the mages of Torengar classify them this way – it is very likely as much a case
of the tools (the runes) shaping the thought patterns of the arcane
practitioners, which thus shapes the spells themselves.
As such, these runic categories are applied to all spells, in
the belief that all magic functions in essentially the same way, whether it
derives from rigorous study or is bestowed by a deity.
The runic names help describe spells; they have no rules of
their own, although some rules refer to the runes.
Algiz. The rune
magic of Algiz is protective in nature, though some spells have aggressive
uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm trespassers,
or banish creatures to other planes of existence. The rune Algiz means
protection, or a shield, used defensively.
Ansuz. The magic
focused through the Ansuz rune reveals information, whether in the form of
secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden things,
the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places. The meaning
of Ansuz is a revealing message or insight, and (not coincidentally) is also
the rune of Woden, who specializes in far-seeing and deep knowledge.
Dagaz. The rune
magic of Dagaz is invoked to deceive the senses or minds of others. These
spells cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that are
there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened. Some
illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most
insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature. The
meaning of Dagaz includes both awareness and blindness.
Ehwaz. The spells
of Ehwaz involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location
to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster’s side,
whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location. Some Ehwazs
create objects or effects out of nothing. The rune Ehwaz represents a horse or
horses, and connotes travel and journeys.
Gebo. Spells
invoked with the knowledge gained through study of the Gebo rune change the
properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy into
a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move at
the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to
rapidly recover from injury. Gebo has the connotation of a gift, sacrifice, or
fair exchange – giving up one thing to gain another of equal or higher value.
Jera. The rune Jera
signifies the life cycle and the harvest. Jeran spells manipulate the energies
of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain
the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the
dead back to life. A complicated rune, Jera’s association with necromancy is
only part of it’s meaning, and the rune magic of Jera includes birth, life,
death, and life-from-death (which can be as broad as ‘ressurection’ but is also
‘fertilizer’). Creating undead through the use of Jeran rune magic is not a
good act, and only neutral or evil casters use such spells frequently.
Mannaz. Spells cast
with the Mannaz rune affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling
their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a friend, force
creatures to take a course of action, or even control another creature like a
puppet. Mannaz means “mankind” or “people,” and has a
particular connotation relating to the attitudes of others to you and relationships
in general.

Thurisaz. The
primal energy of magic, the directed force of destrution and defense, is
symbolized by Thurisaz. Such spells manipulate magical energy to produce a
desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel
positive energy to heal wounds. Thurisaz has many connotations, all of which
derive from power used with consciousness and wisdom in matters that must be
resolved using force, violence, or physical compulsion.
One of the more challenging and enjoyable parts of writing Dragon Heresy is creating subclasses. Don’t get me wrong – the basic subclasses provided with the SRD5.1 are nice, and a good start.
But the defining of additional sub-classes isn’t just an exercise of “ooh, cool powers.” I have done more world-building in defining these than I have in trying to build the history of the setting. Who the adventurers can be needs to be a reflection of the world in which they live, and these subclasses are a gateway to that.
I teased +James Spahn the other day about a paladin ability I made with a tie in to his personal fondness for a particular animal. Here’s the completed draft, which has not yet been torn asunder by my playtesters. But I thought it would be fun to share.
Paladin Oath of Yggdrasil
The Oath of Yggdrasil places the paladin directly in the service
of the protection of the World Tree against those that would do it harm. This
includes all “outsiders” such as demons, devils, dragons, and other creatures
from beyond the universe that would seek to unmake the tree and remake the
world to their own image.
The paladin of Yggdrasil is of the world in a profound way, and
seeks both to protect and to know all that lies under its branches. They consider
themselves the personal servants and warriors of Woden, who sacrificed himself
upon the branches of Yggdrasil to gain the wisdom of runes. More aggressive
followers of the druidic gods may also be paladins of Yggdrasil.
Tenets of Yggdrasil
Though the path of the followers of Yggdrasil can be as varied as
the worlds that shelter under its branches, paladins hold generally to these
tenets.
Fight the Dragons. Wherever
chromatic dragons are encountered, they are a threat to the world tree and must
be fought and slain. This is doubly true for fiends and outsiders, whom the
tree is said to exclude from the world.
Protect the Tree. Always
act to protect the tree from harm.
Serve Woden. Regardless
of your call to other Aesir, always remember the sacrifice of Woden, who hung
speared upon Yggdrasil to bring the light and wisdom of the runes to the world.
Travel. To serve the
tree you must know the tree. Wander far, learn much, and take pleasure and joy
in the many branches of the tree.
Oath Spells
You gain oath spells at the paladin levels listed.
Oath of Yggdrasil Spells
Paladin Level
Spells
3rd
faerie fire, longstrider
5th
misty step, moonbeam
9th
call lightning, protection from energy
13th
dimension door, freedom of movement
17th
legend lore, teleportation circle
Channel Divinity
When you take this oath at 3rd level, you gain the following two
Channel Divinity options.

Ward of Yggdrasil. As
an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer censuring aberrations,
dragons, or fiends using your Channel Divinity. Each affected creature that can
see or hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the
creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes
damage.
A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away
from you as it can, and it can’t willingly move to a space within 30 feet of
you. It also can’t take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash
action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there’s
nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action.

Branch of Yggdrasil. By
invoking your connection to the World Tree, you cause 20 contiguous square feet
(four 5’ squares, which must touch) to turn into difficult terrain. Any that
start in, or cross this area suffer 1d8 + your Charisma bonus as Control damage.
Use the paladin’s Spell Save DC as the target to overcome the difficult terrain
by attacking to break free.
Word of Ratatosk
Starting at 7th level, you gain the powers of the messenger being
Ratatosk, and the ability to use the sending spell at will. Dogs and wolves within
120’ must make a DC 15 Wisdom save or else they will stop whatever they are
doing and suddenly look towards the target of your communication, wherever it
may be, because SQUIRREL!
Woden’s Sacrifice
Beginning at 15th level, you may perform an echo of Woden’s
sacrifice of himself to gain power, knowledge, and foresight by voluntarily reducing
you vigor maximum by 15, you gain a
point of inspiration that you may use yourself, or bestow upon others, by
spending your reaction. When you take a long rest, the lost vigor is restored,
and any unused points of inspiration are lost.
Root of the World Tree

At 20th level, your connection to the World Tree increases to the
point where you never need to eat or drink, as you derive sustenance from
Yggdrasil itself. You may also invoke an Aura of Vigor that allows you, as a
bonus action, to bestow an additional 3d6 temporary vigor to another creature.
The aura lasts for one minute, while the vigor lasts for one hour. This power
will not affect aberrations, dragons or any creature with chromatic dragon
blood or bloodline, or fiends. Once you invoke the aura, you must take a long
rest before you do it again.