D&D 5e: Bardic Performance Feats

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I like bards in 5e. It’s probably the most functional version of the class in any edition. But… it’s a Sorcerer/Warlord with musical gloss. The actual mechanical support for doing what bards are expected to do (put on a rousing performance to inspire the rest of the party throughout the course of the battle) is super thin. Depending on your Charisma, you get to hand out 5 or fewer bardic inspiration dice per rest, each of which only technically requires a bonus action’s worth of time performing to create. That bard is the best bard in the land: she played maybe 10 seconds of music this morning, keeping our spirits high.

And as far as I know, no edition has ever made it make sense to use an actual instrument for your performance rather than singing/oratory (or maybe dance). D&D can get really nitpicky about what you’ve got in your hands when you’re trying to sort out whether you can switch weapons, use items, and make somatic gestures… but you’re going to pull out a set of bagpipes on the fly to generate a buff and still theoretically have your sword in hand?

Also, in my experience, any cleric with bless is much more in the traditional bard role than the party bard. A d4 on all your attacks and saves vs. a bigger die maybe once per fight? Yes please.

So the below is an attempt at adding that back in. Ideally, it would be more as class features rather than feats, but, as noted, the class is pretty powerful, just not flavorful, so it’s probably safer to add abilities as feats than just to tack it on or try to replace something load-bearing.

Bardic Weapons

These are admittedly silly, but if Monster Hunter and Power Rangers can get away with it…

Bardic weapons are musical instruments that are reinforced and partially converted into weapons. Bards that are proficient with the instrument are also considered proficient with the weaponized version. Non-bards are proficient if they’re proficient with both the weapon and the instrument. Bardic weapons can be used to perform music and attack without additional actions to switch between modes. The weapon version has the damage and properties of the standard weapon type.

  • Bagpipes-Blowgun (35 gp)
  • Drum-Mace (8 gp)
  • Dulcimer-Warhammer (33 gp)
  • Flute-Dagger (3 gp)
  • Lute-Battleaxe (40 gp)
  • Lyre-Light Crossbow (43 gp)
  • Horn-Light Hammer (4 gp)
  • Pan Flute-Handaxe (15 gp)
  • Shawm-Club (2 gp)
  • Viol-Longsword (38 gp)

Bardic Performance Feats

  • A bardic performance requires a bonus action to begin, and expends a bardic inspiration die.
  • It can affect a number of targets equal to the size of the die (e.g., 6 at d6, 8 at d8, etc.), and affects the closest valid targets to the bard first.
  • Maintaining a performance does not prevent the bard from concentrating on a spell, but is in danger of being disrupted similarly: whenever you would be forced to make a Constitution saving throw to maintain concentration on a spell, make a Charisma (Perform) check (or a tool check with the instrument you are using) against the same difficulty to continue performing.
  • As with concentration, you may only have one type of bardic performance active at a time. You can cast (and concentrate on) bardic spells, attack with bardic weapons, and assign bardic inspiration dice normally while performing.
  • Subjects must be able to hear you (or see you, if your performance is dance) to experience the effects of the performance.

Fascinate

Prerequisite: Bardic Inspiration class ability

Increase your Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

You can use your bardic performance to fascinate targets. You can choose to exclude allies from this effect. Targets must make a Wisdom saving throw against your Spell Save DC, and have advantage on this saving throw if the performance was begun while the target was already engaged in combat. Those that fail are charmed and restrained. The restrained effect ends if the target or any of the target’s allies are the target of hostile actions.

If your bardic inspiration die is d10 or greater, fascinated creatures have disadvantage on saving throws against your enchantment spells.

Targets may re-attempt the save to end the fascination between songs (assume three minutes).

Inspire Competence

Prerequisite: Bardic Inspiration class ability

Increase your Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

You can use your bardic performance to inspire your targets to greater competence. This performance affects allies. All subjects of the effect gain the benefits of guidanceĀ (this does not require your concentration, but does not stack with additional castings of guidance). This benefit refreshes at the beginning of each of your turns. You may maintain this performance indefinitely, but the DM may choose to apply fatigue for truly extended performances of an hour or more.

If your bardic inspiration die is d10 or greater, your targets also gain advantage with ability checks that are affected by the guidance.

Inspire Courage

Prerequisite: Bardic Inspiration class ability

Increase your Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.

You can use your bardic performance to inspire your targets with courage in battle. This performance affects allies. All subjects of the effect gain the benefits of bless (this does not require your concentration, but does not stack with additional castings of bless). If you maintain this performance for longer than three minutes (effectively, one song), you take a level of fatigue (and an additional level of fatigue for each additional three minutes) from the intense nature of the performance.

If your bardic inspiration die is d10 or greater, you may choose to have the performance count as heroism instead of bless.

D&D 5e Race: Soulmarked, Part 2

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Earthbound

Common in former druids, the devoted of certain gods, or those that were bound to elementals of the earth, the earthbound are slowly transforming into stone, metal, or wood.

This soulmark starts with rough patches of skin and a surprising density of bone. You were always tougher and slower than the other children. As your bond deepens, more and more of your flesh transforms into material that should be inanimate, and yet, for now, you can still walk.

Base Power: Durability

At first level, you gain Unarmored Defense. While you are not wearing any armor, your Armor Class equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Constitution modifier. You can use a shield and still gain this benefit. If you have Unarmored Defense as a class feature, you may add +1 AC to whichever source provides the better AC.

Additionally, you have advantage on saving throws to resist becoming Poisoned or Stunned. However, you have disadvantage on saving throws to resist becoming Petrified.

Your weight is 10% higher than it would be if you were entirely flesh and blood.

Secondary Power: Rooting

Usually, the first part of your anatomy to become fully of the earth is your legs.

You can no longer wear most footwear, your legs gnarling into a stable platform, but you are immune to ground-based hazards that are intended to damage your feet (e.g.; caltrops, spike growth, etc.); you are still slowed by the difficult terrain of these hazards.

Your AC improves by +1, regardless of whether you are wearing armor.

When you are standing on stone, wood, or earth, you can use your move action to gain temporary hit points equal to your level. These hit points disappear if you leave your current space.

Your base walking speed is 25 feet, and your weight is now 40% higher than it would be if you were entirely flesh and blood.

Tertiary Power: Embrace

Often, the transformation only lightly covers the torso before covering the arms, providing just enough support to wield the now-restructured appendages.

Your arms are somewhat oversized and gnarled, and you may need to have gloves, bracers, and the like adjusted to fit. In particular, most gloves are immediately destroyed when you use your arms to attack. Your unarmed attacks now deal 1d6 bludgeoning damage and you are considered proficient. If your unarmed attack already did at least 1d6 damage (e.g., from feats or class abilities), increase their damage further by one die step.

Further, you may extend spikes or blades with concentration and a short or long rest, increasing the damage to 1d8 (slashing or piercing), or two steps if you are already proficient in unarmed attacks. You do not have a hand on the arm transformed in this way, so cannot engage in tasks that require fine manipulation. You can return your arm to normal with another short or long rest.

Similarly, you may transform an arm into a shield-like structure, granting you a shield bonus to AC. This takes the same amount of time to change or change back, and also counts as not having a hand on that arm while you have a shield.

You are immune to any poisons that enter through your hands (e.g., contact poisons, poison needle trap, etc.). You are similarly immune to most other hazards that would damage flesh but not inanimate objects if touched.

Your weight is now 70% higher than it would be if you were entirely flesh and blood.

Ultimate Power: Statuesque

As your transformation completes, you are functionally an animate statue or carving. Some small amounts of flesh and blood still hide beneath sessile skin, allowing you to age, procreate, eat, and breathe. But to onlookers, you no longer appear to be part of the animal kingdom.

You are resistant to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks, as well as to poison damage (from poison sources that can still manage to penetrate). If you gain resistance to such damage from a class ability (e.g., barbarian rage), instead treat your AC as an additional +2 against attacks to which you should be doubly resistant.

If you are made of stone, you are vulnerable to thunder. If you are made of wood, you are vulnerable to fire. If you are made of metal, you are vulnerable to lightning.

Any effect that is based on causing you to bleed or draining your blood automatically fails (you don’t have much blood in you).

You have advantage on Constitution saving throws.

Your base walking speed is 20 feet, and your weight is now 100% higher than it would be if you were entirely flesh and blood.

Beastheart

Often mistaken for lycanthropes or members of anthropomorphic animal races, beastheart soulmarked come by their gradual transformations due to an ancient allegiance to some form of bestial spirit. However, while they do not tend to pass on their animal characteristics to children, there is some speculation that they might still have been progenitors of bestial humanoid bloodlines on the rare occasions they’ve bred true. Typically, however, being of such a race indicates deep commitment to a spirit of the wild in a past life, and is particularly common for former rangers, totem barbarians, and circle of the moon druids.

This soulmark begins with a somewhat feral appearance, and gradually distorts the body into a hybrid of birth race and bonded animal. While any animal is possible, it is much more common to see a beastheart bound to an impressive predator totem than simply any form of animal. Inoffensive prey animals rarely make history.

Base Power: Feral

At first level, your form is not obviously animalistic, save for perhaps an additional hirsuteness and sharpness of features and teeth. However, the natural world is likely to treat you as a member in good standing. Animals react to you as if you were a member of your bonded animal type rather than as a humanoid: if you are a predator, prey animals are likely to flee and other predators to give you a wider berth than they might otherwise. You gain advantage on Wisdom (Animal Handling) checks. Additionally, you gain advantage on Charisma (Intimidate) checks made against beasts.

You gain one of the following abilities that is appropriate to your animal bond: darkvision (60 ft.), hold breath, keen smell, keen hearing, keen sight, or sure-footed. It works the same as the associated or similar animal as described in Appendix A of the Monster Manual.

Your base walking speed is 35 feet, and you may double your jumping distance (as if under a reduced effect of the jump spell).

Secondary Power: Vicious

Once your abilities begin to unlock, the first step is to gain the natural attack methods of your bonded animal. Depending on your animal type, your face may distort and teeth lengthen, your hands and feet may alter to support claws or talons, or you may even grow horns or antlers. Generally, while you can still pass as your parents’ race with some disguise effort or in dim lighting, your bestial nature is now readily apparent to onlookers with good light.

Your natural attack form counts as a finesse, light weapon in which you are proficient. It does 1d6 piercing or slashing damage (as appropriate), or 1d8 if you are proficient in martial weapons (the viciousness of the weapons is in some way contingent on your combat capabilities). It is also effectively versatile, increasing a die size if you make the attack as your primary weapon and do not use your off hand (for shield or secondary attack); this may look like attacking with both claws in a single strike or using your hands to grab the target to improve your ability to bite or gore.

Additionally, you gain one of the following abilities that is appropriate to your animal bond: amphibious, blindsight (60 ft.), charge*, climb speed (equal to walking speed), pack tactics, rampage, relentless**, or swim speed (equal to walking speed). It works the same as the associated or similar animal as described in Appendix A of the Monster Manual.

You count as a beast for magic that can affect them.

You can no longer hide your bestial features easily. They are obvious even in bad light, and onlookers have advantage on all rolls to see through attempts with illusion or physical disguise to hide your animal nature.

* This deals +1d6 damage and increases to +2d6 at 11th level. The target’s strength saving throw to avoid being knocked prone is at a difficulty equal to 8 + your Proficiency bonus + your Strength bonus.

** The threshold for damage that is reduced to leave you with 1 hit point is equal to three times your Proficiency bonus.

Tertiary Power: Mobile

At this stage, your musculature and skeleton has adapted for motion. Your legs have likely become digitigrade (making it hard to fit into most footwear), your arms have lengthened so you can run on all fours as needed, and, if your animal bond flies, you have grown wings. Conversely, if your animal bond relies on its hide or scales rather than mobility as a defense, you may have developed that defense for yourself.

In any case, your base walking speed is 40 feet, and you may triple your jumping distance (as if under the effect of the jump spell).

You gain one of the following abilities that is appropriate to your animal bond:

  • All Fours: When you are not carrying objects in either of your hands, your base walking speed is 60 feet.
  • Armor: You gain Unarmored Defense. While you are not wearing any armor, your Armor Class equals 10 + your Dexterity modifier + your Constitution modifier. You can use a shield and still gain this benefit. If you have Unarmored Defense as a class feature, you may add +1 AC to whichever source provides the better AC.
  • Wings: You have a fly speed equal to half your walking speed. You may not hover.

Due to an intensified fight or flight reflect, you have disadvantage on saving throws to resist becoming Frightened.

Ultimate Power: Hybrid

Finally, you have become a true optimal hybrid of the traits of humanoid and beast.

You gain advantage on saving throws against spells that specifically target humanoids or beasts but do not work on the other. Additionally, you gain advantage on saving throws against any kind of poison or disease transmitted from eating tainted food.

Your natural attack form increases by a die step in damage and counts as magical for penetrating damage resistance.

You gain one more beast ability from the base power and one more from the secondary power.

You are treated as always wearing cold weather gear.

It is now impossible to disguise your bestial nature without magic more powerful than disguise self (and even then, onlookers have advantage on checks to see through the disguise). At best, you can pretend to be a member of a similar-looking anthropomorphic race or transformed lycanthrope.

D&D 5e Race: Soulmarked, Part 1

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This idea is pretty heavily lifted from Wildermyth. For those that haven’t played it, one of the features of the game is that you can start later campaigns with legacy characters who retain any weird traits picked up from previous playthroughs even though they were theoretically born in the core village. The fiction is that they’re strongly reincarnated versions of the old heroes, with a vague feeling that adventure is in their very soul. Since the traits from previous adventures frequently involve various obvious physical transformations into elemental or bestial forms, I’m just tickled by the idea that people in town are just like, “Yeah. She was born here. Her arm has always been made of fire.”

This racial option is probably significantly stronger than standard racial options. It trades most of the up-front options for potentially quite a bit of down-the-line upgrades. Honestly, you might do just as well ignoring the ability boost, giving players a full normal race, and letting each PC have a soulmarked progression, letting them play a band of reincarnated former heroes.

Soulmarked

Sometimes, significant deeds in life can bond to a mortal’s very soul, following them from life to life, trying to reach a conclusion. Typically, these are various mystic paths not fully walked. Sometimes, they involve bonds made with powerful entities. For a few, they are significant mistakes worn even through death.

Soulmarked are born as any other child, potentially to a very different race than their past life. Some pop up on completely opposite sides of the planet, while others tend to stay close to the area where their destiny lies. Each has some kind of signifier of previous power, which tends to grow stronger as the child ages. Those that have been reborn multiple times since the marking often seethe with power even as an infant, though it is rarely an immediate danger to the parents.

Likely having dreams of past lives throughout their childhood, soulmarked may or may not formally discover their previous identities. There is never a moment of unlocking names and full memories, but patron entities may wish to regain their service or old allies and enemies may recognize the distinctive powers.

Soulmarked Traits

Your soulmarked character gains a few traits based on parentage, but most of your power becomes from the particular marking source.

Ability Score Increase: Increase one ability score by 2 or two ability scores by 1. These benefits cannot exceed the bonuses provided to members of your parents’ race and subrace (e.g., the child of Lightfoot Halflings could take Dexterity +2 or Dexterity +1 and Charisma +1).

Age: Your aging rate is the same as that of your parents.

Alignment: Depending on the source of the soulmark, there may be some unconscious pull to match the alignment of the entity that granted the mark. However, this is not a guarantee, particularly if you choose to rebel against destiny.

Size: Your size is the same as that of your parents.

Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Languages: You speak, read, and write Common and the language of your parents (if your parents are Human, you may choose your extra language).

Subrace: There are several types of soulmarked. You typically gain the first power at first level. The availability of the additional powers is based upon events within the game, and up to your GM to award. Typically these powers remain unlocked for subsequent rebirths, until you reach your full potential.

Energy Soul

Depending on the type of energy, these are often specifically called Firesoul, Frostsoul, Stormsoul, Thundersoul, Acidsoul, Poisonsoul, Shadowsoul, or Sunsoul. As might be evident from the names, this subrace occurs when energy is infused deep into a mortal’s identity. This commonly comes from following the Evocation or Necromancy schools, various forms of bond to dragons or elementals, patronage from certain gods or devils, or even more esoteric sources.

From birth, you would flicker with your particularly energy when particularly upset, though it was seemingly illusory and no danger to those touching you, and your eyes were colored and lit to match. As you became more mature, you learned to manifest your ability to cause harm, and will unlock even more powers as you give more of your soul over to your bond.

Base Power: Manifestation

At first level, you gain a bonus cantrip. If you have a spellcasting class, this becomes a bonus cantrip for that class. If not, it uses your Charisma to generate its attack bonus or saving throw DC.

Depending on your energy type you gain produce flame (Firesoul), ray of frost (Frostsoul), shocking grasp (Stormsoul), thunderclap (Thundersoul), acid splash (Acidsoul), poison spray (Poisonsoul), chill touch (Shadowsoul), or sacred flame (Sunsoul).

Secondary Power: Luminescence

Once you begin to unlock your elemental nature, you can no longer contain its visual signifiers. Subtle patterns along all of your exposed skin constantly crackle or seethe with the energy, though you retain enough control to prevent it from harming your worn or wielded items, or those you touch (though the feel of it is very strange).

You gain Resistance to your energy type. Additionally, you gain the ability listed below:

  • Firesoul: You produce light like a torch, and heat like being near a campfire. You and anyone within five feet of you has advantage on rolls to resist extreme cold.
  • Frostsoul: You can walk without danger of slipping on ice, and blunt nearby heat. You and anyone within five feet of you has advantage on rolls to resist extreme heat.
  • Stormsoul: You are slightly magnetic, and can cause ferrous objects to adhere to your skin, or summon lightweight magnetic objects to you from up to five feet away as if using mage hand.
  • Thundersoul: Constantly suffused in a subtle blanket of noise, you are immune to the Deafened condition caused by sonic attacks, and have advantage to resist it from other sources.
  • Acidsoul: Your natural magic provides a protective influence to all of your equipment against the mild corrosion you exude, granting advantage on any saves to prevent your commonly carried items from being destroyed by any effect.
  • Poisonsoul: You gain advantage to saving throws to resist gaining the Poisoned condition (in addition to your resistance to poison damage).
  • Shadowsoul: You gain advantage on all saving throws to resist the special, non-damaging attack abilities of undead (e.g., life drain, horrifying visage); if the attack does not normally allow a saving throw (e.g., strength drain) you take half the effect you otherwise would.
  • Sunsoul: You produce light like a torch and can produce light like the daylight spell from your body at will.

It is very difficult to hide your nature at this point, and all onlookers have advantage to checks to overcome any disguises (physical or magical) as anything but an energy soul of your type, as wisps of the energy are likely to escape from your control.

Tertiary Power: Emission

You gain a bonus spell. If you have a spellcasting class, this becomes a bonus known spell for that class.

You may additionally (even if if you do not have a spellcasting class) cast the spell once as if with a 3rd level spell slot (if you are not a spellcaster, it is cast using Charisma to generate its attack bonus or saving throw DC). You cannot use the spell again in this way until you take a long rest.

Depending on your energy type you gain scorching ray (Firesoul), snilloc’s snowball swarm (Frostsoul), lightning bolt (Stormsoul), shatter (Thundersoul), melf’s acid arrow (Acidsoul), stinking cloud (Poisonsoul), shadow blade (Shadowsoul), or blinding smite (Sunsoul).

It becomes dangerous to get too close to you. Anyone that isn’t resistant to your energy type cannot spend hit dice to heal during a short rest and does not recover hit points naturally from a long rest if they spend the rest within five feet of you (e.g., sharing a bed, in a small dungeon room, etc.). Bedding that is not specifically enchanted to resist your energy is slowly destroyed by it, usually over the course of a month of sleeping in it. Your clothing deteriorates at a similar rate (though more slowly if you do not wear the same clothing every day), though durable equipment like weapons and armor is only superficially affected, and magical gear is not destroyed.

Ultimate Power: Apotheosis

At the final level, you are almost as much an elemental of your energy type as you are a mortal being, the energy constantly seething from your flesh. You gain Immunity to your energy type. All of your melee attacks add a d4 as additional damage of the energy type. All spells that you cast that deal damage of that energy type are treated as empowered (as per the Sorcerer metamagic ability).

You can no longer disguise your nature physically or with magic. The energy bleeds through any reasonable type of covering, including full plate armor.

Anyone in physical contact with you takes 1 damage of your energy type per round (reduced to 0 with Resistance), including while you are in a grapple. Your life is likely to be quite lonely if you cannot find a resistant partner.

D&D 5e Warlock Patron: The Elder Blood

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Vampires that survive beyond their first centuries of nights tend to accrue more and more dark power, eventually transcending simple undeath and becoming like unto demigods. Their plans are far more than simple survival and consumption: labyrinthine shadow conflicts with others of a similar power level. At this level their intentions can become perversely benevolent, seeing mortals as a renewable resource worth preserving to consume into eternity. While some are interested in the tried and true plots to plunge the world into eternal night, they are just as likely to while away their eternity trying to cause the cultures with blood flavors they enjoy to flourish and spread.

Since the biggest threat to such immortals is often their own progeny and peers, they are quite happy to fill their ranks of vassals with the living. Many of these, of course, hope to eventually be granted eternal life, and may feel cheated when their patron allows them to expire at the end of their natural span. Some warlocks are recruited directly by the spawn of these ancient vampires, while others have an indirect and mystical relationship as tense as more ephemeral warlock patrons. At the level where you are an institution, dreaming torpid beneath empires you have founded, distance is little object to contacting those that seek your favor.

Pacts

  • Blade: Summoning the pact weapon tends to resemble a fountain of blood that congeals from the warlock’s wounds, and collapses to red dust when dismissed. The pact weapons themselves seem corroded and decayed, more red rust than steel.
  • Chain: In addition to the normal options for chain-pact warlocks, servants of the Elder Blood may gain the services of a vargouille. They also tend to favor bats, rats, and ravens, and in addition to their normal powers, familiar options from the standard list in the find familiar spell gain the ability to drain life. Whenever they make the attack action or deliver a spell, they gain half of any damage they do as temporary hit points.
  • Tome: Books of shadows provided by the Elder Blood tend to be made of suspect leather and vellum, inked in red blood.
  • Blood: Blood-pact warlocks of the Elder Blood are typically somehow-living descendants of the vampire or its spawn. Sometimes a dhampir is spawned and creates a family line, while other times the conversion of an individual with a family echoes down the line of descendants.

Features

Warlock Level Feature
1st Expanded Spell List, Taste of Blood
6th Antediluvian Mark
10th Grave Repose
14th Bloodbath

Expanded Spell List

The Elder Blood lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Spell Level Spells
1st false life, inflict wounds
2nd alter self, animal messenger
3rd conjure animals, life transference
4th dominate beast, greater invisibility
5th dominate person, modify memory

Taste of Blood

At 1st level, you may taste blood to learn facts and weaknesses about a subject. For the purposes of tasting the blood for this feature, you are immune to any toxins, diseases, acids, etc. in the blood that would normally harm you from tasting it.

In combat, to taste a subject’s blood, you may take a use an object action within two rounds of damaging the target with your own slashing or piercing melee weapon. Instead, if an ally deals damage to the target with a slashing or piercing melee weapon, you may move adjacent to the ally and use your use an object action and your ally’s reaction within the same time frame to taste the blood. Out of combat, you must simply deal one or more damage with a cutting implement to a helpless or willing target.

Upon tasting blood you may either choose to exploit weaknesses or discern facts.

If you exploit weaknesses, you may, on the same turn, cast hex on the target without expending a spell slot or material components. Unlike a normal casting of the spell, you can only move the curse to a new target by tasting that target’s blood.

If you discern facts, you learn the target’s creature type (and subtype/race, if any), the nature of any diseases or poisons the target is currently suffering from, and whether the target is currently the subject of any active spells (and the spells’ schools).

Antediluvian Mark

Starting at 6th level, you bear the subtle mark of your patron, protecting you from others of its ilk. You have resistance to necrotic damage. You gain advantage on Charisma checks against undead. You may cast invisibility on yourself at will, without expending a spell slot or material components, but it only works against creatures of the undead type with an Intelligence score of 6 or less.

Any vampire, vampire spawn, or warlock of the Elder Blood that tastes your blood will immediately know the “public” identity of your patron, and likely cease attacking you unless hostile to your patron.

Grave Repose

Starting at 10th level, you gain Tremorsense with a 10-foot radius. Additionally, when you are standing on earth that is at least as deep as your height, you may use your action to quickly dig down and bury yourself in a shallow grave. Creatures without a burrow speed may not attack you while you are so buried. Anyone that knows what spot you are beneath may attempt to make a grapple check against you with disadvantage to reach into the disturbed earth and pull you back to the surface.

You do not need to breathe while using this power, and may rest quite comfortably beneath the earth. You cannot perceive anything beyond the space that is not obvious to your Tremorsense without using divination magics. You cannot cast spells that require somatic components while submerged, or perform any other actions that require the ability to move.

Unless a subject has Tremorsense or some other way to perceive you beneath the earth, you automatically succeed on all attempts to hide from that subject while submerged.

You may resurface as your move on your turn, and you resurface standing.

Bloodbath

Starting at 14th level, when a creature (that you can see and that has blood) is reduced to 0 hit points within 10 feet of you, you may use your reaction to cause it to erupt in a fountain of blood. It immediately and automatically fails a single death saving throw, if relevant. Unless obstacles, wind conditions, etc. would prevent it, all creatures within 10 feet of the target are covered in blood.

You and any friendly creatures coated in this blood may use their bonus action on their next turn to immediately expend one hit die to heal. Hostile creatures covered in the blood must immediately make a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC or become frightened for 1d4 rounds (with the exploded ally as the source). (Your allies probably don’t like it much either, but don’t have to save.)

If desired, you may also taste the subject whose blood you are covered in as a free action on your turn, for purposes of Taste of Blood.

You must complete a short or long rest before using this ability again.

Invocations

Children of the Night

Prerequisite: Elder Blood patron and Beast Speech

You have advantage on Charisma checks or Wisdom (Animal Handling) checks targeting predators, scavengers, and any nocturnal animal. You may cast beast sense at will, without expending a spell slot.

Form of Mist

Prerequisite: Elder Blood patron

You can cast misty step at will, without expending a spell slot, but you must expend one hit die instead.

Blightblade

Prerequisite: Elder Blood patron and Pact of the Blade feature

When you cast a necromancy spell that affects a single target, instead of targeting the spell normally you may cast the spell into your pact weapon. The next time you make an attack with your pact weapon, if you hit the target with the weapon attack, it is also affected by the spell (as if it was hit by the spell attack or failed its saving throw). You must make this weapon attack before the end of your next turn after casting the spell, and begins its duration, if any, upon making the weapon attack. If the spell allows multiple spell attacks on subsequent turns, if you take the attack action you may deliver the spell with one of your pact weapon attacks on each of these turns.

Bound in Blood

Prerequisite: Elder Blood patron and Pact of the Chain feature

You gain an additional use for your Taste of Blood feature: when you exploit weaknesses, instead of casting hex you may instead cast another spell at the target (which does consume a pact magic slot and components as normal). The spell attack has advantage or the target’s saving throw has disadvantage.

Book of Nod

Prerequisite: Elder Blood patron and Pact of the Tome feature

You gain an additional use for your Taste of Blood feature: when you discern facts, instead of gaining the listed information about the subject, you can instead cause an empty page of your book of shadows to fill with a summary/family tree of the subject’s lineage (biological if living, vampiric if undead). Any other subjects upon whom you’ve ever used Taste of Blood (that are related to the subject) are obvious to you in the tree, making it easy to determine to whom the target is related and how if you can also sample their blood. Without having tasted the blood of other relations on the tree, only the most obvious information will be present (sex; type, race, and subrace; approximate age on becoming a parent to the next person on the chart).

Daywalker

Prerequisite: Elder Blood patron and Pact of the Blood feature

You have resistance to radiant damage. You gain advantage to checks or saves to resist blindness or other negative conditions caused by bright lights. You have an innate sense of when you are attempting to do something essentially impossible (e.g., ice skate uphill).

D&D 5e Warlock Patron: The Wyrm

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Particularly ancient dragons absorb so much magic over their lifespans that they become as powerful as many other entities that are not quite gods, and can bestow this power accordingly. Whether they are chromatic or metallic, these great wyrms tend to have much more temporal and materialistic concerns that other such patrons. Warlocks they imbue are typically meant to be favored servants, to accomplish things in the world that the wyrm no longer can: locate and acquire treasure, identify and handle potential dragonslayers, scout and improve lairs, and herald the coming and demands of the wyrm when it leaves its own dwelling.

Unlike other forms of draconic servitors, warlocks patronized by these wyrms are not on course to become more dragonlike, but instead receive powers that improve their utility to their patrons. Most are found by other servants of the wyrm when they are young, and brought to the patron’s attention. Mortal lives flicker by in an eyeblink to the oldest of dragons, so there is always a need to identify and train new vassals, even should they not be of draconic heritage.

Pacts

  • Blade: These warlocks typically wield ornate and ancient weapons, a shadow copy of some relic that resides in the wyrm’s hoard.
  • Chain: Pseudodragons are by far the most common servitors for these warlocks, and often they have some distant heritage to the patron wyrm.
  • Tome: The warlock’s book of shadows is generally absurdly durable, an ostentatious construction of precious metals that survived centuries buried in the hoard before being loaned to a favored servant.
  • Blood: Blood-pact warlocks are not descendants of the wyrm, as those typically become draconic sorcerers. Instead, these warlocks are generally descended from long lines of servants to that particular dragon, even if the current warlock has forgotten the relationship. However, with the bond unformalized, echoes still tend to grant draconic features.

Features

Warlock Level Feature
1st Expanded Spell List, Avidity
6th Inurement
10th Lair Sense
14th Draconic Arcana

Expanded Spell List

The Wyrm lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.

Spell Level Spells
1st absorb elements, chromatic orb
2nd dragon’s breath, locate object
3rd fireball*, protection from energy
4th leomund’s secret chest, stone shape
5th cone of cold*, legend lore

* This takes the energy type of the patron wyrm’s breath weapon (acid, cold, fire, lightning, or poison) instead of its normal energy type.

Avidity

At 1st level, you gain an innate sense of nearby metals, the better to unearth hidden treasure for your master.

You have blindsight to a range of 10 feet, but this only allows you to sense items made of metal. This allows you to fight a creature wielding metal weapons, wearing metal armor, or composed of metal (e.g., metal constructs) with no penalties from darkness. You are able to perceive constructions made largely of metal within this radius (e.g., to avoid metallic obstacles or traps in the dark).

Additionally, you have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) and Intelligence (Investigation) rolls to discover hidden metal objects within this radius, or to detect hiding creatures that are wielding, wearing, or made of metal. This sense is good enough to penetrate earth and stone, detecting treasure or mechanisms that are buried or behind walls/floors.

Inurement

Starting at 6th level, you have resistance to the damage type of your patron wyrm’s breath weapon (acid, cold, fire, lightning, or poison). Additionally, when you pass a saving throw that would allow you to take half damage from this damage type, you take no damage (instead of halving the damage twice from saving throw and resistance). Finally, you automatically succeed at saving throws to overcome the frightful presence of dragons.

Lair Sense

Starting at 10th level, you gain an intuitive sense of the space and dangers within underground areas and similar lairs.

You automatically know the exact dimensions of the empty space within which you stand, up to a mile away, even if the dimensions are shrouded in darkness. In particular this allows you to detect the presence of walls and ceilings shrouded in darkness, and indicates gaps that may be potential exits (though it does not give you information on the rooms or spaces beyond those exits). You can tell whether you are under an open sky or a large internal area (unless the area is so large the ceiling is over a mile away). This ability is similar to sonar, and may also reveal exits that are concealed by illusion or obstructions of less than a inch thick.

If the area you are in grants lair actions or similar natural hazards, you immediately know the particulars of these actions. If a particular creature controls these actions, you can sense what type of creature it is and whether it is currently present within the lair.

You ignore difficult terrain if it is made of stone or metal.

You gain Darkvision to a range of 60 feet. If you already have Darkvision, increase its range by 30 feet.

Finally, you gain advantage on saving throws against traps, and traps that make attack rolls have disadvantage when attacking you.

Draconic Arcana

Starting at 14th level, when you obtain your 6th, 7th, and 8th level mystic arcana, you can instead cast the following spells in place of the arcanum you have selected at that level:

  • 6th: forbiddence, guards and wards, move earth
  • 7th: mirage arcane, sequester
  • 8th: illusory dragon

Invocations

Wyrmtongue

Prerequisite: Wyrm patron and one of Beast Speech or Beguiling Influence

You gain Draconic as an additional language. Any creatures of the dragon type that cannot speak a language count as animals to you for purposes of speak with animals. You gain advantage on Charisma checks against any creature of the dragon type.

Lash of the Wyrm

Prerequisite: Wyrm patron

You learn one of acid splash, fire bolt, poison spray, ray of frost, or shocking grasp as a bonus cantrip (whichever matches the energy type of your patron’s breath weapon). This cantrip counts as a warlock cantrip for you, but doesn’t count against your number of cantrips known, and also counts as eldritch blast to qualify for any other invocations and benefits as if it was eldritch blast from those invocations.

After you have hit a target with this cantrip (even if it did not take damage due to energy immunity), until the end of your next turn, the target’s resistance to that energy type is decreased by one step (i.e., a creature immune to the energy becomes merely resistant and a creature that is resistant loses this resistance).

Blade Hoard

Prerequisite: Wyrm patron and Pact of the Blade feature

When you transform a magical weapon into your pact weapon, you do not lose access to previous magical weapons you’ve made into pact weapons. Whenever you summon your pact weapon, you can choose a different one of your weapons, but you can only have one present at a time (the previous one disappears if you summon another one). If any of these weapons requires attunement, the entire collection of weapons only counts as one attunement for you (but you only gain the benefits of the weapon you have currently summoned).

The ritual to bond a weapon still takes one hour. You can willingly break a bond to any of the weapons as your pact weapon, all bonds are broken if you die, and any or all of the weapons appear at your feet when their bond is broken.

Dragonrider

Prerequisite: Wyrm patron and Pact of the Chain feature

If you can find a willing dragon of at least one size category larger than you are, you gain a number of benefits riding it. You are considered proficient in any skills or tools required to use the dragon as a mount. You can mount or dismount as a bonus action. When you are mounted, you and the dragon can engage in telepathic communication. You are securely fixed to the dragon when mounted (an opponent must succeed at a difficulty 20 Strength (Athletics) check or similar to wrestle you free), even without a saddle, and have no difficulties casting spells or maintaining concentration while riding, even in dramatic aerial conditions.

Dragonmark

Prerequisite: Wyrm patron and Pact of the Tome or Pact of the Blood feature

Your patron has scribed an ancient sigil of dragonkind upon you or you have inherited it from your progenitors, turning your very flesh into a book. You may take one that of the supported dragonmarks for your race that is appropriate to your patron, changing your racial abilities to match the selected dragonmark. You qualify for the Greater Dragonmark feat.

Magic Costs and Exclusivity

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It’s probably just being deep in Harry Potter fanfic for a while, but the other day I had a moment where I yearned for a magic setting/system where magic was truly mysterious, even to the mages. Where magic is not just technology only usable to a select few, who learn the tried-and-true spells for doing most things and refer to them like any tradesman’s jargon. And I think that comes down to a few points:

  • Mages should be able to fairly easily craft their own repertoire of spells. The complexity of spell creation should make a particular spell better for one person than for another.
  • They should want to keep these spells secret from most other mages, either because spells tend to come with easy defenses you could use if you knew the details and/or because the very dissemination of the knowledge weakens the spell.
  • There should be a common framework around learning and creating magic, so you have something to teach at magic schools/apprenticeships, but that should plug into the spell creation system rather than being spells themselves.

I think in the grand scheme of things, for an RPG system, this involves a lot of charts with suggested multipliers and combos, and where powergamers will just be able to go nuts making their perfect overpowered spell. The defense to this getting completely out of hand is that A) the GM is free to slowly add on drawbacks and hidden costs that become apparent as the player uses the spell until it feels powerful but not game-breaking and B) the antagonists also have access to this system. Be polite to your rival mages, because they may have crazy OP spells to use against you if you piss them off. Also, there are probably several dark lords floating around happy to try to bump you off for your grimoire if you show off your brokenly powerful spells too much.

I’m not really ready to do all the math to make that system yet, but here are some charts that are hopefully useful as idea fodder to someone.

Method and Material

One step to making magic feel rare is to make components more than an afterthought. Of course magic is going to just turn into technology when you’re at most consuming a personal, renewable mana pool to make magic. Naturally, a component cost is easier to have in a narrative setting than an RPG: in a realistic simulation, tracking down a particularly hard-to-get commodity is a genuine cost, but in an RPG you often don’t want to play out days of work to interface with suppliers and make purchases. So when you’re like, “Sure, you have Resources 3, you can manage a bag of powdered silver in about a week, moving on…” it ceases to be a real limit. Any system that uses components and wants them to matter has to then have mechanics to make getting them more than an abstracted resources check. Which is why most games don’t bother.

But, I think there’s some there there. In particular, I like the idea that components aren’t just evaporated into magic when you cast a spell. In addition to the material itself, there’s a method of disposal. Do you need to carve the component? Burn it? Dissolve it in the sea? If it’s a tough component, like metal, you may need to have another spell just to make a fire hot enough to burn it or an acid that can dissolve it. The most powerful spells are rituals, and the process of disposing of the components is, itself, very interesting narrative flavor.

In general, harder combos should generate more powerful spells. If you component is “burn old newspaper” or “pour seawater on the ground” those are really easy to do and don’t generate much power for magic. When you’re talking about “burn a handwritten book over a century old” or “spread the powdered rust of a murder weapon that dissolved completely in seawater” then you’re starting to cook with gas. For full on rituals, you can obviously stack the components and tell a whole story about the magic you’re making.

You can also add the idea of non-consumed components by also requiring materials to be used as tools. “Carve runes into your flesh,” is metal, but not that limiting. “Carve runes into your flesh with a knife,” at least requires a particular tool that you will scramble to replace in a pinch. “Carve runes into your flesh with a silver dagger that was used to execute a murderer,” now means you have a particular, vital tool that your opponents can recognize and take from you.

Methods

  • Cut/Break/Smash (works for components that are whole items, where they can’t easily be reconstituted)
  • Burn/Evanesce (works for items that are so easy to reconstitute that you really want to render them to constituent molecules to be sure they’re gone)
  • Render/Melt (make a solid thing a liquid, particularly powerful if it doesn’t just go back when it cools; this is also a great way to chain component, using the liquid for the next step)
  • Dissolve into Liquid (like burning or rendering, but the idea being that the atoms of the material become thoroughly mixed with a greater volume of liquid)
  • Donate/Gift (this doesn’t work if you can easily get it back, but there’s a lot of power in relinquishing your ownership of something important to another person/institution)
  • Lose/Dispose (sometimes it’s enough to throw the thing away where you’ll never find it again, or pour it out when it’s not something you can just pick back up)
  • Corrupt/Ruin (particularly for dark magic, it may be enough to take something pristine and make it so gross there’s no way to restore it to its untarnished form)

Material

While there’s obviously a nigh-infinite number of nouns that can be used as component materials, I’ve tried to group them because I think this is one of the major places you can put something on a character sheet as a skill. Skilled Blood mages learn how to do less damage to themselves while fueling a spell. Talented Metal mages can pick particularly resonant materials rather than going for bulk. Essentially, there’s a skill for each category that lowers your materials cost per spell, and/or allows you to sub in easier-to-acquire materials.

  • Blood (or any vital fluid, rarity based on particular qualities and/or amount of damage dealt)
  • Craft (any constructed good where the rarity is not the materials itself so much as the difficulty of creating the thing sacrificed)
  • Fire (any evanescent/energy phenomena, so also electricity, cold, sound, etc.; this is more often a tool than the thing consumed)
  • Flesh (any non-blood animal resource, from carving wounds into your own skin or just using rare leather)
  • Metal (any mineral, with rarer ones having more value, and also value in how hard it is to dispose of)
  • Thought (actually losing memories from your head, to making oaths or revealing secrets, to sacrificing written knowledge)
  • Water (any non-blood liquid; this is as often the tool for disposal as the component sacrificed)
  • Wood (any plant matter, with actual rare and hard woods having value in how limited they are and how hard they are to destroy)

Exclusivity

One way to make spells secretive is to literally base part of their power on how many people know them. Suddenly notice a drop in power from one of your favorite spells? Maybe someone’s managed to get a look at your grimoire. Exclusivity refers to how many sapient individuals currently know the spell. If your mentor dies leaving you the only one with the spell, that increases the exclusivity… unless he’s hanging on as a wraith that may still be able to cast magic and/or impart the knowledge of the spell to others. More reason to make sure mages don’t hang on as the undead.

Level 0 exclusivity is when the spell gets so widely disseminated that it can be found in new age bookstores or the internet, easily available even to non-mages.

  1. Any mage can easily find it (it is often taught as an example of the form to students)
  2. Perhaps a third of mages may access the spell (it’s still something of a secret, kept for a few groups or older students)
  3. A secretive guild of perhaps 100 mages, 3 smaller groups of less than a dozen each
  4. An entire order of a few dozen mages, 7 rivals, or 3 unrelated mages
  5. An extended family, a coven of up to 7, 3 rivals, or 2 unrelated mages
  6. An immediate family, a coven of up to 3, or 2 rivals
  7. Only one mage knows it

Time

Do you need a time chart? Everyone needs a time chart. This can be used for both casting time and durations. All times should assume a ~ in front of them, because there’s a lot of fudge in a doubling system. It’s not that it took exactly 2 seconds, it’s that it was slower than instant but faster than a whole action.

Past around a minute on the time chart, the spell becomes a ritual, and possession of the Ritual skill allows the caster to move steps down the time chart by doing it faster.

As another thought I want to investigate at some point, I think the current vogue of 6-second rounds may be way too short. LARPing, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot more jockeying for position in any kind of large fight than RPGs can model these days. Actually swinging doesn’t take long, but that’s usually after several seconds of trying to outflank your opponent: most people don’t seem to just want to run in and trade blows to see in a few seconds who is best and fastest, they want to hit people from the sides while they’re distracted and it seems likely they’ll be able to hit without getting hit back. And that takes time. Anyway, this chart does assume the standard 6-second rounds, but I think that longer rounds might be due a comeback.

  1. Instant (Free Action)
  2. 2 seconds (Swift/Bonus Action)
  3. 4 seconds (Standard Action)
  4. 8 seconds (Full Round Action)
  5. 15 seconds (Two Rounds)
  6. 30 seconds (Multiple Rounds)
  7. 1 minute
  8. 2 minutes
  9. 4 minutes
  10. 8 minutes
  11. 15 minutes
  12. 30 minutes
  13. 1 hour
  14. 2 hours
  15. 4 hours
  16. 8 hours
  17. 12 hours
  18. 1 day
  19. 2 days
  20. 4 days
  21. 1 week
  22. 2 weeks
  23. 1 month
  24. 1 season
  25. 1/2 a year
  26. 1 year
  27. 2 years
  28. 4 years
  29. 7 years
  30. 12 years
  31. 25 years
  32. 1/2 century
  33. 1 century
  34. 2 centuries
  35. 5 centuries
  36. 1 millennium
  37. an aeon
  38. forever

Play-by-Post/Chat Tips

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As basically all gaming becomes online gaming during the pandemic, it’s important to know all of your options.

While video-conference-based gaming is the current default, I haven’t had much luck with it: if people don’t have great computers, cameras, and internet connections it can cause problems, especially if you game with couples who are trying to share an internet connection and suffering audio bleed from being in the same room. Dropping down to voice loses some of the video complications, but also loses all the body language feedback from your players. Both can have issues with slight audio latency that leads to talking conflicts that you don’t get as much when face-to-face: spotlight time goes to whoever is willing to just bull through someone else trying to talk at the same time.

Many have forgotten the grandparent of both of these styles, from the ancient days of IRC and AOL chats, before ubiquitous webcams and headsets: text-based gaming. This can be playing by post or email or everyone live in a chat room. The main difference is just the synchronicity. Text-based gaming has a few very interesting perks:

  • It self-documents, so you can always have the log to read back later. This can be for entertainment or to review information.
  • GMs that, at the table, feel too pressed for time to give good descriptions, or just forget to do so in the rush of talking, can enjoy license to go very purple with prose.
  • It’s leisurely. Even with live chat games, you often have time waiting for others to type to multi-task. My players, in particular, have expressed gratitude that it lets them game while also cooking, wrangling children, or doing other projects.
  • From the GM’s side, this leisure means it’s often possible to run on-the-fly in a way that would be madness face-to-face. There’s plenty of time to improvise, even for those that aren’t used to doing so, and the players have a much harder time telling when everything is by the seat of your pants.

It, of course, also has downsides:

  • Leisurely is code for slow. Depending on your players’ typing speed and distraction level, it can take two hours to knock out a scene that might have only taken 15 minutes at the table.
  • The format is not always intuitive to those that haven’t tried it before, especially people that are not comfortable writers. It can take a while for people to get into a groove.
  • Despite having the record right there, when you’re typing you’re not reading. People tend to miss what’s already been posted way more than you would expect.
  • All of this can be much worse if you don’t adapt to the format. A tactical-map-heavy, rules-dense, initiative-based play style is very challenging to do well in this format.

If you’re interested in how the medium works, my logs for years of Fading Suns are available. Currently, rather than the action formatting that was popular in the days of yore (double colons around actions), I’m trying a more prose-style notation, but the procedure holds up. The session times in that were usually 2-3 hours, for context of how much you can get done in one sitting. That was also mostly with players very comfortable with the format. Currently, with several players learning it as they go, I get maybe half as much done in the same session period.

I also have several specific tips for the format:

Narrative-Heavy

My number one piece of advice is to use a narrative-heavy system, or just eyeball the system you have for purposes of narration. You do not have time to request rolls for everything, particularly if the system requires multiple rolls to resolve a single result. When a player tries to do something, then you tell them what to roll, then they roll and calculate success, then you resolve the results, you’ve at least doubled the number of text exchanges you need, and that can take a long time in text.

Instead, consider the Technoir mindset: the PCs always succeed unless acted upon by a serious, opposing force. And when so acted upon, you can just eyeball relative competency, and suggest that a mechanically superior opponent means that the PC needs to come up with a winning strategy, not just get a lucky roll.

By all means, throw in narrated drawbacks if you think that success against the environment shouldn’t be easy given the PC’s skill level. And if they’re awful at something, you can just narrate that it’s not possible (or that they fail in an amusing way). This isn’t about making the players unstoppable, just removing the obstacles that slow down play.

In general, you’re looking to see if it makes sense to remove the randomizers in order to speed play. You can still use them when you want tension (but be prepared for things to slow way down). And if you’re really unsure about what should happen, you can roll physical dice “behind the screen” to resolve it. But it’s still almost always faster for you to do that than to wait for the player to realize you’ve called for a roll and to make it. Get straight from the player wanting to do something to you describing the result.

Have the Sheets Handy

As an aside, relevant to narrating and rolling behind the screen, keep the PC sheets handy. Just have them open in another browser tab. Unlike at the table when you’ve got a billion books and opponent stat blocks taking up your visual space, it’s much easier to keep the PC stats handy when you’re playing on a computer. It saves so much time for you to just look up what skills the PC has that are relevant to what you’re trying than to ask them to tell you their total in chat.

No Initiative

Largely related to the narrative aspect, but distinct, is that you should do your damnedest to avoid initiative order. You think people check out when you go around the table for initiative? It’s so much worse when you’re not sure if the person everyone else is waiting for has wandered off to do something else, totally unaware they’re holding up the game.

Try to set things up as parallel as possible, where everyone can do something if someone doesn’t respond for a minute. This can be legitimately running separate scenes that aren’t clearly linked in time to everything else going on (so the fast typists can do as much as they want while the slower ones are off on their own scene). Generally, though, it’s just that everything is very open and that you assume that people that are posting less frequently are doing something useful that just isn’t being clearly described. “Botting” idle PCs by incorporating the actions you assume they take in your GM posts is much more acceptable than face-to-face.

Mostly, just do everything in your power to avoid situations where you’re waiting on one player to say something before anyone else can advance the scene.

Always Have a Ninja

Corollary to keeping one player from hanging the scene: be prepared to prevent all the players from hanging the scene. This can be especially prevalent when the PCs have gotten off to a safe location where they’re planning or trying to investigate something at their own pace. If you don’t have an active participant in the scene (whether that be an NPC or just a dynamic situation), you can get stuck where the players are stumped as to what to do next, but there aren’t any obvious things that you can add in-play to unstick them from the problem or at least convince them to move on if they’re stumped.

The obvious solution is the Raymond Chandler standby: have a guy with a gun kick in the door (or a bunch of ninjas). This can feel punitive, but maybe the players will keep things moving if they know all you have is a hammer to try to unstick them.

While GMPCs are generally not the best idea, they can be really useful in this format to give you a mouthpiece in any scene. As always with important NPCs, you should avoid having them just take charge or have the players assume they will always have the answers. Instead, the character can usually have middling to bad ideas, but just having someone to pipe up and go, “So it seems like what you’re saying is…” can be enough to break the deadlock, or at least get them to continue talking rather than sitting, sullenly waiting for someone else to post.

Finally, you can aggressively scene frame. If a scene peters out, just describe the next one. This is hard if the players are stuck on how to resolve something and wouldn’t move on without it being resolved, so it’s not my favorite option. But if you can just move them on, do it.

Consider Artifice Exposure

Sometimes, you just have to explain, out of character, what you’re doing. Text loses the nuance you would get from body language and tone of voice. Often you think you’ve described something perfectly, and if the players successfully tag your prose with their own, you’re going to wind up with just the most beautiful piece of writing for posterity.

But while you’re sitting there, unwilling to type anything else because you ended your post on what you think is the perfect feeder line for the player to say something awesome, the players might be sitting there completely baffled by what they’re supposed to be doing. You may need to just throw up an OOC line where you’re like, “Okay, in case this is not clear, the options I see here are X, Y, and Z; you can do one of those, or do something creative I didn’t think of.”

I’m guilty of this a lot.

Examine Your Clarity

As part an parcel of exposing the artifice, consider your clarity in general. As noted, even with the text record indelibly floating above the chat, people can miss an awful lot. It’s very hard to keep track of several posts that come in at once from other players, particularly when you’re typing up your own masterful piece of dialogue. I pretty regularly see players repeating actions or asking questions that were covered only a line or two above. You can even miss things for quite a while, before someone finally notices a discrepancy (in this log, two PCs executed the same villain in two very different manners).

This can be very challenging if you’re trying to run split scenes. In this session, even very clearly noting in chat which characters I was focusing on, players were still getting confused whether I was describing something that they could interact with or something happening on the other side of the zone. Be explicit and repetitive in your descriptions about who can interact with something when the party is split. You can always rearrange the logs later to make the soup of player responses make a little more sense.

Ultimately, always consider that you can basically have a similar problem to peer-to-peer multiplayer video game disagreements. In P2P shooters, one player is the host computer that has the “real” record of all the actions that happened, and if the other computers lag, they can think they’re accomplishing something only to suddenly be confused when it didn’t happen (e.g., shooting a guy that their computer said was in line of fire but the host computer thought had moved). As the GM of a text game, you’re the “host computer” and your vision of what’s going on is the authoritative one. But through various issues with clarity or noticing what’s going on, you can “desync” from the players’ vision of what’s going on.

If the players are doing something that doesn’t make sense for your view of what’s going on (even if it just seems like it’s suboptimal, like they’re ignoring an obvious thing they can interact with) it falls to you to make sure they’re not punished due to the disconnect. If you think they’re missing something, ask them OOC if it’s deliberate before you narrate them failing. You’re never as clear as you hope, and it’s important to make sure everyone has a good time.

D&D 5e, A Few More Warlock Invocations

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Last time, I left out the Hexblade, and I also left out my own Pact of the Blood. So here are a few more invocations.

Speaker for the Murder

Prerequisite: Hexblade patron and Beast Speech

Crows, ravens, and other corvids are always positively inclined to you (and anyone that attempts to use a spell or other command to order an individual or swarm of them to attack you must beat you in a contested Charisma check to have them attack). When you are outside in terrain where they live, there will always be at least one corvid keeping an eye on you, whom you can question with Beast Speech. By spending Inspiration, you guarantee that there was a corvid observing any situation where it makes sense, who you can quickly get in touch with through the avian network to question about what they observed (though the birds still may not have perfect memory or good understanding of what was observed).

When your pact magic slot reaches 3rd level, you gain conjure animals as a bonus Warlock spell, but it can only be used to summon ravens, crows, or other corvids.

Shadow Walker

Prerequisite: Hexblade patron and One with Shadows or Shroud of Shadow

When you are invisible and in an area of dim light or darkness, you can cast misty step on yourself at will, without spending a spell slot. You must emerge in another area of dim light or darkness.

War Magic

Prerequisite: Hexblade patron and Pact of the Blade feature

As the Eldritch Knight (Fighter) feature of the same name, whenever you use your action to cast a cantrip, you can make one attack with your pact weapon as a bonus action.

Curse Leash

Prerequisite: Hexblade patron and Pact of the Chain feature

You gain advantage on any saving throws or charisma checks against cursed or sentient items. You may cast remove curse on yourself at will, without expending a spell slot.

Book of Swords

Prerequisite: Hexblade patron and Pact of the Tome feature

Your book of shadows contains extensive documentation on magical weapons. You may cast identify at will, without expending a spell slot or material component. When your pact magic slot reaches 5th level, you may cast legend lore at will, without expending a spell slot or material component. Both of these spells may only target weapons or the context of weapons (e.g., you might use legend lore to learn of how a previous wielder of a weapon you possess used it).

And Your Children’s Children

Prerequisite: Archfey patron and Pact of the Blood feature

When your pact magic slot reaches 3rd level, you gain bestow curse as a bonus Warlock spell. If you cast a spell with a duration of Permanent or Until Dispelled that affects a target, and the target fails to save against the spell, you may cause that spell to also apply to all of the target’s descendants (each must save individually if they are currently alive, and any newborns automatically fail the save). You may use your Mystic Arcanum to cast any of your Warlock spells that gains increased duration from using a higher slot (e.g., you can use your Mystic Arcanum (9th level) to cast bestow curse as a 9th level slot instead of your normal Mystic Arcanum spell for that level).

Signed in Blood

Prerequisite: Fiend patron and Pact of the Blood feature

When you make a contract that you and a subject both sign in blood, you can cast geas on the subject at will, without expending a spell slot, but you are also subject to the geas (to fulfill your responsibilities in the contract). The instructions for the geas must be the terms of the contract, the casting time of the spell can be lowered to 1 action if at least a minute was spent writing and signing the contract, and the spell can only be ended by you ripping up the contract. You can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.

The Innsmouth Look

Prerequisite: Great Old One patron and Pact of the Blood feature

You have a particular look about you that inclines the denizens of darkness to believe that you are one of them. You gain advantage on Charisma checks against aberrations and other followers of the Great Old One. You gain advantage on Charisma (Deception) checks against any targets to convince them that you are evil, criminal, willing to betray your allies, or similar topics. Additionally, you can cast water breathing on yourself at will, without expending a spell slot or material components.

Holy Grail

Prerequisite: Celestial patron and Pact of the Blood feature

You may expend one or more hit dice as an action to bleed into a container and transmute your blood into a Potion of Healing. It is a standard potion for one hit die, a greater potion for two hit dice, a superior potion for three hit dice, and a supreme potion for four hit dice. The potion only remains viable for one hour after creation.

After creating such a potion, you may cast one or more other spells that affect a target (with a range greater than Self) into the created potion, their duration begins when the potion is imbibed, the target is the subject that imbibes the potion, and the subject has disadvantage on saving throws against the spell, if any.

The GM’s option, the vessel used to create this potion may have residual effects as a form of enchantment.

Scion of the Raven Queen

Prerequisite: Hexblade patron and Pact of the Blood feature

All spells (including cantrips) of the necromancy school are added to the warlock spell list for you. Additionally, you gain toll the dead as a bonus cantrip, and any invocations you have that apply to eldritch blast also apply to toll the dead.

D&D 5e, Additional Warlock Invocations

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I was talking with some friends about how my deeply held belief is that Warlock invocations are primarily to be used for shenanigans, rather than taking the ones with an obvious and simple combat application. This got me thinking about it, and I came up with some extra ones. Sadly, I could not figure out how to make all the additions awesome utility fun.

Some of these probably also need a level restriction, but I’m mostly assuming those are harder to make use of at low level anyway so it may be fine.

Changeling

Prerequisite: Archfey patron and one of Mask of Many Faces or Master of Myriad Forms

Onlookers have disadvantage on checks to see through your disguises (magical or mundane). Dispel magic attempts against you do not automatically remove disguise self or alter self, but must instead roll as if targeting a spell higher than the slot level of dispel magic, and this roll has disadvantage. You gain advantage on Charisma (Deception) rolls to pretend to be someone you are disguised as.

Glamour Weaving

Prerequisite: Archfey patron and Misty Visions

You gain the ability to concentrate on an additional spell, as long as that spell is of the Illusion school.

Gossamer Blade

Prerequisite: Archfey patron and Pact of the Blade feature

Your pact weapon is partly ephemeral, spun of solidified glamour. You may expend a pact magic slot as a bonus action. Until you cancel the effect as a free action on your turn, or until you take a short or long rest, your attacks with your pact weapon glide easily through armor and rend the mind and soul.

While this effect is active, your pact weapon deals psychic damage instead of its normal damage type, and instead of making an attack roll, targets of your attacks must make a Dexterity saving throw against your spell save DC (taking your weapon damage on a failed saving throw and half damage if successful). Targets must still be within reach of your melee attacks.

Additionally, while in this state, your pact weapon can cleave through illusions. If the creature that is the target of your attacks is under the effects of an illusion spell, or if you use an action to strike an illusion that is not anchored on a creature, apply the effects of casting dispel magic against any illusion effects present (at the level of your pact magic slot); this does not expend an additional pact magic slot or require you to be able to cast dispel magic. Rather than simply ending, an illusion dispelled in this way generally responds as if it was physically destroyed by the attack.

Oathkeeper

Prerequisite: Archfey patron and Pact of the Chain feature

When you make a deal with a willing subject (not magically compelled or under physical duress), you can cast geas on the subject at will, without expending a spell slot. The instructions for the geas must be the terms of the deal, and the casting time of the spell can be lowered to 1 action if at least a minute was spent working out the deal. You can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.

Book of Names

Prerequisite: Archfey patron and Pact of the Tome feature

Your Book of Shadows includes pages for signatures. If you can get a willing subject (not magically compelled or under physical duress) to sign their full name in the book, you have power over that individual. You have advantage on spell attacks against the subject, and the subject has disadvantage on saving throws against your spells and other magical effects. You may choose to willingly strike out a name, losing power over the subject.

Brand of Shared Sight

Prerequisite: Fiend patron and one of Devil’s Sight or Witch Sight

As an action, you may press your thumb to the brow of a willing subject and deal 2 fire damage, marking the subject with a small sigil that represents your patron. Whenever you are in a position where you can see the subject, the subject can share any forms of enhanced vision you possess (e.g., darkvision, Devil’s Sight, truesight, Witch Sight, etc.). You may maintain this effect on as many subjects as you desire, but it ends whenever the subject has maximum hit points (i.e., has healed the damage from the brand).

Blood Protection

Prerequisite: Fiend patron and Fiendish Vigor

Whenever your temporary hit points are reduced to 0, you gain resistance to the damage type that removed your last temporary hit point. This does not apply to the attack that removed the temporary hit points, but does apply to subsequent attacks. This resistance ends when you take a short rest, are restored to maximum hit points, or have a new set of temporary hit points removed by a different damage type (that becomes your new resistance).

Hellfire Blade

Prerequisite: Fiend patron and Pact of the Blade feature

As a bonus action, you can cause your pact weapon to switch from a physical object to coruscating flame. While in this form, the weapon deals fire damage instead of its normal type (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing). You can change back to a physical weapon as an additional bonus action.

Soulbinder

Prerequisite: Fiend patron and Pact of the Chain feature

You may write a contract for a subject’s soul that must be signed in blood by you and the subject (who must not be magically compelled or under physical duress). If you successfully upheld your responsibilities in the contract, when the subject dies, the contract is immediately imbued with their soul, which you can free, use, or trade as you wish. Creating a contract automatically fails if the subject does not have a soul, or if the soul is already spoken for in another contract.

Shadow Ledger

Prerequisite: Fiend patron and Pact of the Tome feature

Your Book of Shadows includes pages for accounting of debts. Any debts you owe or are owed automatically appear in these pages (and this can inform you of verbal agreements or agreements made by proxies of which you were not aware). Additionally, you may store wealth in an extradimensional space associated with the book. The inside back cover of the book includes a pocket that opens into a Bag of Holding which can only store coins, gems, or art objects.

Psychic Driving

Prerequisite: Great Old One patron and Gaze of Two Minds

You may use a bonus action to maintain Gaze of Two Minds instead of an action (but you are still blinded and deafened to your own surroundings). Whenever you are using Gaze of Two Minds, you can treat the subject as your familiar, communicating with them telepathically and allowing them to deliver spells with a range of touch if they are within 100 feet of you.

Additionally, while you are maintaining Gaze of Two Minds or have a thrall from the Create Thrall ability, if you have more than twice the hit dice of the subject and are within 100 feet, you may attempt to possess them. You may force a contested Charisma check with the subject as your action. Once you have succeeded on three of these checks, you and the subject swap bodies. Treat both of you as possessing the other’s body as per the magic jar spell (and you no longer need to spend actions to maintain Gaze of Two Minds). Treat the spell as cast at a level of your highest pact magic or mystic arcanum slot if either of you is subjected to dispel magic. If the effect is dispelled, or you voluntarily end it as a free action, you both return to your original bodies. If either body is currently dead, the effect cannot be dispelled or voluntarily ended (i.e., the living body is permanent possessed by the wrong mind).

Impossible Sight

Prerequisite: Great Old One patron and one of Eyes of the Rune Keeper, Eldritch Sight, or Visions of Distant Realms

You can cast see invisibility at will, without expending a spell slot or material components. Additionally, you may use an action to roll Intelligence (Investigation) contested by the target’s Charisma (Deception) to determine if a target you can see is charmed or possessed.

Abhorrent Weapon

Prerequisite: Great Old One patron and Pact of the Blade feature

Your pact weapon is somehow wrong for this plane of existence, made of strange (possibly living) materials or impossible angles. Sane individuals have trouble focusing on it, making it hard to defend against your attacks. Spend a pact magic slot to gain advantage on all attack rolls with your pact weapon. This ends when you regain your pact magic slots. At the GM’s option, this may not work against targets that are mad or mindless (particularly aberrations, constructs, oozes, plants, and undead).

Subconscious Whispers

Prerequisite: Great Old One patron and Pact of the Chain feature

You can cast command at will as a 1st-level spell, without expending a spell slot. You must be in telepathic communication with the target of the spell.

Necronomicon

Prerequisite: Great Old One patron and Pact of the Tome feature

Your Book of Shadows is protected by a glyph of warding containing the confusion spell, which is triggered by anyone not devoted to the Great Old One attempting to read the book, uses your spell save DC, and resets automatically whenever it is triggered or dispelled. Additionally, when you gain your 5th level pact magic slot, you automatically learn contact other plane as a bonus Warlock spell and have advantage on the Intelligence saving throw involved in that spell.

Divine Protection

Prerequisite: Celestial patron and Armor of Shadows

You can cast sanctuary and shield of faith without expending a spell slot or material components.

Angel’s Wings

Prerequisite: Celestial patron and Ascendant Step

You can cast fly on yourself at will, without expending a spell slot or material components.

Angelic Weapons

Prerequisite: Celestial patron and Pact of the Blade feature

As a bonus action, you can cause your pact weapon to switch from a physical object to brilliant light. While in this form, the weapon deals radiant damage instead of its normal type (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing). You can change back to a physical weapon as an additional bonus action.

Steed of the Faithful

Prerequisite: Celestial patron and Pact of the Chain feature

You can cast find steed at will without expending a spell slot. The steed replaces your familiar, and vice versa.

Holy Book

Prerequisite: Celestial patron and Pact of the Tome feature

You can cast ceremony at will from your Book of Shadows without expending a spell slot or material components.

Additionally, planar ally, conjure celestial, holy aura, and gate are added to the Warlock spell list for you as options for your mystic arcana.

Setting Up a DC Fictional City

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One of the things that’s most distinctive between the Marvel and DC comics universes is that Marvel mostly uses real-world cities, particularly New York City, while DC tends to invent their own. Gotham is basically New York City in all ways that count. Metropolis is probably Chicago, since it’s usually not that far from Kansas. Star City is almost certainly Seattle and Central City is pretty much St. Louis. There’s some argument about exactly which city some of them are modeled on (with the argument that Metropolis is NYC in the day and Gotham is NYC at night), but, superficially, it’s unclear why not just use a fictionalized version of the real city to make it easy to map the events onto knowledge of the real world.

Meanwhile, I’ve always been much more of a Marvel reader, so when I was working on a licensed supers video game and we were talking to one of our licensing reps, I didn’t get why he was so adamant about suggesting things like making sure someone mentions Big Belly Burger if they’re going to be talking about food. I hadn’t actually been aware that DC had its own whole consistent, cross-comic infrastructure of invented businesses, other than the obvious ones like Lexcorp and Wayne Enterprises.

As I work on my own campaign set in the DC-verse, it’s suddenly apparent why all these things are such a good idea (and as true for the comics as for RPGs). Even a fictionalized version of New York City is going to be full of preconceptions. People that know a lot about the city will wonder why things were wrong, or resources were not used that would have helped with the current situation. Just think about every time a TV show or movie has been set in your home town and you’re completely baffled by how they’ve screwed up the geography. But Gotham isn’t anyone’s actual hometown. If Batman can get from the opera house to the stock market in a few panels of roof jumping, nobody can insist that it’s impossible since they’re nearly five miles apart, even as the bat flies. In Gotham, they may not be.

More important for a publishing company that can get sued for libel than for your own game, but still a consideration if you want to post your stuff online or eventually release it as a setting book: completely replacing places, companies, and people with analogues gives you a lot more freedom to use them however you need to for your work. McDonalds’ lawyers might have something to say about a storyline where a villain has been putting addictive substances in the special sauce, but O’Shaughnessy’s doesn’t have corporate representation. There’s still probably a legal curtain where it’s too obvious who or what you’re referencing, but it’s a lot easier to get away with than when you’re absolutely using real world names.

For your game, my suggestions include:

  • Figure out what the most notable things are about the city you’re converting, and convert those first. When your players are like, “we should go to X location,” it’s good to have already come up with an analogue than having to scramble and decide on the fly whether that’s different in your fictional city.
  • This is also a good time to take a page from the Fate Dresden Files game and give those location Faces, people that represent them. This can be a way into fictionalizing notable people for the real city that you want to use. Rather than just having a list of city notables, tie them into the locations that they own or influence. This gives them context and a potential location to find them if the players want to deal.
  • Think of how each location can have a plot hook into the kind of campaign you’re running. Your players are more likely to be interested in doing something with the information you’ve presented if there’s a rumor of something they can accomplish there.
  • Don’t be afraid to drastically change something to show how your city isn’t a 1:1 rename of the real world city. The goal is to keep the players from being totally complacent about geography and resources: this is your city, and things exist as they’re useful for your game, not because the players know it’s available in the real world. For example, DC seems to always add a docks area for smuggling crime, even for conversions of land-locked cities.

For example, the city of Terminus is definitely not Atlanta (it’s totally Atlanta):

The (Assault and) Battery

A few years back, the Terminus Warchanters were about to get a new baseball stadium in an inconvenient part of town, wrung from taxpayer expenses and designed to further destroy traffic at the north end of the city. A group of villains that were in town at the time decided to do something about it, and managed to completely disintegrate the nearly-finished structure. The Warchanters are still playing at the still-relatively-new Cash Field downtown. Not being able to get the money to do anything with the now-gaping-hole in the earth, but with several other buildings and parking garages near completion and still intact, the area became a fairly low-key entertainment venue around a large artificial pond. The uneasy origins and government embarrassment have, however, made it slightly dangerous rather than the theme park it was designed to be. It currently exists in an uneasy detente between upscale entertainment venue and criminal hangout, with just enough of a police presence to keep it from completely sliding into a haven of villainy.

The Big Chik ‘N’

National chicken restaurant brand Chik ‘N’ Go has its origin in one of the Terminus’ suburbs. The Catie family still privately owns the restaurant, which has a profoundly religious bent to its hours of operation and philanthropy. This has made the restaurant and its owning family the enemy of many progressives, particularly those that feel marginalized by its attitudes. Having bought out the franchise that erected the giant chicken-decorated building in northern Terminus, they use the easily-identifiable landmark as their flagship store. Many a rogue has tried to bring the place down, if only for the easily-scored notoriety, but somehow the family has enough savvy to fend off such attacks. Some worry they’re playing the long game, which includes planting addictive chemicals in their secret brining recipes.

CCN Center

The Cash family is Terminus old money, but managed to eclipse most of the other families with antebellum roots by investing heavily in media in the latter half of the 20th century, led by current family patriarch Cedric “Ced” Cash and his Hollywood-royalty bride Jen. Cash Communications is one of the dominant cable and internet providers in the region, and the family owns both the Terminus Broadcasting System and Cash Cable News cable channels. In the recent days of 24-hour-news, CCN has become the crown jewel of the family’s holdings, becoming the place most centrists get their news. Ced and Jen have several grown children that have various roles in the business, and his extremely elderly and wealthy mother still sometimes shows up to high society functions.

Crystal Plaza

Crystal Cola has been the dominant soft drink in the world for over a century, and it got its start right in Terminus. Currently the Sampson family profits most from the brand in their role as Terminus nobility, with their patriarch the international corporation’s CEO. They’d long had a museum to the history of the brand in the crime-ridden Underground Terminus, and a few years ago picked up digs and funded a much more elaborate tourist trap next to the Olympic park, the other end of the plaza anchored by a large aquarium that is a frequent villainous target for fish-based schemes (and the local rogues are tired of Aquaman being the most frequent JLA member associated with the city).

High’s Depot Stadium

One of the most popular big-box stores in the nation is headquartered in Terminus, and two of their founders, Aurelius High and August Null, have made their families rich off of the business and stayed local. The High family are noted philanthropists, supporting a diverse series of causes including various Jewish foundations and their own art museum. The Null family are more interested in extreme capitalism, and are known for their ownership of the Terminus Steelwings football team, which currently plays out of the stadium funded by the company he founded.

The Pentacle

Looming near the middle of town, this too-trendy artsy neighborhood has grown up around an ill-advised five-way arrangement of streets. In addition to the traffic implications, complicating drives from all over the area, the mystic consequences are also poorly understood. Once a haven for a particularly off-putting wizard “hero,” Zachary Carstairs, who allowed the culture to grow up around his below-ground sanctum, he eventually went mad with power and had to be put down by a surprising teamup of the local crimefighters and rogues. Since then, the mystical hasn’t really flourished in Terminus, and the area has become increasingly touristy, but the core of mystic alignment theoretically still buzzes in the area, waiting for someone else to make a bid.

The Snarl

Another nationally-famous traffic pattern, this junction of interstates and major surface streets has long contributed heavily to the infamously poor Terminus commute. There’s a running bounty of respect and cash that’s been accumulating for decades to go to the rogue who can manage to smash it so thoroughly that the city has to start from scratch and maybe replace it with something less horrifying. Don Moreland, who also had a mysterious hand in one of the avenues that runs through the Pentacle, is the DoT official responsible for the traffic pattern, and even in his advanced age wields influence to keep it from being replaced. They say that his family has a long and poorly understood stranglehold on the city’s infrastructure planning.

Stagcrest Neighborhood

Terminus’ most infamous party zone, this area features most of the bars and clubs most popular with the celebrity set, including globally-known performers that live full time in the city. Because the city’s celebrities have long been focused on hip hop (with a recent influx of film), the area is famous for violent shootings as performers escalate their “beefs.” Rogues know they’ve reached a certain level of notoriety when they’re invited to go clubbing with rappers who want to associate with them for the street cred, or film stars that want to up their bad boy/girl personas for the tabloids by being seen with a villain in public.

Wolfheart-Holbrook International Airport

One of the busiest in the world, Terminus’ airport is a centerpoint of all kinds of smuggling, with most savvy rogues figuring out a way to get some leverage on the operation. Lambda Airlines owns a whole terminal, and uses the city as their international hub. The Dean family currently profits most from the airline business, with their patriarch the brand’s CEO. While the MARTHA (Metro Area Rail Transit and Helicopter Authority) subways don’t reach as many places in the area as most would like, they do conveniently start at the airport, making it easy for travelers willing to brave the trains to get to most of Terminus. The odd addition of helicopter-transit to the agency’s remit is a historical legacy of a brief villainous fad to abuse private helicopters in the 70s, resulting in the city moving them to public control.

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