Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Black Flask

It turns out that the recipe isn't symbolic, but absolutely literal.

A basic alchemical distillation from a very old recipe. Widespread throughout texts and traditions, it is believed to be a necessary step on the quest to extend life and cheat death. It appears to be an opaque black liquid with the consistency of milk. It tastes inky and metallic, and remains cooler than room temperature.

Once the Dark Sun has risen on the Astral Plane, quaffing from the Black Flask (which does not detect as magic) has the following effects:

First Dose: For 10 minutes (1 turn), you are under the effect of a blur spell. This is does not detect as magic.

Second Dose: For 10 minutes (1 turn), all damage you give and receive is halved but you get an extra attack as your shadow takes on some of your substance and volition. This does not detect as magic.

You must make a Powers Check.

Third Dose: You dematerialise/turn Ethereal and everything held/worn drops to the floor. You can only detected by those in a similar state or by true seeing. Those with second sight will be aware of your presence, but no more.

For 30 minutes (3 turns), you are naked, insubstantial, invisible and unable to interact with the material world, but free do what you can/wish in your new state. You are apparent to any other entities in a similar state, native or otherwise.

You can feel the pull of the Dark Sun even if you do not recognise it. You perceive shadows and reflective surfaces on the material plane as absolute liquid darkness, in contrast to the hazy greys of everything else.

You must make a Powers Check, remaining immaterial if you fail.

Until such time as the Dark Sun rises on the Astral Plane, the Black Flask is merely an otherwise hollow ritual of alchemical research with the following effects:

Obtaining the Black Flask: researching and creating the Black Flask requires a Powers Check, and the resulting potion detects as magical.

Taking a Dose: Save or be nauseated for d6 x10 minutes (not cumulative with further doses).

You experience the effects above as standard drug-based hallucinations and come away disappointed, or determined to try again. 

You are in an Altered State for the durations given above (no save). 

During this time, you will have the sense of being stared at by invisible and/or astral/ethereal creatures, if any happen to be present. Astral/ethereal creatures can be confident that you cannot actually see them; those in the material world might believe they have been detected.


All credit for the original to u/the_pint_is_the_bowl, posting in r/DnDBehindTheScreen.

Powers Checks are from Ravenloft (2e AD&D setting), specifically the Masque of the Red Death supplement. 

I've got a particular setting in mind for this, and the original slotted straight in like there was already a space for it.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Low Armour Settings

Custom armour for special occasions not covered in this post.
Stephen Cartwright for Usborne.

This isn't about historical accuracy/realism, but gameable fiction using a D&D adjacent system.

In my setting defaults, armour is usually low availability/use because that's the fiction I'm going for, and I'll support that with whatever makes sense - fashion, scarcity of materials or knowledge, lack of need, relative local stability, market forces and legal systems (both malevolent and benign).

Bear in mind I came to some of this via using a 3d6 Hit Roll with capped AC and assuming a low level campaign, so even though the numbers aren't that different to regular d20 play, they could break down at higher levels.

Metal Suit Armour is Expensive.

While armour prices generally rise across D&D editions, plate is cheap in BECMI and a suit of full armour (BECMI Master set) is only 250gp - still cheaper than plate in AD&D.. 

Using the 1e AD&D Lankhmar setting as a starting point, chain is x4 the listed cost and plate is unique, beyond the means of common adventurers (so maybe costing the equivalent of XP to reach 2nd level). Little-remembered UK rpg Dragonroar gives price of plate as 600 to 6,000 without commentary.

This is not because metal is especially scarce or because the technology isn't up to it, but because you need one of a dwindling number of specialists to make it, or because it belongs or belonged to someone important. Except for maybe the military during an actual war, there aren't workshops churning out suits of mail and plate.

Leather/Light Armour.

This type of armour exists in all settings except where there is no armour at all. Usually leather, or cloth, or padded, but can be reskinned as whatever you like (even mail or plate) as long as it's Light and protects as such. 

Includes robust clothing, crude animal hides and furs, catsuits, hazmat, otherwise impractical chainmail bikinis - whatever marks out the character as being armoured as opposed to not. 

Helmets and Shields.

Though shields have fallen out of common use, the buckler is still used for fighting practice and is readily available. 

Helmets, bucklers and parrying daggers as in this post. Helmets will be open as standard, but visors etc can be fitted easily enough.

Common Armour Types.

Relatively generic, covering approximately 17th/18th Century European pseudohistorical period (Hammer Horror-ish), but related examples exist in non-Euro settings and both earlier and later.

No prices, because it will vary place-to-place, time-to-time and depend on how fancy you want your goods.

  • Leather Jack/Jerkin gives +1 AC and encumbers as Unarmoured. Basically a padded leather vest or jacket.

  • Soldier's Coat gives +1 AC, but encumbers as Light armour. This is a gambeson or buff coat.

  • Jack of Plates/Brigandine gives +1 AC, encumbers as Medium armour, but gives a 1 on d6 save vs. crits. Layers of cloth/leather reinforced with bits of metal plate (rivetted or sewn).

  • Breastplate gives +2 AC and a save vs. crit, encumbers as Medium armour. Sometimes impractically ornate and expensive and just for show.

  • Mail Shirt gives +3 AC, encumbers as Heavy armour. This is old fashioned kit, the armour of unrefined barbarians.

  • Heavy Breastplate isn't necessarily available, but would be +4 AC Heavy armour with a crit save. Very old fashioned or worn by monsters.

You can wear a Leather Jack, Jack of Plates or Mail Shirt under a Soldier's Coat to stack the benefits.

You can do the same with a Breastplate and a Leather Jack or Soldier's Coat.

If you're wearing a Helmet with your Jack of Plates or Breastplate, you get the save vs. crit from both - so either roll twice or save on 1-2.

I'm assuming padding under the Mail Shirt as standard, but you could allow layering with a Leather Jack for total +4 AC.


Dark Sun pits non-metal vs. metal, but isn't necessarily a low armour setting. 

A Mighty Fortress provides for a specific historical period. Lamentations of the Flame Princess runs with this - with room for adventurers in plate and chain because they're monsters and weirdos.

Orcs of Thar gives rules for armour made of scraps (I think there were other BECMI/RC supplements that used this or a variation on it). I don't think this sits well alongside the primary armour system - maybe for a pure scavenger game. 

Lankhmar - City of Adventure firmly places one of the formative D&D texts in low armour territory, and this supplement (or at least the 1e AD&D character conversion section) is one of my touchstones for thinking about D&D adjacent gaming.

Again, usual caveats that this might all have been done before, done better or should just have played Runequest/ WFRP.

Bonus Extra.

And not just for low armour settings.

Leather, chain or plate on their own give +2 AC and are Light armour (chain shirt, breastplate etc), but you can layer them up to +6 - leather/padded under chain and/or plate.

Cost is cumulative for each layer.

This also leaves room to add optional  +1 AC armour pieces, such as tassets or an alternative to the helmet as a save vs. crit.