Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Whipping the Elemental Evil Player's Companion Races Into Shape, pt. 1

David Hitchcock does commissions

So if anybody was wondering, we're going to be getting one of those Unearthed Arcana PDFs like they did for Eberron but for Oriental Adventures material eventually. This is just a guess, of course, but there is no better reason to use the most boring of all D&D's many boring bird people for this document (Which they more or less cop to in the document "Yeah aarakocra aren't really around so much and have traditionally never mattered to the Realms," man can't wait to play one now!). They are more boring than Tolkein eagles because at least those guys suggested the larger and ancient and alien expanse of nature and its sagacity and ferocity and weren't just the worst member of Infinity Inc. WHICH TAKES SERIOUS DOING. Why are they in this book instead of Tengu (or Kenku if you are a strict traditionalist about only the wrong things), who are and always will be cooler and whose inevitable game stats are going to be damn near identical? Well the booklet is all about elemental heritage and it turns out aarakocra hate rocks. Oh my god they hate rocks so. much. you guys. They hate rocks more than rock hates scissors. Isn't that fascinating? Isn't that scintillating?

So if you don't want to just forget about these guys and live happier lives because But Product Identityyyyyy!!! then fine. And you don't want to use Tengu. And you don't want to just do what Zak did to these guys. Fine. Okay. But if you want to make a race that's tied closely to the air that hates rocks for this thing let's make their association more intimate so that struggle is more of a daily concern. I'm talking about bat people.


Less awkward to say than Aarakocra for a start. Let's use the Aarakocra stat block as a starting point. Lose the Wisdom bonus, because these are no distant philosophers. Let's reduce the walking speed to 20' and turn the Fly speed into a Glide speed. We'll give them advantage on Str (Athletics) checks made to climb. We'll give them Vulnerability to bludgeoning damage because of those brittle hollow bones. Finally, let's give them sonar: at-will natural ability to to detect any physical impediment in a 60' radius, even in perfect darkness. This basically lets you roll a Wis (Perception) check blind with advantage. HOWEVER it also confers advantage to any beings in the darkness hunting you in that radius to notice you with their own Perception check, because they hear your sonar.

Ability Score: Dexterity +2
Age: Vespers mature by the end of their first year but are pretty stupid until they're 11 or 12. They live up to 40 years. Nobody cares.
Alignment: Vespers do not give a fuck about alignment which I guess makes them neutral. They are aligned anti-earth. That's a more usable concept really.
Size: Vespers are 2-4' tall, depending on the variety (not true subtypes in RPG terms but physical characteristics vary wildly depending on the last cool picture of a bat you saw). They are Small, then.
Speed: Your walk is more of a crawl or controlled tumble forward like an old man with a walker. Your base land speed is 20'.
Wings: You have a Glide speed of 50' and must either land or fall at the end of this movement. You cannot finish Gliding higher than when you started without making use of an updraft with a successful Actobatics or Nature check. You cannot do this in medium or heavy armor, while carrying a versatile weapon (since you need 2 hands at your size and your digits are too far apart to do both), or while bearing a shield.
Cave Dweller: You have Advantage on Athletics checks made to climb. After a successful check, you may hang upside down from an overhanging structure while you sleep without losing your grip.
Hollow Bones: You have Vulnerability to bludgeoning damage.
Claws: You are proficient with unarmed strikes, which do 1d4 damage on a hit.
Sonar: You may make a Perception check with Advantage to determine any physical obstacles (even those normally not visible) within a 60' radius, even in complete darkness. However, you confer Advantage to any Perception checks made to locate you by creatures within that radius.
Languages: You know Common, Undercommon, and Vex, and you can speak these at both a normal and ultrasonic register.

Once there was only dark, and pain, for once there was only stone. Fire split stone and breathed the first breath into the world. Along the throats of darkness, mangled and scratched by the reaching earth, learning the breath, loving the breath, devoting their lives to the breath, came these Darkspeakers. They scratched their way free through great wounds in the face of the world and into the breath outside, breathed around the world, which created the Up. They came Up hungry, away from the fathoms-deep pools of cockroaches, away from the blind fishes. They hunted in this world, and their cries were taken as evil speech, as black magic spells. As Darkspeak. As Vexing. They were themselves hunted near the brink of extinction. Many took refuge in the forests, and their fortunate descendents flourished. Some have made their home these past ages in the cities and sewers of the other man-kinds, and theirs is an uneasy balance. Most, however, were beat back into the caves, forced back into the hungry stalacmite jaws waiting to scoop them up and swallow their story, their struggle, down, down, all the way back down to the belly of the rock where fire never touched. Down to the He who always hungers, always consumes, who absorbs all the dead and takes them into his heart to grind forever. Never-See-Moving. Eyes Without Eyes. Ogremoch.
Vespers love air, love the idea of the plane of air, and some great few have, perhaps, touched it, but these may just be stories. They're big fans of fire for obvious reasons but they adore the air, the SKY, forever denied them, and they have been made by elect or manifest the front line in the war betwixt skythings and the earthformed. They are the Air-Within-The-Earth, cave-kind, and their struggle is eternal and nearly certainly fatal. Their distant relations in the forests and cities offer solidarity and hope but scarcely any aid. Only the bravest. Only the best.
The Vespers believe the fact that the world as we know it came to exist at all means that the world is in the process of ending, and fast. They have glimpsed what might have been if not for stone. They are furious over it. Vespers do not align with Law. Vespers align with Justice.
I know this is a very "Do not make loon soup" approach to making the aarakocra better but frankly I want to just say "Use samurai demon crows instead" and piss off back to trying to put my better bird ideas into a book I can eat sushi off of. The benefits of swapping these guys out are pretty straightforward, though. 1: They don't look like a US college football mascot from one of those teams that can only get a game on television when they're playing a better team. 2: Bats are beautiful, and cast a more interesting silhouette than a bird guy, which is just "Angel with shitty legs." 3: Bats ar raw and metal as fuck. 4: A better reason to be polarly aligned against the elemental plane of earth than You Told Me To, Drill Sergeant. 5: Better name. 6: Not a ton of bat people in RPGs so more singular. 7: There is more give and take with their abilities without approaching the min-maxing endless tradeoffs that 3.5 was somewhat notorious for...but since they aren't a 100% dungeon avoider what with their free and endless and expansive flight, maybe they're a better fit for organized play? The answer is yes. 8: They are a race basically born and bred to come from dungeons and tunnels and caverns, but bats are just EVERYWHERE, so no matter how deep your lost crypt or glittering your spired city they always have a good and likely reason to be there, without becoming so populous that they overtake the specialness or roles afforded to the core race types. If nothing else despite what Johnny Depp insists there is no bat country, no great kingdom, just a lot of smaller communities living in fringes, spread out thin enough that you need never interact with them as a concept yet always have them close at hand.