Monday, December 17, 2007

Dark Tide: True Vampires

The Dark Tide is a name for a gothic vampire-hunting setting I worked on with another fellow for a time- perhaps we'll have a finished d20 Modern supplement to show for it someday. At any rate, one of my creations for the setting was a sort of alternate vampire conception, the heaviest inspiration for which was manga Hellsing. Read on for the template and some related material.

Creation: A True Vampire is created when a human possessing sufficient force of will has their blood drained by another True Vampire or a No Life King.
Appearance: At first True Vampires appear just as they did in life. However, their true appearance often changes over time; those who have seen several centuries often appear notably greyed and emaciated, while those who have gone berserk too often tend to have hard, feral features remniscent of wolves. Their are a number of other subtle clues; most vampires cast no shadows and do not appear in mirrors, as well as the fact that their eyes are red and in fact emit a small amount of light.

“Vampire” is an acquired template that can be added to any humanoid or monstrous humanoid creature (referred to hereafter as the base creature).
A vampire uses all the base creature’s statistics and special abilities except as noted here.
Size and Type: The creature’s type changes to undead (augmented humanoid). Do not recalculate base attack bonus, saves, or skill points. Size is unchanged.
Hit Dice: Increase all current and future Hit Dice to d12s.
Speed: Same as the base creature. If the base creature has a swim speed, the vampire retains the ability to swim and is not vulnerable to immersion in running water (see below).
Armor Class: The base creature’s natural armor bonus improves by +3.
Attack: A vampire retains all the attacks of the base creature and also gains a slam attack if it didn’t already have one. If the base creature can use weapons, the vampire retains this ability. A creature with natural weapons retains those natural weapons. A vampire fighting without weapons uses either its slam attack or its primary natural weapon (if it has any). A vampire armed with a weapon uses its slam or a weapon, as it desires.
Full Attack: A vampire fighting without weapons uses either its slam attack (see above) or its natural weapons (if it has any). If armed with a weapon, it usually uses the weapon as its primary attack along with a slam or other natural weapon as a natural secondary attack.
Damage: Vampires have a slam attack, dealing 1d6 bludgeoning damage.
Special Attacks: A vampire retains all the special attacks of the base creature and gains those described below. Saves have a DC of 10 + 1/2 vampire’s HD + vampire’s Cha modifier unless noted otherwise.
Blood Drain (Ex): A vampire can suck blood from a living victim with its fangs by making a successful grapple check. If it pins the foe, it drains blood, dealing 1d4 points of Constitution drain each round the pin is maintained. On each such successful attack, the vampire gains 5 temporary hit points.
Create Spawn (Su): A humanoid or monstrous humanoid whose Constitution is drained to 0 or lower by a vampire will rise again in one of two forms. If the victim was a "dog", they rise again as a ghoul 1d4 rounds after their death (See the Ghoul entry). If the victim was a "human", they instead slowly transform into a vampire, reawakening 2d10 hours after their transformation and immediately entering a blood fury (see below).
Special Qualities: A vampire retains all the special qualities of the base creature and gains those described below.
Blood Fury (Ex): In an action that is extremely dangerous to both their enemies and themselves, a vampire may spend two point's worth of blood to draw upon their savage inner instincts and enter a berserk rage. This is a free action that may be performed at will, but a vampire must also make a DC 15 will save to avoid berserking involuntary whenever they lose more than half their remaining hit points to a single attack. While in a blood fury, a vampire gains a +8 bonus to Strength, a +4 bonus to Dexterity, a +3 bonus to their natural armor, 3 additional points of Fast Healing, 2 temporary hit points per level, and a bite attack. This bite attack deals 1d6 points of damage plus the vampire's strength modifier; a vampire that successfully deals damage with a bite attack may attempt to initiate a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. (Note that the circumstances in which a vampire may drain blood are unchanged) While in a blood fury, a vampire cannot use any Charisma-, Dexterity-, or Intelligence-based skills (except for Balance, Escape Artist, Intimidate, and Tumble), the Concentration skill, or any abilities that require patience or concentration, nor can he cast spells or activate magic items that require a command word, a spell trigger (such as a wand), or spell completion (such as a scroll) to function. He can use any feat he has except Combat Expertise, item creation feats, and metamagic feats. A vampire remains in a blood fury for a number of rounds equal to their level, though they may simply choose to renew the berserk state once more. A vampire may prematurely end his blood fury with a DC 15 will save, attemptable once per round; the berserk state also ends prematurely if the vampire is reduced to 0 hit points or less. At the end of the the blood fury, the vampire loses the various modifiers and restrictions as well as 2 hit points per character level. In addition, the blood fury has another dangerous drawback. Whenever a vampire enters or renews a blood fury, they lose 4 points of intelligence, wisdom and charisma. The amount of points lost is halved, rounding down, every hour that the vampire goes without entering a blood fury. When the penalty would be reduced except that it has already reached -1, the vampire instead must make a will save (DC 10+the number of hours they've spent in a weakened mental state). If they succeed the penalty is negated, but if they fail the final -1 penalty to all three ability scores is permanent. If the the penalties from a blood fury ever equal or exceed one of the vampire's mental ability scores, they immediately fall unconscious and must make another DC 15 will save or reawaken the next round as vampire spawn (See the Vampire Spawn entry).
Blood Reserve (Su): Vampires's bodies do not naturally produce blood; they must steal it from others. A vampire's supply of blood is dependent upon their strength and dexterity scores; every point's worth of blood they spend is represented by a -1 penalty to both scores. These penalties stack and can only be healed by draining points of constitution, on a 1 for 1 basis. If the penalties ever equal or exceed a vampire's strength or dexterity they fall into a coma, their bodies slowly drying out as they take on the appearance of a mummified corpse. Even a single drop of blood upon their bare skin is enough to reduce the penalties by one, allowing the vampire to move about once more.
Curse of the Dawn (Su): From sunrise to sunset, vampires are disoriented, taking a –2 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, and skill checks. In addition, exposure to even the smallest amount of direct natural sunlight causes the vampire to lose all fast healing and take 2d10 points of damage per round. A vampire reduced to -10 hit points by this damage erupts into flames and burns to ashes, permanently destroyed. Even normal light interacts oddly with a vampire; they cast no shadows and do not appear in mirrors.
Curse of Gaia (Su): Piercing weapons made of any sort of plant material (typically wood) may deal critical hits to vampires. Not only that, but on a natural 20 to confirm a critical hit the weapon pierces the vampire's heart, paralyzing them until it is removed. Also, wild garlic repulses the vampire, forcing them to make a DC 15 will save in order to enter a 5-ft. square containing it or to attack something bearing it. If the vampire's fangs pierce wild garlic, it paralyzes their jaw and negates their fast healing.
Curse of the Holy Sigil (Su): A character with sufficient faith in an organization of order and virtue may make use of their symbol; this could be a religion (Possible symbols include the christian cross or the star of david) or some other group (Most commonly the nighthunters, though everything from an army a civil rights group has been known to function in the same capacity). Vampires must make a DC 15 will save to attack character who have allegiances to good and an organization whose symbol they prominently display, as well as any object that the person spends 10 rounds inscribing the said symbol upon. If such a symbol is marred or otherwise destroyed the effect is lost. Also, when such a person places a holy symbol within a vampire's mouth or inscribes it upon their head the vampire's fast healing ceases to function.
Damage Reduction (Su): A vampire has damage reduction 10/silver, wood and magic. A vampire’s natural weapons are treated as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.
Fast Healing (Ex): A vampire heals 3 points of damage each round so long as it has at least 1 hit point.
Refuge of the Grave (Su): A vampire may choose to "sleep" in an small enclosed space (traditionally a coffin) containing a small amount of dirt or other material from the ground where they died and/or rose as a vampire. The vampire sleeps for as long as they choose, though they may make listen checks with a -15 penalty and can awake with a DC 10 wisdom check if they hear something or are physically contacted. While sleeping a vampire loses no blood, heals the ability damage of a blood fury at twice the normal rate and gains a +4 bonus on will saves to avoid permanent mental ability damage. Under no other circumstances may a vampire "sleep."
Resistances (Ex): A vampire has resistance to cold 10 and electricity 10.
Turn Resistance (Ex): A vampire has +4 turn resistance.
Abilities: Increase from the base creature as follows: Str +8, Dex +4, Int +2, Wis +2, Cha +4. As an undead creature, a vampire has no Constitution score and use their Charisma score for Concentration checks.
Skills: Vampires have a +4 racial bonus on Bluff, Handle Animal, Hide, Intimidate, Listen, Move Silently, Sense Motive, and Spot checks. Otherwise same as the base creature.
Feats: Vampires gain Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Improved Initiative, and Lightning Reflexes, assuming the base creature meets the prerequisites and doesn’t already have these feats.
Challenge Rating: Same as the base creature +4
Allegiance: A Vampire's first allegiance is to Evil, and other allegiances are shifted in priority (or if there is not room, removed) as necessary. A Vampire may still have an allegiance to Good.
Advancement: By character class.
Level Adjustment: Same as the base creature +6.

Slaying a Vampire

Vampires are notoriously difficult to permanently destroy. Reducing a vampire’s hit points to 0 or lower incapacitates it, but doesn't destroy it; the vampire cannot be reduced below -10 hp and will heal at the rate of 1 point per round. One can sever a vampire's head with a coup de grace as long as the damage is sufficient to reduce their hit points to -10, but even then the body slowly regrows; the vampire regains one hit point per hour and is fully regenerated when it reaches 1 hp, at which point the vampire regains consciousness and may move about normally. (For the first hour a vampire's head will reattach to the body in a round if replaced, but after this point the body disintegrates into ash and the new one begins to grow.) The key to bringing about a vampire's Final Death is the exploitation of their various curses. The nighthunter's traditional method has been to sever the head, set a nighthunter crest upon the tongue, close their teeth upon flowers of wild garlic, and place the head upon a pike to await the sunrise. During large-scale batles in the days of old, nighthunters would create multiple "funeral pyres", massive bonfires into which they would throw undead and fallen comrades alike. Numerous soldiers would stand guard in a circle to make sure none of the occupants escaped before the dawn.

Vampire Special Abilities

Vampires have a startling array of powers, and it is rare for any two to posess the exact same abilities. Their weaknesses also tend to vary. A Vampire has one power every four character levels, rounding down. He may also select up to two additional powers in exchange for a corresponding number of flaws. They may also increase their powers by taking the Improved Vampiric Abilities feat.

Vampire Powers:
Alternate Form (Su): A vampire can assume the shape of a bat, dire bat, wolf, or dire wolf as a standard action. A vampire chooses which form they can take on when they select this power; the vampire may select this ability a second time to gain access to the other forms. The ability is similar to a polymorph spell cast by a 12th-level character, except that the vampire does not regain hit points for changing form and must choose from among the forms mentioned here. While in its alternate form, the vampire loses its natural slam attack, children of the night and compelling gaze abilities, but it gains the natural weapons and extraordinary special attacks of its new form. It can remain in that form until it assumes another or until the next sunrise. (If the base creature is not terrestrial, this power might allow other forms.)
Blasphemer of the Dawn (Su): A vampire takes only a -1 on attack rolls, saving throws and skill checks during daylight hours and instead loses hit points at the rate of 1 per minute. They appear in mirrors and cast shadows from any artificial form of light.
Blasphemer of Gaia (Su): A vampire is immune to the effects of wild garlic and has a 50% chance of not being paralyzed when their heart is pierced.
Blasphemer of the Sigil (Su): A vampire recieves a +8 bonus on will saves against the effects of the Curse of the Sigil and gains a +2 morale bonus on will saves for 5 rounds whenever they destroy a functional holy symbol.
Blood Bond (Su): A vampire can offer two point's worth of blood to a willing creature to drink. Doing so places the victim under a permanent Charm Person effect, causing them to regard the vampire as their master and a trusted ally. Resisting one of the vampire's commands requires a succesful will save. Vampires with this ability often use it on newly created progeny to insure loyalty. The effect is a curse, and requires the standard degree of magic and will to remove. Also, a vampire with this ability may telepathically command all ghouls they have created within a radius of 100 ft. per character level.
Children of the Night (Su): Vampires command the lesser creatures of the world and once per day can call forth 1d6+1 rat swarms, 1d4+1 bat swarms, or a pack of 3d6 wolves as a standard action. These creatures arrive in 2d6 rounds and serve the vampire for up to 1 hour.
Compelling Gaze (Su): A vampire can subvert an opponent’s will just by looking onto his or her eyes. This is similar to a gaze attack, except that the vampire must use a standard action, and those merely looking at it are not affected. Anyone the vampire targets must succeed on a Will save or fall instantly under the vampire’s influence as though by a dominate person spell (caster level 12th). The ability has a range of 30 feet. Note that paralysis does not prevent the use of this ability.
Gaseous Form (Su): As a standard action once per day, a vampire can assume gaseous form at will as the spell (caster level 5th), except that the vampire appears as a semitransparent outline and has a fly speed of 20 feet with perfect maneuverability. A vampire may take select this ability a second time; if so, they may use this ability additional times per day at the cost of two point's worth of blood each, and may automatically do so when reduced to 0 hit points or less.
Improved Resistance (Su): Instead of silver, wood, and magic, a vampire's DR requires holy weapons to bypass.
Monstrous Fervor: A vampire refuses to collapse even in the face of massive physical damage. They remain standing between -1 and -9 hp and can take one standard action each round.
Monstrous Strength: A vampire's enhanced physical might allows them to more easily handle weapons of all kinds. They treat their size as large for the purpose of determining how they wield weapons.
Semblance of Life (Su): A vampire may expend blood at the rate of one point's worth per hour in order to create an illusion of having normal biological processes. Their body is warm, their pulse is normal, they breathe, and their eyes even resume their old color. They still must remember to blink, however.
Spider Climb (Ex): A vampire can climb sheer surfaces as though with a spider climb spell.
Thaumaturgic Rites (Su): A vampire may use the stolen lifeblood flowing through their veins to augment their eldritch power. As a move action, they may spend up to half their level in blood; this increases their effective caster level by an equal amount for one round per character level. A vampire who has spent a sufficent amount of blood may use part or all of this augmentation to instead apply any metamagic feat they possess, sacrificing two points of the increase in caster level for each effective level that the metamagic feat would increase the spell by. When using skill-based magic, the vampire instead gains an enhancement bonus on all skill checks to cast spells.

Vampiric Flaws:
Call of the Beast (Su): A vampire needs spend only a single point's worth of blood enter a frenzy, but they take a -4 penalty on will saves to avoid doing so involuntarily and the penalty to their intelligence, wisdom and charisma is -5 instead of -4.
Curse of the Nosferatu (Su): The savagery inside is reflected in the vampire's exterior; they appear warped and feral, taking a -4 penalty on diplomacy checks and a -10 penalty on disguise checks to make themselves appear human.
Curse of the Sea (Su): A vampire cannot cross over running water of their own will, although they may be transported over it while sleeping.
Fear of the Curse (Su): Vampires cannot bear to even look directly at that which weakens them. When the target is bearing a mirror, wild garlic or a functional holy symbol the vampire must treat them as though they have one-falf concealment, incurring a 20% miss chance.
Respect for the Host (Su): Vampires may not enter a private domain without proper invitation from a qualified source, often the owner or a resident.
Slow Partaker (Su): A vampire may only drain one point of blood from a subject each round.

Improved Vampiric Abilities
You have succesfully tapped further into the dark power which drives you, and have learned much as a result.
Prerequisites: True Vampire, character level 6th.
Benefit: You either lose a vampiric flaw, gain a new vampiric power, or gain two new vampiric powers and one new flaw.
Special: You may gain this feat multiple times.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

10 Campaign Ideas #3

Someone requested that I update, so I've started digging up alot of different notes from these past several notes and making them presentable. By the way, I don't think I've mentioned this here before, but with brainstorming threads like this I almost always have more to an idea than what I write here; if you want me to elaborate on something, maybe give some more details or stat things out, ask.
Jonah and the leviathan. The PCs are crew on an exploratory sea voyage, when they get eaten by a MASSIVE sea monster (Think in terms of miles/kilometers) and find that there is another world inside- an ecosystem of strange man-zized symbiotes and glowing fungi as well as civilization in the form of the descendants of other groups of survivors. Escape is supposed to be impossible; for most of the people in this civilization, the outside world is nothing more than a creation myth. And perhaps other, more sinister sentient beings exist in this realm- beings with long lifespans and large plans, plans involving seizing control over this massive creature and using it for their own ends...
"I'll see you in hell"- there's more to the expression than you might think. Here's how the theory goes: there's a layer of hell reserved for those who, while bastards guilty of many a sin, still had some sort of morality that drove them to seek justice for individuals who tended to make them them look like angels by comparison. Well guess what? Whether you killed that son of a bitch or he killed you, you're *both* somewhere in this desert wasteland. And while there's plenty of suffering to be had here- heat stroke, hunger, all manner of horrible bodily harm- there's only one thing that can really take you down, and that's your nemesis. What happens after you die again is anyone's guess- maybe you go to somewhere that's *really* bad, or maybe those kooky bastards who think we're in some kinda purgatory are actually onto something.

Oh, there are demons; take the civilized ones who wear clothes, pass you by on the street and hang out at the bar. They're reliable folk- always in it for themselves and they don't make no bullshit about it, so if you think one's your friend then you deserve to get sold out. It's the feral ones who're the nasty pieces of work, rip your guts right out if you're not careful- stay outta the wastes and hope the town you're in can hold it's own if a pack or two pays a visit. But in the end, stranger, it's like they say- Hell is other people.

(Note that this may have a western feel, but it still works with both fantasy and modern-day settings).
The players are U.S. Navy personnel serving belowdecks on an aircraft carrier during a WWII battle in the Pacific, when a series of explosions throws them into darkness. They manage to crawl out of the wreckage, band together and start working their way through the shattered decks to get out of the ship- but as they go, they start encountering strange bloodstains and the like, followed by freaky creatures (Try going for a combination of Silent Hill monsters and the cursed crew of the Flying Dutchman in Pirates of the Carribbean). Eventually they make it out onto the deck, only to confronted with a collection of horribly wrecked battleships and carriers. For now, no avenue of escape offers itself; they can try making their way to other ships, searching for one that's still operational or salvageable even if it means using a PT boat. No life rafts are in sight- it could be that they were all unconscious for some time, and that any other survivors already fled long ago. The game plays out similar to a post-apocalyptic survival scenario; the creatures are belowdecks on almost every ship, but only emerge during the night. For added tension, the players find themselves gripped with a deep and pervading sense that the water of the open sea is not safe to touch with your bare skin.

There are two possible explanations for what's really going on: That some supernatural force was either disturbed or brought into play during the battle, and wound up destroying both sides, or that the players are actually dead and in a sort of purgatory, where if they manage to survive and overcome some personal symbolic barrier they may continue to the afterlife, but if they sink down into the water they'll be trapped in the crushing black forever. If the latter is the case, perhaps the creatures will brutally savage the players but never actually kill them.
14th century Earth: Medieval Europe is invaded by another world. As GM, you know the world is roughly the equivalent of a D&D setting except that it 1: Has no humans and 2: Has been taken over by Illithids in the service of Thoon, who are now directing their various subverted forces through gates that emerge deep within the wilderness. Humanity is forced to match ingenuity and relatively advanced technology (Gunpowder, crossbows, full plate armor) against forces of orc barbarians, elven archers, halfling sabotuers, half-tamed beasts and monsters, and much more. The attacking forces burn towns to the ground with fireballs and alchemist's fire, leaving nothing but ashes in their wake.

The PCs are all young men and women in noble families, whose lands are the first to be attacked. The game begins with them encountering signs of the incursions- large numbers of strange tracks in the woods while on a hunting party, or the ashes of a small village with a strange weapon or two to be found. After the suspense has been built up enough, they run into a medium-sized force (a hundred orcs led by an elvish mage, for example) and must flee for their lives. When they finally reach their estate, they find that few are willing to believe their fantastic story.

As the campaign moves on they lose their lands to the invading forces and are taken in by the king, who offers their families a chance to reclaim their titles and new lands if the players serve well as field agents. Adventures might include guarding fleeing bands of refugees, accompanying and advising a team of royal assassins on a mission to take out a particular warlord (since until now they've only dealt with humans), acquiring the spellbooks of more and more powerful mages so that humans can keep learning more magic, and so on. A further development could be figuring out how to free the grunts of the invading forces from the control of their illithid masters, gaining allies in the fight and thus a fighting chance.
A colony ship is thrown off-course when its FTL malfunctions, but has enough power to get themselves to a system with potentially habitable planets- only to be faced with a fully-inhabited D&D-style world. Elves, dragons, medieval society, the works. The ship lands, and attempts to stay on good terms with the locals; more and more members are taken out of stasis to keep things running, while the captain wavers on whether to pursue their original mission or just stay in the city-state that's beginning to establish itself around the ship. Players work for the ship's leaders- they could be medieval adventurers, members of the ship's crew, or a mix.
A big question here is how to handle humans- do they exist here? If not, that makes the explorer's presence all the more novel, and it's the version I recommend. But if they do, that then begs the question: How long have said humans been here? If history says they showed up a few centuries/millenia ago, maybe they somehow came from earth; and if they've always been here and the tech level never changes like in most D&D settings, perhaps this is where Earth's humans came from. And if that's the case, maybe there's a deity that keeps the tech level from advancing like in the Forgotten Realms. Such a being wouldn't take kindly to these visitors...
The PCs are invited to join a new sort of venture- a mass adventuring expedition, where a caravan of merchants, healers, etc. serves as a mobile base of operations for ten or so adventuring parties who go out and explore. The caravan normally journeys for about a week, then stops for a week in a promising area- more if the region is both secure and potentially lucrative. Everything is handled in a largely democratic fashion, though the expedition leader has the final say. The destination of the expedition is a big factor; you could, as expected, have it be an unexplored jungle region like the stuff of pulp adventure. The players would be up against angry natives and mysterious guardian constructs as they explore remote ruins of a lost civilization- or raid the intact temples of a still-thriving one. To shake things up more for a higher-level game, you could have the expedition be to more dangerous locales like the underdark (because raiding drow cities for fun is the best idea ever) or another plane (because the nine hells are a fine substitute when Menzoberannzan's booked). Don't forget that this allows for politics, intrigue, and even “murder on the orient express”-style mystery if some of the other adventurers are particularly backstab-inclined.
The party goes adventuring in some unexplored realm- this could quite easily be combined with the previous idea, if only to give you more npcs to kill off- and begin to be stalked by some hidden menace. Mutated humanoids, perhaps, surprisingly stealthy and organized as well as being led by some huge monstrosity. The keys to the horror during this first segment are isolation and an enemy that's only barely glimpsed- in fact, I'd suggest you consider *never* revealing them in their entirety, except maybe to someone who has accepted that they're going to die and has no hope left.

Thing is, that's just the beginning. The PCs eventually escape- they get a lucky break, perhaps, and catch a ride on a friendly ship heading home. But the menace follows them. Creatures attack from the sea, slaughtering the valiant crew. The PCs barely survive and reach their home in civilization, but there is no escape. The menace keeps pursuing them, while also attacking society as a whole. See, you know how sometimes colonists would bring a species of animal along with them, and it would wind up dominating the ecosystem and causing the extinction of several native species? It's like that, but with humanity as the native species that's screwed because the Deep Ones followed you home. Great job there guys. No, no really- way to go.
Don't go off the path. Specifically, the one path allowed to the outside world as a method of transportation through a mysterious realm occupied by a fearsome, powerful people (/dragons/giants/no one knows for sure). Said path could be a roadway, or perhaps a canal if we're going to match the pretty picture. It's an amazing journey that many a seasoned traveler will recommend you make at least once in your lifetime- the wonders you'll witness must be seen to be believed. Thing is, you must take care to never stray from the allowed region for any reason- the powers that dwell within this realm have mandated that nothing that enters can ever leave. So naturally, you'll have to figure out some way to have this happen to the PCs. A cool and heroic way to do it would be to have one of their number accidentally trespass territory (or be pushed), and have the rest of the PCs accompany them rather than abandoning them. You've got a group of travelers from a foreign realm trapped in a mysterious realm that can hold pretty much anything you want. The eventual objective could be escape (a cruel GM could, once again, combine this with the previous idea), but it certainly doesn't have to be; maybe the characters eventually come upon the civilization within this realm and are offered a chance to be incorporated within the society, the important thing not being that they've trespassed but that they not be allowed to share this ream's secrets with the outside world.
To reverse the perspectives: Say that the players are natives in a relatively primitive culture, one that has a strong ties to the nature spirits- spirits that have protected and watched over their people for centuries. Meanwhile, colonists have landed- more than one group in different neighboring areas, each with their own differences- say one's a bunch of xenophobic conquest-happy jerks, while another is composed of pious refugees and the third is expeditious but friendly and cooperative. However, the nature spirits eventually declare that all three are a taint upon the land that must be purged.

It's a shades of grey scenario; on one hand, though some of them seem genuinely well-intentioned, colonists definitely have a tendency to spell bad news for natives. On the other hand, the nature spirits are really just trying to prevent the player's civilization from advancing and thus becoming more independent. Theirs is a symbiotic relationship with humankind, not a benevolent one. The players develop relations (friends and enemies alike) with people on both sides, and in the end the course of their people will be up to them to decide.
Some of the fairly evil gods in a large pantheon are planning an epic backstab of a coup. One god catches on, but is caught and "killed" before he can spread the word and warn any others. But death for a god does not take as easily as it does for a mortal. In this case, the dying god was able to transfer fragments of his power and consciousness to his most devout worshipers. There's just one catch: This is, or was, a humble NG god of farming. A lower-tier deity whose most devout worshipers are those who work humbly in the fields all day long. So the players are all a bunch of level 5 commoners of various ages, with heroic ability scores but absolutely nothing in the way of an epic background beyond a parent who's a retired footsoldier or something. Each of them is a humble, pious individual; their deity helps those who helps themselves and others in equal measure through hard work. And now each of them feels a deep-seated compulsion- come to a certain shrine in a certain village, where only they will understand the ravings of a local priest who absorbed the brunt of the knowledge the god was trying to convey. The players, on the other hand, got the brunt of the power. This would likely be a Book of Exalted Deeds campaign, with players gaining extra abilities- bonus exalted feats, for example. Players must struggle to comprehend their new inner nature and unravel the mystery as they free from mysterious assailants (agents of the traitor gods sent to wipe out any potential traces of the god's power).

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