Campaign of the Month: November 2007
Even though I love D&D’s mechanics, I’ve always been the kind of person to tinker with things and see how they work out differently. Bodhisattva Complex is a good example of two things I’ve always wanted to do – make a system mod with my own spin on it and compose a campaign setting of my very own. There are a lot of things about BC that are classic D&D in terms of mechanics, but there are quite a few things that are way off the original formula. Little did I know that D&D 4e would be using a lot of the ideas I’d had for this very campaign. All I can say is that I’m excited at the prospect of the saying “great minds think alike” applying to me for once.
The following page is a breakdown of many of the custom rules and mechanics to be found in Bodhisattva Complex, as well as the motivation or inspiration behind them.
- Skill Packs: Much like the compressed skills to be found in 4e, skill packs are groups of stand-alone skills combined for the convenience of the player and the DM. They are as follows:
- Athletics: Climb, Jump, Swim
- Acrobatics: Balance, Tumble, Use Rope
- Intuition: Spot, Listen, Sense Motive
- Communications: Bluff, Diplomacy, Gather Information, Intimidate
- Stealth: Hide, Move Silently, Sleight of Hand
- Acumen: Spellcraft, Decipher Script, Disable Device
In the case of classes that don’t have some of these skills in 3.5 as-is, they are considered to have that skill use available to them in BC. Players can choose to “drop” one skill use from a packet to gain a +1 bonus to checks with another use. For example, Milo has Athletics but doesn’t want Climb included because he’s afraid of heights. He can choose to remove the Climb use from his own Athletics package and gain a +1 bonus to Swim checks.
- New Skill: Knowledge (anima) (INT): Knowledge (anima) specifically relates to the body of lore dealing with phenomena of anima in all its forms. This skill replaces Knowledge (the planes) in Bodhisattva Complex due to incarnum mechanics playing a much more prevalent role here than in other campaigns.
Knowledge (anima) covers ancient myths and stories, mysteries, cultures and civilizations, notable figures in history, and medical or magical applications for atma in its many forms. Knowledge (anima) can be used to identify monsters with the incarnum or necrocarnum subtype and to identify soulmelds as they are used, much like the Spellcraft use of Acumen.
Synergy: A character with the ability to bond a soulmeld to at least one chakra gains a +2 competence bonus on all Knowledge (anima) checks.
Untrained: An untrained Knowledge (anima) check is simply an Intelligence check.
- Asura: Asura have their own page where they’re explained in detail, so I’ll just use this space to explain the inspiration behind them.
The major inspiration behind asura are persona, from the Persona series of console RPGs. A soulbound entity that is an indellible part of you, but at the same time someone altogether different. Persona would grant their users various abilites that could be very powerful, but only if used with the right knowledge and foresight. Persona also grow with their user, as though experiencing everything right alongside them and becoming new people themselves in the process. I’ve always found this sort of symbiosis to be fascinating and have been attempting for years to put my own spin on it. Weapons of Legacy and Tome of Magick gave me just the right ingredients to put together and create the asura as they should be.
- Custom races Vanara, Naga, Rakshasa and Automa: Each of these races is equivalent to another race in D&D, either of the same name or something different such as warforged. The reason I felt compelled to create my own versions of these races is two-fold. First, none of the Hindu-inspired races in D&D have ever lived up to their origins. Especially not the Naga, who are relegated to feral monsters in D&D but are just as often sages and healers in Hindu myth. I created new versions of these races with abilities and qualities more loyal to the creatures that inspired them and, most importantly, kept them at a level adjustment that would let anyone play them from the beginning.
Each race favors a particular style of fighting or casting spells. The vanara favor martial maneuvers, the naga divine magic, the rakshasa arcane and shadow magic, and the automa psionics. Originally these affinities were mechanically represented in a +1 to caster, manifester, or initiator levels with those things, but I felt this was pretty unusual and it led to higher LAs for every race, so it had to be scrapped.
The automa are unusual among the races. In a world where essentia is the very stuff of life, they can’t interact with it in any way. Automa are meant to represent the choice a player might make to play the non-meldshaper in a world full of meldshapers. Although their racial entry is rather large, I feel they deserve to stay at LA 0 because of this inability to work with the mechanical focus of the campaign.
Some might notice the decision to leave incarnum out of the equasion for all of the custom races. This was a conscious effort to keep meldshaping more in the realm of humans than any other race. Whereas rakshasa are the masters of darkness and death or vanara are expert military strategists who can wield three weapons at once, humans are the one race on Evidia with the strongest and most resilient life energy. Thus atma is drawn to them more strongly than any other race.
- Custom classes Esprit and Vedic: Now we come to my favorite part of D&D and the thing that makes me play console RPGs obsessively; job classes. Anyone who’s tried to play an Incarnate or Soulborn knows one thing for sure. Those classes pretty much fail at presenting a balanced meldshaper class that can fill a specific role in a party while still maintaining their mechanical flair. The Incarnate is like expert mode for munchkins – a bare-bones class that has to use their most impressive class feature to make themselves even half as good as any other base class out there. Conversely the Soulborn is just “incarnum paladin,” another attempt at changing an existing archetype just enough so that stuffy fanboys don’t write angry letters. Add to this the stern reliance on alignment and you have two classes that are too intimidating for more progressive playgroups, not to mention older playgroups with a more “core four” attitude won’t touch incarnum at all because it’s too different.
When BC started to become a reality as a campaign, I went to great lengths to change the attitude of meldshaping so that things feel much less Incarnate and much more Totemist. These two base classes are the end result of this effort, and I’m probably much prouder of them than I should be.
Esprit: A potent alternative to the Incarnate, the Esprit is a meldshaper who is built exclusively for support. Sporting an Incarnate’s essentia and soulmeld growth but doing away completely with alignment-based mechanics, the player has a lot more freedom to go in any direction they feel comfortable with an Esprit, from an aura-collecting support monster to a ravaging para-mage wirh damaging soulmelds. The Esprit creates a “network” of allies who share his essentia and create opportunities for him to be stealthy and confusing. The most prominent benefit of the network is the Gestalt Bleed class feature, wherein an Esprit can manifest the effects of an offensive soulmeld from a point of origin other than himself – using a breath weapon from the party fighter’s square, for example.
Vedic: Named specifically for the Hindu feel of BC, the Vedic is to the Monk what the Warblade is to a Fighter. With a Soulborn’s meldshaper stats and a Monk’s saves and BAB, the Vedic uses essentia for more than just soulmelds. Sharing class features with the Monk such as increased speed, spell resistance, and self-healing, the Vedic is able to invest ki in these class features every day and customize his abilities to his liking. Some days might require super-high spell resistance while others call for one hundred foot land speed. It all depends on the size of the ki pool and what the player wants to accomplish with their Vedic.
I’ll probably include tables for each class in the near future, once I have all the bugs worked out.
- Karma: Again, most of what karma is about is explained elsewhere, so I’ll just talk a little about its inspiration.
Alignment isn’t something we really take seriously in our play group, and rightly so. It’s a mostly antiquated concept that’s more limiting than it should be. For a while I’ve been trying to come up with an alternative to alignment, or at least some way to make it more exciting and give it a mechanical feel that doesn’t amount to “you can’t cast this spell.”
I had originally intended for every player’s karma score to be like LP in the SaGa RPG series; a stat not unlike HP that fluctuated as battle and storyline took a toll on the character. Once asura came into the picture, karma changed quite a bit. It still retains the same feel as LP, but serves a few different purposes. Mostly it’s an indicator of a character’s innocence – the more karma one has, the more jaded and possibly cynical they are. Karma also unlocks an asura’s true potential. Each asura has a hidden karma value attached to each gift that will unlock that gift when the time is right. The player doesn’t have to have that karma value at just the right moment, but rather they just need to have had that much karma at some point leading up to the revelation that brings out the asura’s power. Believe me, it isn’t as complicated as it seems.
Karma can be “spent” at certain points in the story, either to purchase something of incredible rarity (but not necessarily incredible power) or to facilitate great change in the characters’ environments. There’s no penalty for having a great or small amount of karma and the only immediate change when karma is increased or decreased is the attitude some NPCs have toward that character. Basically it’s a flavorful mechanic that can have lasting mechanical impact, but only if the player so desires.