Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Freehold - Catamaran

Recently at my new job I met a fellow who was running his first table top game ever using 5E D&D, having only recently gotten into table top gaming. He has been kind enough to let me spew ideas and chaotic recollections of thirty years of table top experience at him, a process I find deeply enjoyable and he seems to get something out of so I will keep vomiting. In our conversations I brought up some of the ideas I had been working with in freehold, and my other ideas about running something like a South Pacific D&D game. He was super into that idea, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve had a lot of writer’s block lately, so hopefully gushing on this for an evening will help shake other things loose.

The campaign I’ve been thinking of, which so far is codenamed Catamaran for reasons that will become obvious later, would see the players as inhabitants of a small, tropical island with a single village who have to look beyond their island to save their people and village. To that end they must travel to other islands their people have actually visited, others that they know only in the stories of the elders, and still others known only in legend. In the process they meet gods, sea monsters, empires, and more, becoming entwined in an ever growing world connected by boats and wind. Thematically think Swashbuckling Battlestar Galactica of the South Pacific.

I want the game to feel and look (at least mentally) as appropriate to the setting inspiration as possible. No metal armor or weapons, focus on boats and water, etc. To that end I’ve been thinking about some changes to make to the existing 5E mechanics to get the feel I want. This in addition to most of the Freehold stuff I’ve already posted. So it will be a campaign about building up your village of limited resources, getting trade goods for treasure, retiring due to serious injuries, etc.

The core idea behind these changes is making the world of the PCs the default, and the world beyond them use different rules. The players are armed with wood, stone, bone, and obsidian weapons, so those are the standard 5E weapons and metal weapons are “better” than those. I don’t want the player running around in a lot of armor as it goes against the aesthetic, so there are some tweaks to the armor system to encourage that while making normal physical armor more cumbersome.

These are the changes I’ve thought of so far:


Armor comes in two forms in Catamaran: normal physical armor, and spirit armor (working title).  When a player gets proficiency in armor they can choose if they have the appropriate physical armor proficiency (light, medium, heavy), or the appropriate spirit armor proficiency (again light medium heavy).

Physical Armor:

Physical armor is the armor that currently exists in 5E. In setting anything other than light physical armor is super rare due to the lack of metal. I may add a wood based suit of medium armor, and there is hide armor as well, but they are all uncommon. Players will only start out with access to non-metal armor. Metal armor is supposed to be scary and alien, something only strangers from distant lands use, but still temping to players. There are four differences from the core 5E rules:
  • While wearing medium or heavy physical armor you suffer disadvantage on all Athletics checks to swim. Players are going to be on boats A LOT, so this will matter. 
  • If you wear heavy or medium physical armor before taking a long rest, you suffer disadvantage on your Survival check to rest assuming the weather was typical of what you get in the tropics. See Freehold documents previously posted.
  • If you are wearing heavy armor and suffer exhaustion, you suffer one extra level of exhaustion. 
  • Medium armor gains DR 3/magic weapons and heavy armor gains DR 6/magic weapons. Feats that grant similar bonuses increase these numbers.

Spirit Armor

The culture of the players has developed a ritual based magic using tattoos, fetishes, totems, and other objects that can grant their warriors protection by wrapping the spirits of their ancestors around the warriors. After the tattoos are inscribed, the warrior must perform a ritual to “don” the spirit armor, so effectively the warriors must do something like the maori haka to turn on his spirit armor. This spirit armor works exactly like the existing armor types in D&D; it provides AC, can inflict disadvantage on Stealth, etc. The cost of the ingredients to get the tattoos, the fetishes, totems, etc, are exactly the same as normal armor in D&D. The names will be something like Spirit Armor of the Honored General instead of plate mail, but numbers wise it all works the same. Armor that has disadvantage on Stealth has noisy spirits in it who wail or chant, while spirit armor that slows you down makes you do awesome slow-motion walk with thundering footfalls everywhere you go.

Players would probably use spirit armor and fight other people using spirit armor for most of the campaign, occasionally running into people in physical armor who have not learned the same rituals or are willing to put up with the disadvantages of physical armor. Long term the campaign would eventually come into contact with more metal rich and metallurgically advanced civilizations that can equip all their foot soldiers with metal armor, changing the balance of power significantly. But for most of the game, a guy in plate mail would be completely unknown, or if one does show up you try and knock him into the water since drowning him is probably easier than beating him up. Note that since I plan on using the Glory system, players will likely have access to magic weapons as needed to penetrate physical armor DR.


Player weapons will generally be made of bone, wood, obsidian, and stone. Again metal will not be a thing for most the game. To that end my plan is to have the comparatively primitive weapons of the players be the baseline; a longsword made of wood edged with obsidian has the same stats as a normal longsword, while a great axe made of whale bone with a giant obsidian head has the same stats as a normal great axe (though is obviously way more METAL). Metal weapons on the other hand are always at least masterwork, and more often are effectively magical. A bronze weapon may count as masterwork, while an iron weapon may be a +1 weapon, a steel weapon +2, etc. This means players may upgrade over time to metal weapons, except those weapons cannot benefit from Glory bonuses and other magics of the players’ home culture. Also it is assumed that player weapons float, which may become important more often than you think since they will be on boats a lot. Between the armor rules and these weapon rules, something like a Roman Legionnaire becomes a magic weapon wielding, damage resistant tank you should be scared of…but also someone who can’t really last in the heat of the campaign setting, can’t swim in armor, etc.

In addition to all this, I want to add flintlock firearms. These are likely going to be the remains of precursor civilizations that previously inhabited the islands the players call home, but I think it will add some interesting juxtaposition to the game. Also I want firearms to ignore all AC benefit of physical armor; medium and heavy armor would still get their DR, but it’s really easy to shoot someone in plate mail. Hurting the target is another matter. 

Other Mechanics

Currently I plan to use all the existing 5E classes, though they are going to have to fit in some specific roles (for example only the Fire Mountain, God of Justice and Mercy, has paladins while Warlocks are getting a new set of patrons. Yes, the volcano god is a lawful good god of justice). I’ll post them as I come up with them. As for races I plan on using the 5E core where they fit, plus adding aquatic versions of a few races. Backgrounds are getting largely burned down and rebuilt from the ground up.

I’ve also got some ideas for feats for specific fighting styles, like an escrima stick based fighting style.