We're hoping this column becomes your window into roleplaying design and development -- or at least the way we approach these things here at Wizards of the Coast. We'll handle a wide range of topics in weeks to come, from frank discussions about over- or underpowered material, to the design goals of a certain supplement, to what we think are the next big ideas for the Dungeons & Dragons game. All of this comes bundled with a healthy look at the people and events that are roleplaying R&D.
This week, we examine our creature crafted so far -- and present the nominees for the special abilites category.
First things first -- for last week’s You Craft the Creature vote, we asked what environment our new creature would occupy. The votes are in, and -- perhaps a fellow lover of the Pacific Northwest -- our Aberration’s environment is Forest!
Folks, when we asked for your special ability nominations, we said we’d choose a half-dozen… or so. The response has been overwhelming, so we’re definitely taking the “or so” side of things -- there were simply too many special abilities of merit to not put to a vote. So, first -- our thanks for the time and effort you spent creating the abilities. It’s very much appreciated, and exciting to think that one (or more!) of them will officially make its way into the game.
There were definite themes among those abilities that were nominated. Since our creature in development is a “mastermind,” quite a few abilities take minions and henchmen into account, while others looked to create an even broader “hive mind” approach; we attempted to select representational abilities from among these themes, as well as many others we also felt met our admittedly subjective criteria.
Following you’ll find a list of the special abilities which have been only very slightly edited. This week, we’re asking you to vote on the special abilities you most approve of in concept. That’s important to reiterate (and why it merits italics!). Any ability that’s chosen will still undergo development and editing, so please don’t vote strictly on the mechanics of these abilities as they’re currently presented -- only on their concept.
And with that, the nominees! Note that [AMM] has become the de facto shorthand for “Aberration Mastermind.”
Activate Id (Ex): Once per day, the [AMM] can temporarily weaken its intellect and awareness of its environment in exchange for a heightened force of will. The [AMM] can voluntarily lower its Intelligence and Wisdom scores by 4 points; it can then increase its Charisma score by 4 points, increase the save DCs for all mind-affecting abilities and spells by +2 (this stacks with the increase already gained for having a higher Charisma), and extend the range of any auras that it has dependent on its Charisma modifier by 10 ft. This ability lasts for 3 + the [AMM]’s new Charisma modifier in rounds. --Omnikar
Aura of Peace (Sp): The [AMM] is constantly warded as by a calm emotions spell, 60' radius, DC 20. As this affects both allies and enemies, the [AMM] is careful to keep its minions a respectable distance from itself at all times. If this aura is dispelled in any way, it reactivates as a free action on the [AMM]’s next turn. --Thym
Aura of Vengeance (Sp): This ability is always active in a 30 ft. spread centered around the [AMM]. Whenever the [AMM] suffers damage from any source, every creature within this area immediately takes an equal amount of damage. A successful Fortitude save (DC 15) halves the damage. Regardless of the source of the damage, the damage dealt to the targets by this effect is not subject to negation or damage reduction (due to resistance, immunity, spell resistance, or the like). --Khael
Blasphemous Geometries (EX): Being an outsider from another dimension, the [AMM]’s form does not translate well on the Prime Material plane, appearing to be composed of obscene angles and planes, making it difficult to perceive by natives. As a result of its alien nature, the [AMM]’s body reacts strangely and unpredictably to native objects traveling in normal vectors toward it. A targeted attack, whether melee, ranged, arcane or otherwise, has a 10% chance per number of [AMM]’s opponents in a 10ft. radius of being redirected randomly at one of these opponents. Area of Effects would not be affected. --Formalhoute
Bodywalk (Su): As a move action, the [AMM] may take a 5 ft. step into the space of another creature. It may then take a 5 ft. step out of the space of another creature up to 200 ft. away (this is a teleportation effect). This effect is quite draining on the [AMM], and it must wait 1d4-1 rounds before being able to do so again. --The Amazing Dancing Bear
Chromantic Aura (Su): Time around the [AMM] is distorted. As a free action, the [AMM] can age any creature within a 30 ft. radius. Accelerated aging applies the normal aging effects of either middle age, old or vulnerable categories (refer to the PHB, pg. 109). Characters can resist the effects with a Fortitude save; in any case, the effects only last for 1 minute after leaving the aura. --cryptictravler
Disguise the Darkness (Ex): The [AMM] may, with an hour-long ritual requiring 1000gp worth of materials per HD, appear to be any humanoid of the same size category or one size category larger or smaller than itself. The alteration does not affect ability scores, unless it alters the creature’s size (use Monster Manual stats, if appropriate). Since this is an actual physical change, it is immune to detection from magical spells, including true seeing. The disguise is flawless, and imparts a +20 racial bonus on Disguise checks. If used to impersonate a specific individual, the bonus is only +10. The change covers all basic senses (physical, auditory, olfactory, etc.). Memory is not included in this ability. However, these changes are not stable. Anytime the [AMM] is struck by a physical attack in excess of 20 hp damage, it must make a Fortitude save, or the disguise immediately fails. --JasonOrlandoHawk
Doom Coffin (Su): The [AMM] has a coffin strapped to its back. It gains a swallow whole attack (essentially swallowing an opponent within its coffin), and can use this against a creature up to its own size category. Every turn a creature is trapped within this coffin, it is dealt 1d6 Constitution damage. If the creature dies, it becomes a skeleton with HD equal to the original creature (refer to the Monster Manual, pg. 225). --Haruspex
Enchanting Encapsulation (Ex): The [AMM] may, on a successful grapple check, subsume an opponent into its body. The opponent may still attempt to escape this encapsulation, but the [AMM] receives a +10 to its grapple check. Each round the opponent is encapsulated, they must make a Will save (DC 20 +2 for each subsequent round thereafter). If the opponent fails, on the [AMM]'s next action, it may spit out the opponent, who has become totally enthralled under the [AMM]'s control. This control lasts until the victim raises his Wisdom score or Will save permanently (such as through increasing an ability score every 4 levels, acquiring a feat to increase a saving throw, or a wish spell, etc., though wearing a magic item that increases Wisdom or Will save will not work). --Tallow
Euphoric Strike (Su): When the [AMM] deals damage to an opponent with a natural attack (including a reach attack, such as with a tentacle-whip), the opponent must make a Will save. If the opponent fails, it views the attack as pleasant, not painful, and will not seek to avoid such attacks in the future. The opponent is considered flat-footed against all future attacks by the [AMM]. The opponent is also charmed, and remains so even if attacked. This effect lasts 10 rounds or until the [AMM] is killed. --MindWandererB
Learn by Subjection (Ex): When the [AMM] is subjected to any spell or psionic power, it may add that spell or power to its repertoire. It can thereafter use a spell slot of the appropriate level to cast the spell or power (psionic powers may not be augmented). The spell or power is "remembered" for 10 minutes. --MindWandererB
Sacrificing Minions…Is There a Problem it Can’t Solve? (Su): Once per round, the [AMM] can duplicate the effects of a contingency spell (with a casting time of 1 standard action) using another one of its own spell-like abilities as the companion spell. The contingency must affect a minion under the [AMM]’s control. The fulfillment of the contingency’s spell-like effect results in the immediate destruction of this minion. Typically, a [AMM] designates the death of the minion or the moment that the minion reaches a certain point, or proximity to a certain point, as the contingency trigger. If the conditions for the contingency effect are not met in (1 round/2HD of the [AMM]) rounds, the minion is simply destroyed. --Rake/Branto
Spell Hijack (Su): The [AMM] may ready an action to take control of a spell just as it is being cast. The caster must make a Will save (DC 10 + ½ HD + Charisma modifier), and if they fail, the [AMM] may choose to change the target of the spell to any valid target within the spell’s range. --Arhra
Strings of the Marionette (Su): The [AMM] may attach invisible “strings” that it grows to a number of its minions equal to the [AMM]’s HD. These strings allow the creature to add a portion of the [AMM]’s actions to any of its controlled minions. This can include any action the [AMM] can take normally, including swift, immediate, move, standard and attack actions. It may give away all of its actions for a round if it wishes, and can even split its full attack action between multiple minions. These actions then become usable by the minions in additional to their normal actions, but the actions given to the [AMM]’s minions must be used on the turn they are received. The actions are performed just as if the [AMM] had made them using its own modifiers rather than the minions’. This will also allow the [AMM] to cast spells through its minions.
The length of the strings are 100 ft. + 10 x [AMM]'s Charisma modifier. The strings are essentially under the effect of an invisibility spell and will not give away the location of the [AMM] unless they are somehow revealed. The strings have a hardness of 10 and 5 hp each. If a string is severed, then the [AMM] may not imbue its actions upon that minion. After a string has been severed, it may not be reattached to a minion for 1d4 rounds. --garthBEY
That Won’t Work on Me Twice (EX): Anytime an effect or attack is used against the [AMM], its internal chemistry changes in order to stop such an attack from hurting it again. This only takes effect after the [AMM] has been healed. It gains immunity to any specific spell, weapon or ability used on it that caused at least half its HP in damage or otherwise nearly defeated it. Lesser abilities are negated completely while more powerful abilities will have less effect (e.g., half damage, bonus on saves). --MagicUser18
Thoroughly Disgusting, But Still Kind of Mesmerizing (EX): Any living creature that looks at this hideous abomination must make a Fortitude save or be nauseated. If that save is successful, the victim must make a secondary Will save or be fascinated each round that it can see the creature. --blargney the second
Uninvited Hive Mind (Su): The [AMM] may establish a link with a number of creatures equal to its Charisma modifier. The targets must be within range of its telepathy, but once the link is established, the [AMM] may maintain the link for up to 5 miles. If a linked creature travels more than 5 miles from the [AMM] or travels to another plane, the link is severed, though the [AMM] still maintains its link with other targets within range. --CC Shade
Wild Magic Aura (Su): The [AMM] is a natural conduit for wild magic. Anyone within 120 ft. of the [AMM] must make a DC 25 caster level check whenever casting a spell or using a spell-like ability. Failure means the spell is affected as if it had been cast in a wild magic zone (see pg. 150 of the DMG). The [AMM]’s spells are not affected by this aura. --JohnnyONealWhat is your first choice of special abilities?
What is your second choice of special abilities?
About the Authors
Design: David Noonan is a designer/developer for Wizards of the Coast. His credits include co-designing Dungeon Master's Guide II, Heroes of Battle, and numerous products for the Eberron campaign setting. He lives in Washington state with his wife, son, and daughter.
Development: Jesse Decker is the development manager for RPGs at Wizards of the Coast. His credits include a two-year stint as editor-in-chief of Dragon magazine; design work on Complete Adventurer, DMG II, and other RPG titles; and development work on numerous D&D products, most of which he can’t talk about yet.
Thoughts or suggestions for this article? Topics for future Design & Development articles you'd like to see covered? By all means, please feel free to write directly to the authors, at: email@example.com.