Old Sun Renaissance

January 12, 2019

I am currently reading M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, and thinking about building a dying earth genre setting for a Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition campaign. I’m calling the setting Old Sun Renaissance. I like the idea of a last city where “the wealth of its people lay entirely in salvage” and which “revered stability and poetry and wine merchants; its cousins only revenge.”

For this campaign I am thinking of taking the Escalation mechanic from 13th Age and changing it into an Entropy mechanic. I see it working like this:

  1. Entropy starts at 1 for the party.
  2. Increase Entropy by 1 each round.
  3. If using a powered item, any roll under the Entropy value exhausts its current charge.
  4. When a player rolls a 1, roll 1d20 on the Entropy Event table, and then reset Entropy to 1.
Illustration Credit: Don Dixon

Entropy Event Table

  1. A device the PC was using breaks.
  2. One of the laws of physics is suspended. Probably gravity.
  3. An adversary uses a surprise action.
  4. A spell expires early, or the spell being cast turns out very differently from what was intended.
  5. An NPC runs away. Was it a friend, or a foe?
  6. If it can catch fire, it catches fire. If its already on fire, it explodes.
  7. The sun flickers, plunging everyone into darkness for a round.
  8. All death saves are made with disadvantage next round.
  9. Re-roll temporary HP and keep the lower score.
  10. Ancient machines start activating.
  11. The floor collapses, revealing a hidden chamber.
  12. Drop something small and valuable, like your ring of invisibility, without noticing it is gone.
  13. Re-roll initiative for everyone but the person who rolled the 1.
  14. Temporal surge. Anyone reduced to exactly zero HP next round is immediately restored to full HP.
  15. An ancient dimensional door reactivates, and a wave of faceless enemies starts pouring through. It closes when the next entropic event is triggered.
  16. A device is triggered, and starts loudly counting down, starting from the entropic die value, or three, whichever is higher. Roll again when the countdown reaches zero.
  17. Reduce the number of Death saves allowed by 1.
  18. Proficiency bonuses now equal the entropy die until the next entropy reset.
  19. An NPC changes sides.
  20. Check icon relationship dice.

In play I would expect to refresh the table so the same outcome does not occur too often. I might also need a table for social encounters and exploration. Overall the intent is to prompt something interesting to happen when a 1 is rolled on a d20, and to some extent for the players to be happy that a failure has occurred, because the POW cost of some of their play options has been reset to minimum. You could call this “flailing forward”, where a failure creates a window of opportunity from the chaos that follows the failure.

Entropy Feats

The other use for the Entropy die is to set the power (POW) cost for using Entropy Feats. So when Entropy is 1, it costs one POW to use an Entropy feat. If Entropy has reached 5, it costs five POW. Here are a few examples of Entropy feats:

  • Magic: choose a spell you can cast, you can spend POW and refresh that spell as a bonus action. Increase the Entropy die by 1. From 5th level, if you take an entropy feat a second time with a spell, you can refresh and use it as a reaction action.
  • Final Blow: once per combat, spend POW and declare who you intend to attack. You act last in the initiative round, but add your total attribute score to damage to one successful martial attack (e.g. if using a finesse weapon with DEX 17, add +17 to damage, not +3). If the POW is spent, but the final blow is not attempted, the POW remains expended but the final blow can be attempted later in the combat (with a new POW spend). After using this feat, reduce your HP to 0. This entropy feat can only be purchased once.
  • Ragged Endurance: once per combat, spend POW and gain HD temporary HP. From 5th level, gain 2 HD of temporary HP, and from 11th level, gain 3 HD of temporary HP. You can take multiple uses of this feat.

Generating Attributes

In order to calculate your Power attribute, you first need to generate all of your character’s other attributes. I am borrowing Rafu’s Matrix Method for this, because both point buy and 4d6 drop one would be terrible for what I have in mind. Start by outlining a matrix with the six standard attributes (STR, DEX, CON, etc) and three columns.

  • STEP 1: roll 6d6 and arrange as you wish in the first column.
  • STEP 2: write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 arranged as you wish in the second column.
  • STEP 3: roll 1d6 in strict order, in the third column, no rearranging of scores! Sum up the three columns to get the score for each of the six attributes.
  • STEP 4: The Power (POW) attribute is equal to the difference between your highest and lowest rolled attributes. For example, if CON 17 is your highest attribute, and WIS 9 is your lowest attribute, then your character has a POW score of 8.

So this is a version of D&D where you want one of your attributes to be low. Which is why point buy and 4d6 drop one are not good character creation tools. My inspiration for POW as a strength based on your weakness comes from a line in The Magicians:

I think you’re magicians because you’re unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.

Grossman, Lev. The Magicians: (Book 1) (p. 217-8). Random House. Kindle Edition.

Gaining More Power

First, POW recovery is based on class HD when you have a short rest, modified by the absolute number of your lowest attribute. For example, if DEX 4 is your lowest attribute, then you get +3 on POW recovery rolls, not -3. On the whole this recovery process advantages martial characters with larger HD and I am comfortable with that. On a long rest, recover all spent POW. Second, permanent POW gains occur when:

  • The two contributing attributes change in value
  • You choose to increase POW rather than gain an Entropy feat when leveling.

I am thinking of allowing a player a chance of increasing one attribute each time they level and do not get a standard feat (which happens at levels 4, 8, 12 and 16). Roll 1d20 + level and score greater than current attribute value to gain a +1 increase. If you fail, you can optionally choose to reduce an attribute by one (as your weakness is exacerbated by the stress of the adventurer lifestyle), and always gain advantage on your next level up attribute increase attempt.

If you get resurrected, you can also choose to drop an attribute by one point. I do not recommend this is a way of increasing POW, but I think its reasonable for a journey to the other side and back.

I might have some relics grant their owner POW, but on the whole my philosophy for a dying earth setting which magic and science are one and the same, is for “magic items” to cost POW to use for a scene.

The level up choice is to either gain one Entropy feat or to gain POW equal to the new level. No choice at level 4, 8, 12, and 16, as you get a standard feat at those levels. I imagine that most players will choose feats at low level, before switching to boosting POW at higher levels.

Next Post

I have more ideas to explore here. I think I have two posts worth of material on icons for the final age of a dying earth, and then at least one post on how I would hack the D&D 5E classes into shape for the setting.