Skinchanger

The skinchanger started out as my own take on the druid, but has gradually shifted towards being its own unique class. There are still a lot of similarities with the druid, but I’ve also tried to make the skinchanger stand out on its own. I created this class for my wife to use and she has really enjoyed it. It is still very much a work in progress, so please provide any constructive criticism in the comments below. The stats provided are intended for Old School Essentials by Necrotic Gnome, but it should be easy to adapt this class to the system of your choosing.

Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: WIS
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: 14
Armor: Leather
Weapons: Club, sling, spear, staff
Languages: Common, the secret druidic tongue

The skinchanger is a type of druid who has learned the ability to transport their minds into and possess other creatures. These can be either animals or monsters, but not humanoids or other intelligent beings. Skinchangers’ bodies are generally very frail, and it is believed that nature has granted them the ability to skinchange in order to compensate.

Alignment

Skinchanger Level Progression
Saving Throws Spells
Level XP HD THAC0 D W P B S 1 2 3 4 5
101d419 [0]11121416151
22,0002d419 [0]11121416152
34,0003d419 [0]111214161521
47,5004d419 [0]111214161522
512,5005d417 [+2]9101214122211
620,0006d417 [+2]91012141222211
735,0007d417 [+2]91012141233221
860,0008d417 [+2]91012141233322
990,0009d414 [+5]67911944332
10125,0009d4+1*14 [+5]67911944433
11200,0009d4+2*14 [+5]67911955443
12300,0009d4+3*14 [+5]67911955544
13750,0009d4+4*12 [+7]3578765554
141,500,0009d4+5*12 [+7]3578766555
* Modifiers from CON no longer apply. D: Death / poison;
W: Wands;
P: Paralysis / petrify;
B: Breath attacks;
S: Spells / rods / staves.

Alignment

Like the druid, the skinchanger must be neutral in alignment.

Combat

Skinchangers may not use or wear anything metallic, as it interferes with their abilities. Since the skinchanger is able to control animals at will, they will more often choose to try to force their will on an animal or simple minded monster to defend them rather than join in combat themselves.

Divine Magic

Unlike druids, the skinchanger is not required to carry a holy symbol, but they do need to be faithful to the tenets of their alignment and religion. Their abilities are granted to them by nature and therefore they must not offend nature or incur penalties. The skinchanger does not gain spells through research, but through a process known as a “spirit walk”. A skinchanger can also use magic scrolls for spells on their spell list as well as items that may only be used by divine spell casters.

Skinchange

Skinchangers have the innate ability to transport their consciousness into animals which gives them control over that animal. While using this ability, the skinchanger’s body enters a state of torpor, to an observer they appear asleep. The skinchanger is completely unaware of anything happening to or around their own body unless they are observing through the senses of the animal they have taken control of. This ability can be used at will, but is not guaranteed success. Use the table below to determine success. If the skinchanger has failed to take control of an animal, then they are unable to attempt another skin change for 1 hour and may not attempt control of the same animal for 24 hours unless that animal is willing. Attempting to skin change to a willing animal always succeeds unless a failed attempt was made in the last hour. If the animal the druid is possessing dies, the druid immediately returns to their body and is shaken by the experience, unable to take any action for the next round. If the skinchanger’s body is killed, the skinchanger’s consciousness may remain within the possessed animal. If a skinchanger spends more than 24 hours within an animal, they will forget their humanity. Even if their mind is returned to their original body, they will behave as that animal would, although they will eventually regain their humanity over time. The length of time is up to the GM’s discretion and should be based on how long the skinchanger lived as an animal. This is true even if the skinchanger’s body is killed and and then resurrected. Any time spent within the body of an animal should have an effect on the skinchanger’s mind, affecting their behavior upon returning.

Skinchange Success table
-: The skinchange fails
Number: If the 2d6 turning roll is higher or equal, the skinchange attempt succeeds.
S: The skinchange succeeds

Creature Hit Dice†
Level1234567-9
1 7 9
2 S 7 11
3 S S 9 11
4 S S 7 9 11
5 S S S 7 9 11
6 S S S S 7 9 11
7 S S S S S 7 9
8 S S S S S S 7
9 S S S S S S S
10 S S S S S S S
11+ S S S S S S S

* monsters with a special ability
(i.e. with an asterisk next to their HD
rating, in the creature description) increase the level to roll against by 1. ex. 2* becomes 3, 5** becomes 7.
† At the referee’s option, the table may be
expanded to include more powerful
types of creatures.

Spirit Walk

A Spirit Walk occurs while the skinchanger is asleep and involuntarily skin changes into a nearby animal. During a spirit walk, skinchangers don’t have full control over the possessed animal as they would during a skin change. Unlike a skin change, they will also immediately return to their body if it is disturbed. The effect is more of a dream like state rather than a full voluntary possession. Skinchangers cannot willingly perform a spirit walk, they must be initiated by the GM and at the very least should occur every time the skinchanger gains a level. While possessing an animal during a spirit walk, the skinchanger can learn new spells, interesting lore, be alerted of danger to self or to the party, or anything else the GM deems important. GMs should try to describe the spirit walk in detail and include how the new information is learned. Skinchangers are aware that when they find themselves involuntarily possessing another creature they are about to learn something important. Common skinchanger lore is that while they may gain great control over nature, it is ultimately nature that controls them.

Animal Communication

A skinchanger cannot speak with animals in any language, howeer beginning at 3rd level, they are able to use their mental bond with an animal to communicate thoughts and emotions. The animal will not understand projected words, but the skinchanger can try to describe concepts by sending images and emotions telepathically.

Reaching 12th Level and Above

There can only be nine druids of 12th level, and since skinchangers are druids, this applies to them as well. When a skinchanger has enough experience to reach 12th level, they must challenge an existing 12th level druid. The character only advances to 12th level if the other druid is defeated. Such challenges may take any form that is agreed by both parties, including combat (which need not be fatal). Likewise, there can only be three druids of 13th level and a single druid (known as the arch-druid) of 14th level. Druids who attain 12th level or above may build a stronghold integrated into a natural setting.

Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet

Last week I wrote about the concept of dimensional dungeons. I really like the concept because it gives me a great deal of flexibility when just plopping some random dungeon into the world. A dungeon that seems out of place and doesn’t really make sense to be there suddenly does make sense when you say the dungeon entrance is actually a doorway to another dimension that can pop in and out of existence at random locations. The following is an example of one such dungeon, created to hold a powerful artifact.

Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet is a powerful artifact described in one of the books in the wizard Ugeor’s library. He has never pursued the artifact himself but it has always been a curiosity to him. When the heroes bring a strange rectangular cuboid object to him to be identified he recognizes it at once! It is the key to the dungeon where the gauntlet is interred. He describes how to summon the doorway using the key and suggests doing so a ways outside of the city just in case the guardians within may be let out, then tells you that if you retrieve Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet and bring it to him he will pay a hefty price for it, but warns you that Z’tratlan most likely did not want his gauntlet found and that the dungeon it is kept in would most likely be filled with traps and dangerous guardians. Z’tratlan was a necromancer of considerable renown and he would want protectors that would not age so they would most likely be undead.

The heroes take the key to a secluded location outside of town and begin the simple rite that summons the doorway. As they do so the air grows cold and the light of the sun seems to dim although there are no clouds in the sky. Then the earth rumbles and an obsidian arch rises from the ground. The arch thrusts upwards 10 feet revealing a pair of banded wooden doors covered in an indecipherable writing. In between the doors is a rectangle just large enough for Z’tratlan’s key to fit.

Z'tratlan's Gauntlet
Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet – click map to download.

The following map is a micro-dungeon you can use in your games. It has 5 described rooms, one of them being the trapped hallway. I’d like to try to publish a map on a semi regular basis. I’m still a beginner at making these maps but I really enjoy it so while I know there is room for improvement I think I can do so quickly. I’ve designed this map with Old School Essentials published by Necrotic Gnome in mind but there isn’t anything here requiring you to use those rules. I’ve intentionally left out monster stats to keep this rules and level neutral. I don’t like to use monsters from the book, instead I make up my own but typically will take the stats from something that seems appropriate in the book, swap out the descriptions, and add or subtract abilities. The room descriptions below should be taken only as a suggestion and I encourage you to ignore all of them. You could also use this as a portion of a larger map or draw your own extensions to make this bigger. I’d love to hear how you used this map, and any feedback you have that will help me when creating new maps in the comments for this post.

  1. This first room has a doorway to the East and West. Both doors are banded wooden doors and are locked. The locks are simple and non magical so the doors shouldn’t be too much effort to open either by picking the locks or breaking the doors down. On either side of the doors is a glowing sphere. These spheres are an electrical trap that will discharge if anyone walks between them. The spheres can be easily shattered but should be done from a distance lest they discharge through the player’s weapon.
  2. There is a treasure chest in this room to tempt players, it is locked but again shouldn’t be too much trouble to smash the wooden chest or pick the lock. Before entering the room though, the players will notice a large sphere, very similar to the ones in room 1. This sphere will zap anyone that enters the room and will do three times the damage caused by the spheres in room 1. If the players made it this far though they know they can smash this sphere but doing so will be more difficult. I’ll leave it up to the GM to decide what is in the chest but the players should be rewarded for their efforts in getting to it and opening it. Optionally, if you wish there can be a secret passageway to room 4 which willow the players the ability to avoid the spike and pit trap in room 3.
  3. Stepping into this hallway triggers the trap. A spiked wall will slowly move towards the players. They can easily evade the wall by moving away from it at a normal speed, however there is also a pit trap in the floor here. The players can walk around the pit trap and still evade the encroaching spiked wall if they notice it. When the spiked wall passes by the entryway from room 1, that way becomes closed off and the players must wait for the trap to retract again which it does when it reaches the end of the hallway right before it curves. This can also prevent a hasty retreat since the wall moves very slowly.
  4. This room contains armored spirit guardians. The players may wish to avoid the guardians but one of them contains a key inside it’s armor that is necessary to unlock the chest in room 5.
  5. A mummy warrior guards this room and atop a small dais on the far side of the room is an iron chest. The chest is bolted to the ground and unbreakable, the lock might be picked but would be challenging to do so or it might be more easily opened by magical means if the key is unavailable. The mummy is considerably stronger than a normal mummy and won’t let the players approach the chest without a fight. It will fight until destroyed. The mummy might be stronger than the players but is also weak against fire and can easily be destroyed by it. It can also be turned by a cleric but won’t be destroyed by turning and the effects only last a single round before this mummy is able to shake them off and return to the fight. Inside the chest is Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet.

This dungeon will remain in place once summoned unless it’s key is removed. It can be summoned in any location, but the locals might not appreciate it’s gaudy entryway within their town. Once the gauntlet is taken out of the dungeon it will disappear and cannot be brought back. Anything left inside the dungeon will be lost for good. All players should be allowed to leave the dungeon before it disappears, but if I were running this and felt that loophole was being taken advantage of, I wouldn’t have qualms with stranding a player.

Dimensional Dungeons

I’ve been thinking about dungeons and how random dungeons in the middle of some woods can be kind of silly. Why would they be there with nothing else around them, what purpose would they serve? It just doesn’t make sense that you’d be miles from civilization and there is just some dungeon in the middle of nowhere. Or does it? I want the things in my world to make sense, to have purpose, not just be randomly placed set pieces for player characters to trip over while wandering aimlessly through the woods. So I have been thinking about what reason these dungeons might have for existing out in the woods at seemingly random locations, or possible even a location that players have been to and there wasn’t one before.

Actually these dungeons are quite literally placed randomly on the map. I roll some dice, look at a table and depending on what I roll, a dungeon might be at the location. I just don’t want it to feel that way. So I came up with the idea of the dimensional dungeon, which is essentially a pocket dimension containing a dungeon. These dungeons can appear anywhere and may only exist in the world that the player characters are exploring for a brief period of time, or they may be permanent doors to another world, a world that is only the size of the dungeon contained within. They might have been created to house some artifact, imprison some particularly nasty monster, or as a place for a wizard to study and experiment in a solitude that cannot be achieved on the prime plane. The dungeon’s purpose can give it its interior characteristics. The dungeon meant to house some sort of powerful artifact or imprison someone or something is likely to be filled with traps and contain guards meant to last a very long time. A wizard’s laboratory would likely be filled with weird creatures not found anywhere else, and perhaps even the wizard. Then again, maybe his dungeon entrance can only be found because he is in town shopping for ingredients that he needs to complete his work.

The dimensional dungeon can come and go from this world as well. It might only appear when the proper astral alignment is in place, or when it has some need for an entrance on this world. The wizard’s lab is probably cut off from the material plane most times unless the wizard has some need for it to be revealed. One of these dungeons may exist in a location one day and be gone the next. A dungeon holding a powerful artifact might cease to exist once its reason for existing in the first place has been removed. Also, I think as a rule players should never be trapped within a dimensional dungeon. The exit should always be available to the players; however, once they leave, there should be no guarantee that they will be able to re-enter.

The best part about the dimensional dungeon is that it doesn’t quite have to fit the landscape. You have a story element that gives a randomly appearing dungeon a reason for being there. I think it’s always better if your dungeon is a good fit for the surrounding area, but sometimes you are in a hurry or you might have some other reason for needing to place a specific dungeon someplace that it doesn’t quite seem to belong. So go ahead and put that ice cave dungeon in the scalding desert.

Corpse Medicine

Grave robbing is a huge component of fantasy tabletop role playing games. Exploring ancient crypts, tombs, and catacombs are perhaps more fundamental to a game of Dungeons and Dragons than the dragons! The dungeons can be many things, but whatever they are, more often than not, they contain the dead. Typically, a gang of dungeoneering adventurers will loot the bodies and then leave them where they are. In this post, I want to provide incentive for characters to not only want to take the treasures entombed with the corpses, but the corpses as well!

I won’t go too much into the actual practice of corpse medicine, which was used in the 16th and 17th centuries. I have only done a modicum of research on the topic and from what I can tell, it was widely practiced at that time. There was also a certain logic to it that I think makes it easy to incorporate into the tabletop experience. The thought was that tinctures and potions made from the dead contained a bit of that person’s spirit, which imbued the remedy with it’s power. You would take ground up skull for a headache, or use blood to cure an ailment that effected the blood.[1] While we now know that most these “cures” don’t work, some of them actually do! [2] In a fantasy world with real spirits and magic, corpse medicine would certainly be an effective form of medicine, and one’s mortal remains could ask a high price!

The references below contain some fascinating inspiration, however, I believe it is simple to incorporate this morbid medicine into a game. Each part of the corpse is used in a cure corresponding to that particular part. So a hand would be used to cure an ailment on one’s hand, perhaps numbness or a rash. Intestines could be ground up and used to cure an ulcer or other stomach ailment. Furthermore, the bodies of demi-humans might also have different characteristics based on the characteristics often associated with those demi-humans. For example, the hand of an elf may grant extra potency in magic. The heart of a dwarf may grant a bonus to constitution or strength. Even a tincture made from the remains of a non-humanoid would possibly be of value, swiftness from the hooves of a unicorn, resistance to cold from the teeth of a yeti. Allow characters to take whatever remains they desire, and make some use of them. Use this simple logic to determine what the effect should be and grant it an efficacy based on the challenge of obtaining the ingredients. I also recommend that you are tracking encumbrance, dragging every single corpse the players find back to town should not be possible.

I’ll be incorporating this into my games, and if my players go for it I’ll hopefully have some great stories to tell about it in future posts. If you decide to implement corpse medicine into your campaign be sure to let me know in the comments how it goes!

[1]The Gruesome History of Eating Corpses as Medicine
[2]  New Morbid Terminology: Corpse Medicine
Mummies and the Usefulness of Death