Saturday, September 23, 2023

3E OdditE: Ambient Tempest (Bestiary of Krynn, 2004)

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Dragonlance has a weird relationship with the larger body of 3E material, as well as the audience who engages with it. WotC owned the license throughout the entirety of the edition, but after one of many legal back-and-forths they handed the actual work of writing and publishing Dragonlance books off to Sovereign Press, the printing company owned by Dragonlance cocreator Margaret Weis.

Because of that technically-officially-licensed-yet-also-3rd-party status, all of the 3E Dragonlance books are in a weird limbo when it comes to whether people consider them "core" or not. You rarely ever see material from them referenced alongside other splatbooks on forums and in character build handbooks. Even other settings like Eberron were talked about far more often in similar contexts, although part of that was probably thanks to differences in sales and plain old popularity. This was the early-to-mid 2000s, and Dragonlance was no longer the same hot young IP it was in the 1980s.

As a result, I regularly learn about whole new classes, spells, and feats that I've never even heard of before cracking open one of the old Dragonlance campaign setting books for the first time. It's always a fun discovery, no matter how bland or broken or just plain weird the thing in question happens to be.

Today, I'll be sharing one such find.

The Bestiary of Krynn was originally released in 2004, but owing to the hefty amount of errata and cut content that it shipped without, a Revised edition was released in November of 2006. 3E Dragonlance books were somewhat notorious for their seeming lack of close proofreading and editing, which probably contributed to their lack of popularity online. At least the Bestiary got a second shot, unlike most others.

(And it really needed the second shot, because one of the class abilities we'll be looking at today was completely nonfunctional due to an omitted word!)

In the Bestiary we are treated to all manner of nasties and weirdos. This includes an unsurprisingly large proportion of dragon subtypes, but also some beasts, outsiders, undead, and a caste of goblins mutated by chaotic magic called the Gurik Cha'ahl. It also has a suite of monster-oriented Prestige Classes, as well as rules for handling a monster PC's initial rejection and possible acceptance by any humanoid communities they adventure in, which I wasn't expecting at all. Savage Species should have done something similar, in my opinion.

One monster PrC in particular grabbed my attention, because more than being for monsters, it's for anyone with enough primal magical power.

3E Dragonlance books were mostly set during the Age of Mortals after the Chaos War, where through multiple novels worth of machinations the dark goddess Takhisis used the cosmic battle with the gods' deadbeat dad Chaos to steal the entire planet of Krynn away from her siblings. All divine and arcane magic ceased to function for that approximately 50 year period, because even wizards are dependent upon the three magical moon gods for their spells on Krynn.

During this magical dark age, mortals rediscovered the ancient "wild" sorcery that comes from the land itself, rather than from the moons. Simultaneously, they drew upon the latent power of mortal souls to develop the more internal and spiritualistic form of divine magic called mysticism. In thematic terms they're remarkably similar to different aspects of Primal magic that we would later see in D&D 4E. In mechanical terms, the sorcerer is unchanged while the mystic is a new base class presented in the Dragonlance Campaign Setting that acts like a spontaneous cleric minus the heavy armor, undead turning, and 1 domain. Kind of sparse, but still a solid Tier 2.

Even after Takhy's plot was foiled in part by a time-traveling kender and most of the gods returned to the world, these new/old forms of magic continue to exist alongside their traditional cousins. The future is uncertain and bound to be rocky, but mortals are in a better position to steer their own destinies than they have been in ages- so long as those pendulum-obsessed rich kids they call gods can stop meddling in their plaything so much.

Delving deeper into either of these ambient forms of magic to unlock their hitherto-untapped potential is the specialty of the aptly-named Ambient Tempest.

Ambient Tempest

Unquenchable, unstoppable, and, er, unclothable.

The Ambient Tempest (AT) is a 5-level PrC with 1d4 HD, 2 + Int skill ranks in a modest list, 1/2 BAB, poor Fort and Reflex Saves, and 4/5 spontaneous spellcasting advancement. Between the sorcerer and the mystic, its basic chassis is closer to sorcerer. A melee mystic would get set back quite a bit by levels in this class, though its unique abilities might make up for it to some extent. Dedicated casters who are already trying to stay out of harm's way are mostly only looking at a downside of 1 lost CL.

Qualifying for AT requires 9 ranks in Knowledge (Arcana) and Spellcraft, two out of a selection of magical and metamagic feats, 3rd-level spontaneous spells from either of the above classes (or a weirder pick), and either a supernatural or spell-like ability or two more of the above feats. Mystics can qualify depending on their chosen domain's granted power, while sorcerers might need a bit more work depending on if the Familiar class ability counts as (Su) or not. Something like a dragon with innate magical abilities has the easiest time qualifying for this PrC, but PC species can potentially qualify by 6th level.

Unsurprisingly there are no online reprints of this or most other Dragonlance material.
So here's a screen grab of the table from the revised PDF. Shh, don't tell Hasbro.

The three big class features of the AT are Shifting Knowledge (Ex), Ambient Secret, and Spellshaping (Ex). Their theme is tweaking or breaking many of the usual rules for spontaneous casting, which fits well with the flavor of the PrC.

Shifting Knowledge allows the spontaneous caster to dispense with the once-at-4th-level-and-every-2nd-level-after-that rule for changing out their known spells for others, and instead change 1 spell/week with an hour of meditation as long as it's 2 spell levels below your max. While it isn't as freeing as other classes like say, the Spirit Shaman (Complete Divine) that can change their spontaneous list daily, it's a big step toward making sorcerers and mystics more versatile. With enough downtime you could redo most of your spell library, and I think that's an uncommon and neat ability.

Ambient Secret comes up 3 times during AT progression. It allows you to select 1 ability from a short list, most of which can't be selected multiple times as is standard for that sort of thing. The choices are:

  • Improved Metamagic, which allows you to ignore the normal rule that metamagic on a spontaneous spell costs a full-round action. I always wondered why that rule only existed for the less overpowered of all the full-casters, but wonky balance is part of why I love/hate 3E.
    • (This is the ability that I mentioned was unusable prior to errata, because instead of "a spell" it just said "a". Big improvement.)
  • Improved Shifting, which allows you to ignore the spell level limit on swapping spells in and out with Shifting Knowledge. Simple but good. Now your entire repertoire is mutable.
  • Metamagic Feat, which is exactly what it sounds like. You may learn any metamagic feat you qualify for, and you can take this more than once if you really want.
    • I'd personally avoid taking this more than once because you only have 3 secrets total.
  • Shifting Knowledge, which is named exactly like the other class feature for some reason. I would've gone with Expanded Knowledge or something like that but hey, I'm not the editor. It lets you swap 1 extra spell per week and can be taken more than once. This could be really good, or just kind of nice, depending on how varied the challenges you tend to face are.
    • My personal ranking puts this at the bottom—maybe tied with the bonus metamagic feat—below the other two near-mandatory secrets.

Spellshaping lets you just walk all over the normal rules of metamagic. With this ability, you can reverse your Enlarge, Extend, or Widen metamagic feats so that they reduce the spell's effect for a spell slot 1 level lower than normal. This is the first instance of reverse metamagic I've ever seen in 3rd Edition, and I love the concept. It gives so many situationally useful spells that much more utility, especially at higher levels when your lower-level spell slots start to pile up and feel less impactful. 

Imagine Narrowing a Fireball so that you don't clip your friends who are hanging around too close to the target, or Shortening all those combat buffs and debuffs that have durations measuring in the minutes/level, which rarely ever matters in a system where combat lasts less than a minute on average. It barely even feels like a cost, and that's before you get to the gravy of saving your bigger spell slots, or the hidden tech of adding one of these on top of a regular metamagic feat in order to modify its increased cost.

I've never wanted to play a sorcerer before (except for an attempt at a Greater Mighty Wallop build one time), but this PrC kinda gives me the itch to try. I'd probably opt for mystic if I was in a Dragonlance game, though. Playing a Stone-Teller of the Godless Folk would be too nifty to pass up.

You could bring in any other spontaneous caster for shenanigans, though. Imagine a spirit shaman combining daily list tweaks with the metamagic metagame, or using the Unearthed Arcana option for spontaneous clerics and druids.

Or don't, because that might be too much cheese. It won't be mozzarella nightstick levels of cheese, but at least a solid, rindy gouda.

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