Monday, April 15, 2024

3E OdditE: Dvati (Dragon Compendium, 2005)

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It's May, 2000. School's almost out, Diablo II is a month away from release, and the internet saw its first recorded use of the UwU face just a few weeks ago. The company that owns that one card game recently acquired all of D&D, there's a 3rd edition due later this year, and you aren't sure how it's all gonna work out.

Issue #271 of Dragon magazine slaps across your desk, and you set about perusing it. There's another rad piece of Mark Zug art on the cover, immediately followed by a two-page spread advertising that game Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, which you're pretty sure is going to be even bigger than Baldur's Gate and Fallout combined. Then you get to the table of contents, decide you aren't really into all the puzzles and riddles the issue is centered on, and flip to the winners of the "Beastly Research" fan monster contest for AD&D 2E.

Talon Dunning (a heck of a name) of Atlanta, Georgia submitted not one creature, but two-in-one, or perhaps two-in-one-in-two: the Dvati people, who exist as pairs of twin bodies sharing a single, mighty soul. Dvati is both the name of the species, and each pair of twins: there is no singular pronoun in their language, because a Dvati pair is so indivisible. (Dva means 'two' in several West- and South-Slavic languages, as well as some others I probably missed in my research.)

In combat, Dvati are ambidextrous flanking experts who work in tandem with their twins in all things and have a weird befuddling echo-shout debuff ability. But they are rarely violent, preferring artistic and philosophical lives that complement their gentle and curious natures. Their slight and slightly alien appearances, particularly the solid-color blue eyes, are off-putting to many outsiders, but this doesn't dampen their friendly and outgoing demeanors.

It's a super interesting concept, but you don't have much to work with outside of the monster writeup, and eventually you move on to another Ed Greenwood update on whatever the hell Volothamp Geddarm is up to.

Fast forward to 2005. The world is, uh... different, but still recognizable in broad strokes, much like 3.5 Edition, which is going stupidly strong at the moment. They just released the Dragon Compendium showcasing a greatest hits list of its content from the past few years, plus some originals. A Todd Lockwood piece greets you this time, followed quickly by lists of races, classes, feats, and so many monsters and magic items.

In and amid this buttergoosetable of options, a familiar name catches your eye, this time heading a whole player species writeup instead of a more modest monster statblock:

The Dvati

The Dvati are among the few Dragon creations that got a 3E update, and the differences in the rules for how to play each are night-and-day, like many aspects of the two editions. The 3E version of the species also has so many fiddly bits that it's about as mechanically complex as some character classes, hence my interest in it as an OdditE.

The core concept of the species remained the same between editions: each Dvati is a pair of twins said to share a single soul, highly coordinated but preferring to put that power to use in enlightened pursuits. Of course, given how geared toward adventure and violence D&D is, that's the aspect of them most focused upon in their mechanics.

Their lore is given more depth here than in #271. They are made less explicitly Planescape by scrubbing the bit about most of them living in the Outlands, but their society is given greater texture. They are master artisans and denizens of small and somewhat insular communities, who govern themselves through a mix of direct democracy and deliberative councils. Their religion is highly dualistic, and features the otherwise unattested god Thelmeth the Unifier.

Dvati player characters have the following traits:

Medium size, 30' movement speed, humanoid type, etc. Pretty default stuff. They speak Common as well as Dvati, which requires 2 speakers at once to complete a thought, one supplying information about objects and subjects while the other supplies information about verbs.

Darkvision 60'. The best you can usually get without also being saddled with sunlight sensitivity.

Twins: The potential power of playing two characters gets reined quickly and severely in by making them count as a single character in key ways.

They share a single XP track, skills, feats, abilities, and class levels, meaning you can't make one twin a fighter and the other a wizard or some other mix without going through the chore of multiclassing them both. Both twins have to concentrate together to cast a spell, but otherwise it seems they can take other actions independent of one another- that part's a bit vague.

*Shower Thoughts Edit* I didn't even consider the ramifications that two characters treated as one has for itemization. Since a Dvati is one PC in many ways, I assume this also includes character wealth. Spell effects can be shared but gear cannot, meaning that you have to divide your WBL between each twin; cloaks, headbands, weapons, and every other wearable magical item have to be bought in pairs or else one twin will lag far behind the curve. That means they'll be even worse off compared to two other random adventurers.

The twins share a powerful psychic bond that allows them to communicate and check up on one another's vitals via telepathy at any range, even across planes. On the same plane, they can locate each other this way like a sort of psychic compass. Personal-range spells, as well as mind-affecting effects, affect both twins at once regardless of their distance apart. Imagine being miles away from your twin and suddenly you start having really fuzzy feelings for a mage you've never ever met until the charm spell wears off.

The mental bond intimately links their physical lives together as well, for good and ill- mostly ill. Dvati divide their HP pool between themselves, though they do get 2x HP from their shared Con modifier. When one twin dies, the other rapidly sickens and wastes away from an incurable, stacking -1d4 Con and Wis and -1 to most rolls debuff, either until they die or the twin is resurrected.

Most half-Dvati commit voluntary ritual suicide first, because life without one's twin is so abhorrent in their culture.

Echo Attack: When flanking an enemy, a Dvati can use a Move action to combine their voices into a disorienting cacophony to grant them +1 to attacks or AC against that foe for 1 round, subject to a Will save vs the Dvati's Perform (Sing) check. This is far weaker than the AD&D version, which was -4 to the target's to-hit for as long as the Dvati maintain the effect.

Pair Link: Flanking together gives the Dvati a +3 to attacks instead of the normal +2, and the Aid Another action grants a +4 bonus to a check or AC instead of +2. This seems to replace the AD&D ability that grants all Dvati 1 rank in the Two-Weapon Fighting Style and +1 attack per round when using paired weapons. Kind of a precursor to Teamwork feats of the Pathfinder days.

Spell Conductor: One twin can shift a harmless touch spell from themself to the other for the rest of its duration with a Move action, or as part of the spellcasting action. This would actually be pretty good for transferring combat buffs or healing spells from the caster twin to their melee counterpart who's in the thick of it, if it wasn't for the shared class level rules making that kind of redundant except in very specific emergencies like stabilizing a dying twin at range with a cure minor wounds.

Favored Class: Bard. Their voice tricks and the nature of their psychic link make them very good at duets, among other things.

LA +1: Because 3E was just as unbalanced as AD&D, but occasionally made gestures toward the idea of balance. Those gestures normally took the form of punishing interesting and unique abilities, or anything with a Strength bonus and no crippling drawback. This, coupled with the liabilities created by the Twins ability, feels like it really punishes the player for wanting to realize a very cool and compelling idea for an adventuring duo.

And I don't want that cool factor to be lost amid all the nitpicking: psychically conjoined twins is a rad idea with tons of gameplay and roleplay potential that I don't think the rules sufficiently provide for.

To contrast with all of this, here are the original Dvati PC rules for 2E in full (excluding the echo attack and two-weapon bits mentioned above):

Player character dvati can be fighters (up to level 16), priests (13), wizards (16), thieves (12), or bards (15). They enjoy the following multiclass options: fighter/wizard, fighter/priest, fighter/thief, wizard/thief, or fighter/wizard/thief. Additionally, all dvati are paired twins, meaning players who choose to create dvati characters must create two characters.

That's it.

You just make and control a second character with the assumption that the group and DM to be okay with that, instead of trying to split a single character up into two in such a way that ultimately makes them both weaker than the sum of their parts. For once in my life AD&D 2E—redheaded stepchild of modern gaming and the OSR movement that it is—did it better and simpler on the first try.

I find it interesting (perhaps a little telling) that while most species with art get showcased doing something badass or posing in a compelling or menacing way, the Dvati artwork up above depicts one of the worst moments of heart-wrenching tragedy and defeat that their people can experience.

I wonder if the artist realized how set up for failure Dvati are.

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