D&D Ideas — Chaos
Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is chaos, which we discussed in our live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST and talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of chaos, whenever you roll the bones you never know how things will turn out. In Taking Chances we’ve got a ton of minigames you can drop in your games for players and characters to engage with along with new items, tool sets, character options and an adventure. Check it out here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here. Visit us over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel here and hit that notification bell so you don’t miss these live chats on Mondays at 8 p.m. eastern, plus our regular three videos each week where we talk about D&D and other RPGs.
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Delving Dave’s Dungeon
CHAOS! Chaos can represent many things in Dungeons & Dragons — randomness, the Far Realm, freedom, the fey, madness, magic and more. Some of the most memorable moments in our D&D games come from a roll on the Wild Magic sorcerer table or the use of a wand of wonder. There is just something about the moment when a player drops the dice on the table to create this random experience at the table.
The Primordial Chaos as a concept is something I’ve always been drawn to. It exists in nearly all mythologies as the starting point of creation. In our own games we’ve used it as something that’s been developing or coming back because of the carelessness of the gods. It manifests as crazy magic fueled storms that sometimes have lasting effects upon the world.
In our campaign setting there are people who follow these storms to harvest things that have been touched by the storms. We call them Chaos Storm Prospectors. They make their living from these harvested materials. Some sell them as components for spell casting or crafting of magic items. Others are just curiosities. New creatures and magic items have also been discovered by chaos storm prospectors. A prospector could go months without finding anything of value. It isn’t an easy life.
From Ted’s Head
When we talk about chaos there are so many ways at looking at the term it is kind of crazy. Almost Chaotic?1?
Anyway for this newsletter rather than go very broad I wanted to get very specific. Last night I started a new campaign. We had session zero last month and played session one and I feel that this is going to be an interesting game. Two of the players are continuing their characters from the previous game and a fun magic item is returning. There is talk that this magic item is actually the smartest person in the party and might wind up changing the scope of this campaign. Only time will tell. Bernie is a shrunken goblin head that is sentient. In life he was a wizard. In death he was made into an item for a spellcaster as below.
Wondrous item uncommon (requires attunement)
This shrived head of what was the head of a male goblin has long dark hair pulled up into a top knot with a handle made of hair. The eyes are stitched closed with heavy black stitches. The skin is still attached though it is tight and leathery to both sight and touch. The head is barely bigger than a fully clenched fist.
If the object is held by the hair and presented when a spell is cast it counts as a +1 spell focus conferring a +1 to spell attack rolls as well as a +1 to all spell DCs.
As a bonus action you can consult with the shrunken goblin head on any Intelligence skill check over the course of 1 minute and gain advantage on the roll.
If you can succeed on a DC 15 Charisma (Persuasion) roll as an action the head can immediately cast any 1st level spell. If you speak in goblin the DC is lowered to 10.
Once you use this either of these features you cannot use that one again until you complete a long rest.
It is a crazy item that over the last game the player wound up giving him gold teeth. In that game he was very helpful because he could consult on checks and the intelligent character was not always able to make the game.
Now in this game there is no wizard type, so the idea floated out there that Bernie could help fulfill the role and he could have been a jerk and was holding back on the party and might actually be more powerful. So only time will tell.
But as it is a new campaign it means new characters and since we are starting at 10th level it means new magic items. An idea hit me as I was getting ready for the game and realizing I had not made the magic items for one of the players. Years ago, Dave gave one of my character a cloak that was the embodiment of chaos. It has some crazy powers. I thought, what if I revive that cloak? So the following item was born. This is only the beginning for the cloak and the section in parenthesis is not known to the player.
Cloak of the Whispering Wind
Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)
This cloak shimmers in the spectrum of all colors. And every now and again you see a color you have never seen before. When you wear this cloak, in moments of total silence you swear you hear whispers but have a hard time making out what is being said. (User is not aware but the cloak is sentient and is an offspring of chaos magic and a dark mantle.)
While you are attuned to this cloak you can cast the spell chaos bolt twice a day.
The cloak functions as a cloak of billowing.
1/day. You can call on the cloak to surround yourself with an aura of elemental energy. When you do so roll a d8 and consult the chart below. For the next 1 minute you resist the element and your melee attacks add 1d4 of the element.
As I started to stat stage one of this wonderful cloak I figured I would look at what was chaos and chaos bolt was a good starting point. I love the cloak of billowing and I think every character I play would love having them, so let’s go ahead and give it that property just for fun, because why not? Then because both the original character who had the cloak, a bugbear barbarian and now a tabaxi monk are martial characters I want to give a fun, chaotic combat ability that could be relied upon.
But what else happens from here? The cloak of course could get creepy and the character might abandon it but I highly doubt it. I plan on having the cloak talk to the character, maybe even the other player characters and get a sense of things.
If you knew this group of characters they are full of chaos. The original cloak allowed the user to go ethereal giving a nice miss chance and the ability to pass through solid objects. The cloak gave the ability to heal a little. And those are the powers I can remember from a game 15 years ago. Certainly those are valid options, but this cloak originated in third edition where items I think could be more powerful so I will think on it for a while to see how the game develops and what the personality of this cloak winds up being from something that, get ready for the big secret, is actually alive and will certainly be pulling tricks throughout the game. As the offspring of a dark mantle it will eventually move on its own but for now, and all of session 1, it was just a cloak. We will see what the player does with it during the session in May.
But here are two very chaotic items that look like they will be evolving over the course of the current game. I wonder what happens if they make Bernie a body and he gets the cloak? Will he become a villain, or will he corrupt the party more than they are now and take the game in a further downward spiral into breaking more of the world. Stay tuned to those weekly live chats where we occasionally talk about our home games. Stay nerdy!
From the Nerditor’s desk
Last week when we covered law I shared a creature representing the immutable laws of mathematics so to balance the scales it only makes sense to explore a creature of unpredictable chaos.
But that wouldn’t be very chaotic now would it?
Dave and Ted touched on things from a Dungeon Master’s point of view so I’m inclined to see what chaos can do for players on the other side of the screen. And for this I’m taking inspiration from one of the definitions of chaos itself.
“A state of things in which chance is supreme.”
Leaning into this form of chaos as a player begins at character creation. The fundamental foundation all characters share are their ability scores and the default method of generating them is pure chance — “you generate your character’s six ability scores randomly.”
Determining height and weight can be left to chance with the chart in chapter 4 of the Player’s Handbook and charts with each background option include random results for personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws. If you’re really adventuresome you can create a character completely through random chance through D&D Beyond (results may vary — wildly!).
This kind of chaos can add whole new dimensions to characters when you consider things like This is Your Life in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. The charts included for each class provide even more detail to your character that can play out in a campaign.
During play I’ve seen many players rely on random chance to determine what their characters might do or say or to choose the target of an attack or effect.
The core conceit of the tabletop roleplaying games we love is the element of chaos dice represent. While I understand the desire to mitigate chaos and control outcomes, it can be tremendous fun for everyone to rely on chaos now and again. We never know how our stories will turn out and sometimes letting chance decide creates experiences we’ll remember for a lifetime.