Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Celtic Religion for D&D

Following up on another post about Celtic-themed D&D races, I wanted to write a short paragraph about how each class fits into a Celtic-themed setting, but it wasn’t working. Each class fits very well as stated, but they need framing in context of Celtic society and legend, so here’s that instead. I'll start with religion and magic, and cover warrior culture later.

Celtic Religion

The details of historical Celtic religion are incomplete because they had no system of writing, and their myths mostly survive in folk tales and fairy stories, many written by Christian priests during the Dark Ages! In addition, some elements date back to Neolithic times. Stonehenge probably meant something different to the builders thousands of years ago than it did to the people Rome found and wrote about. We do know that the Druids were an integral part of their society, along with Bards. Since we’re talking about a fantasy setting, we have a lot of leeway and should always go for something engaging for players.

The Druids are the oldest and most pervasive religious force in Albion. They act as advisors to kings, give judgements in law, and see the will of the gods and spirits of the land. Youths with potential are trained for years in the ways of nature, the stories of the people, and legends of the supernatural. They are not priests who claim to act as the voice of the gods, but they are wise and learned enough to be the best counselors in all things mundane and supernatural. Because of this they are found among mortals and fey alike. The Gaels are still firmly entrenched in Druidism, but the Britons are split between the rural folk who remember the old faith and the few large cities where Imperial customs and religions are more dominant.

The Druids teach that the world has a mirror reflection called the Otherworld, where all manner of spirits dwell. The Otherworld is a place of magic, the home of the fey, and also the temporary realm of the dead. Druids also believe that mortal spirits reincarnate over time, and foul magic and undead that subvert that cycle are despised.
Individuals exceptional to actually have Druid class levels can guide natural forces around them with their spells and take the form of beasts. Sacred groves and standing stones are their places of worship, especially at solstices and equinoxes. People will be reverential of them when they wear their ceremonial white robes, even in cities where the Church of St. Cuthbert thrive. The spirits respond to each Druid differently, and players should work out with the group how their spells and Circle abilities are unique to their character. The shamans of the Picts and Saxons are mechanically similar to Druids, just with less formal training and social importance. They are more often a vessel for spirits to speak through.

Bards are short-changed in D&D. They are mocked as silly minstrels who sings songs while their allies fight. Bards are a part of the Druidic order and incredibly important to the Celtic culture. With no written language and constant in-fighting, the shared stories of the people keep their values alive. Bards are always welcome wherever they travel, and expected to share news and recount heroic tales. They wear bright colors of many hues as a sign of their training. The old Welsh wise men who pre-date Merlin were usually described as Bards. The spells and inspiration abilities of classed Bards are proof that the magic of the Otherworld lives in their songs and poetry, that they can remake the world around them with their art. The different Colleges are different roles Bards can play—sages, warriors, entertainers, and assassins. The Saxons have their own tales of glory and love of kennings (poetic descriptions of common terms) that thrives among their Skalds.
The spell casting abilities of the Ranger tie them to the Druidic order. In a land permeated with magic, it makes sense that warriors close to the land would learn some of its power. There are also Celtic heroes like Finn McCool who trained with Druids and Bards. Any character with nature-based spell casting should have a unique relationship with the spirits they gain their abilities from.

The Empire may be gone from Albion, but its influence still lingers. The largest cities have architecture, technology, and most importantly, new gods left behind by the foreign powers. The most prominent new religion is the Church of St. Cuthbert. The Church teaches the doctrine of Law conquering Chaos, through the spread of mortal civilization and the destruction of supernatural evil. Unlike the Druids, the priests of the Church have a rigid hierarchy and claim to be the voice of their god through religious texts and tradition. Outside of the cities, priests can be found as solitary missionaries trying to convert with talk and deeds. Other foreign religions can exist as wanted by players, but probably have similar structures. Their miracle workers, those with Cleric class levels, are holy warriors, healers, and direct expressions of their god’s will. Celtic or pagan Saxon gods (mostly similar to Norse gods) may imbue a champion with their divine power, but they are not part of an order. This allows for players to play with access to a broad range of Domains, but they need to be clear if their part of a civilized Cleric tradition or a pagan with mechanically similar abilities. This creates the divide between the New Church and the Old Faith that is important to Albion.

Arcane spell casters are outside the Druidic order but still get much of their power from the Otherworld. Their relationship with Druids will depend on whether they subvert the natural order when they use their magic. Warlocks have a patron who interacts with them and seeks to influence the mortal world through them. Sorcerers exhibit primal magic left over from the creation of the world. Wizards catalog magic into forms and patterns they can recreate.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Celtic Races for 5E

I haven't been able to get a Shadow of the Demon Lord game going yet, but I have been running 5E D&D at Card Kingdom in Seattle. I hadn't played 5E yet but I'm liking it a lot so far.

As I'm wrapping my head around the new edition, figuring out the similarities and differences from older editions, I'm still struck by how well "vanilla D&D" works for a Celtic fantasy setting with Arthurian overtones. So here's some ideas for putting a Celtic theme on character options.


Gaels--The Gaels were the first humans to come to Albion, displacing the Tuatha de Danaan. They are still a wild, tribal people, impossible to conquer and impossible to unite. Gaels are known to paint their bodies, spike their hair, and charge into battle shirtless and screaming. They are close to the fey and their primal gods. (Use Human stats)

Britons--The largest group of humans in Albion, the Britons are divided culturally between the rural clans who follow the old ways, and the civilized city dwellers who adapted Imperial customs. Rural folk live simply, close to the land and the fey nearby, and will fight stubbornly to defend that land. The city folk have rallied around the Good King to build a strong future for Albion, but have had trouble recruiting allies. (Use Human stats)

Saxons--From across the sea, droves of invaders from Midgard have tried to claim Albion after the Empire fell. The Saxons are slowly gaining ground and driving out the Gaels and Britons. They follow proud war gods and are skilled sailors. (Use Human stats)

Picts--The Emperor's Wall cuts off Caledonia from the rest of Albion, for in the rocky north dwell the mysterious Picts who are hated by all and hate everyone in return. They were strong in the time of Atlantis, and the bloodlines of their chiefs keeps the determination and savage nobility of their people intact. Many though have been corrupted by dark forces in the dark corners of Albion and become horrible brutes. Picts worship beasts and monsters of the wild, tattoo themselves, and have subtle characteristics that mark them as different from other humans. (Use Half-Orc stats for noble bloodlines, Orc stats for degenerates)

Tuatha de Danaan--The Children of the Earth Goddess are wild fey, exemplifying the primal power of Albion. They defeated the Firbolgs and drove the Fomorians into the sea, but the Gaels ushered in the time of humans to rule Albion. The Tuatha, or Pren elves, live in the remote wilds now but are always eager to battle threats to the land. Bushy beards, hair the hue of sky or flowers, or even antlers are some of the strange appearances they can manifest. (Use Wood Elf stats)

Sidhee--The noble fey of Albion have always been more comfortable in their faerie hills than the mortal realm. Beings of otherworldly desires and interests, the Morwen elves view humans as playthings and pawns in their games or wars, even kidnapping children to raise amongst them when they wish. Their features are beautiful but sometimes in an unsettling way, and their eyes are fields of stars. (Use High Elf stats)

Changelings--When the Sidhee take the fancy of a human child, they leave behind something to fool the parents. Crafted from elven wood and troll blood, a Changeling takes the form of a baby and eventually learns to mimic anyone they want to. Never feeling at home among mortals or fey, Changelings can become morose and malicious. The children raised in the Otherworld however, grow to see the beauty in both worlds, and become great heroes and adventurers when they come of age. (Use Changelings from Eberron, and use Half-Elf stats for stolen children)

Knockers--Named because their mining can be heard in mountains and caves. Knockers are wonderful smiths but universally grumpy and antisocial. Its almost impossible for them to do a task without complaining about it, and they always find a flaw in even the finest craftsmanship (especially their own). Pale or ruddy skin and bushy grey hair, brows, and beards are common. (Use Mountain Dwarf stats)

Coblynau--Many tell the tale of a Saint who found the hard-working Coblynau in the hills and converted them to his god, though they still build cairns to their ancestors. This race of dwarves seems small but are just as strong as a human, and seem wizened and old but are tireless. They are mysterious even to other fey. (Use Hill Dwarf stats)

Boggans--Rural folk sometimes are lucky enough to have a Boggan nearby, and if they keep it happy with gifts and praise it will help them with chores and defense of their home. Rarely seen, if they are unappreciated they will disappear entirely, if insulted they will wreak havoc. (Use Lightfoot Halfling stats)

Tylwyth Teg--The opposite of their quiet cousins, the Good Folk are loud, dirty, and often have subtle bestial features. They love pranks and can be obnoxious, but are also loyal to those they have befriended. (Use Stout Halfling stats)

Brownies--Small even for fey, these hairy beings live in forests among small beasts that they count as equals. Bursting with energy, they can become single-minded when set to a task. (Use Forest Gnome stats)

Gruagach--While most fey love nature, Gruagach love things. They are skilled crafters and can create out of any materials, even trash and scraps. Their creativity has a nasty competitive side that can turn into bitter jealousy. (Use Rock Gnome stats)

Blood of The Dragon--Sometimes the wild magic of Albion, called The Dragon by Druids and Wizards, leaves its mark on a newborn. The elemental magic inside them can be unleashed with great destructive power. They may have a large twisting scar or even have draconic eyes, but seem mostly human. (Use Dragonborn stats)

Demon Blooded--Albion faces corruption from various dark forces, whether the Fomorian sea devils, the fey of the Unseelie Court, or the horrible demons from the void before time. Any of these can try to spread evil by siring a half-breed mortal, but the human lineage still allows for free will. Even Myrddin fought his devilish heritage to help the Good King to the throne, although with many questionable acts along the way. Deformities mar most Demon Blooded. (Use Tiefling stats)