Variant Rules (Years of Gold)
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Ability scores at zero
A character with Constitution 0 is dead, just like in standard D&D. This is quite logical: Constitution stands for a character's bodily stamina, health and vigor, and thus if it is at zero, the character has no health - he or she is dead. However, Years of Gold deals similarly with all other ability scores.
If a character's Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma drops to zero, the character seizes to function as a human being and becomes unplayable. This is born from there being no explanation for a zero-point ability score continuing to live. While an ability score at zero doesn't necessarily mean said character is dead (for example, a character with Dexterity 0 merely falls into a coma), he or she is unplayable. Raising a 0-score ability score back to over zero doesn't return a character to life/capability - the damage is done.
Strength 0 means a character has no physical power or durability, and can't for example breathe; Dexterity 0 means a character lacks coordination and reflexes and thus falls into a permanent coma; Intelligence 0 means a character is incapable of thought, and thus all bodily functions fail; Wisdom 0 means a character's willpower and intuition is sapped and the character falls into a permanent coma; Charisma 0 is like losing one's identity and soul, and a character with no Charisma score is in a vegetative state.
|You can't know a man|
from his looks alone.
Pansaer is a dark world, filled with the nastiest folk imaginable: slavers, murderers, rapists, cannibals and even worse monsters. The gods are indifferent at best and tyrannical at worst, the nights long and dangerous and the days full of worry and endless toil. In a world like this, you never know when your best friend tries to stab you in the back, or the kindly noble you've worked for turns out to be a torturer.
That is, unless you cast detect evil at every opportunity to discern friend from foe. The alignment system of standard D&D has always been my biggest problem with the gaming system. A set-in-stone progression of alignments doesn't make any sense, even with the explanation that it exists to streamline character creation and roleplay.
Let's say a character is warm, kindly and truthful, helps those in need and gives to the poor - but just happens to be massively biased against another race, members of which he hounds mercilessly. Good or evil? Or an inquisitor who believes from the bottom of his heart that he's doing the right thing when he burns sorcerers. Good or evil?
Thus, the alignment system is entirely removed from the Years of Gold setting, and along with it all mechanical and flavorful parts of the game associated with it. Goodbye undetectable alignment, detect evil and dispel chaos, goodbye all-evil races and straightforward quests; welcome interesting roleplay, deep characters and actual feeling.
Implications to playing: The removal of all detect evil-type effects means the characters must actually discover things and study people instead of throwing plot-revealing spells at them, and the Dungeon Master is free to concentrate on planning out interesting adventures instead of fool-proofing the Big Bad's magical alignment-hiding system.
Character progression and wealth
The changes to the magic system make both spellcasters and magic items rarer and less powerful, and the amount of money thrown around is reduced in the setting. Considering D&D 3.5e is built around these two things, the implications to the setting are massive. The biggest change is perhaps to character progression, in three different ways no less: 1) the game is more difficult, which means the characters run into fewer encounters and thus advance more slowly; 2) the lack of magic items and wealth makes opponents harder than their CR would suggest; and 3) most challenges require thinking outside of the box instead of throwing a magical solution at the problem.
Let's address each of these points in turn. Firstly, the slower advancement of characters: this is very much a feature of the Years of Gold setting, instead of a flaw born from bad design. Fewer encounters allow more room for roleplay, and perhaps even lends more feel to the encounters the players do run into, since they're more special. Slow advancement makes the game feel more realistic (no more reaching epic levels in two in-game months) and means the players actually get a feel for their characters at each level, instead of blazing through them.
Secondly, the increased hardness of opponents. A 10th-level character in the setting is notably feebler than a 10th-level character from most any other setting, since characters of other settings are, at that point, kitted out with a plethora of magic items and have tens of thousands to spare. This means a Dungeon Master should be careful with the foes he makes the players face; it's a good idea to test in some form how a fight would go before you make the players face it. Again, this is a feature: the setting is supposed to challenge players more than other settings (think Nethack compared to WoW) and lends a special feel to defeating a particularly tough foe.
Thirdly, non-linear challenges. Most, if not all easy-answer spells have been removed or greatly nerfed in the setting. Spells like passwall and fly no longer wreck the chance to have fun in a dungeon delve, and the Dungeon Master is allowed to concentrate on more important things than how the characters can trick the dungeon. While playing a game in the setting, the Dungeon Master should allow for intelligent thinking and off-the-wall answers to puzzles and encounters. Since the players aren't given magical goodies, you should definitely allow them to swing from chandeliers and light foes on fire with flasks of oil to compensate.
Implications to playing: Games and especially campaigns will be longer, with each level of the characters having more meaning. The game will often be challenging (but not too challenging if the Dungeon Master knows what he or she is doing) but all the more rewarding because of that.
In standard D&D, the languages mostly consist of Common, Undercommon and a plethora of racial languages: Dwarven, Gnome and so on. Both the ubiquity of the Common language and the racial languages are simplifications to make the fantasy world flow better: everyone speaks Common so no problems of communication arise, and there's still enough color for those of other races to stand out. This language system is also completely ridiculous from a real-world standpoint. People use languages that are practical, and languages are constantly changing. The thought that people have a single lingua franca in Common (which is clearly meant to be the shared language of the players - usually English) along with a language of their own makes sense, but the notion that these languages are created solely along racial lines and never change is silly.
Years of Gold does away with all this in favor of a variety of region-based languages. These languages have historical roots in the setting: the five great races were born in certain places in the setting, developed languages of their own in seclusion, then spread into the continent at large. They took their languages with them, and they are little like the ancient tongues they're related to. A human is just as likely to have Luskan, Maridian, Mitter, Vulici or Khabarat as their mother tongue, and Gutnisk isn't far behind.
A character starts speaking Common (and possibly a racial language) at character creation, plus one extra language per point of Intelligence bonus in standard D&D. Not so in Years of Gold: each character begins the game speaking one or two languages (player's choice), usually from the area they are from, although background can explain unusual languages (for example, northern immigrants in the east might have taught their child only Luskan). Furthermore, a character with Intelligence 12 or higher knows an extra language (although they don't have to if the player doesn't want them to). Remember that the Speak Language skill doesn't exist in the setting.
Below is a list of the languages spoken on the continent, their general areas of influence, their history, and a touch on their flavor. Each entry first states that language's name in that language, then what it's called in English (think français vs. French).
- Luskan (Old Speech): Humans were born in the northwestern reaches of the continent, and there developed the first human language. This prehistorical language is no longer spoken and had no alphabet, but scholars have a fairly good grasp of how it might have been spoken from studying the current language of the area: Luskan. The Old Speech is spoken all throughout the north, all the way to the Thullian Delta where it is spoken alongside Khabarat. It's also spoken along Caragos Eavorn, as well as in the northern parts of Caragos Maride. Luskan is a fragmented language: since there's little peaceful contact between the people of the north, their dialects have grown very distinct. Remoras Luskan is vastly different from Maride Luskan, for example. Of our languages, Luskan most resembles Old English with strong German influences. Luskan word order always has the verb at the end of a sentence, and uses the Luskan alphabet. Example sentence: Mec ðú hálet (I greet you)
- Maridian (Ocean Speech): Maridian is the offspring of Luskan. Named after the sea, Ocean Speech was born when the immigrants of the northlands descended into the western parts of the continent and began to develop as a culture of their own. Maridian is spoken mainly in the west, all along Caragos Maride, in the Golden Isles, and in the lowlands of Hundon. Due to the historical strength of the King in unifying the lands, as well as the heavy trade of the area, Maridian has remained a fairly uniform language, although dialects obviously exist. Of our languages, Maridian most resembles German, with an emphasis on long vowels. Similar to its predecessor Luskan, verbs come at the end of sentences in Maridian, and it uses the same Luskan alphabet. Example sentence: Machteen zie kaufst? (Do you want to trade?)
- Mitter (Middle Speech): The uninventively named Middle Speech, or Mitter as it is known in that tongue, is spoken in the Midlands. Of the western languages Mitter is the youngest, born when the people of the west expanded eastwards into the rough country that lies in the middle of Pansaer. Geographical distance from western power centers, as well as a strive for independence, has molded Mitter into a language all its own. It incorporates features of Vulici due to dunners and goliaths from the east, and is the only language spoken by mortals that features some qualities of Or, the First Speech. Of our languages, Maridian most resembles a mixture of Finnish, French and German. The verbs-at-end-of-sentence grammar has disappeared from Mitter, although it still uses an extended Luskan alphabet (the new letters are ä, ü and ö) Example sentence: Vas kuuluuv tö? (How are you doing?)
- Vulici (Dark Speech): Dunners were born in the forests of Ghaer, and there developed the language that later became the basis for all eastern speech. While Vulici of today is a different beast entirely from Vulici of yesteryear, the oldest strains are still spoken in Deep Ghaer, and thus the language hasn't died out - just lived with the times. Nowadays Vulici is spoken in and around Ghaer, along the river Kwazir, and in the easternmost parts of the Tumbling Fells. It is also the first language spoken by the goliaths, who made-do with prelingual noises until they adopted some features of dunner culture. Vulici is something of a minority language in the east, and it has negative connotations with the Khabarat-speaking majority of the Sultanate; hence the name Dark Speech. Of our languages, Vulici most resembles Arabic with a heavy undertone of Finnish. Current Vulici uses the Khyber alphabet, adopted from Khabarat. Example sentence: Mina min asuir Rochvan (I'm a native of Rochvan)
- Khabarat (Wise Speech): Khabarat's history is complex. The language was born when Vulici-speaking folk traveled northwards along the coast and ran into the goblin tribes who were born in the origin of Kwazir, and spoke a now-dead language of their own. Things were further muddled when northern folk sailed into the east, having grown wealthy in the then-abundant northlands. Khabarat sprung first as a pidgin of these three, until it developed into a language all its own and achieved dominance in the region (mostly because the armed humans spoke it). Nowadays the language is spoken all over the Sultanate, all the way to the Thullian Delta in the north. Long distances and hard travel mean that strains of Khabarat are very different from each other. Dharuum Khabarat can be outright indecipherable to someone from the Twin Cities. The Khyber alphabet of Khabarat is not related to the Luskan one: it was developed from the script of the local goblins. Of our languages, Khabarat most resembles Arabic, although its origins as a pidgin mean it has features of Luskan and Vulici as well. Example sentence: Inna alliqa bashara kur al-Ur (I'm directly related to Blessed Ur)
- Gutnisk (Dwarven Speech): Dwarves, who were born in the depths of Caragos Eavorn, were long separated from the other races, only coming into contact with other sentient creatures (asides from giant spiders) after the dwarven gates were forged in the Conquering Years. This long solitude contributed to the uniqueness of the dwarven language, Gutnisk, and it remains much like it was in the old days - after all, dwarves live long. It's not a racial language as such: many non-dwarves who live near or in Caragos Eavorn speak it, and likewise dwarves who live in other countries often learn only the rudiments of Gutnisk, as a cultural nod to their ancestry. Of our languages, Gutnisk most resembles Swedish and Norwegian. Gutnisk uses the Runic alphabet, which is unique to the language. Example sentence: Jav ir en minarbet (I am a miner)
- Or (First Speech): Or is less a language and more an elemental way of expressing yourself. It isn't and never was spoken by mortals: it was born from the dim of Auri's cries, later given proper shape by Morran. It is still the sole speech of the gods, who will not lower themselves to speaking mortal tongues. The only creatures to speak the language on Pansaer are the giants and the giant spiders, which both have direct connections to the gods. Or resembles none of our languages: it barely has any grammar or set form, being more a fluid way of expressing yourself. Sounds, volumes and durations have meaning in Or instead of words or sentences. The language has no alphabet, although some of the nobler giants have stolen the Runic alphabet and have attempted (usually with poor results) to apply it to Or. The demands of the language mean only a mortal of Intelligence 15 can learn it, and even then only a broken version similar to that of lesser giants. Example sentence: Taran'tragarov'ladonar (I am angry with the way things are currently developing)
In addition to these major languages, there are a plethora of smaller languages on Pansaer. Some are remnants of older times, like the goblins tongues spoken by a few secluded tribes at the wellsprings of Kwazir, and some are descendants of the major languages, such as the tribal languages spoken by dunedelvers in the Red Wastes. Someone from such a culture would obviously have proficiency in their own language, but it would do them little good in the larger scheme of things - these languages don't count against the amount of languages a character knows at 1st level.
Resurrecting the dead
|There's no such thing as a second chance.|
In a standard D&D adventure, bringing someone back from the dead is possible from the very beginning (with store-bought spells and Dungeon Master intervention), becomes more available at middle levels and eventually becomes almost trivial to a well-built adventuring party. While it fits many settings, especially the more fantastical and combat-oriented ones, it certainly does not flow in Years of Gold.
Thus, resurrection is made impossible in the setting. This might seem very harsh at first glance, considering that the setting is harder than usual, but it seeks to strengthen the feel of the game and the world. With no easy resurrection, the characters feel more like people, like mortals, instead of combat dummies running around. Like the tagline says: life is not fair.
This leads to two things having to be taken into consideration: firstly, since resurrection is difficult, the Dungeon Master should be extra-careful against putting the players against impossible odds. A real feeling of danger is good, but the desperate knowledge that your character is going to die because the Dungeon Master fudged up is not good. Better to err towards too easy than too hard.
Secondly, the players might feel scared to go against the foes presented, and resort to "turtling up". This leads to the game grinding to a halt, which is not the point at all. If this happens, the Dungeon Master should remind the players that their characters are, after all, just people in a game, and the fun of the playing comes from them facing challenges and overcoming them, not from just staying alive. Again, be careful with the challenges presented.
Implications to playing: The world is dangerous and, with the removal of raise dead, resurrection and the like, one wrong step might lead to a character's demise. Make sure everyone knows this and knows how to handle it, and your playing experience will only be enriched by the added level of danger.