October 5, 2018

The Vestiges | Rebinding

In this series, I'll be slowly tackling a rework of one of our favorite classes, the Binder. The class was originally a straight update of the class of the same name from D&D 3.5's Tome of Magic, including most of the original vestiges, but as we revisit this class, we'd like to examine its mechanics and its concepts with fresh eyes, improve upon them, and write a whole new list of vestiges. 

Where better to start than the vestiges themselves?

Origins

Vestiges are the spirits summoned by binders, the source of their mystical powers. Binders offer a fraction of their soul to the spirits to gain this power for a limited time. The original list of vestiges borrow their names from the real-world book on demonology, the Ars Goetia, and a few of their depictions trace back to this source, as well as other public-domain demonology sources. While a few of the vestiges trace their stories to various locations in the D&D canon, most are original characters invented specifically for the binder class.

Strengths of Vestiges

The binder class's greatest asset is its flexibility. Players running a binder can create a wizard-like character one day, only to turn around with a rogue the next. However, this flexibility comes with a complexity cost: players and DMs need to be familiar with the myriad of options available to the class in order for it to feel playable or fair. Attaching sets of abilities to vestiges, identifiable characters with backstories and personalities, makes the class's options much easier to understand. For example, Malphas is all about rogue-stuff, whereas Savnok is all about armor. A player can picture these characters, remember their stories, and use this as an anchor to recall the abilities on hand.

Moreover, a few of the vestiges are engaging enough to make the entire class a worthwhile read. Reading through the vestige list feels a bit like reading a textbook on the spirits, as each vestige gets its own background story (with varying levels of detail), its own summoning description, and a physical sign it leaves on the binder. Sometimes, the attached background story is even more engaging than the vestige itself.

Old Weaknesses

Drawing all the character's names from an old demonology textbook makes the class far harder to learn. Names like Otiax, Halphax, and Shax blend together, as do Naberius, Karsus, Malphas, and Marchosias. This not only makes characters much harder to confuse for one another, but it also makes the class feel more homogenous, which is a damning attribute in a class which relies on variety to be fun.

The vestiges themselves also have confusing standards for what makes a vestige. Some vestiges are murdered gods, whereas others are merely heartbroken lovers. This problem is exacerbated by each vestige having different lengths and perspectives on their legends; some say only a few sentences on a vestige's role in the world, whereas others recount a personal tragedy with multiple twists and turns.

The vestiges themselves also seem confused as to which niche they occupy. Our update of this class to 5e addressed this to some degree, but some vestiges like Chupoclops still don't seem to fit anywhere, whereas most others have at least one random feature that doesn't belong with the others. This lack of focus might have been to tie more closely to vestige lore, but it makes the class harder to learn for newcomers, as the uses of individual vestiges are hard to parse.

Vestiges are also organized in a way which makes their features hard to read. Again, this was worse in 3.5 than in our update, but each vestige still includes a 4-part feature which does nothing other than describing the vestige and its non-mechanical influences. Though this aspect of the class shouldn't be removed entirely, organizing the vestige's information is critical for making it easy to read and understand. Components such as the Physical Sign or Influence will be talked about in detail when we examine Pact-Making.

It seems to me that these problems probably originated from a team of writers that tackled the original binder from the wrong angles. Names and legends were likely being decided upon before mechanics were devised, and mechanics were designed to fit. Few of the vestiges have a unified idea behind them, which makes them engaging to read for the lore, but hard to play in a game.

Top-Down Solutions

The binder is a big class which needs far more consistency, so we'll be approaching it from the top down, laying out systems before we write any vestiges. First, we'll work through how vestige mechanics should look, then we'll decide on important archetypes for vestiges (archer, two-weapon fighter, illusionist, grappler, etc), and finally, we'll name and begin writing lore for them.

Let's set one baseline right away: vestiges should be dead gods and heroes -- individuals who resonated so strongly in the world that their echoes persist in the Void. All of them possessed power and influence in life, but now exist only as dim reflections.

Building on this idea, let's take our vestiges from world mythology, so there's still a real-world inspiration for them and so that they feel diverse this time around. To be safe, let's limit it to non-practiced religions, so that Bast, the Egyptian cat god, or Chernobog, the Slavic death god, are both on the table, but Shiva is not). We can write these vestiges from a mythology textbook perspective, detailing their lives from a distance and making academic mistakes when appropriate for the story.

26 comments:

  1. Hey guys!

    I decided to experiment with a new article format where I do a little bit of public design to give you all some insight into how I tackle something like a base class. No mechanics this time, but as this series progresses, it'll get much more mechanics-heavy. As an added benefit, this gives me an excuse to start chipping away at a new class!

    I'm very interested in whether or not you think this is interesting in the slightest, of if you'd rather just see me write more random side posts, like that series of Enter the Gungeon items we did a while back.

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  2. This seems really cool, can't wait to see how it turns out! One of my players did play your binder in 5e and it was kind of a mess, I couldn't remember exactly how it works, he tended to forget important rules, and except for a few vestiges most were unremarkable.
    The binder definitely has great potential which hasn't been properly explored yet.

    That being said, I don't think real-world myths are the way to go. On the one hand it would make features much more memorable, but on the other hand it would make the class very hard to incorporate into most D&D worlds (binding Zeus in the Forgotten Realms, or in Dark Matter, would be quite out-of-place).
    However, there aren't too many established D&D characters and creatures which fit (and many of those that fit might not be well-known), and inventing new vestiges would ruin the point of them being memorable.
    There doesn't really seem to be any perfect solution, though, so pretty much anything can work if it's done well, and I'm sure it will be! I'm sure my former binder player would be enthusiastic about getting to play one again (I've banned it till now).

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    1. I see where you're coming from with regards to how real-world myth will fit in. Let me tackle in two different ways:

      First, if we position these gods as the dead deities of old, forgotten civilizations, will that track for most settings?

      Alternatively, what if we use only use obscure deities and rename the well-known ones? (For example, using Chernobog as-is, but renaming Bast into Baa'st)

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    2. Obscure deities might do the trick, but if the name is unknown then you lose the memorability factor.

      Positioning vestiges as almost powerless, forgotten gods would allow to place them in almost any setting without need for much work.
      I think even so it'd be better to stick to less well-known ones (both Chernobog and Bast, but not Odin, Quetzalcoatl or Hermes), to negate the real world connotations.

      This whole thing reminds me a lot of the pantheons in Order of the Stick (especially the forgotten dead gods thing)- however, that's a self-aware comic, so it can use well-known deities in ways that most D&D campaigns could not.

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    3. I’m getting a very strong Fate/Stay Night, heroic spirits type of feel from this. Also it’s worth noting that real world gods already exist in the Forgotten Realms setting. Mulhorand and Unther are made up of Egyptian and Sumerian(I think) slaves that were brought to Toril after being taken from our world by the Imaskar empire. The example of Bast is actually great for making my point because Bast is an existing deity that is still worshipped in Mulhorand. The same with Osiris and a large number of other Egyptian gods who were granted passage to Toril by Ao.

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  3. I'm currently playing a Changeling Binder. The world setting is a homebrew that has been played in for a few decades. We recently did a "big apocalyptic reboot everything" campaign, and w're playing the vestiges as remnants of beings from that old setting, floating asleep in the void until my character made contact and woke one up.

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  4. Personally I like the idea of vestiges being remnants of dead gods or beings that tried and failed to achieve godhood. My Binder's favored is the level one vestige that tried and failed to become a god in sigil(blanking on name atm). Making them real world gods would be weird, as Idan already mentioned.

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    1. I think that is the best way to tackle the concept, too. D&D is full of stories of powerful beings trying to achieve even more power and getting themselves killed or worse. While it may be weird to mix the lore of multiple settings to create some crazy hodgepodge, liberally sprinkling such cases amongst widely-drawn obscure ideas from real world will keep them both respectable and fresh. Using purely descriptive names with intent to fill it out in setting may also work - what if my setting also had a mage that tried to become the god of magic and failed?

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  5. I really like this idea, as it allows us to see what you are thinking, and for the fans to give input as to what we are seeing and would like to see, thus becoming a truly community developed project, it feels really cool, since it allows so many eyes to look at a project, and the input to be given with the context of the work that has already been done, and the thoughts that you guys have on the class and what is being done.

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  6. I'm so glad you are actually tackling the Binder once more. Always been a great fan of it and now that you have all polished your skills I think it would be great to see the Binder rise to its true potential. If the way to achieve it is by occasional blog posts, so be it.
    As for the choice of taking them from actual mythology...I mean you could,or you could follow mythological tropes and trends, creating fictional archetypes for them. Also I would like to add Villains might actually be a good choice to pull from, as long as they attained enough power before their demise.

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  7. As most "current" beings of power are 'in play', perhaps the binder taps into the nearly lost powers and deities of far, far in the past. No names, but concepts- "I am the healer, and crafter of life"; " Fire and Blood! Fire and Blood are mine!"; or "I am the vengeful that flaps in the night"... let the Binder name them if they must, for their real names are long lost.

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  8. I enjoyed the old vestiges like the spurned lover.

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  9. Someone pinch me i think its Christmas, I think the Binder class you made might be one of my favorite things you have ever done, I'm so excited you are redoing it. If your doing archetypes (archer, two weapon, ect.) Would there be at least one per vestige level? Also, I noticed the only role that the old binder couldn't play last time was the healer? I know you ported it from tome of magic, so will there be healer vestiges now?

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    1. The intent is to do all new vestiges. Also, I intend to add some healing this time around, but you probably won't be out-healing the cleric or paladin.

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  11. I am excited to see this initiation. This was the class that originally brought me to your website. Maybe create lore based on the MFoV staff's past character's? This way you would not have to start from scratch, it makes for interesting new stories, and further develops original MFoV campaign settings.

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    1. I might drag in a few. I'd especially love to re-purpose some of the villains from old campaigns (or from the Evil Archetypes book) as new vestiges.

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  12. Here's my two cents: Due to the old pantheons being present in some of the games, it would be harder to fit those vestiges into the worlds. Renaming them would indeed lose some of the familiarity, as the previous comments suggest. So what I would suggest is giving the vestiges names that are just simple English nouns. If anyone here played Furi, you know what I'm talking about. Chain, Strap, Line, Song, Voice, Stranger, ...

    Old hero aspect is cool too, but I think it could still fit the theme of simple noun names. Simple nouns would be easier to remember since they are already names with a meaning behind it, and it would make the vestiges easier to reflavor to fit any world. Maybe the one named Sun is actually Ra from Ancient Egyptian pantheon. Or the Storm is Odin/Thor. Sure things like this could be hinted at, but in the end it would leave a ton of space for DM's interpretation.

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    1. I like that. It keeps the familiarity, and the deities bound are so ancient their names are literally forgotten, so all that remains as the name is a noun that represents who or what they were.
      They could even still have personality and specific backstory and descriptions, as they ARE old gods, just without the names.

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    2. I really like that, as they can no longer be worshiped as they once were, since their name, their identity, was forgotten, but the retelling of their triumphs and follies gives them enough power to continue on as a vestige. It gives it a through line to almost any dnd story with minimal effort. (as long as the campaign has a tavern or bar, plenty of stories are told) Its also possible that for recycled dnd worlds, the previous pc's of that world could be one of the possible identities of the vestiges.

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    3. You know, this is a tricky thing; perhaps I'll have to do an article entirely on vestige names. Personally, I think that the current vestige naming format ("Name, Title") is pretty good, since it gives you a concrete name to play with and a title that describes who you're talking about.

      So, an example of a vestige backstory I have planned: Tilo, The Colossus. Tilo was a mousefolk knight who died so heroically that people remember him as a titan. Thus, Tilo's vestige gives you heavy weapon stuff.

      I think making an interesting backstory like that would be a lot harder if I had to scrub out the actual name.

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    4. My two cents on this, using just the title for the names also gives a very Tarot card vibe, "The Colossus" "The fiery charger" (Amon), etc. plus a backstory keeps a bit of the mystery as well, vestiges are supposed to be occult aswell, strong enough to prevail, but not enough to be worshiped. That way it becomes less setting dependant, so that you can add names if you want to give them more identity in your games, kind of like a cleric could play a worshiper of thor in one game, and use the same character in another game switching his deity for Zinogre in a game where deities are Monster Hunter creatures for example.

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  13. Interested to see a new take on Binder! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with. However, I personally disagree with the idea that the vestiges were too homogenous or otherwise similar - a lot of the fun I've had with Binder is how the class fantasy of "studying and understanding forgotten spirits" ties so well into how you as a player get to familiarize yourself with the vestiges available, and choose which you think would be best for a situation.

    If you're set on moving past the old ToM vestiges, I think Ed P's idea in this same comment section is a potentially more interesting way to go about it, which also dodges the "what if the Greek/Egyptian/Vedic/etc gods exist in the setting" issue and allows for more modularity - with Vestiges as more vague archetypes, DMs could even adapt them to other "personalities," such as historical characters in their own settings, or the Major Arcana of the Tarot for a different spin on the class.

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    1. For OGL reasons, we're moving past the ToM vestiges, so no matter what path we take, it's all new vestiges from here on out.

      I'll have to do a few sample vestiges soon to demonstrate how I intend to adapt some real-world deities to vestiges; it won't be as straightforward as copying the name and the story out of mythology. We'll be remixing names and playing with the backstory to implement enough twists to make it interesting.

      On its own, pulling a name from Mayan or Japanese mythology will make a world of difference for making a vestige's name completely unique. When I said the old Binder was too homogeneous, that's what I meant: too many names with the same vaguely greek/latin structure.

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  14. Ohh a binder post on my birthday, yay! I love the idea of old heroes/important people being called to posses the living. I loved the idea of the twisted fate in the previous binder, It had a very similar feeling to the old shapeshifting variant druid, which I miss a lot, I hate tracking the forms stadistics and the normal wildshape its too fluff tied to my taste, and with the hiding signs and natural attack focus, that binder was just what I wanted.
    I eagerly wait for more on this.

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