D&D 5E [Creative] My Homebrew for Adventurer's Guide to the Bible

Libertad

Hero
So with Azrael's Guide to the Apocalypse on the horizon, I've been rethinking about the Biblical 5e adventure I reviewed back in September of last year. I've been working on some ideas I had brewing in my head for a while for this campaign as a possible DM, and figured to share with the greater community.

Naamah, Archdemon of Desire: A Villainous Rewrite

In the default adventure, Naamah the Seducer is the first Archdemon the PCs encounter, and also the one they have the earliest lead on in finding her lair. However, there are aspects in the adjoining adventure hooks and the encounter itself that many gaming groups may not want to deal with, namely pedophilia and mind-controlled sexual slavery. And there are of course people who may be uncomfortable with any sexual content at all, even if the aspects are retouched to be more consensual. Thus my rewrite is to remove this while still keeping things in line with her sin of lust.

While lust is heavily associated with sex both within and outside Christianity, it can more broadly reflect desire, including things that have nothing to do with sexual desire. As such, it is rather close to both greed and envy, and vice versa. But even within this framework we still have clay to make something distinct from Legion/Envy’s role in the adventure.

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First Alteration, the Wish-Granter: Egypt has fallen far from its glory days. Once a power to contend with on its own, it is now yet another Roman province after its last pharaoh died to the serpent’s bite. Naamah sees exploitative potential in these Egyptians who find comfort in fantasies of a romanticized golden age. Having instilled a powerful herbal concoction with the aid of the Archdemon of Gluttony, the Shadow of the Beast created a powerful hallucinogenic that draws upon the subconscious’ deepest desires where one is immersed in a half-awake dream of contented bliss. The cult distributes this drug via the Luxor temple, which has been converted to a shrine of Morpheus, the Greco-Roman god of dreams. It is now little more than a drug den with fancy artwork and religious trappings. The poor and disenfranchised are particularly vulnerable to this drug, but even the more well-to-do citizens leading less than fulfilling lives have succumbed to the call of temptation. People whose desires are less socially acceptable or that would result in embarrassment or scorn (such as coveting a neighbor’s wife) are gathered by Naamah’s cultists, listening in on the lips of the dreaming to use as blackmail material.

The cult in Thebes is thus changed to being closer to a self-help scam, promising members ways of realizing their full potential. But in reality, they’re kept in line by the above coercions. The “Love, Sex, and Magic” event can be changed so that Faidra’s parents are cult members and addicts who are neglecting their daughter. She thus approaches the party for aid out of desperation. As for Seraphine’s correspondence letters with the other archdemons, Moloch’s letter can instead be discussing financial transactions between them. Moloch practically admits being behind the drug’s production with Seraphine as the purchaser, with mention of a meeting on the Laimargia Pleasure Cruise to negotiate payment for another shipment.

Changes to Aura and Lair Actions: The game mechanics for the Aura of Temptation can be kept the same, albeit reflavored. Instead of lustful thoughts, a character’s mind drifts to things left unaccomplished, things they wish they had but don’t necessarily need. Instead of posters and fliers for the brothel, the incense of the hallucinogenic wafts through the air, whether left out on windows or coming from the mouths of drugged passersby. Smelling it secondhand gives visions of the Luxor temple. People within the radius are still depressed, but the subject isn’t just strained marriages and more people who reminisce on how much better their lives could be.

As for the Lair Actions, the prostitutes are replaced with hallucinating people lost in their own fantasies getting in the way of combat; instead of a naked Seraphine, a character instead sees something they most desire that they are about to damage; instead of the psychic damage from despair of failed relationships, the damaging vision is instead of failed opportunities the character could have undertaken to better themselves.

Similarly speaking, the Induce Lust spell could change so that instead of being dumbfounded by the caster’s beauty, the affected targets instead see the caster as an ideal form of themselves who took the right options in life and have things they covet. It will thus be renamed Induce Desire.

Advantages and Disadvantages: The advantages of these changes is that it takes a minimum of work to use with the default adventure. It’s still in the same location involving the same characters, and the Aphrodite’s Touch brothel map is easy enough to remake as a drug den. As for the link to the Archdemon of Gluttony, drug abuse can be seen as a form of Gluttony, which ties in well as a link to that adventure and encounter. The disadvantage is that some players may not be comfortable with drug addiction.

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Second Alteration, Whisperer to the King of Kings: In this reimagining, Naamah is based not in the Egyptian city of Thebes, but the Parthian city of Ecbatana. Here, she is a court mage and advisor to Artabanus II, the King of Kings and Emperor of the Parthian Empire. In reality, she is conspiring with Prince Gotarzes to get his brother and father slain so that he can ascend the throne. In this case she replaces the role of Ara as High Sorcerer.

Why is Naamah/Seraphine helping Gotarzes? Well, the archdemons are still unsure of who the Messiah is at this point in the campaign, but there are some who believe that he will be a Jewish warlord from the line of King David who will drive out the Romans. As the Parthian Empire is Rome’s primary rival in the Middle Kingdoms, they have a powerful incentive to find said Messiah to better fight Rome. There’s also the fact that Cyrus the Great, the first Persian Emperor, was the only gentile Messiah for helping end the Jews’ Babylonian captivity and helping their return to Zion. Thus, the Parthian courts seek to draw upon Cyrus’ legacy for propaganda purposes in hopes of making an ally out of Judea. Although Artabanus and Gortarzes both support this plan, Naamah believes that Gotarzes will be a more bloodthirsty and warmongering leader, which can force the Messiah’s hand in coming out of hiding all the faster.

In this case, the archangel Raphael is at a loss. Being single-minded and not on the up and up in regards to mortal politics, he is unable to penetrate the abundant magical wards set up around the city and thus his Animal Messengers risk getting intercepted. The PCs will need to find a way to strike at Naamah (with or without Raphael) in a way that doesn’t bring the royal guard down on their heads. Or at least have a ready means of escaping the city if they do!

The event can be run much like the subplot of Gotarzes’ Quest, although PCs who wish to remain morally clean can instead gain the aid of Ara into faking the death of Meherdates, one of Gotarzes’ targets, via magic. Alternatively they can safeguard him from a Sicarii assassin during an important meeting between Parthia and a neutral kingdom or vassal state. As Ara has been demoted and replaced by Seraphine as court mage, she is eager to get back into the government’s good graces, and exposing the conspiracy of a prince is the perfect way to do this. Right now she only has a hunch, but views the PCs as a useful third party to find out what’s up with the new advisor.

If the PCs save Meherdates, they can learn from him that he’s been on the outs with factions in the royal court, and suspects the new court mage Seraphine to be behind it. As thanks, he will give the party an Amulet of Proof Against Detection and Location, which they can use to let Raphael navigate Ecbatana without tripping divinations (or use it themselves for the same purpose). If the PCs fail to save Meherdates or they wish to follow up on who hired the Sicarii assassin, they can trace him to a hidden fortress (populate it with traps and monsters suitable for a level 4 party) containing correspondence letters with handwriting similar to Gotarzes’.

PCs who deign to investigate Seraphine can sneak into her personal chambers. There they will find incriminating letters like the ones in area 6 of Aphrodite’s Touch brothel, plus personal notes attempting to persuade Mammon (Archdemon of Greed) to fund Skiritai coup attempts against towns loyal to Parthia. This is to make the current King of Kings look like he has a weak reign, thus legitimizing Gotarzes as a replacement.

Attempting to inform the King of Kings about this conspiracy on its own won’t work, as he is not one to trust strangers in comparison to his own son barring extraordinary evidence and the word of someone he trusts. Prince Vardanes fits the latter category, although he will need to see evidence of his brothers’ treachery. If the PCs present two out of four bits of evidence (Meherdates’ surviving testimony, the correspondence letters between Gotarzes and the Sicarii, Prince Vardanes’ testimony, and/or Seraphines’ personal notes), then the King of Kings will realize something’s amiss and dismiss Seraphine. Three or four will have him put Gotarzes under house arrest until a trial is convened. In either case, Seraphine will not go quietly, and having charmed several royal guards during her stay, will attempt to assassinate the King of Kings, the PCs, as well as Ara and Raphael if they’re present. Prince Gotarzes will also join the battle alongside the Archdemon (if under house arrest he will be shackled during combat and Restrained). The number of enemies can be the same as in the Aphrodite’s touch brothel, but replacing a Centurion with a Spahbed, the Legionaries with SRD Guards, and the addition of Gotarzes and/or Ara as people involved in the combat as appropriate.

If the PCs fail to convince the King of Kings, he will accuse them of insurrection and attempt to have them arrested. Seraphine will not interfere in this case, only attacking if attacked herself. If she is forced into her archdemon form, this will cause half of the royal guards to switch sides and attack her, having not been charmed yet and had private reservations about the newest court mage.

As this battle will likely be in a Parthian palace and not a brothel, alternate battle maps should be used. There’s quite a few online, but these maps have enough environmental scenery to not be just a big open space:


If the PCs avert Gotarzes’ coup, the King of Kings will handsomely reward them for their service. In addition to changing the party’s status with Parthia to Allied, they will gain their choice of two of the following rewards: 5,000 gold, two rolls on the Research Table with a +4 bonus (or the PC’s Intelligence modifier if higher) in drawing upon the state’s resources in the library of Nineveh, or a bow wielded by the famed Arash the archer.

New Magic Weapon, Arash’s Bow (Rare): You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. In addition, you can cast Locate Object by firing an arrow into the air which will harmlessly land next to the object. This feature can be used only once, and is regained at the next dawn.

Advantages and Disadvantages: The bulk of archdemon lairs and adventure locations in general are heavily focused on the western side of the setting map. Besides the Archdemon of Sloth in Babylon, the PCs may not ever need to visit Parthian territory after leaving Teredon, and relocating Naamah to Ecbatana helps with this. It also turns Prince Gortazes’ planned usurpation into a plot point in the main campaign, which can make PCs feel more connected to the world rather than treating Parthia as a distant entity. It also lets characters specializing in social and investigative skills opportunities to flex their silver tongues and gray matter, and if things go right they can earn the favor of a powerful figure in the campaign.

The disadvantage is that Ecbatana’s location doesn’t lie along the route through Sheba, which means that PCs who want to go after Naamah immediately may pass up the Three Wise Men quests and likely face her at a very low level. There’s also the fact that the nearest archdemon, Sloth, has a rather dangerous lair for 4th level PCs on account of the exhaustion death spiral.
 
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Wow, that is a lot of information and detail. I can’t say I’ve read it all, but what I have read seem pretty well thought out. Can you, briefly, describe what you are looking for help with or opinions on?
 

Libertad

Hero
Favored of the Lion and Sun

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Most factions give some form of tangible benefit for joining them. The Sicarii grant access to their assassination contracts, Zealots let you safely move through cities of hostile factions, the Sadducees grant access to NPCs with clerical magic, and such. But Parthia's Allied status stands out in that one of its benefits isn't very useful, namely free passage on a ship in one of their ports. Teredon opens out into the Indian Ocean which doesn't touch anywhere else in the default campaign, while the towns along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow southeast, and the adventure doesn't list gold prices for river travel.

I looked to the Nomad Confederation and Zealots as good examples of travel-based benefits, and thought about what the Parthian Empire is known for. Well, their army heavily relies upon cavalry, and they have major holdings along the Silk Road. This means that they have easy access to horses used to long-distance travel. Thus we can replace free passage in their ports with giving up to eight characters in the party riding horses when they visit one of their cities, replacing ones that are lost. While the PCs have plenty of opportunities to make a lot of money, the relatively expensive price of mounts (75 gp per horse) can quickly add up, particularly if the group has NPC allies traveling with them. With a base walking speed of 60 feet, this effectively cuts travel time in half for the average party during most forms of overland travel.

We can more closely compare these benefits to the Roman Empire faction: granted an audience with a Roman proconsul or Parthian King are more or less equivalent. Ignoring random encounters with bandits (Rome) is rather marginal, but having two Legionaries follow you around and helping you out in Roman-controlled cities is a bit marginally useful. But being Allied with Rome is better than being Hostile, for much of the important areas on the map are in Roman territory. As for Parthia, the PCs get access to expensive and broadly useful mounts that are functionable in just about any terrain and possibly combat, which IMO can make up for that empire's relative remoteness.

I'm not as inclined to make comparisons with Sheba, as given how the adventure is written PCs are most likely going to be Allied rather than Hostile with them, and they aren't as immediately hostile with the other Empires (but still wary) as Rome and Parthia are with each other.
 

Libertad

Hero
Wow, that is a lot of information and detail. I can’t say I’ve read it all, but what I have read seem pretty well thought out. Can you, briefly, describe what you are looking for help with or opinions on?

Thank you; a lot of this has been bouncing around my head for a while since the review, and figured to put them all on digital paper to better organize them.

The thing I would want help and input on the most is a less railroady version of the Way of the Cross adventure, although I'm saving that for (near) last and plan on tackling smaller stuff first. The next thing I'm working on and wouldn't mind input is how to best split up the sandbox adventure into in-game yearly segments. The idea is that the adventure's totality spans 4 years, but TBH I can see it being completed in a much shorter timeframe. And there isn't anything wrong with that in and of itself, but the years (26 to 30 AD) were meant to cover the more significant parts of Jesus' ministry.
 

Libertad

Hero
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Do Unto Others

So this 1st-level spell is both incredibly wide-ranging but also in keeping with Jesus Christ’s teachings. It’s not unlikely that the party cleric and/or paladin will make use of it at various points throughout the campaign. Thinking of ways to use it requires quite a bit of improvisation, so this post is designed to provide various benefits of the spell for various events and places. When I refer to “the caster,” I’m referring to the one who cast Do Unto Others upon resolution of the below actions.

Some of these benefits may be rather strong for a 1st-level spell. As they involve one-time quests and turning down useful rewards, their benefits are appropriately measured in line with this.

The Story Begins

Helping Tobias’ parents reunite with him and Sarah will reinforce the strong bonds between the PCs, granting the caster a one-time use of Warding Bond but without requiring any material components.

Saving Tobias or his dog from harm, be it from the deepmaw or violent encounters along the Tigris River, will either turn a critical hit from Seraphine into a normal hit or a struck attack from her into a miss.

Saving Sarah from Seraphine’s enchantment from throwing herself off the cliff will make it so that the Murex caves will not flood during the Welcome to Teredon adventure. Alternatively, an allied NPC or random passersby will come to the party’s aid during the next dangerous encounter to save them from a hostile predicament. Use Veteran stats in case of a random passerby.

Turning down Rabbi Zakkai’s reward for finding the missing courier will shift the PC’s relationship with the Sadducees to Allied.

Giving Cassius’ body a proper burial or making arrangements to have it sent to Roman authorities will have Legionaries that served under him show up within the next 3 days to help out the party, be it guarding them during travel through Sheba, giving them supplies for such a journey, or putting in a good word with them at the next Roman-affiliated town they visit, changing their relationship with Rome to Allied.

Random Encounters

Bad Tenants: If the PCs help Ramsen recover his estate, he will find evidence of the criminals’ prior crimes in Holox’s personal journal. Other families who suffered under them will learn about the party’s involvement and give them free lodging as well as sheltering them from their enemies in the next settlement they visit.

Bandits: If the PCs pay the bandits their toll for the purposes of avoiding exposing other characters to danger, the bandits will let the party pass. Feeling a kindred spirit in the caster, the bandit captain develops a sense of guilt that they came close to killing someone who likely had family and friends. The surviving bandits (half the number in the encounter) will rethink their lives and show up 3 days later to help the party. If in combat they will fight by their side, otherwise can help them hide from their enemies, safely traverse the wilderness to their next destination, or pay back the money/magic item given during the toll but with interest.

Good Samaritans: Saving the life of the bandits’ victim reveals that he comes from an organization that is currently on the outs with the party. A faction to which the PCs are Hostile then becomes Neutral. If they aren’t Hostile with any factions, the caster gains advantage on the next Charisma skill check made with an NPC belonging to that faction.

Peace Talks: PCs who save the village from destruction will cause one of the leaders of the opposing forces to wish for safety for the PCs. The next time that initiative is rolled with anyone but an archdemon, a Sanctuary spell will take effect upon the caster.

Pearl of Great Price: PCs who retrieve the merchant’s pearl will later come upon an Itinerant Baptist who offers them a Baptism of Water. The water source can reflect what is naturally closest to the party on the world map, or be a natural hot spring if no such option is appropriate.

Prodigal Son: PCs who turn down the money will have an allied NPC show up within the next 3 days tipping them off to a coming danger. This can range from avoiding the next dangerous random encounter, tipping them off to an archdemon lair as per a research roll, or a similar fate.

Sicarii Plot: Tipping off the target of a Sicarii assassination attempt (or better yet, saving them) makes it so that the PCs doesn’t risk triggering Sicarii ambush attempts when taking long rests in faction territories to which said NPC belongs, as the party now has people watching over them.

Slave Traders: PCs who free the slaves will have said slaves rescue them should they trigger the Prison Break adventure, taking the form of being passed a skeleton key for their jail cells as the guards’ food was drugged to send them all to sleep. Otherwise, for the next 3 days travel times will be doubled and the DM will roll twice for random encounters and/or discoveries, picking the one that will be more beneficial to the PCs.

Sower and the Seeds: Helping the woman discover the root cause of the magic weeds makes it so that a random item in the party’s possession turns out to be much more valuable than usual, allowing them to sell it for double the normal price. If there is no such suitable item (or there are no items the PCs wish to sell), the item in question turns out to be masterfully crafted, granting them +1 to relevant d20 rolls in its use or performs basic functions better, such as a backpack that can increase carrying capacity.

Unjust Judge: PCs who help the widow plead her case cause a scholar in the local courts to discover an irregularity in the caster’s records. The caster discovers that the government owes them money as they overpaid their own taxes (100 gold pieces’ worth), that they have legitimate inheritance of a modest-sized house in a nearby city, or a geopolitical faction which is Hostile towards them dropped their vendetta and reset their relationship back to Neutral.

Atlas Locations A-Z

Alexandria: PCs who help tip off or avert Caius Blandus’ assassination attempt on Melchior will learn within the next 3 days that Blandus has been arrested for corruption (if alive) and replaced with a more honorable authority figure. Their status with the Roman Empire will change to Allied. If already Allied, they will instead gain the benefits of a Research roll as Melchior provides them with valuable intel.

Antioch: preventing Decmius from assassinating Germanicus will have the Roman general pass on to the PCs’ the information learned from the shadow cultists within the next 3 days in case they haven’t learned such information themselves. If the PCs already obtained this information from Decimus, they will find a hidden note the cultist incompetently hid elsewhere in the city, tipping them off to other valuable intel as though they did a Research roll.

Babylon: PCs who find and retrieve the body of Lord Merodach will have the caster succeed on the next 3 death saves.

Damascus: PCs who realize Salome’s duplicity and keep John safe gain one of two rewards: baptism by John, or gaining favor with the Essenesby setting their relationship to Allied. PCs who were duped into arresting John but believed they were acting for a good cause will instead learn of Philip and Salome’s conspiracy falling apart when the former comes down with a wasting sickness and confesses on his deathbed for John the Baptist to go free. John is released, and the PCs receive one of the prior benefits as per usual.

Den of Serpents/Ma’rib/Sirwah: these events tie into later Events and Encounters in the book, detailed below.

Ecbatana: PCs who thwart Prince Gotarzes' assassination attempts have the Parthian Empire’s best mages cast protective spells upon them. This happens even should they not be present, for the King of Kings is loath to let such worthy allies perish. This has the effect of a one-used Word of Recall spell with the palace of Splendor’s Envy as the designated sanctuary. It can be triggered automatically in the event of a potential Total Party Kill or voluntarily as the caster gets an inkling that they can be magically whisked away to safety.

Jericho: PCs who save the unconscious man gain the benefits of Good Samaritans, as per the random encounter above.

Kyrenia: PCs who save Kassandra from the sicarius assassin will find the authorities in the next settlement they visit (likely Roman) to be very amenable. Their faction status with that world power will be Allied if not already, and any combat encounters (such as a sicarii ambush) will have 2 allied units (use appropriate faction stat block or Guard) assist the PCs. In the case of a settlement in Cyprus, Simon Magus will flee, fearful that his crime will come to light.

Mt. Ararat & Nimrud: PCs who reunite the unicorns will be able to call upon the creatures for free healing if they’re ever in the immediate area. Otherwise the unicorns will do a one-time teleportation, appearing next to a PC who is about to die and saving them in the nick of time.

Nineveh: PCs who remove the archdemon so that Asher the dragon can return to his original lair will cause it to rethink its relationship with religion, deciding to devote its life to God. The dragon will happen to be passing by in the sky during the next major encounter or adventure, coming to the PC’s aid.

The Silk Road: PCs who help escort Maës Titianus through the Assur Wastes will find their travels blessedly easy. For the next 3 days travel times will be doubled and the DM will roll twice for random encounters and/or discoveries, picking the one that will be more beneficial to the PCs.

Tarsus: PCs who help the teenagers in the undercity safely escape will be able to overcome a Prison Break scenario, finding a hidden tunnel out of their cells that lets them bypass the guards and retrieve their equipment. Otherwise the caster gains a one-time casting of Pass Without Trace.

PCs who link Captain Gula’s pleasure cruises to the missing nobles will find themselves blessed with inerrant clarity. The caster will gain the benefit of a one-time Locate Object or Locate Person regarding one of the party’s current objectives, but with unlimited range.

Thebes: PCs who help Faidra resolve her relationship with her parents (with or without defeating Naamah) will soon meet an NPC who they were on poor terms with coming into town to make peace. If the NPC is affiliated with a Faction, the party’s status with that faction improves by one step.

Thonis: PCs who help Selene retrieve her broach will come upon a very rare magic item during their travels. PCs who help her defeat Mammon will find the charity of strangers to be very welcoming, allowing them to perpetually live a Comfortable lifestyle without paying any gold. PCs who help her track down Safiya will find that Naamah’s cult in Thebes is beginning to abandon her; if not already defeated, she won’t have a giant bodyguard at her side during the fight. If already defeated, the caster receives a permanent advantage on all Investigation and Survival rolls for tracking down and unearthing information about people.

Ur: this adventure is tied to Rabbi Zakkai’s proposed reward in The Adventure Begins, detailed above.

Via Maris: This ties into the Germanicus questline in Antioch, detailed above.

Events & Encounters

Special Note: the events involving finding the Magi give beneficial magic items highly important to the campaign. A PC who is about to cast Do Unto Others will experience a strong sensation that God wants them to have these items, so they can do greater good in the world with them. The events involving the archdemons typically have defeating them as rewards unto their own.

Blood and Sand: PCs who prioritize saving Balthazar first and foremost will have the caster randomly trip over the Staff of the Bronze Serpent where it is half-buried under the sand.

Museum Heist: Retrieving Cleopatra’s Brooch for Selene is detailed in Thonis, located above. PCs who disgrace Balbillus “the Wise” will gain Allied status with the Essenes, who are happy that the Library is under more worthy hands. If already Allied they will subtly aid the PCs’ research, granting them a free research roll.

Welcome to Galilee: PCs who save the life of Jairus’ daughter will make the caster receive the benefits of a Greater Restoration spell the next time they fall victim to a negative condition which that spell can cure. PCs who heal Peter’s mother-in-law gain the same benefit, but the effects of Lesser Restoration instead.

PCs who exorcize Legion out of the possessed person at the Capernaum Synagogue or the Galilean Crypts will make the caster of Do Unto Others receive the benefits of the Protection from Evil and Good spell (no concentration required) the next time they’re engaged in combat or target by a monster the spell affects.

PCs who save the woman in Magdala from being stoned to death will let the caster gain immunity to all damage for one round the next time combat begins, or the next time they take damage from a hazard outside of combat, whichever comes first.

Welcome to Jerusalem: PCs who help Pontius Pilate gather information about Jesus and his followers will let the caster automatically recognize any Cursed Silver Pieces as being dangerous to handle.

Protectors of the Ark: PCs who safely transport the Ark of the Covenant to the Queen of Sheba will permanently treat any weapons they wield as being magical and adamantine for the purposes of overcoming damage reduction. PCs whose primary weapon are spells and cantrips allow their spells to ignore damage resistance and immunity for one type of damage of their choice. Once this choice is selected, it cannot be changed.

Way of the Cross: PCs who manage to find a way to nonviolently save Jesus will later learn of his death at the hands of Longinus, a Roman soldier and minion of Legion desperate to serve his lord, only to inadvertently save mankind and plunge the archdemon’s plans into ruin. But the real reward comes in the caster being able to do a one-time casting True Resurrection, but as an action and without the need for material components.
 
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Libertad

Hero
Upon further thought, having Pharisees as an Allied faction so early in the game is rather strong in that they change 3 other factions to Allied, which the PCs most certainly haven't met yet. Changing the Allied faction to Sadducees for helping Rabbi Zakkai in Teredon feels more reasonable.
 

Libertad

Hero
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Giant Lineage Revision

In my review to the Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible, I noted that the Giant race was weaker than the other options on account that they have some rather situational abilities as well as a penalty in being unwelcome in cities. Not to mention being heavily designed for melee combat in an adventure with a higher than usual amount of noncombat encounters and quests. This alternate lineage also comes with sublineage options.

Giant Traits

Type. You are a Humanoid.
Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2.
Age. Giants learn to fend for themselves at an early age. A Giant is considered an adult by the age of 10, and their life expectancy is less than 100 years, although giants almost always die in combat before they reach old age. (text taken from the book)
Size. Giants are between 8 and 12 feet tall. Your size is Large.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 40 feet.
Tall Person in a Small World. You have proficiency in one of the following: Acrobatics, Athletics, Intimidation, Persuasion, or Survival.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write in Common and one extra language of your choice. Typically this language will be that of the people you live among or commonly deal with. (text taken from the book)

Phalanx-Breaker

Your family tree is full of fierce warriors more than eager to live up to the image smaller people have of them.

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.

Stand Tall. You have advantage on ability checks and saving throws to avoid the prone and restrained conditions.

Overwhelming Swing. When you perform the shove special attack, you can elect to target a number of creatures equal to your Proficiency Bonus. Roll a single Athletics check and compare it to the results of the resisting creatures. If choosing to push, you can push any number of these creatures an additional 10 feet (15 feet total in most circumstances). Once you use this ability, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Far-Reached

Your particular heritage is taller than others, and your arms and hands are quite nimble.

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1.

Look Out, Little Ones! When a creature or object within your natural reach is targeted by an attack, environmental hazard, or other hostile effect, you can spend up to half your remaining movement as a reaction to move the creature or object that amount of distance within your natural reach. If this would move them out of the area of effect or reach of an attack, they gain advantage on their relevant save or the attacker suffers disadvantage on their attack roll. Once you use this ability, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Hulking Hurler. You can throw a creature or object up to Medium size as a special attack. For unwilling creatures, they must first be grappled by you. The thrown object or creature is treated as a weapon with the thrown property (20 ft, short range only) with which you are proficient, and deal bludgeoning damage dependent on their size: tiny 1d4, small 1d6, and medium 1d8. If throwing a creature, both it and the target suffer bludgeoning damage.

If throwing a willing creature such as an ally, you can elect not to have them take damage from the collision. They can still suffer damage from other sources, such as falling or hazardous terrain.

At 5th level your throwing range increases to 30 feet, and you can throw objects and creatures up to Large size dealing 2d6 damage. At 11th level your throwing range increases to 40 feet, and you can throw objects and creatures up to Huge size dealing 3d6 damage.

Heaven-Blooded

Your family tree has supernatural influence, perhaps a nephilim or some other otherworldly being. This allows you to unleash your strength on the world in magical ways.

Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.

Magic of Power. You know the Mold Earth cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the Earth Tremor spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. When you reach 5th level, you can cast the Enhance Ability spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest, but you can only pick yourself as the target. Strength is your spellcasting ability for these spells.


Rationale Behind the Choices: For the base giant race, I figured that Large size and 40 foot movement speed were powerful enough to count as unique benefits. Tall Person in a Small World reflects various aptitudes giants had to learn in maneuvering among humanity: Acrobatics or Athletics can reflect learning to move carefully around smaller people and objects to avoid causing damage, Intimidation is self-evident, Persuasion is learning how to give off a less threatening aura, and Survival reflects how many giants unwelcome in population centers learn to life off the land.

As for the subraces, I made sure to give their +1 ability score bonus to things associated with non-melee characters. Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma cover a wide variety of skills, allowing giants emphasizing high scores in these areas to be good in those fields. Overwhelming Swing and Look Out, Little Ones both serve as unique forms of battlefield control that feel appropriately giantish; Stand Tall is a useful defensive feature; and Hulking Hurler provides the giant with both a convenient ranged attack and more battlefield control in throwing enemies (and allies) around the battlefield or into convenient/inconvenient locations.

The Heaven-Blooded magic stands out a bit, as I intentionally picked spells that felt like a supernatural enhancement of prodigious strength: Mold Earth being the giant willing their power to move soil and stone from a distance rather than physically scooping it up or shaping it, Earth Tremor is a mighty slam or stomp, and Enhance Ability can be the giant calling upon their own inner reserves.

There is a bit of a concern that I may have made the revised race a tad strong. But by contrasting them to the other three races, those ones still have unique niches. Base humans are still weak, but variant humans remain a good choice due to the bonus feat. Nephilim are still a broadly-varied race with a good assortment of bonus skills and spells. Rephaim’s darkvision is still invaluable, and their bonus spells make them great sneaky types.
 

Libertad

Hero
Amazing Grace

This campaign unveils a unique 7th ability score, Grace, being sort of a general morality stat. Sadly, there are few avenues that explicitly call for the use of this ability in either of the Red Panda adventures released so far, really only amounting to checks made upon Holy Ground.

This post seeks to expand Grace into having a more active role in the game.

Common Uses and Example Checks

Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible mentions that Grace is “a reflection of [a character’s] relationship with God, society, and other people, and how much they allow morality to dictate their decision-making.” Furthermore, it is tied to alignment in that a character’s starting Grace score is determined by whether they are good, neutral, or evil and can only be changed during a character’s actions over the course of play, being a factor of 1 by default. Therefore, Grace is neither a physical or mental score in the traditional sense of the word, but is reflective of how they live their life and the principles they hold.

Like Constitution, Grace has no associated skills, and substituting one of the six other ability scores for Grace when making an ability check should require very persuasive arguments.

Beyond just rolling to see how a character attunes with Holy Ground, here are some new common uses for the Grace score:

  1. Provide a character with a clearer sense of what is the most moral action to take in an uncertain situation.
  2. Be deemed worthy of entry into a sanctified site.
  3. Earn the initial trust/respect of a celestial or similar servant of God.
  4. Serve as a role model to others by your deeds rather than raw skill or charisma.
  5. Pray to God for a sign and receive a vision.

Regarding the above examples, one could argue that each of them can be filled in via other abilities and skills. But Grace is still useful for a variety of reasons: in the first example, even an uneducated or foolish person may be able to fall back on a “what would Jesus do?” style of personal questions to guide them when their own wits fail. The second and third examples presume a sixth sense not unlike a paladin’s “detect evil” feature, where holy places and beings can pierce through silver tongues and see the core of a person’s character.

The last example can be used to give a character a result from the Visions, Prophecies, & Dreams table. It should be used sparingly, such as a single check during Downtime.

Jesus Saves, and Takes Half Damage

We discussed ability checks, so what would a Grace saving throw look like? Generally speaking, it is used to resist sin and temptation. In cases where someone would roll a saving throw to avoid being forced to perform an activity that would cause them to sin or otherwise act against God, such as by an enchantment spell, the character substitutes their Grace score for the appropriate score. If a character would ordinarily add their proficiency bonus when using the original ability score for such a save, they add this bonus when rolling a Grace save.

Characters don’t pick and choose whether they substitute their Grace score in this way. A strong-willed but wicked archmage with high mental stats but a Grace of 4 may be able to easily resist spells and effects that would erase his memory, make him believe in an illusion, or similar things. But were one to use a spell such as Induce Greed to instill in him an obsessive desire to steal something, he’d use his much lower Grace score.

Therefore, a character who regularly performs selfish and wicked acts finds it harder to break off from such behavior when it comes from a supernatural source, such as demonic possession. But a character who is otherwise weak-willed but with a strong moral compass has a better chance of resisting their worser nature.

Common Increases and Decreases
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The Grace score should be treated as a general abstraction rather than a totality of a character’s in-game actions. Otherwise, one could make the argument that a rich character who handed out 20 gold pieces to 10 beggars should receive a +10 to their Grace score, trivializing the concept. Generally speaking, a raising of one’s Grace score should be reflective of actions taken during the course of the game that bear an element of risk or loss: it’s easy to be a good person when there are no penalties for doing so or if it’s financially lucrative. But something drastic like showing mercy to a dangerous foe for a chance to redeem themselves, or rescuing hostages from the fortress of a Satanic cult, with no expectation of reward? That should earn characters a Grace raise!

Barring exceptional circumstances, a Grace score should never lower or raise by more than 1 per significant deed. For a guideline, the quests in the Do Unto others posts above serve as good examples for when to raise Grace. Particularly when the party turns down the more tangible physical rewards such as gold in favor of consecrating the act to God or out of the kindness of their hearts.

Additionally, certain deeds in line with typical DnD parties should be mentioned. While it’s unlikely that adultery will be a common activity in most campaigns, murder, theft, and even sorcery are definitely things that can come up during this campaign!

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have a Session 0 on this topic. Even Christians disagree heavily on the nuances of Sin and the scale of individual sins. Just look at how argumentative secular gamers can get over alignment, then magnify it when it comes to real-world religion! Beyond that, an easy out is following a general “golden rule” where the DM asks if the action is causing suffering in an avoidable or selfish manner.

Murder is viewed as a grave sin, and there are Biblical verses that have condemned it but also justified it in certain circumstances. Generally speaking, encounters or events where a PC directly causes one or more mortal souls to meet a violent end should reduce Grace by 1 in most circumstances. This applies mostly to sapient mortal beings: killing animals for sustenance isn’t a sin, and as fiends are immortal and reform in Hell they have an easier time “coming back” via foul rituals and summonings as opposed to the miracle of resurrection.

Keep in mind that non-lethal damage is much easier to do in 5th Edition than prior ones, and murder is thus a more avoidable fate. As such, DMs can still be strict on this ruling while allowing characters to still go for violent resolutions. One way to encourage this is having encounters resolve in a satisfactory manner via capturing a foe rather than killing them. The Defeated condition from Beowulf: Age of Heroes is a good example to follow.

For example, if the person the party is fighting is a lawbreaker or dangerous criminal, they can be turned over to authorities. Otherwise, a villainous mastermind whose plans are ruined can suffer such a setback that they’re no longer the same level of threat as they used to be. A good example is Prince Gotarzes of the Parthian Empire and his plot to assassinate his father and siblings, as covered in the review and prior posts. Even so, doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest thing, so there may be times when the merciful option won’t remove a problem, or even add a new one. It is something for the DM to make judgment calls on based on the needs of their group and campaign expectations.

Regarding stealing, there are many Biblical passages condemning all types of theft, fraud, and similar activities. As it is done first and foremost for financial gain, various Rogue-style abilities in DnD have purposes beyond this, such as picking the lock to a door in a dungeon in order to progress or sneaking past enemies in order to avoid a fight. When it comes to these kinds of “thief style” abilities, the end deed matters more than the training or the action. Again, much like how murder can be circumvented via non-lethal damage, 5th Edition also de-emphasizes the tying of wealth to a character’s power, so players don’t have to worry about sacrificing overall effectiveness by choosing to not be murderhobos.

But for PC thieves who still wish to indulge in such matters, they should lower their Grace by 1 for every significant deed rather than from each person they steal. An elaborate heist or spending downtime as a burglar, for example.

Now, what of magic? Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible made a bit of a creative departure where it made spells more morally neutral, even the ones that don’t necessarily come from God like arcane magic. It is entirely possible to be a Baptist Druid, Magi Wizard, or Psalmist Bard if you don’t want to be a Cleric, Paladin, or similar “godly” archetype.

But what if a character wishes to have their magic come from a more dubious source? Perhaps they’re a Warlock with the Fiend patron or a “dark knight” style Paladin with the Oath of Vengeance. Someone who may initially start on a dark path but over time can find redemption. They might have even justified themselves into thinking that they can fight fire with fire, to use the tools of the enemy against them!

As to why they’re aiding the Messiah and Magi and not the Archdemons, it’s entirely possible that the entity granting them their powers may be a rival in hellish politics, who wants to sabotage Lilith’s mission so they can swoop on in and gain Satan’s favor by having their “chosen” ingratiate themselves to the Messiah like a double agent. All the better to strike when the time is right! That is, presuming that said character isn’t moved to do the right thing and forsake a life of evil at a dramatically appropriate moment!

For such “dark knight/mage” style PCs, the initial cost of their infernal bargains should have them begin with a Grace score of 8. This is regardless of their alignment, for one doesn’t enter into pacts with demons and not come out unblemished. Generally speaking, casting spells shouldn’t alter their Grace score in and of itself.* But if one wants to reflect a demonic patron giving power at a moment when it’s needed the most, the DM can have their patron/oath-holder offer to restore a PC’s highest-level spell slot in exchange for lowering their Grace score by 1. This isn’t something the PC can call upon on their end, and should be reserved for times when the odds are against the party and the right spell can help turn the tide.

*Albeit regularly relying on corpse desecration via created undead may perhaps warrant a Grace reduction per major adventure of the campaign.

Such a PC’s redemption arc can come about in several ways, but like any good campaign should come about at a time when it “feels right” rather than predetermined points. But there are some ideal places and times in Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible for this:

  1. Choosing to follow Jesus.
  2. After defeating one of the Archdemons, ideally one whose negative effects on mortal society are most apparent before their battle, such as Naamah or Beelzebub.
  3. Encounters where the PCs come into contact with God, such as facing their fears at the Holy Ground in Midian or transporting the Ark of the Covenant.
  4. Being mentored by a servant of God, such as one of the Three Wise Men or John the Baptist.
  5. Dueling with the angel Barachiel in Galilee.

Such occasions are an appropriate time to have the character retrain. They should still retain their more mundane proficiencies such as weapons, armor, and skills, but more supernatural features such as spells should be reflective of their new class/subclass.

Assigning Grace to NPCs and Monsters

When it comes to assigning Grace scores to those besides the PC, some guidelines should be kept in mind:

  1. Beings with animal-level or nonexistent intelligence don’t have Grace scores, for they lack the ability to know of God’s laws and moral systems and instead operate on instinct or preprogrammed instructions.
  2. Most mortal humanoids have Grace scores ranging from 8 to 12 depending on their alignment, with some as low as 6 or as high as 14. Any values beyond these ranges are likely exceptionally moral or wicked figures who have a greater role in the story to play than rank and file characters encountered on the street.
  3. Celestials are blessed servants of God and instruments of His will, so they usually have a Grace of 18 to 20. Celestials who end up falling below this value become “fallen,” and outright fiends if they side with Satan.
  4. Fiends knowingly sided with Satan in the rebellion against God and now work tirelessly to pull mortals from the path to Heaven, and typically have a Grace score of 1 to 3. Fiends who manage to increase their score often reach a middling point where they are on the road to redemption that must be worked on over many mortal lifetimes, and once they hit 18 become a celestial.
  5. Particularly long-lived or immortal beings that are neither celestial or fiend but have derision or contempt for “lower life forms,” such as dragons or fey, usually have low to middling Grace scores. Generally speaking, they are entities possessed of great power, but tend to have either a conquering mentality or a hands-off nature when it comes to the development of mortal civilizations.
  6. Undead overall have very low Grace scores, on pair with or slightly higher than fiends. Unintelligent undead differ from animals in that they are typically consumed by murderous urges and thus are vessels driven strongly by sin, while most intelligent undead often had to perform vile deeds in order to attain such a state in their mortal lives. Undead who undertake the road of redemption and increase their Grace almost always pass on to their final fate in the afterlife.

Example Grace Scores

1-3 (-5 to -4): People who are not just willfully evil, but devoted their lives to making Earth a worse place. Examples: The world’s worst tyrants, most fiends.
4-5 (-3): People who spent most of their lives bringing harm to others and committed several great sins. Examples: Mages and cult leaders who serve demons, serial killers, war criminals.
6-7 (-2): Selfish people who regularly hurt others, those with institutional power but use that power to prevent improvements in society. Examples: Seasoned criminals, career politicians, the ultrawealthy.
8-9 (-1): Selfish people who don’t care for the welfare of others or have fallen for harmful practices, but haven’t committed any great crimes to which they haven’t yet repented. Also people who are otherwise decent but whose occupation/lifestyle results in habitual harm. Examples: Petty criminal, xenophobic hatemonger, slaver.
10-11 (0): People whose primary concerns are their own lives and close social circles, haven’t committed enough great deeds or evil acts to shift them further. Examples: most humans.
12-13 (+1): People who are generally selfless and mindful of doing the right thing, overall have done more good than bad in the world. Examples: charity workers, beneficial occupations that sometimes do pro bono work.
14-15 (+2): People who regularly commit good deeds, oftentimes at risk to themselves. Examples: abolitionists, privileged do-gooders acting in defiance of a tyrannical authority, doctors working in leper colonies and other dangerous environments.
16-17 (+3): People who brought about wide scale positive change over a long period of time. Examples: Peacemakers who ended a long war, political figures who instituted systemic reforms to uplift the disenfranchised, scientists who selflessly shared their findings to improve the living conditions of society.
18-20 (+4 to +5): People who dedicated their lives to making the world a better place and are moral exemplars. Examples: Saints, pacifistic and civil rights icons, most celestials.
 
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Libertad

Hero
qnLM7N5.jpeg

Saving Jesus

Artwork by Carl Bloch

The arrest and crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one of the most detailed and well-known parts of Christian history. His death is an important part of the religion’s evolution, a moment of self-sacrifice to bear humanity’s transgressions and through that pave the way for universal redemption. In the context of this adventure, it is an important event that significantly and permanently weakens the influence of Satan and his minions in the world. Whereas other parts of the book have been open-ended and allowed for leeway when it comes to PC autonomy, the Adventurer’s Guide more or less puts things squarely on a linear railroad where events in the Bible transpire more or less unimpeded. While the book notes that the DM can get creative for PCs deadset on rescuing him, there is hardly any advice on where to go from here for the more stubborn and creative of players. This post is meant to help in that regard.

The Meta-Narrative of Saving Jesus

Before running the Way of the Cross encounter, the DM should have a good sense on whether or not the PCs not only wish to save Jesus from death, but also the players’ out of character motivations for doing so. Some players may be okay with Jesus’ death being inevitable on a metagame level, but other players may feel their opportunities robbed from a genuine desire to try and change history or simply trying to do the right thing. Different groups have different methods for the handling of metagaming in this case: the DM can out and out tell the players upfront what is expected in the narrative and if they’re okay with that, or they can use leading questions between game nights in the leadup to Way of the Cross to try and read their motivations. Determining how acceptable players may find a deus ex machina that stymies their efforts, or how well such a trick can be concealed under the illusion of choice, is something that differs from table to table.

PC Capabilities

Beyond the motivations of the players, the DM must also determine the capabilities of the PCs and how they can steer the adventure in their rescue attempt. At this point, the party should be around 9th level, making them some of the most capable mortals in the Fertile Crescent to say nothing of the many treasures and allies they accumulated on their journeys! While it depends widely on class and role, PCs at the higher end of Tier 2 have a lot of tricks up their sleeves both inside and outside combat.

Combat: At this point in the campaign, most PCs can more than handle themselves in fights. As a sandbox-oriented setting whose world doesn’t “level up” as the PCs do, most authority figures in Jerusalem aren’t going to be a match for the party. The only real advantage of Jesus’ captors are their superior numbers and institutional backing of the Roman Empire. As is detailed in the adventure, the people most likely to imprison or otherwise visit violence upon Jesus are all rather “low-level,” having stats such as Guard (Cr ⅛), Angry Mob (CR 5), Roman Legionary (CR ½), and Roman Centurion (CR 3). The last two would be found standing guard in key security areas of the city such as the crucified prisoners up in Golgotha. Judas uses Sicarii (CR 3) stats, although his role is rather “non-combatant” in the whole affair.

On the magical side of things, most of the NPCs don’t have any spellcasting potential, the exception being the priest Caiaphas (CR 2, casts as a 5th level Cleric). While the Roman Empire makes use of mages such as Simon Elymas (CR 5, mage stats) who can be found on the Isle of Cyprus, neither Pontius Pilate nor King Herod are mentioned to have such an advisor in the adventure.

With all this said, well-prepared PCs can easily overpower Roman or Jewish authorities. However, as evidenced by his proverb “live by the sword, die by the sword,” Jesus is very explicitly against any of his followers using violence to free him. While he may not stop the party from doing so if they’re out of his presence (if only to avoid making the adventure feel too railroaded), he will also know if the party has inflicted violence outside his presence and admonish them for doing so. If they try to do so within his presence then he’ll supernaturally stop combat as in the Garden of Gethsemane. The only exception to this will be if an archdemon gets involved, as covered under Legion’s Game later on in this post.

Magic: Primary casting classes have up to 5th level spells. Charm Person, Dominate Person, Geas, and Modify Memory are some of the more powerful enchantment spells attainable by 9th level PCs. Dimension Door, Far Step, Knock, Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum, Passwall, Stone Shape, and Teleportation Circle can be good for overcoming conventional barriers and security. Hallucinatory Terrain, Hypnotic Pattern, both normal and Greater Invisibility, and Seeming are all potent illusion spells that creative PCs can use to distract and trick people. Commune, Commune with Nature, Divination, Legend Lore, and Scrying can be used to magically learn things. Someone with Raise Dead may very well attempt to use this on Jesus, or use Summon Celestial to try and gain divine guidance of some sort.

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Utility: When it comes to scenarios that don’t involve rolling for initiative, some subclasses and options bear special mention. A PC with expertise in a skill and a corresponding ability score of 18 to 20 has a +12 to +13 modifier when using said skill. Even without expertise, a +8 modifier can be expected at the very least from specialists. Enhance Ability, Inspiration, and various other means of granting advantage on a roll can make getting a result of 20 or higher easy if not trivial.

In addition to Expertise, bards are very good at boosting skill results, Circle of Stars druids have similar spells and class features for this, while certain Battlemaster maneuvers and Rune Knight runes can help enhance certain skills. An artificer or rogue with expertise in Thieves’ Tools should be able to overcome all but the hardest of locks and traps. Circle of Dreams druid is able to conjure a sphere that can help an entire party sneak around better while concealing their own light sources. A College of Eloquence Bard is guaranteed to routinely pass DC 20 Deception/Persuasion checks, and an Oath of Redemption Paladin can get a lesser but still good bonus on Persuasion checks via Channel Divinity. For the Fighter, the Echo Knight’s Echo Avatar is great for scouting. Way of Shadow Monks can move about well at night and given that this is a humanocentric setting, most sentries cannot see them in total darkness. Gloom Stalker Rangers gain darkvision and are similarly invisible to those that use this sense type to see. For Rogues, the Arcane Trickster’s Mage Hand, Assassin’s Infiltration Expertise, a Mastermind’s Insightful Manipulator, and a Swashbuckler’s Panache are all broad “roleplay oriented” abilities. Certain Warlock Invocations such as Mask of Many Faces and Misty Visions can open up all manner of creative uses.

Connections: Throughout the campaign, the PCs likely earned a lot of goodwill across the Fertile Crescent. They might have saved the Parthian Emperor from an assassination attempt, avenged the murder of Roman nobles and saved many more aboard Gluttony’s pleasure cruise, helped reunite a pair of unicorns, delivered the Ark of the Covenant to the Queen of Sheba, returned a precious family heirloom to Cleopatra’s daughter, and may have earned a large fortune in coin and treasure as just a few possibilities! It’s not out of the question for PCs to pull on every string they have in order to secure Jesus’ safety.

While it’s inevitable that the party has powerful people on their side, so too does the side that wants to kill Jesus. Due to this, we should examine the various Allies and Factions and their views on Jesus.

Celestials serve the will of God and are aware of Jesus’ role in dying for the sins of mortals. They are not happy that this act requires letting humans themselves commit murder, but will take the stance that the PCs should not avert this. If need be, they’ll bring up the fact that Jesus is fully aware of the consequences and doesn’t want others to suffer for his sake, as his captors will surely retaliate should he be rescued. The Magi, John the Baptist, and other God-fearing mortal mages will have come upon similar findings in their research, knowing that his shed blood is necessary to weaken the Shadow of the Beast once and for all.

Ajax and the Skiritai will be willing to help the PCs stage a rescue attempt with sufficient gold or favors cashed in. However, their mercenary nature means that their best use is violence and the threat of it, which ties back into the complications covered under Combat. The Society is similarly mercenary yet on the merchant side of things: for a reasonable sum, they can put the PCs in touch with various scholars and general-purpose experts. Such as an engineer who can tell the PCs how to find the weak point in a prison wall. Or bribing an official to look the other way at a post, or “forget” important signatory documents to bungle up the bureaucratic process to extend the crucifixion by several days.

Rome and its authority figures view Jesus as a dangerous partisan who is fomenting unrest in Judea. Even should Pontius Pilate have eventual reservations against his imprisonment, he cannot afford to make an exception lest he incur disfavor from both Rome and the Sanhedrin. He could end up losing his post as a best-case scenario. A party Allied with Rome can gain an audience with Pontius Pilate, who is willing to present their rhetoric and findings at the Trial of the Sanhedrin. They may be given a last meeting with Jesus in jail as a show of good faith, albeit PCs who spring him out will surely end up trading in their Allied status for Hostile unless they somehow cover up their involvement. Using graft and corruption as covered by the Society example above can work similarly, albeit will be less expensive. Germanicus the Centurion, should he have survived, is a prime candidate for aiding the PCs in this instance as he’s been inspired by Jesus to argue for social reforms.

The Parthian Empire’s agents may be willing to help rescue Jesus, if only because they view the survival of a controversial religious figure as fomenting further unrest in their geopolitical rival. Sheba and its Queen may be similarly helpful in being faithful worshipers of God, albeit their aid in Jerusalem is limited to what can be given in their Allied status.

The Zealots and Sicarii aren’t fond of Jesus’ pacifistic message, believing that only blood and armed struggle will free their homes from Roman tyranny. If anything, their leadership believes that Jesus’ death will convince local Jews that the Roman Empire cannot be reasoned with and that violence is the only answer. PCs may be able to gain the aid of members of their organization at an individual level if they helped them out, but they will not have the official backing of the group as a whole.

The Pharisees and Sadducees aren’t fond of Jesus’ more radical teachings, particularly the ones that call into question long-held traditions such as the Messiah’s status. PCs allied with either may be allowed to attend the Trial of the Sanhedrin as witnesses and have their voices be heard. Similarly, siding with Jesus to the point that they directly oppose traditional teachings and the status quo may revoke their Allied status to Neutral or even Hostile. Graft and corruption is possible but will be harder, as unlike Rome they are a more local authority and not an occupying power.

The Essenes’ are mostly an academic group, and they may not be directly involved but can provide the party with scholarly resources which may be helpful at the Trial of the Sanhedrin. The Nomad Confederation is similarly specialized; they can help the PCs and their allies hide out in the wilderness while evading authorities but little more than that.

The Witch of Endor is a bit of a wild card. She is well aware of the far-reaching effects of Jesus’ sacrifice and that this can inhibit the demons she so hates. But she is canny enough to know that this may not sway PCs who won’t’ abide his suffering. For that reason, the Witch may offer to help the PCs with one of her classic bargains with an ulterior motive. She will tell the party to locate a Roman Centurion by the name of Longinus in Jerusalem and tell him to “avert the path laid before him.” At a metagame level, PCs aware of Longinus’ role in Christian history may presume that the Witch is sending a message to not aid in Jesus’ torture. In reality, she is manipulating events so that Longinus or another mortal will bring about Jesus’ death, as detailed below in Legion’s Game.

If Legion is still alive, Longinus’ murder of Jesus becomes an act of defiance as the Centurion comes around to realizing that serving a demon can only end in woe and thus robs his master of the kill. If Legion is no longer alive, then alternatively he may stab Jesus at the crucifixion in order to spur on his death to put an end to his suffering. In this case, he interprets “averting the path” to not giving into the more sadistic impulses evidenced by the behavior of his soldier peers towards the Messiah.

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Trial of the Sanhedrin

Artwork by José de Madrazo y Agudo

During his arrest, Jesus underwent two trials: one before the Sanhedrin, and one before Pontius Pilate. The Sanhedrin was more hostile to Jesus, accusing him of various crimes. During the trial Jesus was relatively non-talkative, with his assertion as status of being the Son of God serving as the binding resolution for his condemnation. However, this wasn’t the only thing Jesus was being tried for: his other accused crimes included violating the Sabbath by healing people on it, practicing sorcery and gaining powers from demons, threatening to destroy the Jewish Temple, and claiming to be the Messiah. PCs who have sway in an appropriate faction (or manage to use their spells and abilities to gain such pull) may be allowed to attend the trial as witnesses.

While it’s unlikely that PCs will manage to clear Jesus of all charges (and in several cases he will personally reaffirm the “crimes” of which he’s been charged), characters who manage to clear Jesus’ name for some of them can be enough to extend his upcoming execution, buying them time to try other things. It’s possible that during the trial they may sway some onlookers of Jesus’ innocence, which can have rippling effects in Jerusalem and beyond, and possible saboteurs who indirectly help the party during their rescue.

Regarding the first charge of healing on the Sabbath, medical care is considered “work” and thus technically prohibited, but there is both ancient and contemporary (at the time) precedent of Jews making exceptions, particularly during life-or-death situations. PCs can argue this case and realize relevant details via History, Religion, and/or an appropriate Torah passage. Likely criticisms may point out that several cases weren’t technically life-threatening, such as blindness and leprosy which don’t result in immediate death.

Regarding charges of sorcery and associating with demons, arguments against this require the messenger to just be as important as the message itself. PC spellcasters are the most likely experts, but depending on their reputation and magical manifestation, this can work against them. “I’m a veteran demonologist, and I can attest that Jesus of Nazareth isn’t one of our own” is going to have the opposite effect of proving his innocence in that someone consorting with demons is vouching for his character!

A better route would instead focus on the specifics of his exorcisms and miracles via D&D rules. For one, many of Jesus’ most celebrated miracles are quite evidently beneficiary: healing the sick and forcefully exorcizing demons are more or less the province of Clerics and divine spellcasters. While there are Mages and arcane spellcasters of various faiths in the setting, the only Cleric types are those of the Abrahamic faiths. Being able to force demons out of a possessed body, rather than appeasing or negotiating with them, is quite novel in this regard. Focusing on Jesus’ uniqueness and benevolent nature can be a convincing case, particularly as he never demanded rewards in doing such deeds unlike most mages.

A PC who managed to free an NPC from the hold of a fiend during the adventure may have them summoned as witnesses. Naamah, Belzebub, and Moloch’s quests are prime qualifiers, as is exorcizing one of Legion’s victims in Jerusalem. If anything, this can show that the PCs are no allies of evil, and their trust in Jesus can cement them as expert character witnesses.

Additionally, PCs who managed to discover the circulation of cursed silver impairing people’s judgment towards the Messiah can use it as evidence. If they presented their findings to Pontius Pilate and/or dispel its effects on a person, this can be enough to have certain judges and witnesses’ testimonies called into question as their judgment cannot be trusted.

The alleged destruction of the Jewish Temple likely stems from Jesus disrupting the dealings of money changers at the temple. While this isn’t a literal advocacy for destruction, Jesus’ actions did interfere with commerce. More contemporary scholarly analysis points to theories that this revolt was due to economic injustice, as the administrators at the Temple engaged in exploitation of the poor. Jesus not being arrested for such a major disturbance indicates there was local support for his actions. With all that being said, this alone won’t sway Jerusalem’s political establishment: the best the PCs can hope for is making the case that this is a symptom of a larger problem, of tension among the common folk who don’t feel that their leaders have their best interests at heart. Thus, convincing them otherwise will do much to lessen future resentment. However, if the cursed silver in circulation has been previously uncovered, PCs who bring that up can show that there are forces subverting Jerusalem’s economy using fell magic, which can be enough to give the judges pause.

As for declaration of being the Messiah, PCs faithful to Jesus’ ministry cannot honestly argue against this, for it is an important aspect of his message and the teachings of Christianity itself. Judaism is quite specific on the Messiah’s qualifications, qualifications that Jesus does not fulfill. Although the context of this adventure takes the stance that Jesus’ status is correct, it still flies in the face of contemporary Jewish society. As this is one of the few times Jesus will outright reaffirm and speak for himself on this issue, there isn’t much the PCs can do without going against his word. Should they desire to do so anyway (“Jesus is crazy, you wouldn’t execute a crazy person, would you?”), this can mollify some of the judges into believing that the PCs are harmless or good-intentioned rather than seditious collaborators…should their role-play and skill checks be successful, that is!

Barabbas

In the adventure, Barabbas is not just a mere murderer, but the leader of the Sicarii. Given that he’s the head of a violent insurgency against Rome, it seems odd that Pilate would consider even giving a crowd the offer of his release. Even if it’s to placate the mob, I can’t imagine many Senators back in Rome looking kindly upon what would be the modern-day equivalent of a city governor releasing a notorious terrorist leader from custody due to popular demand.

Additionally, there’s always the possibility that the PCs may have already killed Barabbas during the campaign, given that they have the opportunity to meet him in a random encounter and even visit the Sicarii headquarters under Jerusalem. It’s even possible that PCs may make use of their great skills and magic to sway Pilate or even the crowd into releasing Jesus instead!

So, what is a DM to do? One idea is to trade Barabbas for another political prisoner. As there’s indications that this tradition was done to cease tension and encourage goodwill between local Jews and the Roman occupiers, one idea may be to replace Barabbas with an NPC whose crimes are much lesser. Say, a faithful Jewish person who was convicted of besmirching the Roman Emperor’s claims to godhood in too public a manner. In this case, PCs end up with more of a moral dilemma: even should they engineer events to make Pilate release Jesus, they will be condemning someone else to death. Someone less worthy of death than Barabbas.

The principal characters involved in this are Caiaphas, who assembled the mob, and Pontius Pilate. The angry mob and Roman soldiers who are certainly guarding Pontius Pilate’s house can more or less be treated as secondary characters to set the scene. While a PC may be able to hijack a single NPC via Dominate Person, a moment of change that appears too sudden and uncharacteristic may cause the crowd to turn on the dominated NPC. Hypnotic Pattern can be used by a PC to charm the crowd and use that to sway their opinion. Casting Calm Emotions on Caiaphas or one of the more charismatic people in the mob can help knock the wind out of the sails of the rest of them, perhaps granting advantage on relevant checks. Disguise Self or Seeming (remember, unwilling targets get a save) can alter the appearance of someone to appear as Barabbas being released, mollifying the crowd long enough before they find out that he’s still imprisoned.

Let This Cup Pass From Me

Although Jesus is both afraid and in despair over his eventual death, it is a decision he chose to take on. Both for humanity’s salvation at the cosmic level, and for ensuring that authorities will not go after his disciples at the more personal level.

There are many instances during Way of the Cross where the PCs may meet up with Jesus: at the Last Supper, during his imprisonment at either Caiaphas’ private prison or Antonia’s Fortress, during his carrying of the cross to Golgotha, and at his crucifixion. If they intend to rescue him, Jesus will explain his motives to the PCs once they meet. Even should the PCs have taken measures to ensure a nonviolent escape, he will explain that this will make them outlaws in the eyes of Rome, and that soldiers will be sent not only after them but also their loved ones. Jesus argues that he’s willing to spare them all of this.

If the PCs remain unconvinced, allow them to continue on with their escape plan; Jesus won’t resist, but neither will he support this decision.

While one may contemplate having Jesus tell the party that his death will weaken the remaining archdemons, this feels a bit too blatantly deus ex machina. Even if it’s true in the context of this adventure, having Jesus outright tell them this goes against the spirit of their rescue efforts and in my opinion turns what should be a heartfelt moral decision into a calculated “lesser evil.” A more important measure of character is in the PC’s belief that their actions are coming at a cost (incur the wrath of Rome and Jerusalem) in order to save one life.

What’s more, should the PCs rescue Jesus, they aren’t necessarily out of the woods yet. Beyond the inevitable reprisal from Rome, the PCs will need to deal with the Cult of the Beast, as covered below in Legion’s Game.

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Legion’s Game

Artist unknown, I found it on this blog post.

The Shadow of the Beast is perhaps the least likely to be Allied, and if they are Allies at this point in the campaign then something very strange is going on. However, it is still possible to come up with an interesting scenario via Legion. If that archdemon still lives, he may represent a “deal with the devil” bargain in securing Jesus’ survival regardless of the party’s relationship with the Cult. Not only has Legion had the most involvement in formulating the events leading to Jesus’ capture, he’s also the first one to determine that he is in fact the Messiah. Being the encapsulation of Envy, Legion is incredibly petty: he is well aware that Lilith, the Prideful demon that she is, will take most of the credit for Jesus’ downfall.

While Legion will still seek Jesus’ death, he will try to convince the PCs of coming around to this as a regrettable necessity. He will do what he can to sabotage rescue attempts, and say that even if they rescue him they will be prolonging the inevitable. For example, if they get him off the cross and they don’t have healing magic, Legion will point out that his body is too broken, his spirit too full of despair, to ever come back to normal. He’ll argue that putting him out of his misery is the humane thing to do, and that it would be better for morale purposes for Jesus to be remembered dying “as a valiant hero than a miserable soul crying out at being forsaken by God.”

Legion has a trusted mortal agent: Longinus (use Assassin stats), one of the few worshipers left of Envy’s cult who persists mostly out of having something approximating a friendship with the demon. Legion, of course, views him more as a valued prize and tool of great worth: a warped sense of “respect” that only views him for his uses and not for anything on a more personal level. If Legion cannot rely on the PCs, he will pass on the task to Longinus. In such a case, Legion, Longinus, and any number of lesser cultist foes to make for a challenging encounter will attempt to ambush Jesus and the PCs during their rescue attempt. During the fight, Jesus will throw himself in the direction of an otherwise mortal blow directed at a PC or innocent bystander (Longinus’ Assassinate ability is perfect for this), coming around to fulfilling the prophecy albeit in an alternative way.

If Legion becomes aware that Jesus’ death will redeem humanity and weaken demons, he will come up with an alternative idea: if Jesus dies not by human(oid) hands but by that of a demon instead, salvation can be averted. The above ambush idea can be thus reworked, with Legion telling his minions to save Jesus for him, only for Longinus to inadvertently save humanity. But if that also feels too forced, have the PCs come upon this revelation otherwise, and have to save Jesus from dying at Legion’s hands. If they themselves carry on with the deed, they fulfill the prophecy. If Legion ends up killing Jesus, this can usher in a “bad ending” for the adventure if the DM is fine with allowing that as a risk element. In a way, the PCs are risking this outcome by going against Jesus’ original plan!

Alternatively, it’s possible that Legion may still be game for a human-caused death via a Sunk Cost Fallacy: all this time he’s dedicated countless lifetimes plus his own sanity into bringing about Jesus’ persecution. The idea that it will be all for naught, or that Lilith and the other archdemons will gain credit for this, pushes him over the edge. Even though it will be a setback to Satan’s plans in the long run, Legion has gone too far to contemplate alternatives. In a perverse sense, he can still take pleasure in a pettier victory: if Longinus or a mortal kills Jesus, not only have they committed a grave sin, they will go down in history as the Son of God’s killer and will have to live with what they did. That universal salvation can come around from the suffering of another is something Legion can take glee in, to show that even with God’s grace the Devil can still win smaller battles.

If Legion has been vanquished by the time of Way of the Cross, the DM may replace his role with that of Abaddon. In this case, the demon won’t be encountered in the final dungeon should he be fought here. His motive differs in being more straightforward, learning through spies that the PCs have rescued the Messiah and are taking him somewhere safe.


Desecration

While it’s likely something most heroically-minded PCs wouldn’t dream of doing, there’s more than a few spells and features that make use of a dying soul. For instance, the Phantom Rogue’s Tokens of the Departed and College of Whisper’s Mantle of Whispers don’t exactly create or control undead, but it’s clear that their features make use of the departure of a soul. There is of course the more beneficent motive, such as using Raise Dead to bring Jesus back to life.

So what happens if a PC tries the unthinkable, and targets Jesus’ soul? Well for one, the attempt will automatically fail and will rebound on the caster in some way. If the PC was doing it for power or similar selfish motives, they will gain the effect of a permanent Bestow Curse in line with their attempts. For example, a PC who sought to turn Jesus’ corpse into a zombie minion may find themselves afflicted with the inability of fine manipulation, forced to rely on others for trivial tasks. A PC who sought to gain the power of God may find that all of their belongings have become repossessed by the poor, as someone who seeks to be so close to God “should have little need of such things.”

A PC whose motives were of relatively good intent may come face to face with Jesus one last time, who imparts comforting words that he is not truly gone and by being saved they too do not have to fear death. They’re still treated to the effects of being Stunned and Incapacitated as though they cast a divination spell on Jesus.

It’s likely that there are some scenarios and abilities I didn’t cover in this post. But I hope that it serves as a useful springboard for DMs during one of the most memorable events in Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible!
 

Voidrunner's Codex

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