D&D 5E Playing around with my Dogs in the Vineyard-inspired D&D Setting: Plague Dogs

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Hey all! About a million years ago I ran just one or two little sessions using Dogs in the Vineyard, and the experience really stuck with me. If you haven't heard of the game, in it you roam around pre-state Utah, helping folks and fighting the influence of demons. You have a position of authority within the church, so your word is law. Its a really fun, sometimes intense game and setting.

While listening to the book Rabid (about the history of rabies), I became inspired to create a setting similar to Dogs in the Vineyard, but about knights who go about investigating maladies to find the demonic influence. The term "Plague Dog" came to mind, and I built out a setting from there. Eventually I got a chance to run a single adventure in the setting... and then the pandemic hit, and playing games set in a plague-beset land suddenly wasn't as much fun.

Well now I'm returning to the setting and playing around with it. I'm going to use this thread to share my ideas for setting maps, custom origins (what I'm calling "species" or "races" in my game), and other house rules and such. I'd love some input, or even ideas for the setting! I'll post more soon, but for right now I'll just post a campaign map:

Taielis (1).jpg

(Made on Inkarnate)

This is Taielis (tie-YELL-iss), a holy land and seat of the Mortal Church of Taiel (tie-YELL). It is a realm beset by fiends, fey, undead, and aberrations, who are attempting to corrupt its mortal inhabitants. The Five Isles are rain-bound and fog-choked, with steep mountain slopes and harsh, rocky shores. Most people live in walled citadel city-states, scattered lights in the ever-encroaching darkness of chaos and corruption.

I'll post more soon!

EDIT: Here's a table of contents as I start to write more:

Plague Dogs Campaign Setting
  1. Campaign Themes and Storylines
  2. People of Taielis, Part 1
  3. People of Taielis, Part 2: Origin Traits and Humans
  4. People of Taielis, Part 3: Ylkin
  5. People of Taielis, Part 4: Giants
  6. People of Taielis, Part 5: Enlanders
  7. Example Adventuring Group
  8. Taielis, Map and Description
  9. World Building, Part 1: Origins of Taiel and Xeno
 
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BookTenTiger

He / Him
Campaign Themes and Storylines

In Dogs in the Vineyard, faith is a fact. The characters are agents of their church, and they go about fighting demons which are evil and corrupting. It's black and white, not shades of gray.

This is something I'm interested in exploring in Plague Dogs. What's an interesting challenge, though, is that D&D is, by default, monotheistic. Faith is true, but it's not exclusive to one god. And personally I don't have a very black-and-white view of the world, so I tend to struggle to apply one to a campaign setting.

So here are some campaign truisms I'm considering:
  • On Taielis, Taiel is the one true god. The land is holy, and Taiel is actively invested in it being free from demonic corruption. Because of this, people receive visions, signs, and miracles from Taiel.
  • Fiends, fey, undead, and aberrations all exist under the umbrella term "demons," or Children of Xeno. Demons are not native to the mortal realm, but arrive through corruption. Demons take the form of animals, treasured objects, or even reside within people (who are then marked by the demon's presence). The only way to defeat a demon is to out it, and either slay, banish, or bind it to an object (making a magic item).
  • The world is naturally magical, but moreso due to he influences of Taiel and Xeno. Farmers aren't casting Magic Missile (unless a demon taught them how), but small-town priests are definitely casting Cure Light Wounds.
Now originally I designed this campaign world with the idea that characters would be playing as Plague Dogs. These are members of a holy order of knights who go about investigating diseases and finding the demons who spawned them. But I'm unsure of designing a whole campaign setting that has the expectation of characters taking on a specific role.

Because of that, I'm thinking of expanding the signs of demonic corruption past physical illness and towards other ideas of corruption. So here's my idea for a new definition of "The Plague:"

The Plague

Taiel is the singular god worshiped in Taielis and much of the known world. They are a god representing humans and the works of mortals: cities, roads, agriculture, smithing, healing magics, birth, death, and collected knowledge.

Taiel’s great enemy is Xeno, and his thrall of fiends, fey, aberrations, and undead. Xeno’s constant attempts to corrupt mortals and destroy the works of humankind is known as the Plague.

The Plague takes many forms. Demonic corruption can manifest in corruption of the body: boils and rashes, fevers and wracking coughs, blood poisoning and infection. As the illnesses spread, so too grows the power of the demon. The Plague is also represented by political corruption, for those who worship the thrall of Xeno seek the weaken the influence of Taiel. And finally, the Plague is identified through moral corruption, as demons work to attempt to sway mortals to transgress the laws of Taiel.

There exists an order to knights who are sworn to fight this Plague: the Hounds of St. Hestian, also known as the Plague Dogs. The Hounds of St. Hestian travel the Five Isles, seeking sites of corruption. Their task is to discover whosoever made compact with a demonic influence, banish or slay the demon, and mete out justice for those who have sinned. Some Plague Dogs are executioners; others, wise adjudicators. No matter their methods, the Hounds are known, respected, and feared throughout Taielis.
 


aco175

Legend
Sounds cool. I think expanding the classes some makes sense. All the cool(ish) movies have varied members of a band that go to fight the evil. A church scholar could make potions and herbs to aid in healing or fighting. There could also be oils to coat the weapons or crossbow bombs and such. This brings up an archer type which could be more a scout and mercenary than a full knight type. You can also have the thief scout type who gets information and can come to aid the fighters once in a while. I would think most of the characters should be a knight f some type, but if you have only 4-5 players then each of the roles could be multi-classed or the knight needs to be more the leader of a group.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Sounds cool. I think expanding the classes some makes sense. All the cool(ish) movies have varied members of a band that go to fight the evil. A church scholar could make potions and herbs to aid in healing or fighting. There could also be oils to coat the weapons or crossbow bombs and such. This brings up an archer type which could be more a scout and mercenary than a full knight type. You can also have the thief scout type who gets information and can come to aid the fighters once in a while. I would think most of the characters should be a knight f some type, but if you have only 4-5 players then each of the roles could be multi-classed or the knight needs to be more the leader of a group.
Absolutely!

I also like the idea that being a Plague Dog is not necessarily prestigious... You're being exposed to disease, evil people, and suspicious townsfolk. So they'll recruit prisoners, foreigners, and other "disposable" people to be the front line.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
One of my goals in designing this campaign is to support three modes of play:

Plague Dogs as Heroes: the characters are Plague Dogs, hunting demons and enacting justice.

Plague Dogs as Antagonists: the characters are worshipers of an old god, or a unicorn, or even a devil. Or they believe in a different interpretation of the worship of Taiel. They are attempting to accomplish their own goals, or the goals of their patron, while avoiding the bloody justice of the Plague Dogs.

Plague Dogs as Neutral: though the Plague Dogs exist, their quest doesn't much impact the daily lives of the characters. Maybe they're running a business, exploring the far reaches of Taielis, or searching for treasure in the ruins of the Lich Crown.

No matter what, the adventurers will still be encountering demons and corruption, which will get in the way of their goals, but their goals and interactions with the Mortal Church of Taiel will be different.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
People of Taielis, Part 1

When I ran a very short Plague Dogs campaign (just one adventure) before the pandemic, I used the normal D&D races. There were elves and gnomes and half-orcs and tieflings. It worked pretty well, to be honest, but I started thinking about how I could use different character origins to tell a story of the setting.

I decided it would be interesting to tie each origin (the word I'm using instead of race or species) to one of the demon types (fiend, fey, aberration, undead). Each origin would be either directly connected to a demonic type, have a close history with a demonic type, or be under threat by a demonic type.

Here's what I came up with. Thank you to Heroforge for the pictures, and you can be sure I'll be doing a lengthier post on each origin with more description and mechanics.

Humans
Human screenshot.png


Humans are still the default, and most populous, race. In the cosmology of the setting, they are the progeny of the god Taiel. Legend tells that Taiel cut their hand fighting their enemy Xeno, and everywhere their blood fell, it spawned a nation of humans.

Humans are not native to Taielis, but they have occupied all five of the isles. I like the idea of the human inhabitants coming from two major areas of the world, and so having two different languages and two different cultures. Even though there will be a Common (called "Talis"), characters who speak one of the two other human languages may gain advantage or get special treatment by those who align themselves to those cultures.

Demonic Influence: Fiends! One of the human aspects (what I'm calling subraces) is going to be Corrupted; basically, my tiefling. Sometimes someone is born with a demonic countenance due to the influence of Xeno's children- if they survive infanthood, they are known as Corrupted!
Corrupted screenshot.png


Giants
Giant screenshot.png


For some reason, I knew I wanted giants in this setting. I just like giants- they're fun!

The giants of Taielis (called "roquedain," or people of the stone, in their own language) are the original inhabitants of the Five Isles. They are magically aligned with stone, and can even speak to the stone. They are much reduced from the size they were many generations back. Giants of legend were twenty or thirthy feet tall; current giants are anywhere from just a measly 6 to 10 feet tall.

Demonic Influence: Undead. Long ago, the giants were conquered by an undead empire called the Lich Crown. They eventually freed themselves in a rebellion, with the help of the Mortal Church of Taiel and a mysterious people called Enlanders, but during their enslavement they lost their mighty cities, great height, and legendary works of art. Some giants are still obsessed with the powers of undead, and seek out control of necromancy.

Ylkin
Ylkin screenshot.png


Animal people are also fun, so I wanted some of them, but with a tragic twist!

Ylkin (pronounced ILL-kin) are animals cursed by fey. They are born as normal animals, but they become more and more human as they grow, gaining human consciousness, an upright posture, hands, and a voice. They are rejected both by their animal families and by human societies. Many ylkin get jobs in distant outposts, or join the Mortal Church of Taiel as servants or Plague Dogs.

Ylkin can have a variety of animal origins. Most come from mammal families, such as bears, boars, or rabbits, but there are also reptilian, avian, and even some rare aquatic ylkin!

Demonic Influence: Fey! I see fey as the least evil of the demons, but most tricksy. I like the idea of an dryad cursing a porcupine that was chewing at her tree into producing an ylkin.

Enlander
Enlander screenshot (1).png


Enlanders are my answer to halflings, elves, dwarves, and gnomes. They live in deep underground cities, but came to the surface of Taiel for the first time in alliance with the giants to war against the Lich Crown. They can be medium (but slight) or small. They look mostly human, but have black eyes with luminous irises and an overall mysterious air.

Mechanically, enlanders will have a mix of nature and psionic abilities. They are filling the "outsider" niche, with strange powers and esoteric knowledge. Enlanders are also immortal, though they can only remember their lives within the last 100 years or so.

Demonic Influence: Aberrations! A powerful cult of Enlanders unlocked the ability to remember their whole lives, but this led to them going mad and worshiping aberrations. The natural psionic abilities of enlanders also attracts aberrations, especially those who want to eat those delicious immortal brains!
 
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BookTenTiger

He / Him
People of Taielis, Part 2: Origin Traits and Humans

In designing the mechanics of the people of the Five Isles, I decided to have some fun. I didn't want to just reflavor the PHB races. I wanted to make them really my own.

One of the things I always try to do in designing an origin is having features that "break the rules" of D&D. Some of my favorite features of the PHB races are the elf's ability to hide behind falling leaves, the gnome's ability o speak with small animals, things that make those characters different no matter if they're a paladin or a rogue or a wizard. I remember playing a Goblin Paladin, and it was so fun and refreshing to be able to Hide or Disengage as a bonus action, it made me feel really different than any other paladin.

Let's start with what every origin gets:

Origin Traits:
No matter your origin, you gain the following:
  • You can speak, read, and write Talis (the common language of Taielis), as well as one of the languages spoken below:
    • Aoa - language of aberrations, often used by poets and spies.
    • Divine - language of Taiel, celestials, and academia.
    • Dust - language of undead and arcana.
    • Essertung - language of O'erlund, Bearlund, Easthorn, and the Essern Empire.
    • Giant (Dain) - language of giants and stones.
    • Infernal - language of fiends, and the common tongue of sailors.
    • Enlander (Ixon) - language of enlanders.
    • Sylvan - language of fey and some beasts.
    • Voxen - language of Woodisle, Fendain, and the Vastlands.
  • You gain a +2 bonus to one ability score, and a +1 bonus to another ability score; or, you gain a +1 bonus to three different ability scores.

Human
Human screenshot.png

Humans are the most populous peoples on Taielis, and those most often in positions of power. The Mortal Church of Taiel is mostly governed by humans; so, too, are most settlements throughout the Isles.

Human Attributes
  • Age: Humans reach adulthood in their late teens, and live for less than a century. Some rare humans blessed by Taiel may live up to 200 years.
  • Height: Humans usually stand anywhere from 5 feet to over 6 feet.
  • Names: Humans arrived in Taielis from all over the globe, and so their names are naturally widely varied. However, it is common for a Talesian to have a first name and a surname, usually describing their role (or their family’s role) in a community or their place of origin: Thom Shepherd, Nora Curewell, Arbara of Luckstone, Elias Eelhead.

Human Traits
  • Diverse Origins: Some humans of the Five Isles trace their ancestry back generations on the islands. Many others, however, are recent immigrants. Because of this, humans boast a wide variety of languages and crafts. You gain proficiency in one language, musical instrument, artisan’s tools, or martial weapon, reflecting your own unique origin.
  • Blessing of Taiel: Humans are the favored people of the god Taiel. No matter their origin, they carry Taiel’s blessing. When you roll a 1 on a Saving Throw or Ability Check, you may instead treat it as if you rolled a 20. You may use this ability once per long rest.

Human Aspects
Choose one of these aspects.
  • Born into Faith: You were raised in one of the major citadel towns, such as Faithwater, Voxhall, or Southstone Abbey. Even if you did not pursue a career into priesthood, being surrounded by the daily rituals of prayer, service, and law has had some lasting effect upon your life. You gain the following benefits:
    • Language of Faith: You gain proficiency in the Divine language.
    • Shield of Prayer: As long as you have the ability to speak, you gain advantage on Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom Saving Throws versus magic, magical effects, and magical abilities.
    • Prosperity of the Walled Cities: You start with an amount of starting gold equal to five times the normal value for your class. Furthermore, whenever you earn money as part of a downtime activity, you gain double the normal amount.

  • Born to the Tides: You were raised upon a boat, either working for one of the powerful merchant families or as a member of those families. You know the shipping lanes and tide charts by heart, and have probably traveled to all five islands. This grants you the following benefits:
    • Shipbound: You gain proficiency in vehicles (ships).
    • Handiwork: You gain proficiency in one set of artisan’s tools. Whenever you use Persuasion, you may double your proficiency bonus on the roll if you use the product of your artisan’s tools as an offering or payment.
    • Planning Ahead: Growing up upon the sea granted you practice in always thinking a step ahead of the dangers of the tides. You may add your proficiency bonus to Initiative rolls.

  • Born in the Wild: You were raised in a community outside of the walled cities, at the edge of the wilderness. Perhaps you grew up on a farm, or with a nomadic band of hunters, or in a group of outcasts. Your experience near the wild grants you the following benefits:
    • Knowledge of the Land: Growing up near the wilderness has taught you much about the ways of beasts and plants. You gain proficiency in Nature or Survival.
    • Steel at Hand: Being raised near the wilderness, you are trained to fight. You gain proficiency in one martial weapon, or with one of the following cantrips: Blade Ward, Magic Stone, or Shillelagh. You may use Intelligence or Wisdom as the spellcasting ability for this cantrip.
    • See by Starlight: You are used to peering into the dark, tangled wild and finding the threats hidden within. You do not suffer disadvantage on Perception checks made in lightly obscured areas, and your ranged attacks ignore half-cover.

  • Corrupted: Long ago, before they knew of the god Taiel, humans worshiped fiends. The corrupting influence of this idolatry still affects some humans, who are born marked with a fiendish aspect. Corrupted humans look ordinary from afar, but up close reveal themselves to carry the influence of fiends. They might have bright red eyes, sharp teeth, curving horns, or strange runes covering their skin. Though corrupted humans are outcasts from society at large, this magical foulness actually carries some benefits:
    • Fiendish Tongue: You gain proficiency in the Infernal language.
    • Blood of Hell: You gain resistance to fire and necrotic damage.
    • Eyes of the Night: You gain Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
    • Demon’s Tricks: You gain access to one of the following cantrips: Infestation, Message, Prestidigitation, Produce Flame, or Vicious Mockery. Choose Intelligence or Charisma as the spellcasting ability for this cantrip.
 
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BookTenTiger

He / Him
People of Taielis, Part 3: Ylkin

Ylkin
Ylkin screenshot.png

The dastardly fey do much to make the lives of humans treacherous. But little compares to the terrible fate they bestow on those known as the ylkin. Ylkin appear as beast-like humanoids, walking on two feet but with the heads, features, and fur, scales, or feathers of animals. In truth, they are born to animal parents, but cursed by the fey with humanity. A baby ylkin is identical to any other baby animal. As they grow, however, they develop human-like features, such as hands, an upright posture, and a voice. By the time they reach adulthood, they look half-human and half-animal. Some have fully animal heads, while others boast a mix of facial features. No matter what, they are outsiders to both the human cities and animal dens.

Ylkin Attributes
  • Age: Like animals, Ylkin mature quickly, usually reaching adulthood between the ages of 4 and 12. Over time, their aging slows, and they have similar lifespans as humans.
  • Height: Ylkin vary greatly in height due to their animal origins, with some standing only three feet tall and others towering up to eight feet tall.
  • Languages: Ylkin can read, write, and speak Talis and Sylvan.
  • Names: Ylkin names tend to depend on where they were raised. Those who grew up in the wild tend to have taken the names of natural features: Briarpatch, Cloud, River, Fen. Those raised in human communities will have human names, though sometimes be given the surname of their animal or place of origin: Gabriel Boarson, Rose of Fever Swamp, Floran Greenscale, Elisard Oaknest.

Ylkin Traits
  • Animal Ancestry: Choose an animal for your ancestry. Most ylkin are born to mammals, such as bears, boars, or rabbits, but some rare ylkin are born to birds, reptiles, or even fish. You are able to communicate to members of your animal ancestry through grunts, motions, or smells.
  • Wild-Bodied: You may choose one of the following sizes:
    • Big: Your size is Medium. You gain advantage on Athletics checks made to grapple or shove, and your carrying capacity is doubled. Your may ignore the Strength requirements of armor. All armor costs 1.5 as much as normal. You suffer disadvantage when making attacks with light weapons.
    • Medium: Your size is Medium.
    • Small: Your size is Small. Your walking speed is 25 feet. You suffer disadvantage when making attacks with a heavy weapon. You may pass through the space of any creature larger than you. Furthermore, you may take the hide action when obscured by a creature that is larger than you.
  • Beastly Fortitude: You are able to eat raw meat, eggs, or plants (depending on your animal ancestry) without any harmful effect. Because of this, you are able to feed yourself without consuming any rations. You also gain advantage on saving throws versus poison and disease, and have resistance to poison damage.

Ylkin Aspects
Choose two of the following aspects. These should reflect your Animal Ancestry. Some aspects can be chosen twice, granting you further benefits.
  • Wings: Your jump distance is doubled. When moving, you may choose to fly up to your walking speed, though you must be on the ground at the end of your turn or fall prone.
    • If you chose Wings twice, gain the following benefits: You gain a Flying Speed equal to your Walking Speed.
  • Thick Hide: When unarmored, your Armor Class is equal to 13 + Dexterity Modifier. When wearing armor, you gain +1 to Armor Class due to your thick hide.
    • If you choose Thick Hide twice, you gain the following benefits: when unarmored, your Armor Class is 17.
  • Extraordinary Senses: Your large ears, sensitive nose, or long whiskers allow you to stay aware of all that happens around you. You gain proficiency in Investigation or Perception. When you are blinded or deafened, you do not suffer disadvantage on attack rolls against enemies you are aware of. Finally, when sleeping, you are still somewhat aware of your surroundings, and may make Perception checks against sneaking opponents.
  • Natural Weapon: You have powerful claws, jaws, tail, or other natural weapon. When making an unarmed attack, you may use your natural weapon to deal 1d6 + Strength or Dexterity Modifier bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage (choose one damage type when you gain this ability). Your natural weapon counts as a light weapon.
    • If you take this ability more than once, choose one of the following benefits:
      • Poisonous: When you strike an opponent with your natural weapon, it must make a Constitution Saving Throw DC 8 + Proficiency + Constitution Modifier or suffer the Poisoned Condition until the start of your next turn.
      • Grasping: When you strike with your natural weapon, you may use a bonus action to attempt to grapple your opponent. If you succeed, you may not use your natural weapon again until the grapple ends.
      • Reach: Your natural weapon is a reach weapon. You deal 1d8 damage when attacking an opponent 10 feet away, or 1d4 damage when attacking an adjacent opponent.
  • Camouflage: The color or pattern of your skin, fur, or feathers make you naturally stealthy, allowing you to blend in with your surroundings. You gain proficiency in Stealth or Survival. You may take the hide action when lightly obscured by natural phenomena, such as mist, rain, or heavy foliage.
  • Vaulter: Your powerful legs allow you to leap far. You gain proficiency in Acrobatics, and your jump distance is doubled. Furthermore, you may take the Dash Action as a bonus action if you jump for the entire movement.
  • Pheromonal: You are able to produce and interpret pheromones, which communicate emotions and simple messages. You gain proficiency in Animal Handling or Insight. As a bonus action, you may produce pheromones to communicate a silent one-word message to allies or trained animals within 60 feet.
  • Nocturnal: You are most awake at night. You gain darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. You do not sleep; instead, you fall into a trance for 4 hours. After resting this way, you gain the same benefits most creatures do after resting for 8 hours.
  • Natural Resistance: Your body is adapted to survive certain harmful forces. Choose one of the following damage types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder. You gain advantage on saving throws against that damage type. You also gain resistance against that damage type.
  • Stalker: You are naturally stealthy. You gain proficiency in Sleight of Hand or Stealth. Furthermore, as a bonus action, you may take the disengage or hide action.
  • Fostered by Humans: Though you were born to the wild, you spent your roof beneath the roof of a human home. Choose one Human Aspect (other than Corrupted), and gain its benefits.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Are The Hounds of St. Hestian a single class or is it a Background?

I once did a game where all the PCs were members of the Order of Inquisitors but not necessarily Clerics/Paladins themselves. It allowed for a Rogue (raised in the Temple orphanage), a Bard investigator and fighters who were non-ordained Temple guards. They worked for the Order of Inquisitors (Paladins) sent out to recover cursed/demonic artifacts when they were identified.
 

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