Hunting Monsters, Fancy Tools, and the Astral Covenant Ranger
Ranger and I have a complicated relationship. While I do think specific play-styles within specific level bands are totally fine as written, I have always had a problem with the dearth of theme within the class. I’m on record as stating that the covenants of the revised ranger (still a work in progress at the time of this writing) are a good direction to take the theme of ranger – provided the conclaves themselves carry more thematic elements with them. Border wardens should feel thematically different than lone hunters and from beastmasters, ya know? Anyway, it seems a natural fit for this Zodiac vs. Far Realm setting that the rangers are hunters of the creatures and servants of the Far Realm. These rangers create items to help them do so, becoming bound by the secrets of their covenant in exchange for gaining this knowledge. Of course, the covenant must keep an eye on their own, lest members succumb to temptation. So, let’s start talking about hunting monsters, fancy tools, and the Astral Covenant ranger.
Previous Discussions: The Zodiac and the Celestial Sorcerer | Aberrations and the Circle of the Zodiac Druids | Dendar the Night Serpent and the Path of Nightmares Barbarians | Living Stars, Blazozoids, and Zodiac Patron Warlocks | Singing Stars, Erinyes, and the Bardic College of Kindly Song| Bitheism, Clerics, and the Service Domain | Superstition and the Starscarred Fighter | Warrior Orders and the Way of the Jade Serpent | Sacrifical Power and the Oath of Binding
The Curious Case of Van Helsing
Before we jump into this ranger archetype, I want to talk about Abraham Van Helsing. While Abraham Van Helsing and his lineage have evolved into vampire hunters extraordinaire over the years between the release of Dracula and the present day, this wasn’t initially the case. Ol’ Abe was just a smart doctor with an open mind, ruggish good looks, and a thick accent. Okay, I’m not sure about the good looks part. Honestly, from the description it could mean he was a hottie or a monstrous goon. I don’t speak old timey physique – one of my many, many shortcomings. Anyway, the point is he isn’t a leather-clad, whip-wielding, vampire-punching badass. He’s a smart guy who is called in by a former student to figure out what the hell this mystery illness affecting Lucy might be.
Abraham Van Helsing is a kind, caring man who is extremely self-possessed and prefers to be in control of the situation. He’s willing to admit that maybe you have ghosts possessing your blood, but he’s probably not going to perform an exorcism and then get into fisticuffs with the ghost. He’s not explicitly a vampire hunter. He figures out Lucy has been bitten by a vampire, and tries a variety of ingenious treatments to try and stop her loss of blood. He gives her a crucifix, gets her to eat garlic, makes a garlic necklace, and hangs garlic all over her room. While not crucial to this particular issue, it is hilarious that Lucy’s mom is all, “this room stinks!” and throws away the garlic – the maid also steals the crucifix – resulting in her daughter’s death. I’m sorry, but if all that happens to you, the universe probably wants you to be a vampire, bruh.
Smile Like You Mina It
After this failure, AVH sticks around to keep lending a helping hand. It turns out Mina Harker is worried about her husband’s brain fever. Abe solves some puzzles and figures out that the reason for the brain fever is because Jonathan thinks his encounters with Dracula in Transylvania are just hallucinations. Once Abe is all, “nah, you got a case of the vampire crazies,” Jonathan gets better. Now that they know Dracula is real and is a threat, Abe researches folklore, history, superstitions, and so on – all in the name of stopping this vampire. Even after Dracula mind-controls MIna and finds out the group’s plans, the planning and research of Van Helsing helps to protect the group from Dracula – causing Dracula to mist away.
Unfortunately, Mina is still a Dracula plaything after this confrontation. Abe uses his and Mina’s smarts to find a way to circumvent the mind control using holy objects and hypnosis – another example of Abe as a man of many talents. From this, they learn about Daddy D’s unholy ground stashes all over town, and Abe leads the charge to neutralize them. In tracking down all the dirt, the group finds out the last bit is on a boat, heading back to Transylvania – meaning the team has to go to Daddy D’s home turf to confront him. Abe continues to hypnotize Mina while they do this, but has increasingly less success. Even then, his failure in hypnotism leads to him learning additional ways to protect against vampires – the ol’ holy circle.
After all this, we do see signs of Abraham, Vampire Slayer. He murders Daddy D’s vampire-honies – with a huge assist in breaking mind-control from Mina. The group then tracks down Dracula’s final resting place, and murder him. Even after the success of the operation, Abraham sticks around to continue helping the Harkers. Everyone lives happily ever after…except for Quincey. I didn’t mention Quincey above, but you should know that he once fought a vampire horse. Also, the Harker’s name their son Quincey – so there’s that.
Anyway, the point of this Dracula summary is to point out that Van Helsing isn’t an action hero in the way we see him re-imagined in modern media. That doesn’t make him any less of a badass. He believes the people he talks to – even when they sound crazy. Abe researches with the best of them. He develops a number of tools to assist him in fighting Dracula – skeleton keys to pick locks, garlic accessories, electric lights to simulate sunlight, crucifixes – both gold and silver, stakes, mountain ash, and wild rose. He does eventually do some fighting, but it’s secondary to all of his compassion and intellectual prowess – which is pretty awesome, to me.
Castlevania and the Belmonts
I’m a big fan of the Castlevania game series – hell, I even did a homebrew Vampire Killer for 5e. I’m also super invested in the Castlevania series on Netflix – a telling of the story of Castlevania III. For the uninitiated, the series focuses on the Belmont family – a group of nobles who have tasked themselves with fighting Dracula. Though the series is long, winding, and of varying quality, it’s a genre-defining work. As you would expect, the series draws heavily on Dracula, and takes the legacy of Van Helsing and turns it into the Belmonts.
Simon – the first Belmont we play as in the series – is much more the action-hero than Van Helsing, but no less a scholar. Simon utilizes holy water, crucifixes, silver knives, weapons to fend off lesser creatures, as slew of other devices. This can be directly attributed to Van Helsing, though the whip is probably because of the popularity of Indiana Jones. The Belmonts aren’t all brawn, either. There is usually a good amount of problem-solving and puzzle-mastery that occurs within the series. Even though I did not care for a lot of the decisions of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, there is no disputing the puzzles play a main role – my main beef is with the disparate game play sections and Sir Patrick Stewart being a kill-stealing a-hole.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is of that particular late-80’s era when everything became an RPG – something we are seeing a massive resurgence of in the modern day. Simon Belmont has to talk to townsfolk, collect mysterious objects, summon tornadoes at the edge of graveyards, negotiate with undead ferrymen, and race against the clock to stop Dracula’s resurrection – all while knowing it is a horrible night to have a curse.
The Castlevania franchise draws upon the classic Hammer films era of monster movies, classical myths, and works such as Dracula. In doing so, we are treated to an evolution of the stories, creating something new in the process. I’m not claiming it’s a whole-cloth original idea. All I’m saying is that we get something iconic in the process – the tool-driven, puzzle-solving, monster hunter.
Hunting Monsters, Fancy Tools, and the Astral Covenant Ranger
In the world of the Zodiac vs. the Far Realm – I should really name this as some point – there are a variety of monstrosities and aberrations threatening the world. This is to say nothing of the cultists and madmen that seek their aid. The Astral Covenant is dedicated to the pursuit and defeat of such beings, relying upon their tools to assist them in completing the job. These rangers aren’t necessarily beholden to any one environment, traveling the breadth of the land as needed. Nor are they lone hunters. Like Abraham Van Helsing and Trevor Belmont, they know that sometimes you need a good group to get the job done. For these rangers, it’s not about glory or praise. It’s about ensuring these monsters and villains no longer threaten the world and that any footholds they possess are dislodged.
One member of the Astral Covenant might employ totally different tactics than a different member. The tools they learn to utilize and employ are not one-size fits all, but instead focus on supplementing the style of those who use them. Over time, members of the covenant discover different tools and techniques, sharing them with the covenants and expanding the repertoire of all who pledge themselves to the cause.
You have entered into an organization dedicated to defending the world against the more subtle and clever threats that would otherwise go unnoticed. Members of the Astral Covenant rely upon tools to assist them in their goals, sharing any new discoveries with others of their order. Someone who joins the Astral Covenant is rarely caught unprepared for any length of time. Members are known to be flexible and open-minded. Dismissing stories or people is how threats continue to flourish, after all. Members of the Astral Covenant have no problem working with others, and actively recruit help when faced with a situation that demands it.
Astral Covenant Features
|3rd||Astral Covenant Magic, Astral Runes, Open Secrets|
|7th||Astral Objects of the Novice|
|11th||Astral Objects of the Journeyman|
|15th||Astral Objects of the Master|
Astral Covenant Magic
Starting at 3rd level, you learn an additional spell when you reach certain levels in this class, as shown in the Astral Covenant Spells table. The spell counts as a ranger spell for you, but it doesn’t count against the number of ranger spells you know.
Astral Covenant Spells
|3rd||protection from evil and good|
|13th||freedom of movement|
At 3rd level, you have learned the secrets of inscribing your weapons with astral runes. Whenever you complete a short or long rest, you may inscribe a subtle rune upon a weapon. Choose one of the following runes:
Kov. You inscribe the kov rune on your weapon. The first time each turn that you hit a target with this weapon, it takes an additional 1d6 fire damage.
Ris. You inscribe the ris rune on your weapon. The first time each turn that you hit a creature with this weapon, it takes an additional 1d4 radiant damage. If the creature is a monstrosity or an aberration, it instead takes an additional 1d8 radiant damage.
Shik. You inscribe the shik rune on your weapon. The first time each turn that you hit a target with this weapon, it takes an additional 1d4 psychic damage and cannot take reactions until the start of its next turn.
Inscribing a rune on a weapon requires tinker’s tools and causes any runes you have inscribed on other weapons to fade. Inscribing a rune on a weapon that fires projectiles – such as a bow, crossbow, gun, or sling – causes the projectile to gain the properties of the rune.
Starting at 3rd level, you have learned to discover secrets.. You gain proficiency in your choice of investigation or persuasion, and tinker’s tools.
All astral objects – regardless of strength – possess the same requirements. Creating an astral object takes one hour and requires the base component as described by the tool – a bone, a shell, etc – and tinker’s tools. You may only use objects you create. Once you have created an astral object, it remains usable until you create a new one of the same type, or until it is destroyed. Whenever you complete a long rest, you may select one astral object of each type – novice, journeyman, and master – to activate The rest of your astral objects remain dormant until activated by you.
Astral Objects of the Novice
At 7th level, you have learned to create basic objects of the Astral Covenant.
Inscribed Bell. While this astral object is active, you have resistance to psychic damage and advantage on saving throws against becoming charmed or frightened. As an action, you may ring the bell and expend a ranger spell slot to immediately end the charmed or frightened condition of a target that you can see within 30 feet. For each spell slot higher than first, you may choose a number of targets equal to the level of the spell slot expended.
Inscribed Bone. While this astral object is active, you may take the Dash and Dodge actions as a bonus action. On your turn, you may expend a ranger spell slot to double your speed. For each spell slot level higher than first, you gain a +1 bonus to AC until the start of your next turn for each level of spell slot expended.
Inscribed Horn. While this astral object is active, you have advantage on Strength saving throws and reduce the distance you are forced to move by forced movement by 5 feet. As a bonus action, you may expend a ranger spell slot to blow the horn and cause a number of targets equal to 1 + your Wisdom modifier within 30 feet of you to make a Strength saving throw or be pushed 15 feet away from you in a straight line. For each spell slot level higher than first, the saving throw is made with disadvantage and creatures are pushed back an additional 5 feet for each level of spell slot expended.
Astral Objects of the Journeyman
At 11th level, you have learned to create complex objects of the Astral Covenant.
Inscribed Fang. While this astral object is active, you have resistance to poison damage and advantage on saving throws against becoming poisoned. Once per turn, when you hit with an attack, you may expend a ranger spell slot to cause the target to make a Constitution saving throw. The target suffers 1d6 poison damage and becomes poisoned until the end of your next turn on a failed saving throw, or suffers half as much damage on a successful saving throw. This damage increases by 1d6 for each spell slot expended higher than 1st.
Inscribed Shell. While this astral object is active, once per turn, when you hit with a weapon attack and roll damage die, you may choose for one die to be treated as its maximum value. When you use this feature, you may expend a ranger spell slot to deal an additional 2d8 force damage for a 1st level spell slot, and an additional 1d8 force damage for each spell slot expended higher than 1st.
Inscribed Vial. While this astral object is active, you have resistance to necrotic damage and advantage against contracting diseases. Once per turn, whenever you hit with an attack, you may expend a ranger spell slot to cause the target to make a Wisdom saving throw. The target suffers 1d6 radiant damage and becomes frightened until the end of your next turn on a failed saving throw, or suffers half as much damage on a successful saving throw. This damage increases by 1d6 for each spell slot expended higher than 1st.
Astral Objects of the Master
At 15th level, you have learned to create the most advanced objects of the Astral Covenant.
Inscribed Gloves. While this astral object is active, the reach of your melee weapons increase by 5 feet, and the range of your ranged weapons increases by 30 feet. Whenever you would make an attack with disadvantage, you may spend your reaction to ignore the disadvantage for that attack. When you take this reaction, you may expend a ranger spell slot to gain half your ranger level (rounded down) in temporary hit points. For each spell slot expended higher than 1st, you may choose one additional target you can see to gain these temporary hit points.
Inscribed Orb. While this astral object is active, you have resistance to cold and force damage. Whenever you suffer cold or force damage, you may spend your reaction to suffer no damage instead. When you take this reaction, you may expend a ranger spell slot to gain temporary hit points equal to half the damage (rounded down) you would have taken. For each spell slot higher than 1st, you may choose one additional target you can see to gain these temporary hit points.
Inscribed Ring. While this astral object is active, whenever you are healed you gain temporary hit points equal to half the amount of healing you receive. As a reaction to being healed, you may expend a ranger spell slot to allow a target you can see to gain temporary hit points equal to half the amount you were healed (rounded down). For each spell slot higher than 1st, you may choose one additional target you can see to gain these temporary hit points.