This is the first in a series of blogs where I'll go through and talk about my experiences with COFSA, hitting you with trivia, lore, and interesting things about the content.
Also, the pre-order for the hardcovers has been placed! Once they arrive and are signed, you'll get them!
Ashen blog musical theme: Picnic Inferno - Dreamtale
So, here's the Ashen Wolf, depicted beautifully by Julijana Mijailovic. It was the first piece of art commissioned for COFSA, and I'm incredibly happy with how it turned out. I think the details, particularly the symbol on the tree and the wolfpack in the background, really bring home some of the world elements that make the Ashen Wolf so compelling to me.
The Ashen Wolf was the third Otherworldly Patron I ever wrote, and I think it represents the point where I started to really believe in the concept. I was inspired initially by this beautiful artwork and I realized that if I was going to have a Shadowcat, I definitely needed a canine or lupine creature to serve as an opposite.
The core thing that I wanted to drive home was the feeling of hunger, but the hunger of a flame rather than one of a normal beast. It wants to devour and spread, not merely by eating, but by releasing energy bound away. The other factor was smoke and ash, the remnants discarded behind, and making those equally important to the concept. The final factor was transformation, as fire is transformative even as it destroys. These ideas all rolled together for me, resulting in what you see here.
The initial concept of the Ashen Wolf, mechanically was to have a fairly decent close-range warlock. Over dozens of revisions, it's come a long way, so I'll hit the highlights of what I changed and how it happened.
1. Originally, Breath of Smoke poisoned the enemy, and they needed to use an action to clear their lungs. I wanted to highlight the choking, sickening effects of smoke inhalation, since often people die from smoke and heat rather than actually burning themselves. In the interests of balance I ended up tuning it to its current iteration, but I'll probably end up revisiting that mechanic for another subclass.
2. The 6th level feature used to be called Malevolent Assault, and allowed you to unleash a burst of flame in a small radius around you when you attacked or cast a spell. This was neat, but I realized rapidly that 6th level features are usually more utility or defensive in nature. In the current version, the curse effect was deliberately designed to allow the warlock to participate in fights against creatures they'd normally be useless against. Needing to stand on the sidelines firing eldritch blast every turn because all of your fun spells would deal no damage to the red dragon or demon your party is fighting isn't very fun, and the mechanical result is that you can contribute fully against a single foe. Finally, thanks to the new invocations elsewhere that work with curse mechanics, you'll have a few other optional tricks to play with.
3. Endless Pursuit has always been a flavor thing, for me. Fire doesn't stop burning until there's nothing left to consume, and so a hungering wolf of flame should run and hunt until there's nothing left to eat. Exhaustion is a strange mechanic, to me, because while it's great to impose and has a lot of stages, it tends to lead to awkward results. Getting rid of it a little easier is a nice way to say "I can keep going."
4. The capstone feature, formerly named The Hound from Hell, used to be far more selfish and much less interesting. It was a transformative buff, yes, but it was a singular, hollow thing. What a real wolf needs is a pack, and hellhounds make for fantastic and interesting minions. Being able to call them forth in a brutal and satisfying way makes this one of the best abilities I've written, in my eyes. I hope you think so too!
5. Invocations. These used to be all over the place, in the past. I wanted the Pact of the Chain familiar to actually have combat relevance and be an important part of the character, because everyone needs a friendly fire beast, but it was difficult to make it work properly. The same goes for the Pact of the Blade - fire damage is a poor damage type, so it needs some love. Thankfully, the results are now much more appealing: a great AC calculation means the warlock has the durability to survive in melee, limited fire immunity gives you a way to pull off those wild actions you'd normally need to think about, and the familiar bonus now works as an option rather than a requirement.
The Ashen Lineage was the first thing I wrote during a weird slump in my writing. I was trying to get used to using public-domain art, making my own templates, shifting to druids, and many other changes. Returning to something I was familiar with was a refreshing feeling, and I originally wanted to make sorcerer subclasses for all of the Alrisen. Oh, and they used to not be Alrisen. They were just patrons. I hadn't come up with that term yet, so there was no classification for them at all.
Anyways, the sorcerer was something I wanted to make because I wanted to explore what the child of an Ashen warlock would look like. The lupine characteristics and traits were interesting, and I liked the idea of the sorcerer's body becoming constantly less human. One of my prime inspirations was from a player-character in the campaign I've been running: the infamous Xandith. Back when COFSA was just COFS: Ultimate, the Ashen Wolf warlock didn't have anywhere near the durability it needed. So he went down in combat. Every single combat. My player came up with an innovative and interesting thing to represent his pact: each time he fell, ash would consume more and more of his body, transforming him and burning him up from the inside. Eventually, after falling nearly a dozen times, he wasn't a human anymore. Instead, he became the core concept behind the Ashenspawn. I took that curse and tried to write it into the sorcerer, bringing the idea of living at the edge of death to the forefront of my design. The final feature was my attempt at showing how transformative and corruptive the influence of the Ashen Wolf can be on those unprepared to withstand it, and I think I've managed to pull that off quite nicely.
The Ashenspawn were one of my favorite races to write, partially because I had direct inspiration for them and partially because the Alfallen concept was something I'd never tried before. It was very entertaining to describe how all of the races would be changed by the Wolf, and the metal-eating thing came to me during one of my games and the reaction from the players was so excellent I couldn't resist giving it to everyone else.
The spell Funeral Pyre is one of my crowning achievements, I think, because my players didn't know what it would be until I introduced it mid-session. The ship they were sailing on was, unfortunately, named precisely that, and after it crashed, I felt the need to commemorate it. Thus, I wanted to make the most gruesome spell I could think of that would imitate the name, so now that visual can burn into your minds too.
The feud between the Huntsman and the Wolf was a key element in my campaign, so I wanted to drive home the opposition between those two similar forces by having them approach hunting from different perspectives. The cold, dominant, aloof style of the Huntsman has other creatures act as servants, but the Ashen Wolf is a member of the pack, leading from the front. It's a direct comparison between man and beast that I feel keeps them unique despite their shared hunting theme.
You'll also note that I deliberately avoided gendering the Ashen Wolf, and I'm curious if my attempt to leave it ambiguous has changed how you think of it. What's your Ashen Wolf like? Does it have a name other than its title? Have you played a warlock, Ashen Lineage sorcerer, or Ashenspawn?
Let me know in the comments on /r/UnearthedArcana, and be sure to let me know if you have other questions or topics you'd like me to talk more about in future posts!