Keyword Design – “Bubbles”

In Keyword Design, I use a single word as inspiration for a mundane item, a magic item, a feat, a spell, and a class option. Today’s word was suggested by Nick V.

Nick V gave me a great list of keywords that I’ll be mining throughout the year, but his first word might be my favourite. Bubbles. There are not many objects I can picture as fragile as a bubble, and yet I need to turn bubbles into viable options for adventurers. Awesome!

Mundane Item Poison Carbonator Alchemical item that turns inhaled poisons into ranged weapons.
Magic Item Necklace of Airborne Bubbles Use the necklace’s beads to temporarily fly.
Feat Bubble Burst Bounce around threats en route to your target.
Spell Trouble Bubbles Fill an area with bubbles of minor destruction.
Class Option Hydrobulare druid archetype Like the horizon at sea, this druid is where air meets water.

New Mundane Items
Price 3000 gp; Weight 1 lb
This set of valves and filtered tubes pressurize the contents of the steel bottle they are connected to. When a liquid is combined with the appropriate alchemical powder, the pressure carbonates the admixture such that the special spout can release it in bubble form. What started as a party favour amongst nobility was reborn in the hands of adventurers as a dispenser of poison.
If a dose of an inhaled poison is sealed with its corresponding alchemical powder (which costs twice the base price of the poison and is usually available wherever poisons are sold) in a carbonator for 1 hour, the wielder of the carbonator can, as a standard action, make a ranged touch attack with a range of 20 feet that provokes attacks of opportunity. On a successful hit, the target is subject to a dose of the poison as if they had inhaled it.
If the bubble misses its target, it continues in a straight line until it bursts. Every round it must make a DC 10 Fortitude save with a +0 bonus or burst. Creatures adjacent to a bursting poisonous bubble are subject to its poison effect, but with a +4 circumstance bonus to their Fortitude save. A carbonator’s bubbles burst immediately in a strong breeze, and the wielder must make a saving throw following the rules for being adjacent to the bubble. Unlike ammunition, a bubble provokes attacks of opportunity. It has AC 4, 1 hp, and hardness 0. Creatures that destroy a bubble with a natural attack do not gain the normal +4 bonus to Fortitude saves for being adjacent to a bursting bubble.
A carbonator can only hold one dose of poison admixture. One dose of poison admixture creates one poisonous bubble. After 1 day in a carbonator, a poison admixture loses its carbonation. It can not be fired and must be cleaned out before another poison admixture can be added.

If this reminds you of a certain scene from GI Joe episode, well, how about that…
I’ve had alchemical items on my mind  since I started Keyword Design. Gangland Paint Pot, the magic item from last week’s Keyword Design: Rebel article came close but I thought the technology required for spray paint was too modern to justify alchemy. I Finally got to scratch my alchemical itch this week and you know? It is an uncomfortable itch.
Right from the start I struggled with language -verbs in particular- that felt pseudoscientific rather than straight modern science. At one point I had to give up on getting the tone right (and accept that I might embarrass my biochemist wife with this terrible excuse for science) and aim for clarity. I still wasn’t confident in my execution and was hoping that the concept was strong enough to hide it. But once I started working on the mechanics I started having a lot of fun. The more I designed it, the more corner cases I thought would be fun to address. Attacking the bubble was the highlight, I think.

New Magic Item
Aura moderate transmutation; CL 12th
Slot neck (does not take up slot); Price 1250 gp (type I), 2000 gp (type II), 2500 gp (type III), 3500 gp (type IV); Weight 1 lb.
The beads strung together on this silver lining appear to be fist-sized suds –sometimes clear, sometimes shades of green or pink- although they are not as fragile as they appear. When the beads are detached by the wearer (and only by the wearer) and broken at their feet, a 10ft round bubble surrounds them. This bubble allows them to fly for a number of hours, depending on the duration that was enchanted into the broken bead, as overland flight. Beads come in different durations, ranging from 1 hour to 12 hours. The market price of a bead is 125 gp for each hour of overland flight it provides.

Necklace 24 hours 12 hours 6 hours 1 hour Market Price
Type I 1 2 1750 gp
Type II 3 2250 gp
Type III 2 4 3500 gp
Type IV 1 2 4500 gp

Each necklace of airborne bubbles contains a combination of beads of various durations. Some traditional combinations, designated types I through IV, are detailed above.
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, overland flight; Cost 625gp (type I), 1000 gp (type II), 1250 gp (type III), 1750 gp (type IV)

This started as Glinda the Good Witch’s pink bubble as a spell, which was basically overland flight in a bubble. So instead of a spell, I went with a magic item that was exactly that. There aren’t any other items like the necklace of fireballs so I thought that item’s format worked for an on-demand flight item.


New Feat
You bounce about the battlefield, leaping through the air with an explosive attack!
Prerequisites: Acrobatics 7 ranks, Dex 15, Dodge, Mobility, Spring Attack, base attack bonus +7.
Benefit: As a full-round action, you can move up to your speed and make a single melee attack without provoking any attacks of opportunity from the target of your attack, or any creatures you pass along the way, including from entering their space during this move. You can move both before and after the attack, but you must move at least 10 feet before the attack and the total distance that you move cannot be greater than your twice speed. If you move in a straight line before your attack, you can choose to make this attack a charge.
You can use this ability to attack a foe that is adjacent to you at the start of your turn.

I like this feat, but I’m not satisfied with how well it implements the keyword. It’s just Spring Attack with a “cannot” or two turned into “can”. It’s not a bad design practice -it’s actually what makes options from later books feel like core options- but I feel like I could have done better. 

New Spell
School evocation [force]; Level bard 1, bloodrager 1, cleric/oracle1, druid 1, magus 1, occultist 1, shaman 1, sorcerer/wizard 1, summoner 1, witch 1
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (a bar of soap)
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Effect fills 5-ft square with 2d6 deadly bubbles, up to 5 ft. long/level
Duration 1 round/level (D)
Saving Throw Reflex negates; Spell Resistance yes
Seemingly harmless bubbles float about in a row. However, each bubble is a miniscule sphere of force that injures any creature that moves through it. When a creature passes through a space containing trouble bubbles, it takes 2d6 points of damage (Reflex negates). Whether the creature makes its save or not, the space they moved through is cleared of bubbles.
On your turn, you can choose to move all the bubbles as a standard action. You can either move one space of bubbles up to 20 feet in a straight line, or move all of the bubbles 5ft.
A strong wind, such as from a gust of wind spell disperses the trouble bubbles.

If the name of this spell reminds you of a vehicle from GI Joe, how about that…
The deeper inspiration for this spell goes back to my BBS days, back when I was playing D&D 2e and you could download unlicensed fan-made content txt files in just a few minutes. One such txt file had stated out the Dow scrubbing bubbles as a monster that cleans dungeon corridors. As strange an idea as it is that someone made a monster out of soap, the logic made sense (those scrubbing bubbles need to work hard to get the stains off the brickwork, and what is an adventuring party but a stain on the dungeon?) and the visual of a bubbly swarm silently, slowly, inevitably closing in on you stuck with me. Trouble Bubbles takes that concept and turns in into a versatile weapon for a caster. Most casters, in fact. I was as broad as possible with my spell list access. It’s a stretch to grant druids and shamans a force spell I suppose, but they need to clean the ghosts out of their forests somehow. Speaking of druids…

New Class Option
Like the horizon at sea, a hydrombulare is an elementalist druid who specializes in the combination of air and water.
Air and Water Bond (Ex): At 1st level, a hydrombulare forms a bond with the air and water elements. This bond has multiple benefits. The first is a close tie to the natural world, granting the hydrombulare access to the Air and Water cleric domains. However, the hydrombulare can not cast spells with the acid or fire descriptor.
The second benefit is a set of elemental companions, one each from the elemental planes of air and water.

Air Elemental Companion
Starting Statistics: Size Small; Speed fly 100 ft. (perfect); AC +1 natural armor; Attack slam (1d4); Ability Scores Str 10, Dex 16, Con 11, Int 3, Wis 11, Cha 11; Special Qualities air mastery, elemental immunities, darkvision 60 ft.
4th-Level Advancement: Size Medium; Attack slam (1d6); Ability Scores Str +2, Dex +2.

Water Elemental Companion
Starting Statistics: Size Small; Speed 20 ft., swim 90 ft; AC +2 natural armor; Attack slam (1d6); Ability Scores Str 12, Dex 10, Con 11, Int 3, Wis 11, Cha 11; Special Qualities drench, elemental immunities, darkvision 60 ft, water mastery
4th-Level Advancement: Size Medium; Attack slam (1d8); Ability Scores Str +2, Dex +2.

These elemental companions advance in the same way as a druid’s animal companion. This abilities replaces both Nature’s Bond and the ability to spontaneously cast summon nature’s ally.
Bubble Up (Ex): At 2nd level, as a full round action, a hydrombulare can have his two elemental companions create a bubble of air and water around him. The hydrombulare ignores difficult terrain as it hovers just above the ground, and gains 50 ft. fly (perfect) and swim speeds. The hydrombulare also gains concealment.
While bubbled up, the elementals give up their physical bodies, special abilities, and actions. They gain hardness equal to their combined HD, and hp equal to their combined current hp total. Their AC becomes 10 plus their combined natural armour bonuses. Any damage the bubble takes is evenly divided between both elemental companion when they resume their normal states.
A hydrombulare can bubble up for a number of minutes per day equal to her class level. She need not spend all this time at once but it must be spent in 1 minute intervals.
This ability replaces Woodland Stride.
Bond Shape (Ex): As the hydrombulare becomes more attuned with air and water elements, so too do her companions. At 4th level as a standard action, the hydrombulare can increase the size of both her elemental companions, granting them both the benefits of an enlarge person spell as though they were humanoid. This ability lasts a number of rounds equal to the hydrombulare’s class level. The hydrombulare can use this ability once per day at 4th level, and one additional time per day every other level.
This ability replaces wild shape.

First of all, wow, I made a druid archetype that replaces nature’s bond and wild shape and yet it totally still feels like a druid.
Second of all, this is why I enjoy Keyword Design. From a top-down perspective, why would I design a druid archetype that specializes in air and water? Why just those two? But from a bottom-up perspective, it totally makes sense as a bubble druid.
I probably could have gone further with the concept and borrow some rules from the kineticist, but why bother? The cleric domains already load this druid up with air and water powers while keeping them divine spell based, which is the druid’s jam. In fact, overall I think this is a nice balance of simple and complicated mechanics. I kind of water to play one, honestly.

Thanks again to Nick V for the keyword suggestion! I do have to admit that I could not find a way to translate classic bubble-based Nintendo game Bubble Bobble into an options. Unless…

If you have thoughts on the balance and use of these abilities, or you would like to offer a single word that you think can inspire a mundane item, a magic item, a feat, a spell, and a class option, let me know in the comments below!

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting:


  1. Luthorne

    For the necklace of airborne bubbles, you have, “…and broken and their feet…” Should be ‘at their feet’, I imagine?

    Fun stuff, though.

  2. Quo

    I am really digging the druid archetype. Very nice.