... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, July 31, 2017

On the Fly Spell Research

Carrying on from the starting spells post: I’ve repurposed two columns from the Intelligence table in Greyhawk: Minimum # per Level as the base number of starting spells known, and Maximum # per Level as an optional cap on the number of starting spells (but not on total spells known.

That leaves one column unused: % Chance to Know any Given Spell. This column strikes me as unusable as written, for a couple reasons:

  • Too harsh. Players may have their hearts set on getting Fireball, for example, and their hopes can be dashed with a single die roll, no chance to try again.
  • Too complicated. I don’t want to roll for every single spell, even if I put off the roll until the spell is encountered.
  • Too much book-keeping. I’d need to photocopy at least one copy of the spell list to mark off which spells have been checked, and keep those sheets in my records. I’d rather not.

But rather than using this as a harsh limitation, I could use it as an empowerment. Let magic-users have a chance to decipher a spell reasonably quickly, without the need for research.

I already use Read Magic as a research shortcut, allowing M-Us to learn a new spell from a scroll or spellbook immediately after casting Read Magic. Otherwise, they have to use the spell research rules to learn the spell, which is going to take 1 week per spell level, minimum. But I could give M-Us one chance per spell discovered to figure it out just by studying the actual document for a few hours.

I don’t think I’d use percentile dice, myself. I’d rather just use a d20 vs. Int roll. Success means the M-U learns that spell. Failure means either weeks of standard research, or casting Read Magic if they know it.

I haven’t decided exactly how long this should take, but I’m thinking at least 2 hours per spell level, double that for Int 3-4, half that for Int 17-18. That guarantees that it’s still not the thing you’d usually risk in a dungeon, but it’s still useful for skipping a lot of downtime.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Spells Known

I’ve written before about a technique for assigning starting spells for a new magic-user character, based around the fact that the spell lists in Men & Magic and Greyhawk (and even in the AD&D Player’s Handbook) are numbered.

  1. Roll 1d8 (or 1d12, if using Greyhawk) and look up that number on the list of first level spells.
  2. The basic list of starting spells for that character is that spell and the next five spells, in order, six spells total.
  3. Roll another 3d8 (or 3d12) and consult the list three times. If you roll a spell again, drop it from the base list. If you roll a new spell, add it. The character thus starts with 3 to 9 spells.

Here is a recent modification of that process that makes some use of the Greyhawk Intelligence table (Spells Knowable.) You only need the “Minimum #” column on the table, although you can optionally use the “Maximum #” column, too (and I have some ideas about the “% Chance” column, too, but I’ll save that for later.)

Instead of the first 1d8 roll determining six base spells, use the minimum number indicated by intelligent. So, for M-Us of Int 15 and 16, the steps above remain the same: 1 die for 6 base spells, 3 dice for +/- 3 spells.

For an M-U of average intelligence (10-12,) the base list of starting spells is only 4 spells. For Int 3, only 2 spells. For Int 18, 8 spells.

The number of dice to roll for the spells to drop or add from the base starting spell list is half the minimum number of spells. So, 1d8 (or 1d12) for Int 3-9, 2d8 for Int 10-14, 3d8 for Int 15-17, and 4d8 for Int 18. You can optionally cap the total number of starting spells based on the maximum number column, but I personally would ignore it, and I would definitely not use it for spells found or learned afterwards.

Another option, which I think I will use, is to roll for random spells learned from the 2nd level and higher spell lists, when those spells become available. These would be spells mastered during training and research to level up. Not sure whether to use the exact same random range, or maybe halving the minimum number, so that the character acquires fewer spells later on. I think it’s a wise idea to halve it, so that players are kept hungry and given a reason to keep searching the dungeons for new spells. Under this rule, 3rd level Int 3 M-Us would get 1-2 new spells of 2nd level, Int 10 M-Us would get 1-4 new spells. and Int 18 M-Us would get 1-8 new spells. They would always get at least 1 new spell, the same way that starting characters should always get at least 1 starting spell.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Tenth, Fifth, Half, Whole

I’ve got a vague inkling of an idea I’d like to muse about.

You may have noticed that, in the Highlander Mage post, I wrote that these magic-users gain the ability to cast 1st level spells for free (more or less) when they reach Level 8. Or, to put it another way, that the spell level they can cast for free is 1/8th their character level. But I’m thinking the number should be 1/10th, because it makes it very easy to eliminate dividing by some number and instead just dropping the last digit of the character’s level to get the spell level. 10th level wizards can cast 1st level spells for free, 20th level wizards can cast 2nd level spells for free.

But also, I’m still thinking about very simple class customization schemes. It’s better to use just a handful of easy to remember numbers, for example 1, 2, 5, and 10, and the equivalent fractions.

The Max Spell level of pure spell-casting classes is 1/2 their character level. So, too, is their hit dice. Their high-level abilities like enchanting kick in at level 10.

Compare that to a combat class (Fighter.) Their hit dice are equal to their level, and they get no spells… but if we wanted to broaden spell casting ability, we could say that their Max Spell level is 1/10th their level and must be trained at great expense, so that Fighters couldn’t even cast a single spell until 5th level, if you are rounding to the nearest whole number.

Any extraordinary ability could be generalized to fit that pattern. A Thief class (slightly revamped) would have hit dice equal to half their level, and a bonus to Thief skill rolls equal to half their level. If a non-thief character wanted to learn Thief skills, they would require special training and the bonus would be equal to 1/10th their level. Of course, under this scheme, it might make more sense for non-combat classes to likewise have reduced combat ability equal to 1/10th their level. Not quite as extreme as in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for example, but not what most old school players are used to.

The 1/5th modifier would kick in for mixed class concepts, where the class has more than one special ability. A magical thief class would have 1/2 hit dice, 1/5th max spell level, and a thief bonus of 1/5th level. The 1/5th modifier would also be used for customization of magical schools, which is an idea I’m still mulling over.

To summarize:
* hit dice are on a 1:1 basis for mundane classes (Fighters)
* non-mundane classes (spell-casters and extraordinary talents) have half hit dice
* magic or talent level is half level
* having two extraordinary talents or spell-casting ability drops modifier to 1/5th class level for each
* any out-of-class ability can be learned with a 1/10th class level modifier
* high-level abilities appear at 10th level and have a modifier of 1/10th class level, where appropriate

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Highlander Mage

Sorry about the huge gap in posts, but I have some non-D&D projects that eat up a lot of my creative energy. I have, however, been thinking about a couple things, one related to the materialistic spell points system, or rather to a comment from davfergus about spell-casters using high-level magic-users as a power source. He’s primarily describing something that sounds vampiric, but he made a side comment comparing this to Highlander, and I thought that might be a more interesting idea.

Under an optional rule, high-level magic-users can cast spells of 1/4 their Max Spell Level (1/8th their character level) without using mana resources. For convenience, we’ll call these Highlander Mages. Any M-U of 8th level or higher is a Highlander Mage and can cast 1st level spells without using mana, as long as they have at least 1 spell ball; they actually do “use up” the spell ball, but use so little arcane essence from the ball to cast low-level spells that it’s not noticeable. Wizards of 16th level and higher can cast 2nd level spells indefinitely, and those of the amazing level of 24 can cast endless 3rd level spells.

Unscrupulous spell-casters called Mageslayers can get a temporary boost to their spell-casting abilities by ritually beheading a Highlander Mage. The boost is only temporary: 1 day for every character level of the Mageslayer, so low-level Mageslayers get little benefit. But during this brief boost, the Mageslayer can cast low-level spells as if they were the same level as their victim.

The downside, which might not seem like a downside at first, is that there is a chance that a Mageslayer will actually increase in level at the end of the boost. Roll 1d6: if the result is less than or equal to the effective “free spells level”, the Mageslayer gains 1 character level.

Example: A 5th level Mageslayer beheads an 8th-level mage and is able to cast 1st level spells for free for 5 days. At the end of the 5 days, A d6 roll of 1 means that the Mageslayer is now 6th level. Whether the Mageslayer’s experience points increase as well depends on how the GM interprets XP. I use a house rule for level drain where XP are never subtracted, only levels, and drained levels can be recovered quickly, so for me, it makes sense not to add XP for a level boost, either.

So, Mageslayers who regularly kill Highlander Mages will probably reach 8th level earlier than usual and become Highlander Mages themselves, suddenly becoming a target. Mageslayers are thus rare, since they tend to wipe each other out, just like the immortals in Highlander.

In fact, the cultural setup helps explain the age-old question “Why haven’t wizards taken over the world?” There are perhaps many low-level magic-users, because beheading M-Us of levels 1 through 7 is useless. Mageslayers are rare, not just because of social pressures and threat of punishment, but because mageslaying is a dangerous game: they have to hunt victims who are more powerful than they are, and high-level Mageslayers tend to kill each other off. Highlander Mages in general are very rare, either because they are a temptation to Mageslayers or under suspicion as Mageslayers themselves. The few that do exist are paranoid recluses.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Damaged or Depleted Spell Resources

The materialistic spell points system is practically becoming its own series of posts. Here are some useful tables for running magic that relies on “mana balls” to power spells.

Since spell balls or mana balls are physical resources, they can potentially be damaged by the environment. Any magician caught on fire who fails a save should roll 1d6: on a 5+, the pouch or container that the mana balls are stored in also catches fire, and the magician must take action to avoid losing supplies. (This roll can be skipped if, for example, only the magician’s back is exposed to flame, but the pouch of mana balls is located on the front side of the magician’s belt.) Being dunked in water or other liquids can ruin, dilute, or taint mana balls. (A waterproof container can improve the odds, perhaps requiring the same 1d6 check.) In either case, the GM makes a 2d6 reaction roll, keeping the result a secret.

2d6 Roll Environmental Reaction
2 Ruined, May be recoverable
3-5 Tainted or Diluted (Spell Failure Check)
6-8 Diluted Effect (Spell Failure Check)
9-11 No Damage to Resource
12+ Boosted Effect (except when wet)

Ruined mana balls are unusable, while Diluted are only sometimes unusable, requiring a spell failure check. Tainted mana balls also require a spell failure check, but such spells never fail completely, they instead have unexpected side effects. Boosted effects double the duration or hit dice affected, but not the number of targets or area of effect; the magician must still pass a spell failure check, but if the spell “fails”, it means the boosted effects have expired and the mana balls return to normal. Water or dampness does not boost effects.

(I, personally, would treat smoke/fire damage, water damage, and other liquid damage in different ways. Smoke/fire can ruin or taint mana balls, but not dilute their strength. Water can ruin or dilute, but not taint or boost. Other liquids can do all three.)

In a comment on another post, I brought up the idea of depleting arcane resources in an area. To save on the cost of manufacturing mana balls, magicians can opt to gather resources themselves, scouring the countryside for rare herb, enchanted springs, or arcanely-tainted minerals. However, these resources may be depleted by overharvesting. The next time a magician searches for ingredients in an area that has recently been harvested, look up the 3d6 vs. Int result on the following table:

3d6 Roll Arcane Harvest Result
3 Last Harvest, no further resources
4-5 Exhausted temporarily
6-8 Depleted, Int halved on future checks
9-12 No change in resource availability
13-15 +2 on resources found, no other change
16-17 Depleted resources restored
18+ Exhausted resources restored

Note that the 3d6 result is being used in two ways:

  • roll > Int means no resources found
  • roll is crossreferenced with table for effects on future rolls

If a magician with Int 12 rolls a 13, the magician doesn’t find any resources. If a magician with Int 16 rolls a 13, the magician finds +2 gp worth of materials.

The GM keeps track of the resource level (normal, depleted, exhausted, or permanently exhausted.) The player isn’t informed of the current state, but can probably figure out if an area is depleted if they only sporadically recover ingredients from the area. If they never recover resources, but know they have rolled under half their Int, then the area might be temporarily exhausted or permanently exhausted, and won’t be sure of which, unless they do some research with the aid of a sage.

Depleted areas, as mentioned, halve their Int for finding resources. This means that even 18 Int magicians may only find resources 37.5 % of the time. On a future roll of 16+, the area recovers and resources are available again. If a Depleted area gets a second Depleted result, it becomes Exhausted.

Exhausted areas won’t return any resources at all, but may recover on future checks. Last Harvest, however, means that the area is so depleted, it won’t recover for decades or centuries without the aid of powerful intervention (like a wish.) Two Exhausted results does not mean the area is permanently exhausted, though. Only a Last Harvest result will do that.

If desired, this table can also be used when exploring a new area, with the first result indicating the general availability of arcane resources in that area. I prefer to assume, though, that depleted and exhausted areas are actually quite rare and wouldn’t require checking the table on the first roll for a new area.

As suggested previously, I see resource depletion not as a punishment or failsafe against player cleverness, but as a goad to adventure. It gives players a possible explanation for why their characters travel and adventure, instead of just camping out and harvesting one area repeatedly.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Non-Materialistic Elves

As I develop this magic system based on materialistic spell points, I’m liking it more and more and want to use it… but there’s a problem I’m beginning to notice. When I first suggested it, I was thinking I would keep “normal” magic as-is, but use the alternate system for elven magic, to help make elves more distinctive. But as I thought about it more, especially after writing about the physical nature of the power source for magic, I began to feel like the relationship should be reversed.

Even though I was using “materialistic” in the literal sense of having a material form, it’s feeling more like a very materialistic system in the philosophical sense: rejecting metaphysical or spiritual matters, focusing on the practical and physical, even tending to be oriented towards commerce. That doesn’t sound like elves to me at all. I’ve always seen elves as being good at magic because they are inherently magical. They ultimately can’t be as powerful as might human wizards, but magic comes easier to them because they are born with a sense of the magical forces in the world.

So maybe I should swap the two magic systems.

Human spellcasters are sharply divided into the spiritual clerics, who draw power from divine forces and have a more limited range in what they can do, and materialistic magicians, who study how to distill mana into a physical form and use it to power a wide range of spells.

Elves, on the other hand, are in between. They have a “materialistic spiritualism” view of the world and can prepare (memorize) spells to cast when needed, without the need for arcane fuel. But they don’t have the freedom of human magicians, who can cast any spell they know as long as they have mana balls as fuel. They must prepare specific spells beforehand.

I’m thinking, though, that elves learn spells from spellbooks, but don’t need to use spellbooks to memorize spells for casting. If they study their spellbooks, they automatically memorize the spells they select, but if they just meditate for a number of hours equal to their highest spell level, they can memorize the spells on a successful 3d6 vs. Int roll (half effective Int in stressful or suboptimal circumstances.) On a failed result, their retention is poor and a spell check must be made every time they cast a spell, to see if it was successfully memorized.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Materialism of Materialistic Spell Points

When I introduced the idea of magicians creating spell balls out of exotic herbs and other ingredients and using them to power spells in Materialistic Spell Points, I didn’t really go too deep into what that meant. These spell balls are physical objects, not an abstraction. Abstract spell points creates simple strategic choices: Spend your spell points as quickly as possible? Hoard them for emergencies? Adjust your spending rate during play? But a physical resource creates infinite strategic choices, for creative players. Anything you can imagine doing to a physical object, or to the process that creates that object, can affect the game.

I mentioned one such possibility: since there’s only a limit on how many spell balls you can make in one day, but no limit on how many you can carry, you could spend extra time and money (or no money and a lot more time) to make more spell balls. A 1st level M-U who memorizes spells can only cast 1 spell. A 1st level M-U who uses spell balls can make 2 or 3 spell balls, if there’s plenty of downtime, and be a little more useful on the adventure.

An M-U with one or two apprentices can have them do the dirty work of scrounging up ingredients, saving money while also shortening prep time.

If there are two M-Us adventuring together, and only one knows the Knock spell, but has run out of spell balls, the other M-U can share a spell ball.

A fighter can try to set fire to a magician’s belt pouch with a torch, hoping to prevent the magician from casting spells.

A thief can sneak up behind an enemy magician and attempt to pick the magician’s pocket, to get the spell balls. Or sneak into an innocent town spellcaster’s house to steal spell balls set out to dry, then give them to the party’s M-U to shorten prep time for an adventure.

Killing an enemy spellcaster in a dungeon might give an M-U a chance to restock on spell balls.

Capturing spellcasters and confiscating their spell balls gives a party a way of controlling their arcane prisoners.

A spellcaster taken captive after exhausting their spells can try to steal a spell ball as part of an escape plan.

M-Us can make spell balls to sell, or sell spell balls found as treasure. Fighters, clerics, and thieves can sell spell balls, too, and should be able to get XP for them.

The local wizard’s guild may have a monopoly on some spell ball ingredients so that they can sell spell balls at inflated prices.

If ingredients are rarer in some places, more common in others, merchants can set up trade routes to exploit the price difference.

Towns that limit or outlaw the practice of magic can search suspected magicians to see if they are carrying spell balls. Magicians can come up with clever ways to hide a stash of spell balls to sneak past checkpoints.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Materialistic Spell Points: XP Follow-Up

I have a reader question to answer and some details to add to the post on materialistic spell points (powering spells with actual physical objects called "spell balls" that magicians make as part of their spell prep, instead of memorizing spells.)

First the question. Christian Kolbe asked:
Are the gp spent on mana balls also converted to XP? It is just a different way to look at investment/spending of XP. You might even reduce the XP required to level since they have to invest XP in each spell.
I gather here that you are using an "XP for gold spent" rule. That's a house rule that has been floating around on the net for a while, although I'm not sure how common it is. I've never ran or played in a game with that rule, myself. It's always been "XP for gold brought back from an adventure" for me. If you use that rule, or any house rule that does away with XP entirely, you aren't investing XP in any spells, so changes to the XP required to level up wouldn't be appropriate.

For GMs using "XP for gold spent", however, it depends on what counts as "spending gold". If it doesn't matter what the gold is spent on, then paying for ingredients to make spell balls gets you XP, the same as paying for anything else would. You wouldn't want to reduce the XP required for an M-U's next level, in that case, because the M-U isn't being penalized for prepping spells instead of spending cash on booze.

But if I recall correctly, Dave Arneson's original pre-D&D rule was that characters had to spend their treasure on non-adventuring items: hobbies, property and property upgrades, social events, anything other than gear you bring into the dungeon. Several of the house rules I've seen for "XP for gold spent" go this route, such as the various carousing tables. In those cases, paying to prep your spells would reduce your potential XP and theoretical slow your advancement, so it might be better to adjust XP requirements for levels.

Fortunately, I made the cost per spell ball 100 gp, which would be 100 xp, and if you only spend one day prepping spells before an adventure, the xp invested would be 100  * your level per adventure. You'd have to gauge how many adventures it takes to get to the next level, and that is going to vary from GM to GM, so maybe a better way would be to give magicians an XP bonus per spell prepped.

... Or just make an exception and allow gold spent on spells to count towards XP. That's probably smarter, since the rules as I wrote them allows magicians to overstock on spell balls or avoid paying for ingredients entirely. If magicians get XP for prepping spells, a player could opt to not spend any money at all, but just gather ingredients and make spell balls all year instead of going on adventures.

That leads in to some other things I wanted to say about spell balls, but I'll save that for another post.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Materialistic Spell Points

I had an idea for a “materialistic” spell point system, meaning one where “spell points” are physical objects that magicians collect or create, then expend to cast a spell. It’s what I called a “fetish” system in a post on non-Vancian magic. I probably would not use this as my sole magic system, because I like Vancian magic just fine, but I’m serious considering tweaking this a bit and making it the default elven magic, to make them feel distinct.

The three important stats for magicians in this system are Intelligence, Level, and Max Spell Level, pretty much the same as in the standard Vancian system. Intelligence has only a minor effect on the study and preparation phase. Level limits the number of spells that can be cast. Max Spell Level equals half the magician’s level (round up) and affects which spells can be cast easily. Magicians must still learn spells, either by locating a spell book that describes them or researching a spell, but no longer need to memorize specific spells before an adventure.

Casting one spell requires using one spell ball. That’s not what they are actually called in the game world, but I’m imagining small (1-inch) balls of exotic ingredients infused with mana, and you know that’s what players would wind up calling them, with all the obvious jokes. I think I’ll call them “vril” or “vrillium” in my world, but you could call them “arcanic earth”, “magic bullets”, “mana orbs” or something else entirely.

Magicians prepare spell balls by mixing 100 gp of herbs and powders (per ball) into a sticky paste while channeling mana into the concoction, then rolling the substance into little balls and setting them out to dry. It takes one day to do this, although the actual mixing and infusing only takes half a day; the magician can do something else while the balls dry.

Instead of purchasing the ingredients, magicians can save money by gathering some or all of them. For each day spent gathering or preparing ingredients prior to the actual infusion process, roll 3d6 for the amount of materials (in gold pieces) that the magician has gathered, up to a maximum amount per day equal to the magician’s Intelligence. Ingredients may be especially rare in some regions (halve the effective Intelligence cap,) or more common in a few very special areas (double effective Intelligence.)

Channeling mana during the infusion process is something only magicians can do, and only for a while, although magicians get better at it with experience. A magician can only infuse 1 spell ball per level per day, and can only safely do that once per week; any more than that is physically taxing, requiring a Constitution check: 3d6 vs. Con for the second infusion session in a week, 3d6 vs. half Con for the third session and each additional session, with failure meaning the magician is in a drained, enfeebled state (half Move, two turns of rest every hour, other Con saves while enfeebled are at half effective Con.) Enfeeblement ends after one week of rest, but recovery time can be shortened with medical care (requires a Con roll once a day.)

To cast a spell, a magician holds up a spell ball and squeezes it in a fist while pointing or gesturing with the other hand and chanting the magic words. If the level of the spell being cast is equal to or less than the magician’s Max Spell Level, the spell ball crumbles as the arcane essence is released. Spells higher than Max Spell Level either can’t be cast, or use twice as many spell balls and require a spell check (3d6 + spell level vs. Intelligence.)

Optional Rule: If the spell level is equal to or less than half the magician’s Max Spell Level, roll 1d6 and add the spell level: on 6+, the spell takes effect but the ball remains intact, only expending a little bit of arcane essence. Additionally, you may rule that spells below 1/4th Max Spell Level never require a die roll, but are always “free” as long as the magician has at least one spell ball. Or, if that is too generous, make an unmodified 1d6 roll instead.
Even if you don’t use spells above 6th level (Men & Magic) or 9th level (Greyhawk, or AD&D,) Max Spell Level can be higher than that, for very high level wizards. A 15th level wizard has a Max Spell Level of 8, which means that the wizard could potentially cast endless spells of 4th level and below without running out of mana.
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