Wednesday 30 July 2014

Monster Deisgn Contest: Last Week

If anyone has any freaky biologically warped monstrous creations, send 'em my way for publication!

You may win stuff! See here for the details.

Deadline this Sunday (August 3rd).

Advanced Spell Research

I love the idea of spell research in D&D. It happens, in my experience, with unfortunate rarity, but I still love it. In my opinion, research is what wizards should be all about. Those pesky adventure things may provide some interesting opportunities to uncover secrets about lost magicks, enchanted items, mystical creatures, planar anomalies, and so on, but a wizard's true work is in his lair.

For some time now, I've been contemplating  ways in which one could make the spell research process more appealing to players and more interesting. This post is about the latter.

The traditional spell research rules are pretty vague and boring: Spend some amount of money (possibly involving the procurement of rare tomes or ingredients -- which is cool). Spend some time. Maybe make some kind of die roll, depending on the system. It either works or it doesn't. If it fails maybe you try again. Logan recently posted some interesting stuff developing some variance on the success side of the equation. (The DCC mercurial magic system is another similar approach.)

I'm also interested in the failure side of things, as well as what happens during the process. I don't imagine spell research as a long process of noodling followed by a eureka! resulting in a fully functional spell. I like the idea that the magic-user works his or her way through a whole sequence of baby spells, developing an idea which eventually, all going well, bears fruit in the perfection of the envisioned spell. Maybe all does not go well, though, or maybe the research is interrupted or abandoned, leaving a semi-functional spell. A reckless wizard might choose to still cast this imperfect dweomer... Perhaps it's still useful in some way, despite it not living up to what its creator intended.

I've done this kind of thing informally a couple of times in play, when a PC wizard has attempted and failed a process of spell research (I had the player simply make an INT check to see if the research worked first time off). We had a transparency spell (see The Complete Vivimancer) which only affected the skin of the target and a cannibalize spell (see Theorems & Thaumaturgy) which permanently added 1 pound of warped flesh to the caster's body with each casting. In both cases, I gave the player the option of continuing the research (entailing more time and money) in order to try and perfect the incantation, or to stay with what he had. (He chose to keep the cannibalize variant but put in the extra time to perfect transparency.)

I'd like to come up with something a little bit more systematized for this kind of thing. A couple of things I have in mind:
  • A slightly more detailed spell research system with various stages, leading up to the fruition of the final spell.
  • Tables of minor and major complications which mutate a spell's functioning. These would be applied to partially developed spells, either during the research procedure or after a failed research procedure.
  • Tables of drawbacks: detrimental side-effects which accompany the casting of an imperfect spell.
I'll develop these things and any other ideas on the topic which come along in future posts. Feel free to feed me with any ideas you have on the subject!

Sunday 27 July 2014

DCC: Alchemical Tonic

Having bought the Dungeon Crawl Classics book recently, I've been thinking about running some games. Naturally (naturally!) I would expunge the cleric class from existence. I am renowned for my grudge against clerics of all creeds and am not about to tarnish this reputation now.

Clerics in DCC seem pretty healy. The death toll of the game seems pretty high. Put those two facts together and, without clerical healing, you get a blood bath, I would imagine. So, with maximum mercy, I propose the following substance:

Alchemical Tonic
A class of rejuvenating fluid produced by many alchemists, each having his or her own secret formula. A vial costs 40gp. Imbibing it has the effect of restoring one Hit Die. Other damage effects (like critical hit gruesomeness, diseases, paralysis, whatever) are not affected.

Adventurers with a few lucrative jaunts under their belts will, of course, be able to purchase great stocks of this miracle juice. Ingesting alchemical substances of this kind is, however, not without side-effects -- especially when the compounds of multiple doses mix in a character's intestines. Upon imbibing the first tonic of the day, a player must roll 1d6 and consult the following table. For each subsequent dose consumed, the die type increases by one, up to the mighty d30 of almost-certain alchemical doom. Rolls on the table are inversely modified by Luck (bonuses subtract, penalties add).

0 or less: No side-effect.
1: Tingling. A pleasant sensation in the extremities.
2: Chills. Rising up and down the spine.
3: Flush. Cheeks flush hot red.
4: Rush. A sensation of courage and renewed vigour pervades the character's consciousness for 1 hour. Can lead to foolhardy decision making.
5: Tipsy. Has an effect similar to alcohol.
6: Mind-numbing. 1d3 Intelligence damage.
7: Over-stimulation. Character cannot sleep for 48 hours.
8: Rejection. The tonic is vomited back up. Healing factor reduced by 50%.
9: Hyper-sensitivity. A frothing sensation in the belly. The die type used on this table for subsequent doses is increased by two steps.
10: Faint. Wakes up naturally after 1d6 turns. Slapping has no effect but application of another dose of tonic does the job in 1d6 rounds.
11: Fire breath. A chemical reaction causes a gout of flame to burst from the character's lips. A random character or object within 5' takes 1d8 damage and must make a DC 10 Reflex save to avoid catching on fire (p.96).
12: Addictive. The compound has a habit-forming effect. The character must make a DC 15 Will save or do whatever he can to consume a second dose within the next hour, whether he needs the additional hit points or not.
13: Fearless. The compound inspires courage to the point of recklessness, for 1d6 hours. The character is immune to fear effects during this time but cannot take any course of action out of caution.
14: Where am I? Partial amnesia for 1 hour. The character knows who he is and recognizes companions, but has no memory of how he got into the current situation or what he is doing there.
15: Glow. A strange chemical reaction causes the character's skin to glow some psychedelic hue for 1d6 hours. This makes stealth very difficult.
16: Alchemical taint. The character's lips are permanently stained with a garish colour and his breath takes on an acrid odour.
17: Sensory black out. Blinded or deafened for 1d10 minutes.
18: Vision. An odd collusion of chemical elements triggers a psychedelic episode. The character has an out-of-body visionary flash lasting 1d6 rounds (although the vision may, subjectively, appear to last much longer), followed by a 1d6 hour period of sensory distortion and hallucination.
19: Pain insensitivity. Bodily sensations numbed for 24 hours. Judge tracks character's hit point total and gives no clues as to its status.
20: Intolerance. On subsequent days, the character's first dose of tonic starts with a d8 on the side-effects table.
21: Who am I? Complete amnesia for 24 hours.
22: Tonic-head. Highly addictive elements of the tonic get a grip on the character. Henceforth, he must consume a dose every day or lose a point of Strength.
23: Frazzled. The character's nervous system is damaged by continued abuse. Hit point maximum reduced by one, permanently.
24: Knockout gas. Noxious fumes erupt from the character's digestive system. All within 20' (including the one who drank the tonic) must make a DC 13 Fortitude save or fall unconscious for 1d6 turns.
25: Digestive polymorph. Character's digestive system is permanently altered, such that he can only subsist on an unusual, unnatural diet (gold, rocks, shadows, elf-flesh, etc).
26: Allergic reaction. Roll again. Character's system has become extra sensitive to the effects of tonic. Henceforth, every dose incurs two rolls on this table.
27: Brain damage. Mixed compounds take to the character's brain, causing unconsciousness for 1d6 hours and a permanent 1d12 points of Intelligence damage.
28: Rainbow vomit. Colours, chemical formulations, geometric crystals, and chunks of decimated organs spew from the character's mouth. Dies within 1d6 turns unless some miracle intervenes.
29: Stomach disintegration. Like drinking acid. Instadeath.
30 or more: Alchemical explosion. An unfortunate mixture of esoteric compounds triggers a powerful explosion in the character's gut. Instadeath. All within 10' must make a DC 12 Reflex save or suffer 1d6 damage from the blast.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Wizardzine!: Issue #1 Spell List

Now that the OSR Superstar contest is behind me (well, the contest isn't over yet, but I've submitted my entry for the final round), I've moved back to focusing on the writing for issue 1 of Wizardzine. So far I've been concentrating mainly on the new spells which will grace its pages, and this morning I got up to a round 30, which was my goal.

To whet your taste buds, here's the list of spells which will be in this issue:
  1. Aquatic Adaptation (reversible)
  2. Boiling Sphere
  3. Call to the Deeps
  4. Castaway
  5. Conjure Land
  6. Control Buoyancy
  7. Dive
  8. Enslavement of the Drowned
  9. Erosion (reversible)
  10. Ghost Ship
  11. Hallucinatory Island
  12. Ice Sphere
  13. In the Belly of the Whale
  14. Island Hop
  15. Locate Land
  16. Luminescent Swarm
  17. Ocean’s Embrace
  18. Raise Wreck
  19. Ride the Waves
  20. Sea Lust
  21. Seasickness (reversible)
  22. Shockwave
  23. Sink Island
  24. Sirens' Call
  25. Sound the Deeps
  26. Swarm Transformation, Aquatic
  27. Tidings
  28. Transmute Liquid to Crystal (reversible)
  29. Water Walk
  30. Whale Speech

Now onto the monsters, magic items, and a description of the sorceress Ephenedrine and her domain!

Monday 21 July 2014

The Complete Vivimancer: 25% Off Sale!

The Complete Vivimancer is on sale for "Christmas in July" at RPGNow / DriveThru RPG!

25% off starting now for a week.

The PDF is now $5.24.
The PDF + print bundle is down to $12.99.

Some reviews:
Ben L. of Mazirian's Garden.
Timothy Brannan of The Other Side.
Brendan S of Necropraxis.

Click here to get it (if you've not already)!

Friday 11 July 2014

D&D 5e: The Workings of Magic

Like many other people in the RPG world, I've been reading through the new D&D Basic PDF. I might write some more detailed thoughts on it at some point, but broadly I'm discovering that there's really a lot to like about this new edition of everyone's favourite game. (Obscure as it may sound, I am totally in love with the "downtime activities" section, for example.) The only major gripe I've come across so far is, unfortunately, the wizard spellcasting system. Now, I've not played a game using these rules, so my concerns may be purely theoretical, but I find the rules of wizardly magic confusing and mishmashy -- an unholy mix of at-will, Vancian fire & forget, and spell points. Not immediately to my liking.

Chatting with some people on G+ about this, I realised that a major gripe-element for me is that I don't have a good in-game rationale for the new spellcasting system, unlike the trad Vancian approach, upon which one can read volumes, both in the D&D canon and in the _Dying Earth_ books. In comparison, the new system seems somehow groundless.

Until this morning, when the following slight twist on the Vancian approach came to me. I think this explains all of the intricacies of the 5e system:

Wizards are able to contact and control a particular type of vorpal known as dweomers (or, in common parlance, spells). These disembodied entities, which natively inhabit dimensions orthogonal to our own, exist in many forms, the most significant distinction between the types being their rank (or level). The lowliest dweomers are known as cantrips, while others are ranked from the first to the ninth level.

One peculiarity of dweomers, when compared against other vorpals, is their symbiotic relationship with the minds of mortals. A dweomer can take on a quasi physical form, manifesting as a byzantine complex of modulations in the neural structure of its host. This symbiosis comes about in one of two ways.

Firstly, a dweomer may take up permanent, cooperative residence in a magician's mind. Typically only dweomers of the lowest rank (cantrips) are open to this deep symbiosis, but very experienced magic users possess the force of mind to join with more powerful vorpals also. Once bound in this way, dweomer and magician are inseparable.

Secondly, and more commonly, a dweomer may be temporarily and forcibly bound, by the speaking of its true name. It thus remains in the magician's mind until he or she sees fit to release it. (The true names of myriad types of dweomer can be found recorded as intricate sequences of arcane characters which magicians store in their spell books.)

In both cases, the magician may arouse a resident dweomer by the performance of a series of gestures and vocalisations to which it is sympathetic. The arousal of a dweomer in this way causes the manifestation of a supernatural effect -- magic.

Two further facts bear mentioning.

The nature of the neural modulations caused by the presence of dweomers in a mortal mind is such that only a limited number of the entities may be resident at a time. The mind simply cannot handle more without permanent rupture. (Though note that, as a magician increases in power, his or her mind becomes accustomed to the presence of vorpals and is thus able to accommodate more of them.)

Dweomers which are bound by force exert a constant strain on the magician, as he or she battles to keep the vorpal in place. Every time such a dweomer is aroused, the magician's tether on it and all others which are confined lessens. If a magician were to lose complete control of a dweomer during the process of arousal, the consequences would be dire -- complete neural disintegration being the most typical fate. Thus each magician learns the delicate balance of the frequency with which he or she may arouse entrapped dweomers, using periods of rest to regain control over the volatile other-dimensional entities.

Take that, 5e magic system.

Saturday 5 July 2014

Wizardzine! #1: Ephenedrine the Sirene

Wizardzine! #1 is coming along very nicely! As I mentioned previously, the theme is oceanic and sub-aquatic magic.

I want each issue to be not just a collection of spells and magic items, though, but also to describe the magician who has created these wonders. For the first issue, the figure of "Ephenedrine the Sirene", oceanic sorceress, has crystallised. I'll be giving some more thought as to her character, history, and motives as writing for the issue continues.

As a teaser, I also wanted to share one of her spells, which I just wrote:

Sea Lust
Level: 2nd
Duration: Special
Range: 60’
Schools: Charms, Elemental water, Oceanic

The homes of men are founded on earth but their hearts are with the seas. Many a wanderer, upon his first glimpse of the ocean, is smitten with a lifelong yearning for the waves and the mysteries of the deeps.

This spell plays upon these deep-rooted instincts, awakening a lust for the ocean deeps in a person of the magic-user’s choice. Typically humans are the only race which may be affected with a sea lust but the referee may rule that other races in his campaign are susceptible to this charm. Two effects are possible, as follows.

Consort with Deep Ones: When cast at the sea’s shore at night, in the presence of denizens of the deep (merfolk, locathah, sahuagin, or other races of “deep ones”), the spell’s target enters into a state of delirious infatuation in which he or she will consort with the creatures, engaging in whatever rituals or rites of communion they may desire. This state lasts for a single night. Only vague memories of the events which transpired under the enchantment remain to the victim. Women who are victim of this magic sometimes give birth to children who bear odd marks hinting at their sea-blood heritage.

Lost Love: Alternatively, the magic-user may use this spell to abuse the heart of a lovestruck victim, inflicting them with a glamour of great potency. This usage of the spell requires the heart of the object of the victim’s love, removed from the body, whether living or dead. The heart must be thrown into the waves of the sea as the spell is cast. The victim is inflicted with the delusion that their love has gone across the seas and will do whatever is in their power to follow. The charm will thus drive the victim to a life of futile wandering and searching, forever yearning after their lost love.

In both cases, a successful saving throw versus spells negates the enchantment.