Monday, May 16, 2022

The First Eight Spells

In the beginning, all magic was natural and instinctual. The first beings who wandered the world; the ancient hyborean great ancestors to mankind, the first highest of all high elves, the lizard-men of the most ancient humid days just after the end of Primordis; whoever they be, magic came easy. It was not formula, but as per intention and imagination.

But something changed; perhaps the old bloodlines grew weaker as they were distanced from creation's womb. Perhaps logical thinking and language took over the earliest societies- and this too shaped minds from flowing with pure sensation and instinct into logical and analytical. Something given a name is forever changed by it; more reliably and knowable, but not more powerful.

The first eight spells were created by the first great sorcerer; an ancient shaman who grasped the mysteries with his boney old hands. He was killed by a jealous rival, who drank from his skull and diluted the first great mysteries as their blood mingled together. But these first eight spells are pure. Perhaps in your setting, these are the only spells that exist at all; magic can still exist outside of spells, but these spells are their own "thing" in the wider world of magic.

All of the spells below are powerful, primordial, and flexible. Any magic user or sage who wishes to learn them must embark on a vision quest and connect with the cosmos to learn them. Once learned, they can be cast whenever you wish- expending mana points/spell slots as per GM discretion to whatever end or level of power the spell is trying to achieve. There are no spell levels. The effects of these spells are spontaneous and flexible; these first spells are infinitely more restrictive then the flexible magic before words; but are still rooted strongly in the ancient past of experience over understanding.


The First Eight Spells

[1] The Creation of Flames
With this knowledge, the caster can create fire. Fire requires something to burn; wood or linen for small flames. To burn a living things requires an amount of strength and malice out of proportion with those who first crafted this discipline. While these are the first eight spells, this itself is the ancestor to all of them. This is the first spell, most simple and pure of them all.

The type and shape of the fire is determined by its maker. Originally, simply lighting a small fire to survive the night is enough. With enough focus, the fire can be created in air, shaped into a ball or blasting wall that moves forward to consume. All fire created from this magic is "real", not magic, it burns as the elemental flame. Anything it warms or cooks is as warmed or cooked as it would from a natural wildfire, lit by a strike of lightning.

Simple strikes with this spell of conjured bolts or jets of flame deal 1d6 fire damage to anyone within a stone's throw. The number of dice increases to the number of targets; a bigger conflagration is also hotter and more intense by its design. The ultimate pyromancy would be to be consumed with ones own flame; Hit Points may be added freely to the damage of your magic blast at a ratio of 1:1 for increased damage and strength.

[2] The Calling of Beings from Other Realities
To summon a being from another realm; one requires the correct portal or threshold from which to call them. To summon a creature from the depths from the sea, one must stand on the shore. To call the spirit of the dead, one must stand at the threshold of a cave or great hole in the earth; of where the dead go. More arcane beings require more arcane mediums with which to appear; a smoke black mirror or a creation and graph of numbers to commune with beings from the realm of pure logic.

The beings from other realities operate under their own morality and have their own goals; they may not answer a call. The only way to ensure they come is to have a connection; the descendant by blood of the ghost you wish to speak to. Sacrifices of blood or treasure may appease or excite one entity, while it will disgust and repel another. Once the threshold and lure have been completed; the being will come when called by its name.

As has been known since the dawn of time; to simply call something does not mean one has any control over it. Any caster of this spell can safely call upon a being of HD equal or less to the caster's own. Otherwise, you have the means to call them, but not the means to force them back from whence they came.

[3] The Guise of Invisibility
Pull over oneself a cloak. It can be seen thru in all directions; you have become invisible to the naked eye. This spell grants the gift of the night. Putting this spell on makes the caster and all they immediately carry invisible in all directions, though no other senses are yet fooled. Footsteps still crunch against the snow, and anything new that falls onto their unseen body remains visible. Leaves, paint, or water all collect on their shoulders and frame, revealing where they are.

This spell fools only the eyes; but how the eyes see varies. Those of exceptional vision may be able to see the slight ripple of dust and air around the otherwise invisible figure. Certain other methods may be able to counter the effect, such as a silvered mirror or looking through a hole in a standing stone, which are known to allow those of normal sight to see the invisible. It is not only the spellcaster who can be put under this spell however; an object or even location can be masked in this way, disappearing from sight.

The only limitation of this spell is time and number. Someone who pushes the limits may be able to cast their glamor over several people who are touching them when the spell is first cast. The spell will last a number of turns equal to the level of the caster, or a number of days for a stationary, nonliving object or place. Parts of a larger thing could also be hidden away; a single door on the side of the tower, or the caster's own hand, pretending it was cut off in a fierce battle.

[4] The Gift of False Life
Life is a gift. Living things grow and change, where as the inanimate does not. It can only act when acted upon; life and the spirit are one in the same. But what of those things with life and motion, but no soul? With this spell; the caster may imbue life within a nonliving thing. Objects given life in this way are unnatural, they move and bend as best they can, obeying only the commands of their creator. The price of false life is true life; ones own life force or the life force of a sacrifice must always been given up in exchange to give false life where there is none. Every Hit Point drained from the caster or a living sacrifice is granted to the false life of the subject of the spell; or one day of deep, true exhaustion to equal one hit point.

Larger objects take more life to animate. Animated things have stats abilities equal to what they would be if they were alive; along with the properties of their inherent material. Things more in line with a living shape, and things with material more similar to living material, are easier to animate. For this reason, the bones of a long dead person are very easy to animate into a skeletal servant. Random familiar objects; tomes which scramble their own letters and broomsticks that fly, can be animate for a larger cost, but may remain animate forever as long as they aren't destroyed.

It should be written here that using the life force of an animal, plants, or a living person as a sacrifice is one method of powering this ancient magic. But be warned; those who go unwillingly into the item will make the item also unwilling; a glowering hatred forms when one steals a life to create their own, trapping it into a prison for their own purposes.

[5] The Journeying between Distant Places
Before any map was drawn, places where only known by their direction and the landmarks that led there. To the north was snow and ice, far beyond the mountains of the spine. For one to reach a distant place in a moment, this spell was created.

This spell allows the caster to travel alone or with a group and everything they carry along a distant horizon. Perhaps a small trip of a day's worth of travel would allow a whole army to travel in an instant with a powerful magician, but any farther or faster and the spell will only take a small handful of people along with the magician.

However, as with the ancient people's knowledge of the world, the caster can only travel to places they have knowledge of. They must either have been there before, or know it well enough for some other means for them to create a pathway that allows for the instant transmission of their bodies.

[6] The Swaying of Lesser Intelligences
The ability to control minds. To magically enhance ones words and actions to impress your will on a lesser will. This power works on living beings, such as animals, as well as other people. Supernatural beings, who may have lived for eternities and whose minds are alien to your own, are naturally immune to this spell; and require more spiritual methods of binding.

The caster's own intellect is used as the fulcrum for this spell. As long as they are smarter and have a higher Intelligence then the target's own Wisdom, they can sway their mind and point of view towards the caster's own. For each point higher, the caster can slightly bend their opinion, emotion, or mind towards doing what the caster wishes them to do.

The power to sway is a great one, but is limited by time and place. One of the most ancient magics is speech; the ability to take a sound or thing and put it into words. When separated and with enough time passing, the swaying wears away, and those tricked by this spell are seldom to risk getting tricked again. To stuff ones ears full of cotton may be the second ever conceived counter to magic; with the first being to simply not anger the mage in the first place.

[7] The Foretelling of Future Events
Telling the future and divining the fate of men is one of the first magical powers the first mage sought. From telling the weather to knowing the eventual destiny of any living thing; the signs of what has already been decided are present everywhere is one has the skill and nerve to look.

The future is always divined with a tool and a method. Rolling the bones, examining the entrails of birds, or the study of a fire when a question is asked. Even if you know how to cast this spell; the skill of divining the future properly is a discipline all on its own.

In game terms; prophecy is hard. For each "thing" you want to learn from this spell, a keyword is locked to a Hunch roll. (Hunch Roll = roll a d20 and save the number for later). You can use these hunch rolls in place of your own rolls, or the rolls of another being as long as the keyword is relevant to the roll.

[8] The Sealing and Binding of Ancient Forces
Even the first men, greater then we, and the first magician, stronger then all other men, did not stand alone in the world. Greater beings existing since before time began, beings beyond mortal comprehension or reach. The ability to lock away such horrors, or bid their attention, was one of the first wishes of mankind. This spell helps bind and control magical creatures. Devils, Fae, Angels, Spirits of Nature, and all other souls and beings not tied that are beyond the mortal realm. It can either seal these spirits away in an object or place (preventing them from manifesting) or bind them to the control of the spellcaster. The former is far more reliable then the latter, but both require great skill and magical might to accomplish.

To Seal an Ancient Force away, one must prepare a vessel whose ritual adornments or material is equal to 500c per HD of the spirit. Then, the spirit must be called or confronted, and trapped within; the sorcerer needing to be defended and survive as the spirit fights back against its enslavement. To Bind an Ancient Force, one must call or confront the spirit, and make it an offer that it accepts.

Even the first ancient men knew how dangerous the primordial forces of nature and the spirit were to them; and even though it was the last of the first spells, its power is still revered even to this day.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Whale People & Their Magical Hotsprings

In the frozen cold north, the people who live there are whales. Big, bipedal whale people. They can hold their breath for a long time, and are excellent in the cold, but are big and fat and clumsy on land as anyone would imagine a whale to be.

The Monads are whale people. They look like Belugas or Narwhals. They live in tribes with semi-permanent fishing grounds. You can't grow anything up here, so they survive pretty much just on fish. No wood, so they just use bones and metal for everything. But to supplement their health- they have their magical hotsprings. Also, some of them are magic. You can play as one if you want.

Monads
Base AC- 11
You are large sized.

  • Generate Strength & Constitution as 2d8+1d6
  • Generate Dexterity as 2d6
  • Generate all other stats as normal
  • You are Resistant to Cold. (Take half damage from cold attacks or spells)
  • You can hold your breath for two exploration turns (20 minutes)
  • When you reach 3rd level, you have a 1 in 6 chance to grow a Horn. The Horn grows out of your head, and can be used as a Holy Symbol. You don't get anything if you don't grow a horn, but hey, at least you can fit through normal people doorways without craning your neck and can wear hats.

Monad Culture
Highly nomadic and sociable, the Monads live in loose groups and fit in well in almost any culture, including human and other foreign races. They can be found in almost any port town or sleazy pirate haven. Even an inexperienced Monad is likely to get hired if just for their size and strength- and not to mention their inherent abilities in the water.

Monads tend to gyrate between extremes; they want all the physical comforts and luxury in the world and to be surrounded by company in one moment, and in the next, crave solitude in a very cold or very barren place, as though to test their own limits. Part of this spiritual desire for hardship and self growth may be the result of their magical horn. Monads subjected to many life experiences may end up falling more towards the side of spirituality, and grow a horn.

The horn is a symbol of potency and wisdom among the Monads. It is their witch-mark, though for the whale people, it is a purely positive connotation. Because the horn is only in a small number of their population and it has an inherent use as a Holy Symbol, those with it are often promoted to higher ranks among their society- usually mystics or priests to keep watch over the dead.

Of course, those with horns are free to be adventurers if they so chose. But one should know that a Monad's horn makes for a very fetching prize in many kingdoms as a magical material or aphrodisiac. As such, Monads with horns are more distrusting of outsiders- else they get harvested for their ivory.

Magical Hotsprings
The Monads live in the north. While many camps and places there are within glaciers and ever-frozen ice flows, some of the places there are sparse, green covered arctic lands. While the land and water is cold, the space between the earth may be very hot; the energy underneath the earth churning magma or gas. Upwards it rises to create geysers, pits of burning tar, and more comfortable hot springs.

The Monads use these hot springs as gathering places and holy sites. As they are more comfortable in the water then on the land, these are their "thrones" to where the most comfortable among them may sit. Most homes are built over a hot spring or pool. But deepest inland and most secretive of them all are the magical hot springs; water from the earth enchanted with ancient magic that gives its waters a unique property.

These hotsprings have magical potency when drank or spilled over the body. However, the magic of the hotsprings loses its potency as it cools- only a fraction of it remains once removed from the pool. Due to the difficulty and cost of traveling rapidly depreciating liquids; little industry exists around these hotsprings except for the adventurers within the local area. As long as one has not offended the head-horn around these parts; a quick dip for a guest is never out of the question.

Each tribe of Monads will have one magic hotspring- roll on the table to find out what it does. The "Hot" Effect happens only if the water is still warm from the spring itself; one turn if you soak in it and get out, one hour if carried in a waterflask, and a constant effect if you're in the spring. The "Cool" effect is what the water does once cooled off- has unlimited shelf life.

Magic Hotspring Table - Roll 1d6
[1] Toughness Spring
Hot Effect:
AC of 16 to all wet.
Cool Effect: Adds +1 AC for one combat encounter (turn) if dumped on a person, protects wood or cloth equipment if soaked from a single Destruction effect or until dried.

[2] Sidhe Spring
Hot Effect:
Charm Effect (to anyone not in the Spring)
Cool Effect: Adds +1 Charisma modifier for one roll if mixed in with makeup- usually lasts about a day until it is sweat away or cleaned off.

[3] Healing Spring
Hot Effect:
Restores +1 Hit Points per Hour Soaked
Cool Effect: Can heal a minor wound (stubbed toe, cat scratch, etc) that it is poured on. If you drank a barrel of this it would act like a minor health potion.

[4] Cleansing Spring
Hot Effect:
Reverses 1 Day worth of disease progression per day soaked. Curses are put on hold if you bathe here at least one hour per day.
Cool Effect: Can be splashed on one undead creature; creature is Turned for 1d4 rounds.

[5] Arcane Spring
Hot Effect:
Allows the Magic User to prepare a spell one spell level higher then their highest possible. This spell is prepared for up to 1d6 hours after leaving the Spring.
Cool Effect: Drink a beer stein's worth to recover a 1st level spell.

[6] Prophetic Spring
Hot Effect:
Advanced knowledge of who will appear before the spring to whoever is sitting within. Can see the next result on an Encounter table.
Cool Effect: Adds +1 or -1 to your next roll, declared before you make it.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Dimension of White Castles & Black Forests


This world has no color. Everything you see is black, white, or a shade of gray. This is the people and the places. The people here know what color is; they can see it, though they can't easily describe it. The animals react very strongly to color- sneaking is almost impossible for any being not monochrome, or at least dressed in very muted tones- even the soft pinks and browns of human flesh is like a ultra-saturated glowing neon to the beings so used to the colorless expanse.

The sky is always overcast during the day, though at night it gets very black. Shadows are long. The clouds and mists are white. This land is an endless array of forests and hills, mountains which can be climbed and over it; yet another forest and more hills.

To enter this world requires magic, or to find a time and place in your world where the sky and earth are so gray, so washed out and the fog is so thick there appears to be no separation of any. If you walk on without thought of where you are going, you will arrive here on a 1 in 6 chance. Getting back is much more difficult.

Everything here grows like a plant- including the people. The only civilization in this place are the great walled fortresses, which grow from small stone huts or single standing towers, mushroom out, and grow organically to fit new spinnerets and chambers over hundreds of years. The residents of these fortresses bud from them spontaneously; also growing the same way. They begin as tiny gnomes or pixies; a librarian as big as your thumb in the newly grown library ward, born into their job and position- no childhood or marriages make these people who they are, they just are as they were made. Eventually, they grow to a near human size, but will always be distinct from their black and white features and alien personas. Near the end of their lives, the people grow huge and gnarled like an old tree; a giant philosopher-king sitting on his throne, knees taking up most of the space in the great hall. The woodsman on the hunt for the big bad wolf, white bearded, his head peaking over the endless pine. Eventually, when they die, they will fuse back into the earth, once again returned to the cycle of the Strange and Eternal.

The White Woads
These are the tended, game-filled wood around the castles. They are their own simple ecosystem- all white deer and all black wolves, little gray riding hood walks through the trees to pick flowers while a big gray wolfman watches from the bushes. All white fish promise you knowledge if you put them back when you hook them out of a river filled with black stones.

Occasionally, the nobles and huntsmen of the white castles go out into these woods. They hunt gray foxes that dart through the underbrush under the snapping jowls of dogs- every color of the monochrome rainbow. Whenever you explore these lands, you are bound to run into somebody or something mildly friendly, but unmovable from their task. These places are mostly safe; perhaps even safer then inside the organic walls of the great growing castle.

The weather switches between bright summer day (white) and stormy (gray)- to finally night (very black). There are no seasons, though the people of this realm will babble on about how its a good season for their crops- when there are no seasons and there are no crops. "Everyone knows the fisher boy goes by the river during a nice summer's day!" meanwhile, everyone is still wearing their cloaks and coats.

The people here only live in stone places; and only stone places are civilization. If you were to chop down some trees and build a house, they wouldn't recognize it. They would think of it is a very strange tree. Even the witch on the outskirts of the castles who knows spells and lures children to be eaten still lives in a little stone house.

All the animals here can talk. Farm animals tell rumors, birds curse you if you disturb their nests, and wolves will let you go if you give them something bright red- inherently attracted to the color of blood despite the blood of everything here being a slick silver. The most dangerous are probably the wolves. Occasionally, you might find a stone bridge that gives birth to a big troll who demands payment to cross; but he's pretty easy to trick.

Gray Witch (3+2 HD, +1 AC, 1d4+1 gnarled cane, casts Spells)
Morale- 8
Numbers- One or Two (Sisters)

Magical old woman. Relatively friendly, but primarily eats children to survive. Will settle for a gnome or halfling- even a dwarf if its a lean season. She'll invite you into her home if you have a positive or neutral reaction check- and there will be a 1 in 3 chance she's got a kid in a cage waiting to be tonight's supper. Any implication that you disagree with this or will try to free the child and the spells will start flying. It's nothing personal, that's just her role.

When killed, the speckled witch will have a collection of runes and odd trinkets that could teach a magic user a random Black or White spell; rolled below.

Black & White Spells
Roll 1d3 for a Black Spell
Roll 1d3+3 for a White Spell
Roll 1d2+2 for a Gray Spell
Roll 1d6 for a totally random colorless Spell.

[1] Great Black Beast
Summons forth a great riding beast- the size of an elephant. Its woolly body is pitch black and is moves almost noiselessly. There is no better transport for moving over huge distances in the dead of the night. Whoever rides the beast may bid it to march or charge- this creature has no tusks or trunk but can be a formidable siege weapon. It takes 1 damage per candle size light source every round that is nearby it- and it dies instantly in the sunlight. Even starlight will make it weak and eventually cause it to collapse 1d3 hours after it is produced. Only during an eclipse or in the pitch black night will this monster survive longer.

[2] Panther Straps
Dark leather straps burst from the object in question and fashion strongly to whoever wields it next. They are fit so tightly that any object bound with these is immune to being disarmed or knocked off even from the effects of a Loose spell or other magical effect. They cannot be stolen free by imps or other little thievish creatures. Poorly fitting armor is strapped well; granting up to +1 AC from the armor if their body could not make full use of it before.

This straps can be cut by metal over the course of an exploration turn, but are otherwise permanent. If used on an object that is burning hot or lined with spikes, makes an effective trap that is a pain to remove. Add an exploration turn to the time to doff any armor equipped by use of this spell.

[3] Beetleskin
Gives any object a shield of shiny, dark gray carapace. The carapace-shield levitates just an inch off of the object; absorbing all attacks coming from a single direction decided when the spell is cast. The carapace has 14 AC and caster level in hit points before it is destroyed.

[4] Powdered Silver
Conjures a light handful of light silvery metal powder. This dust has the same properties as silver does; weapons given a coat of it harm werewolves, for example. Circles drawn of the silver will be antimagical in nature. Cursed items shriek when dusted by this; and it can be used as a holy symbol of a pinch is thrown at an undead creature or vampire.

The dust is very lightweight, and as such blows away easily in the air. It has a 1 in 10 chance of being blown away every round when outdoors; with an instant loss if the weather is bad. Indoors it can remain more stable, but will blow away if a door is opened nearby or if the party moves past at anything but a snails pace in walking speed.

[5] Healer's Smock
Garbs the caster and up to two others in white aprons, masks, and gloves. These clean pieces of clothing are barriers to disease and sickness; and miasma breaks upon their touch. While performing first aid or healing, you restore +2 more hit points per healing item or procedure used. Diseases are beaten back by one extra day's worth of progression. While this provides no help at curing or ending curses; anyone dressed in such clean and pure garments will be immune to catching them themselves, even if the disease is highly transmutable.

Every time you use this smock or heal someone, it becomes slightly less pure, slowly changing its color from white, to off white, to silver, to gray. After healing or defending oneself against disease 5 times, the protection of these clean garments are lost and they will rapidly degrade into black matted rags.

[6] Angel Switch
This spell must be cast on an all white twig. Common in this Dimension, hard to get anywhere else. The twig is imbued with holy energy, dealing 1d4+1 damage to undead and being able to be used as a holy symbol. The switch remains sanctified in this manner until the switch is stained with blood- or in other words, you strike a living thing too hard.

The switch has a second property. If used to spank an intelligent being, the switch causes them great pain and forces them to make a save or tell the truth on one question being asked. The switch snaps and has no power against someone who is already aligned with Good or Order.


The Living Castles
The castles here are alive. These fortresses grow on their own and spit out civilization, like spores, or perhaps a defense mechanism. It is an upright dungeon. They are also played like dungeons.

Despite being the "civilization" of this world, they are by no means any safer then the gentle wilderness outside- far from it. Interior chambers of the castle sometimes trap beings or rooms that are meant to be connected to the outside- a giant princess wishing so badly to see the outside world again- her towers windows encased in the stone of the rest of the castle- she will lash out at anyone who dares enter this chamber. Not all of the people in this place are friendly; while there are those formed as the King and Wizard, some are created in the guise of the Executioner or Highwayman. The newly borns may be small; a tiny rat-sized hooded man with a proportionally "giant axe"- deals 1d2 damage, but eventually they will grow up and become huge, their minds more twisted with age as they yearn to be returned to the soil.

Everyone in the castle is a medieval stereotype. Think of fairy tales, or Shrek, and that's generally what the people there should follow. They don't have names- only titles. The thought of needing that much differentiation between two individuals is pointless; after all, people only are what they do. Kings are noble, Queens are pretty but schemers. Princesses are naive and lovely in all way, Princes are charming and adventurous. To give one of them a name is received as a secret treasure- held close their chest. "This is my name? Just for me?" They cannot think of or even imagine names, only the intruders from other worlds and realms have that power. Some will trade their goods or services for a strong name. Others will call the guards on you for trying to cast a witchcraft on them.

The people and places here are intentionally anachronistic. The castles feel more like Hollywood movie sets, or a Disney film, then an actual medieval castle. They are always made of undressed stone with some tapestries hung around. There may be a garden in a courtyard or a tiny plot of cabbages outside the front gate, and peasants leading around donkeys with ropes, but there's no farming economy. It's nowhere near enough food to support this population; the castle provides for these people. Storerooms that open in its interior are already full of food. There are no hovels and villages for the serfs; they just sleep on the stone floor of the great hall or in a side passage. "Where else would peasants sleep?"

The castles reproduce via budding. They always begin as a small structure of a different purpose- a lonely wizard tower, a stone circle or monument for fairytale creatures to congregate, or a tiny gatehouse. They are always made of stone though- the forests here are untouched. The treasure trove of white and black lumber is only of interest to a single "character" that these castles spawn- the Woodsman or Lumberjack. He's the one that is most "awake" to reality, the one most distant and aware of the world outside of the fairy tale fiction of the castle- he's the one who knows most about the forest and its creatures. Only by his axe is the forest held back from consuming the great white castles. He is a part of this process too- he is the clear cutter that opens up space for the castle to grow. He's an evolutionary measure- he destroys the competition and opens up the ground for this kind of arcane "flora" to expand- but he's most aware of his place in the cycle.

The Black Forests
Far away from the growing castles are the wastelands- the Black Forests. The trees here are darker, with deeper shadows and shade. You will need a torch to wander these woodlands- even during a dreary overcast day. Wood from your world burns red and yellow, wood from here burns a very pure titanium white. Both attract the eyes from the lurkers in the dark places.

The Black Forests are more cruel then the White Woads. There is still a fairytale logic, but this is where the rules are more Grimm. Human wanderers, monochrome as they are, are replaced with little men with unpronounceable names and weird hybrids of various animals. This is the other side of this realm's ecological coin. The landscape itself is more chaotic; drawn from a primordial state of being. And in the darkest forests you can find the ruins of what was once a White Castle- a Black Ruin.

The Black Ruin was once a shining White Castle- still organic in shape, but now decayed. Just as a classic dungeon, it crawls with monsters, traps, and strange beings. The stone itself has changed color- it is not merely a trick of shadow, but the dead castle stones literally turn black when dead for so long, creating a shadowy spot of darkness in the world. The old bones of the residents of one of the white castles remain here- wishing only the castle remain strong.

The only people who live around these are criminals, vagrants- negative stereotypes. Even the witches of the White Woads go by a series of logical steps- they can be tricked by clever young boys and impressed by brave little girls. In a Black Ruin, there are thieves and tomb robbers, monochrome black and gray, who have never actually stolen anything, but yet rely on it as their career of "choice". You can hire some of these to be your retainers if you wish; though their loyalty and personalities will remain as thin as the shadows on the wall.

Black Knight (7+1 HD, +6 AC from Armor, +4 To-Hit, 1d8+2 Midnight Broadsword, Magic Shield, Unyielding Strength)
Morale- 13
Number- Just One

Honor bound black knight. Always fighting for some promise- nobody shall cross this bridge, or nobody will touch the sacred tree's treasure, and so on. Upon the final hit that would kill the knight- the Knight gets one final attack in revenge to anyone in melee which deals +2 To-Hit and Damage. This Black Knight will always be carrying or guarding an Achromatic Treasure- roll 1d4+4 on the table below.

Treasure Table
Roll a 1d4 for treasures found in the White Woads
Roll a 1d8 for treasures found in a White Castle
Roll a 1d4+8 for treasures found in a Black Ruin
Roll a 1d12 for a treasure found in a Black Forest OR for a totally random Treasure.

[1] Silver mushroom. Cures blindness.
[2] Chalk dew. Can be drank to recover +1 Hit Point or be used as paint thinner.
[3] Little Fairy, trapped in a jar. If you let her out she'll cast a 1st level magic spell for you.
[4] Milk Spiderweb. If you sew this into a garment you can repair it as per the spell Mending, or you can spin it into a bowstring which will make the bow +1.
[5] Mesa Dust. Can be sprinkled over a horse or donkey and it will find its way back home.
[6] Little Eagle Carving. Worth sentimental value to a villager living in a castle; equal to a favor.
[7] Black and White Portrait of a Noble. Worth novel value to someone outside of this realm.
[8] Vantablack Handkerchief. Wizard can use this to cast Darkness, once per day, or you can burn it to cast a bright-white flash which blinds creatures with Darkvision for 1d4 rounds.
[9] Fortress Enchantment. Magical force in the air that rolls for a random encounter if you speak above a whisper in this area. Its just a sullen wooden plaque that says "Quiet Please!"
[10] Ashen Ring of Might. Grants +1 to your Strength modifier each day you wear it. After four days, it becomes stuck on your finger and would need to be amputated. If you reach 23 Strength with this, your heart bursts in your chest and you die.
[11] Pale Ring of Wisdom. Grants +1 to your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma each day, until all three are at least at a +1 Modifier. If you take off the ring, you instantly lose these stats.
[12] Silvered Golden Cache. Chest of off-white metal that is this realm's gold. Worth quite a lot to a scholar, worth quite a lot more to a banker. Like 30,000c worth.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

12 Reasons why you need to hit the Quest Giver with the magic weapon you just recovered


[1]
They believe a strong elemental or magical strike will reset their body's flow of energy and help cure them of a malady. There is a 50/50 chance this is true and it actually works!

[2] It hit in the right time and in the right way, will put them in a 'death like state' that they can be woken up from with a special process. They will use this to fake their own death to (1d6);

  1. Get away from the nagging wife and kids. They'll come back in a couple weeks.
  2. See how people get along when they're gone and see if anyone even cares
  3. Tax benefits- They're about to come into some wealth- best to collect when deceased.
  4. Become a martyr for a religion they aren't really super serious about following
  5. See what's on the other side
  6. Avoid an assassin or bounty hunter trying to kill them for real. (This one is stolen from Oblivion)

[3] The weapon is cursed and fated to take the life of their whole bloodline. If they can get you to hit them with a healer nearby or make sure you do it softly, eventually it will do enough points of damage to kill them all- but survivable. That will wiggle out of the curse on a loophole, right?

[4] The weapon's magic effects actually grants a boon to anyone who "is struck by this weapon and lives to tell the tale". Having a nice, safe way to get that benefit is worth the trouble- just don't let any of your enemies live after getting hit by this!

[5] The quest giver has magic blood which actually extinguishes magic items. They don't think anyone should have this one; even if you kill them afterwards for lying to you you'll still just have a normal hunk of metal instead of some earth shattering cool magic sword. It's for the best.

[6] They're writing a novel and really want to understand what a +2 Vorpal Flaming Mace of Shattering feels like for their character. They need that authenticity.

[7] They're a Cleric or a Whitemage and need to test out a new healing spell.

[8] They're an Alchemist and prepared a secret "blade lotion" to protect themselves against this weapon and want you to hit them in public to advertise it. 1 in 4 chance the lotion doesn't work.

[9] The blood or wound from the blow will make a cool portal that leads to a demon's realm- the same demon who has been haunting them. They didn't tell you this to begin with; because now if you don't go into that portal and kill that demon it will get out and attack everybody.

[10] Need to talk to an deceased ancestor whose soul is trapped in the blade or in an afterlife where only people killed with X weapon go to. As for how to get back? They didn't think that far ahead.

[11] Made a stupid bet with another blowhard they know on who is tougher. This magic item is +1 stronger then the one their rival already survived getting hit with.

[12] They're honestly just straight up done with life.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Vagueposting- Static Module & Creature Designs is a Feature not a Bug + Party Size Dynamics

Something I've been thinking about recently is the differences between video games and tabletop games, especially in the design or and mechanics behind how the game works with a plurality of players in a single instance, party, or map.

In most co-op video games where the co-op is optional or drop-in and drop-out, the challenge of the game's enemies tend to scale up in damage and/or health in proportion to the number of players currently playing the game. There are exceptions to this; in games where multiplayer is expected or even required, such as an old school MMO, enemies do not scale on purpose as to make grouping up encouraged. Did this concept come around from tabletop games?

Art @Stephen Andrade
Even now, tabletop games are a very social and "word of mouth" hobby. Despite what some believe may believe even with the explosion of "geek chic" in popular culture, very very few people actually play tabletop games even after things like Critical Role and a wider audience. It is still a microhobby- and of those few, almost everyone who does does so because they had a friend that did first, or began a group to play with their friend circle who was interested. It has been this way since tabletop gaming's inception; I would struggle to think of any hobby more social then tabletop gaming.

Notice that in pretty much every monster manual, adventurer module, blogpost, etc. everything is almost always static. In other words, an orc will always have 2 HD of health; the game is not written to "scale" this enemy up or down with the players level or more importantly the number of players.

Now obviously there are practical reasons why this is- why create such bloated rules or math for something so inconsequential? If the DM has a group with only one or two player characters, they could just artificially lower the number of monsters, or grant magic items for a powerful one-shot kind of experience that patches over this issue. No author or publisher is going to want to waste all that space in books for something so fiddly and situational.

I want to make it clear that I am way too young to have been around for the oldschool D&D days. I am not a classic grog playing with Gygax or Anderson. This is 100% conjuncture; but I get the feeling that classic D&D groups may have, at least subconsciously, allowed for more players leading to more power for the purposes of boosting game recruitment.

Once again, let me stress that I know this isn't some genius level marketing tactic done on purpose by old TSR back in the day; those creators were very focused on a totally different kind of game experience then modern OSR games- group dynamics were different. Tabletop roleplaying today tends to focus on smaller numbers of individually controlled characters, where as in the past characters often controlled small armies or squads of units. I don't want to pretend that I know otherwise. But I have a strong feeling that the intentional or unintentional reluctance to change the fantasy space to accommodate the players, both in terms of "dumbing down" for new players or weakening monsters or challenges for small or unprepared groups acts as a strong motivator for game recruitment.

Think about it- a party with five characters will always be inherently stronger then a party of four; even if that last character is weak, like a first level wizard or a poorly rolled character, they are still providing more damage, more carrying capacity, more resources and/or skills in game terms, and another player to bounce ideas off of. Having the game be a "player vs DM" arena with a harsh and challenging world really encourages people to have a strong party- and in this case, more players directly correlate to more strength. It's the classic throwaway line in D&D adjacent media, or nostalgia bait movies and TV shows- "oh you gotta show up for the game this Friday, we're going to fight a cave troll!" or something to that effect often comes up. I wonder how true it really was; either back in the day and now.

As a bonus; how does party size affect the game? These are just my observations when I run games; and may not at all apply to your experiences.

Big Parties

  • More Powerful (obviously)
  • Individuals are less important / mistakes are punished less as there is a "safety net"
  • Generally slower and less stealthy
  • More "risk averse" (more people to get browbeaten by)
  • More mechanically oriented / requires Caller moreso

Small Parties

  • More individually engaging
  • Characters are more developed
  • Higher camaraderie / victories more earned
  • Has more "Epic moments" (individual actions are more impactful)
  • More roleplaying oriented

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

10 Camp Spells

I write too many combat spells. Here's some non-combat spells.


10 Camp Spells
[1]
Water Reversal
This spell takes an amount of water equal to a large cooking pot or less and "reverses" its heat and temperature, from cool to boiling. Boiling water becomes cool and and can be drank instantly after being purified for instance, cool water becomes boiling to speed up cooking. This spell works best on a large amount of water in one place; if the spell is used on a puddle of water it will hit a few cubic feet, if used against water splashed on someone's skin it will only be able to hit a few droplets; roughly equal to a handprint in size.

[2] Many-Colored Pool
This spell is used in a body of water. It requires touch to use, and is often used by those relaxing in a hot spring or those within a noble's pool. From the caster's hand comes bright and colorful lights which fill the water with it. While this spell can be used for entertainment purposes, it can also be used to light up dark pools of water or to more safely swim at night; granting it a use for exploration.

[3] Queue Spell
This spell magically creates slips of paper, marked sticks, or some other form of item that denotes number. When handed out to people, grants a number. If the slip of paper is ripped up, stolen, or altered it will revert to whatever number the person should have, making skipping in line impossible. If a person with a number dies or is disjointed from the plane, everyone with a number above theirs automatically skips down a number. The mage can also "clear" someone with a number to remove them once whatever they were doing is done, letting everyone know how many more people are ahead of them in line by their number.

This spell is used by wizards at busy markets, in fairs, and even more clever uses like long distance communication. However, it was originally created by healing mages to hand out from the hospital tent in army camps after grievous battles- that way, the many who died before being seen wouldn't need to be searched for when a bed opened up.

[4] Cleaning Solution
Squirts a thimble of acidic fluid from the tip of your finger. After a few seconds, it puffs up into a froth that can be washed away with water, making it perfect for cleaning pots, pants, as well as removing rust in small amounts from weapons and armor. The acidic isn't strong enough to hurt living things except cause a little skin irritation. If you squirt this into someone's eyes I guess it can do one damage MAYBE.

[5] The Clean Smelling Pants
Due to a quirk of this spell's arcane formula; it can only be cast on a pair of pants. If you don't plan ahead, somebody is going to go around in there breaches to use this spell. If you're playing in a Greek or Roman fantasy world, these may be harder to get then you think.

This spell is cast on a pair of pants and strung up on a tree or pole- similar to a flag. The pants make everything in the area smell fresh, clean, and blows away foul vapors or miasmas. Has the strength to cover one campsite or a decent sized cavernous chamber- extremely useful while traveling through the blightlands, horrible abandoned battlefields, or the toxic swamps. This spell also has the knock on effect of covering your party's own scent and animals in the area, but clever creatures may realize that a lack of smelliness from nature is a hint that you passed through this area.

[6] Good Times Spell
Makes clothes and costumes more colorful, adds bangles to your bracelets and rings, fills the air with the scent of wine, and makes music carry and cheerful. In practice, this is a wide-scope illusion spell that increases the atmosphere of any party or celebration; everyone here is guaranteed to have a good time.

Any sufficiently neutral creatures who like to party (satyrs, goblins, etc) are treated as though under the effects of the Charm spell for up to two weeks after this spell is cast and they participate. This isn't a magical compulsion, they're just thankful for the good time and consider you a friend.

[7] Sala
Salt is extremely useful for many things, like cooking, cleaning, preserving food, making magical circles, banishing ghosts, and killing slimes, so it makes sense somebody made a spell to create it. But salt is a magical material, so you can't just make it from nothing- So this spell creates a small handful of salt by drawing it out of your body.

At the first casting per adventure, does nothing.
At the second casting, deals 1d4 nonlethal damage to yourself.
At the third casting, deals 1d4 more nonlethal damage and you take the same in damage to Dexterity.
At the fourth casting, deals 1d6 nonlethal damage hit points + Dex, and you have a 1 in 6 chance to throw up when you're sneaking around (later), alerting enemies to your presence.
At the fifth casting, deals 1d10 damage to yourself and pass out. If you drop to 0 or less, you slip into a coma and will die without some serious help.
Any more castings and you just die.

[8] Faithful Cat
Like the Faithful Hound, but a kitty instead. It can't fight or warn you of intruders, instead it just kills rats. When you wake up in the morning, they'll be a pile of 1d6 mice or other small pests by your bedroll.

This spell is a bit of a cheat; because you probably could actually use it in combat if you really needed to. Then again, I think if you summoned a regular cat  in front of a giant hoard of flesh eating rats it would probably just run away.

[9] Light Weight Heavy Weight
This spell can be cast on any item that could fit in a backpack, sack, or satchel. The item in question automatically rises to the top or bottom of the sack over time; from being jostled around during a hike or carried on horseback, etc. Using the "heavy" version of the spell will make an item sink to the bottom, making it harder to find by a guard's search or using a "light" version of the spell will make something useful rise to the top consistently so you can pull something important out of your pack whenever you need it.

Does this work on bottomless bags? Yes. Just be careful about casting "heavy" weight on something in there, as you won't be getting it back.

[10] Animal Decoys
This spell can only be cast on animals. Animals of every size can be used for this spell; but the effects might be a little wonky if you're casting it on rats or elephants and stuff. If you can get a dog to ride on the back of a horse you could totally cast this on a caravan group as well; but not on animals pulling wagons or actually doing anything useful; just ones standing around.

Every animal in your camp or entourage is magically gifted clothes, stilts, wigs, and other such adornments from thin air which creates the illusion of them being a person. From a distance, every animal will appear as one "person" to scouting enemies or thieves. This means your tiny adventuring party of like 6 people could appear as a huge patrol of like 20 soldiers but its really just dogs and mules in wigs and stuff like that.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Hand-Face-Hand Guard Generator


Every Hand-Face-Hand starts with;

  • TWO Hands (4 HD)
  • ONE Face (8 HD)
  • AC equal to its material
  • No Morale (Never Routs)
  • Cannot move
  • Each round- ONE Hand can act, and the Face acts. Then the other Hand acts next round. If you need more specific speed values- assume the hands are as slow as a golem.
  • If a Hand is defeated; the Face loses half of its remaining hit points. The other hand still only acts once every other round.
  • If the Face is defeated; both hands become inanimate and are defeated.
  • One Special Hand Attack. Either hand may use it on their move.
  • Alignment of True Neutral

Material Table - Roll 1d6
[1] Flesh (AC 10, +1 Initiative) Stapled or stitched. Or is this massive creature alive?
[2] Skeletal (AC 12, Undead, Can Turn on a hand to stun it or release grip) Bone hands of a giant.
[3] Stone (AC 18, Weak to Cold) Block, inorganic shape- its made of bricks.
[4] Metal (AC 16, Weak to Lightning) Giant animated armor; or a clockwork automaton.
[5] Wood (AC 14, Weak to Fire) Carved wooden pieces; took a shipwright to make this.
[6] Djinn Skin (AC 12, Gains 50% Resistance to one Element, Eye Blasts deal 1d8 damage of this element) Has a color matching its element; Red skin for Fire, White for Ice, Blue for Lightning; etc.

Face Table - Roll 1d6
[1] Darkness (+1 AC) Empty hole- or the eyes and lips float on a black smokey mass.
[2] Serene Mask (+25% Magic Resistance) Placid features while it crushes you in its grip.
[3] Giant Crystal (Casts Spells as though one Caster-Level Higher) Glows with energy.
[4] Animal Head (Hands have +1 to Hit and Damage) Is it an idol to a long lost god?
[5] Big Eyeball (Sees Invisible, Cannot be Surprised, Face takes double damage when hit directly) Looks angry and scary but it's really just a big dumb weakpoint.
[6] Gibbering Mouth (Both hands get different Special Hand Attack- roll once for each hand. If you cannot escape a hand's Grip after one round- will bring you to the mouth and bite in a save vs death) It chews that air and flicks its tongue crazily, but says nothing.

Special Hand Attack Table - Roll 1d8
[1] Morph (Turns Hand into Giant Weapon, deals 1d10 damage) Hand into hammer, axe, or sword.
[2] Got-Your-Nose (Silences one party member- cannot cast spells) Holds their voice for one round.
[3] Rocket Fist (As Punch, but holds until next round. Deals 1d12 damage) Shakes as it charges.
[4] Snap (Random character must save or take 2d6+2 Damage) Something tears within from the echoing snap- immune if you're deaf. Powerful Gestural Magic.
[5] Spider (Hand "runs" around the arena on fingers, knocking people prone and dealing 1d4 damage) Skitters on fingers like a giant spider- this move happens once more when the Hand is defeated.
[6] Power Palm (Save or be pushed back along a straight line) Creates a ghostly hand that pushes you along like a forcewall. Add spikes along the wall or a pit around the edge of arena for more "fun".
[7] Finger Gun (As Magic Missile) Might be a little on the nose for a fantasy setting; if you don't like the idea of "Finger Guns" being taken seriously, just make it a finger of death style point instead.
[8] Rock-Paper-Scissors Duel (Play RoShamBo with the DM. If you lose, hand gets a free hit against you, otherwise you get a free hit against this hand) Playful.

Combat Rules
The Hand-Face-Hand is an immobile guardian meant to protect one room, doorway, or important item. The Face hovers above a platform / or is suspended by a large upper torso and is out of reach of melee weapons except for spears, polearms, whips, etc. Any "Attack" uses an attack roll to hit, otherwise a "Move" just happens.

Hand Actions - Roll 1d6
[1] Slap - Attacks two or three targets in a row. On hit, deals 1d6 damage and knock victims prone.
[2] Punch - Attack. On a hit, deals 1d8 damage and knocks the victim back (and prone).
[3] Special Hand Attack - (See above)
[4] Block - Move. Raises a palm to block incoming ranged attacks and spells for the face. They damage the hand instead, using its AC and damage resistance values.
[5] Grip - Move. Save or be gripped by the hand. If you are grabbed, you are squeezed for 1d10 damage each round until the hand takes at least 10 damage to release you. Supernaturally strong characters (+3 Strength) can roll to break free. Prone characters are immune.
[6] Slam - Move. Hovers a balled fist over someone, then slams down. If you're standing you can just move away, if you're prone you'll need help or have Dex +1 to jump away in time. If you get hit by the slam you just die- or deals 3d10 damage or something.

Face Actions - Roll 1d4
[1 or 2] Eye Blasts - Attack. On a hit, deals 1d6 magic damage. If the "Face" is a giant crystal, this can be a big energy beam instead to make it look cool.
[3] Observe - Leans in to observe the party closer. The Face and Hands gain +1 To Hit each time it does this for the rest of the battle. Also an opportunity for you to attack the face.
[4] Casts a Random Spell. The Face has a total number of spells equal to its HD.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Vampire Survivors is Goated + Random Thoughts on Damage

I think this game may be a flavor of the month thing. Still, it's pretty awesome. I really like Vampire Survivors. It's an indie Roguelite with some permanent progression- heavily inspired by Castlevania's art, monsters, and weapons. It's an autobattler; you only control your characters movement while your weapons fire automatically- every time you level up you can get random weapons or support items and using different combinations let you create combos and evolve weapons into higher forms. Half the fun of this game is seeing how powerful your combos can get, while the game spawns literal screen-full waves of enemies to slowly walk towards you and attack.

It's a really fun little game, pretty addicting, surprisingly strategic, and it's only 3 dollars. Sadly, I missed telling you about it when it was on sale for 10% off. You could have saved 30 cents, lmao. Developers are still active on the game, and have a LOT of content planned. I know a lot of people out there refuse to touch early access games- and I don't blame you- but even if that is your concern, there is more then enough content here to justify this purchase easily.

But anyway, this isn't a shillpost for the game- though I do hope this encourages you to check it out. The real purpose for this post was that this game is at its surface incredibly simple; your attacks just do damage. There's no elements or damage weakness types, very few "status effects" really, almost no mechanics, and yet you can screw yourself over if your build has a bad combination of weapons and items because you need a diverse arsenal. Even something simple, like vampire bats or medusa heads being immune to holy water since it's on the ground, isn't in the game. But when every enemy pretty much just slowly walks at you- how can there be a game with some actual depth and thought behind it?

Despite its apparent simplicity, there is a bit of complexity in how the weapons in this game work. Every weapon has a specific firing pattern. For example, the Wand shoots rapid fire but weak bolts at the nearest enemy. It's a highly reliable source of damage against the biggest threat to you in the moment, but bad against crowds and bosses. Several weapons, like the Holy Water and the Rune Tracer, deal great AoE damage but you have zero control over them- not amazing against bosses but strong against crowds of weaker foes. There are also weapons that are very strong, but have a long cooldown, like the Lightning and the Bible. Some weapons, like the Whip or Axe, always shoot in a reliable direction- the axe up and down, and the whip horizontally. This lets you cut through crowds of mobs to escape getting trapped. Finally, the knife is a weapon that shoots high damage, rapid fire, but small and hard to aim projectiles directly in front of you- excellent for killing bosses, but meaning you have to run towards the bosses to aim at them, since your movement is the only way to aim anything.

I hate these red bats so much its unreal.

From this, we can extrapolate a sort of system for other games, including tabletop games, which add granularity to the relatively simple game mechanic of "hit things until they die". Despite all of them just "doing damage", the concept of different fantasy classes or roles in a combat focused game having defined and useful combat roles despite the apparent simplicity is really appealing to me.

For example; characters like crossbow users or rogues can deal very high burst damage all at once to individual targets. The implied combat "role" here is taking out high value targets. Enemy spellcasters, monsters on their last legs, and really dangerous monsters like level draining undead or creatures that have many attacks to take out at range.

What are all the different ways you can do combat when it comes to fighting monsters or groups- ignoring things like in universe fiction or damage types? There are four ways to think of damage in a non-timing environment (turn based) against all other concepts like in universe fiction, elemental damage types, random chance to land a hit, and so on. These four types will be near and far in range, and many targets with low damage, or few targets with high damage.

Range

Damage

Target

Class Fantasy Equivalents

Near

Small

Many

“Tank” Warrior, Paladin, Animal Companion

Near

High

Few

Dervish, Barbarian, Rogue

Far

Small

Many

AoE Blaster Mages, Clerics, Bards(?)

Far

High

Few

Rangers, One-Shot Wizard Spells

As you can see, it doesn't really work 100% to import this kind of system into a fantasy game world. The fiction of the game space doesn't line up with this concept of damage. Fighters are both "tanks" but also can do a lot of damage- they swing around big weapons. In the same vein, it's rare to see characters designed around the concept of doing slow, consistent damage- especially at range or with an area of effect, since by necessity focus firing attacks or spells on one target to get rid of them quickly is more important then dealing 2 damage to all goblins in a room even if that will mathematically kill them all faster.

This may also be the reason that fantasy games tend to have more elements thrown in. Most games have some amount of randomization when it comes to attacks- at least randomized damage plus chance to hit or absorption of hits depending on the ruleset. This is probably to stop games from being mathematically solved quantities- like if the rules say every attack with a human swordsman does 3 damage and the troll has 9 health and recovers one health per turn you can do the math to see exactly how long it would take or how many counter attacks you'd be forced to take; thus letting you know the outcome before it happened.

Friday, April 15, 2022

8 Mermaid Spells

[1] Magic Conch
This spell requires a magical conch shell taken from the sea- Ask a question into the magic conch. The DM will roll a d20 and record the number. Then, the DM will give a vague sounding answer based on the roll; a roll of 1 might be "never" and a roll of 20 might be "yes and better then you think", where as a roll of 10 might be "maybe", and so on.

If you act upon the question of the magic conch, the DM will substitute that roll with a roll made by yourself or a creature. For instance, if you ask the magic counch "will I die before I leave this dungeon?" and the answer was "no" because the roll was a 1, then the DM could replace that roll of 1 the next time an orc tries to attack you, and so on. This is a double edged sword, as if you asked "will I survive this dungeon" you could just as easily get a roll of 1 or 2 which the DM can use to substitute any saving throw you make with something that will kill you instead.

This divination of fate isn't fullproof. If circumstances or the players themselves break the chain of events that would contradict the magic conch, it shatters apart.

[2] Stairway in the Waves
Rising from the ocean; crystal stairs rise up upon casting this spell. This spell can only be cast at night, as concentrated light (from a lantern, torch, or sunlight) will break the fragile enchantment. This spell makes crystal stairs appear from the water- they are physically present but not strong enough to cause damage to ships or large animals moving through water. They are fixed in place; though you could be thrown off by a strong enough wave or crash of water.

The stairway can be spiral (maximum of 60 ft of height), ascending in one direction, a curve, etc. Steps can also be wide, steep, shallow, whatever. Night sirens use this spell to lounge around above the water and entice sailors, or give them a way to descend from the deck of a high ship down to the random precarious rock in the middle of the ocean they're always lounging on.

[3] Magic Bubble
Surrounds a person in a bubble that can float around. The bubble is under the control of the caster, and can envelop one human-ish sized creature, or a handful of smaller creatures. The bubble can float in any direction, including underwater, and moves at a brisk walking speed. It is partially cut resistant, but can be popped with any sharp object- consider its AC 18 for an attack roll to pop it, with ranged or melee inside the bubble. The bubble could not survive being moved through a coral reef or forest; it can only go through tight passages if there is ample room.

This spell can be cast on a friend or foe, both can be useful. The bubble also traps whatever is around the creature at the time, so aquatic creatures keep an amount of water for breathable medium or a sphere of air is kept for air-breathing creatures who are taken underwater or into space, etc. The bubble technically lasts forever until it is popped, which really won't take that long.

[4] Beguiling Barnacle
It requires touch and a willing or relaxed target to place this barnacle on them. Usually, the forehead or one of the hands is chosen for this spell.

The magic barnacle sticks to the target and acts as a Charm and Quest spell. Those under its effects are in love with the caster, and will go to the ends of the Earth to accomplish whatever task they are given. If a Remove Curse or they are 'snapped out of it', the barnacle remains, squeezing and causing them pain the longer they resist the command. The barnacle can also be pried off with a successful save and reduces the victim's health by -1d4 permanently.

As an added effect, anyone with one of these barnacles on their skin absolutely cannot swim.

[5] Distortion Wave
Requires both hands to be touching a body of liquid- both hands shove out a magical wave. The wave has two effects; the first is a powerful splash- not enough to harm, but enough to shove people back. This disrupting casting a spell. The second is the disorienting effect this has on anything swimming near the surface; divers, fish, monsters, etc. They get spun around and confused, taking a round to reorient themselves.

Mermaids usually use this spell in surprise when some pirate is swimming after them but has stuffed his ears full of wax or cotton.

[6] Underisle
This spell is pretty strong. Anyone who casts it will take 2d6 magical damage, nonlethal. This spell creates a magical underwater tunnel, cave system, or base underneath an island. All of the entrances to it must be underwater, but it can have as many as you want or as few as one. The underisle is hollowed out and magically formed from the rock, and has no bearing on the structural stability of the island, nor does the displaced water cause any visible movement besides some bubbles and surprised fish.

The island's size and shape generally infer the size and shape of the underisle. If the island is small enough to fit on a gridmap, then it has the same number of grid spaces for the underisle, in any combination of rooms and passages of any shape that the caster desires. If the island is big enough to fit on a hexmap, then you can only dig out a small amount of space in a single hex. Total space of about 200 squares per area seems fair.

The Underisle is not furnished beyond with stone. If you press your ear to the roof of the underwater chamber, you might be able to hear footsteps on the island above. You could also dig up or somebody could dig down to connect the isle with the underisle. While the Underisle will not collapse naturally, it combined with an earthquake or some big bombs could cause the entire island to collapse in on itself, or cause a small inlet bay to form if used on the mainland. This is in fact how the mermaids intend to retake the surface world and make the world one big ocean again.

[7] Whirlpool
The Whirlpool forms as a small sucking circle of water in any body of water- anything as small as a bathtub or as big as the ocean. Every round the speaker chants the spell, the increases in size by one "square" or size unit. This must be continued- the moment the caster is struck or interrupted, the spell ends and the whirlpond quickly dies down. Anything caught in the whirlpool is sucked towards the center until they are then brought under- which means they sink to the bottom of the body of water in an instant. Large objects like ships or giants are only sucked under if the whirlpool is large enough to accommodate them.

Naturally, this is the main method that sea witches and ocean casters use to sink ships of surface dwellers. Protecting oneself from archers while standing on the shore and casting this spell to defeat an invading navy is a surefire way to become the king's court magician in any nation. However, those who steal these most sacred enchantments from the sea are said to be doomed to return them by watery grave.

[8] Conveniently Clothed
This is the reason why mermaids always appear with little shells over their boobs instead of just being topless, as you'd imagine a bunch of weird sea creatures would be. When cast, this spell causes random items in the area; small living creatures, trash, plants, and so on to become stuck onto the caster in convenient ways to censor their nudity to all who may be leering. If you cast this in a crowded market on someone naked; within a moment they'd find themselves covered with an empty coinpurse, some flyers from the faire, and a banana peel over their junk. In a jungle? Convenient leaves are slapped on by the wind, and so on.

Unlike the other spells on this list, there is no known practical reason as to why mermaids cast this spell on themselves. As they are not human, and do not need protection from the weather or other elements. They have no civilization to speak of- so what purpose does this serve?

Friday, March 4, 2022

Vagueposting- Digression on Progression mechanics + the "Power" stat in Vermintide

Due to an irrational desire to get the "value" from games I bought years ago, I ended up playing Vermintide 2 recently. It happens to have a progression system in the form of gear- this gear being a very blatant habit-forming treadmill that just gets higher numbers as you go on. There is only one stat, a generic "Power" stat, which is some of the laziest shit for a skinnerbox loot cycle I have ever seen. The melee combat and graphics are lovely, though. 

But moreso interesting to me then the progression mechanic is what it actually does, and what it doesn't do.


The "Power" Stat
As you can see, the "Power" stat is a combination of character level + loot level. It's specific effects-increase damage, how well you cleave through enemies, and the power of staggering enemies. On the surface, these seems pretty basic, but if you think about how games are programmed or tabletop games are designed it's actually a pretty indepth and unique method of improving the "power" of your attacks. Most games would just have a scaling damage modifier, meaning your sword swipe would be the exact same with the same hitbox but just deal a percentage more of damage. While I don't know how the Vermintide damage system is calculated, the idea of player power also increasing how well you hack through enemies, thus meaning you deal with huge swarms better, as well as single target damage for bosses, stunlocking bosses, and the like is really interesting.

However, there is something interesting here in the subtext of the game about player progression. Something the developers did not want the players to be able to gain power in; either for game balance, enforcing the idea of teamwork, and to allow for player skill. Vermintide is not just about whacking a target dummy to do maximum damage, so what things does this power stat not allow you to progress in?

  • Does not reduce damage taken or increase maximum health
  • Does not grant you more ammo or increase your aiming ability
  • Does not make you reload, attack, or switch weapons faster
  • Does not increase stamina or blocking power (though some gear can)
  • Does not grant armor piercing or help you deal with armored enemies beyond more damage
  • Does not protect you from Special units' ability to down or disable you
  • Does not make healing items, potions, or other supplies more common
  • Does not make it easier to revive your teammates or stay close to them
  • Does not help you navigate the map or find secrets

These concepts were just about everything I could think of as to what an RPG "Power" stat could do in the context of a game. While some of the above mechanics do exist in the context of character talents and specific modifiers on some piece of gear; the general "stat" has a very specific application in the game. What we can gather from this is all of the above bullet points are things the developers intentionally or unintentionally did not want the players to be able to automatically scale past at some point. Being at a super high power level doesn't count every hit as a headshot nor does it create a bridge to the end of the level so you can beat it faster- certain things are still respected by the game. This means that the player's skill or teammwork are still important and demanded by the developers or game designers and aren't supposed to be necessarily trivialized by a basic progression mechanic.

D&D and DIY tabletop already have a similar concept- in the form of level. Character levels in RPGs fulfill the same function. Obviously this depends hugely on the game, but if we go with a generic tabletop RPG like D&D we can see a power progression too.


The Character Level

For most retroclones and so forth; your character's level is a jump in power across every major mechanical element of the game. You gain more HD and better saves, letting you survive better. You also advance in To-Hit and sometimes damage or multiple attacks- depending on class. Certain classes also unlock all new abilities, either directly or in the form of higher level spell slots. If your class has a resource, then that resource tends to get more plentiful allowing for more uses per day in the form of spell slots or action surges or what have you.

However we can see from this what your level does not do. It doesn't let you bypass core rules of the game- such as dungeon crawling or exploration. It doesn't let you charm every NPC you come across or bypass any skill check related activity, though modern D&D skills try their best to do so if your "build" is done a certain way.  It doesn't let you bypass the need for random dice rolls- even a high level character can die on a bad save- which is perhaps one of the best things about having save or die mechanics in the first place- a way to get through an overly cautious and high HP character. An element of risk or even skill, for someone who has progressed past the point of caring about individual points of damage. It also doesn't control the magic item or monetary economy of the game. While a high level character could easily buy something expensive, they can only do so on money they've earned. Very rarely do games have a sort of just "I can afford anything under this amount of money" because of a characters level ups.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules; new spells unlocked as you level up can bypass these things, and certain classes or races, or race-as-classes like classic Elves and Dwarves can detect secret passages or doors and the like, or gain darkvision. However, it isn't a core feature of the game that you get darkvision for free once you turn level 5 or whatever- it's an exception.

The biggest "thing" that isn't overcome by levels are rulings and the in-universe lore. Some games, like story-games or Dungeon World-esque games, allow players to carve out their niche in the world built into mechanics. However, this ability isn't really overcome by leveling up or standard progression. Your plan to chop a tree and bring it down into a dungeon through the narrow tunnels so you can use it as a bridge over a chasm is just as good player-skill to overcome a problem as it would be if the DM just said "you're all almost name level- you can just cross the gap." At least, MOST DMs don't do that. I intentionally try to be more lenient with player actions if they're higher level for a more heroic fantasy feel, but that's one thing that levels don't really fit with influencing.

So let's look at this from a different perspective; what else could character levels or progression do, if not what they do now?


Alternate Power Mechanics
Instead of character level ups, we have EXploration level uPs instead. In this theoretical example, the party may share a single level, or use the highest party members EXP instead. Maybe it's for a solo RPG session, so one universal level makes more sense there, regardless of how many party members are brought along.

In this alternate timeline, we'll say that the DMs of old never figured out or thought of how to improve characters in combat- no extra attacks or to-hit bonuses, nor more HP. Instead, characters at 1st level and max level fight at pretty much the same strength. Perhaps equipment plays a bigger roll, or combat is decided in a more skill based way; something like a game of risk-reward blackjack or a mathematical puzzle. We'll just say for the sake of simplicity that in this example, everyone fights with 1d6 weapons and 1d6 hit points regardless of their "level". What would this mean for the game? Since progression isn't tied to characters combat power, monsters remain as dangerous as ever, minus things like magic items or spells that may give an advantage. Monsters naturally must remain on a roughly human approachable scale of threat- so no giant elder dragons with 100+ HP or eldritch deities.

So then, how DO players advance mechanically? They advance in the more gamified part of this game; which in this alternate universe is in exploration mechanics.

LVL

Effect

1

Exploration as normal.

2

Map is always accurate / DM checks over map and corrects one mistake per session.

3

You always have a basic light source (lantern)

4

Party automatically marks places they have been. Slopes are identified.

5

Always find secret doors. Traps are disarmed after they are triggered once.

6

Always find hidden walls. Immune to pit traps.

7

You always have dark vision / no longer need light source. (Stealth?)

8

Doors no longer automatically close. Party can request map directions to hoard / stairs.

9

Hirelings will now do any action requested. Teleporters have exits marked.

10

No longer roll random encounters. Free exit to/from dungeon (Fast travel?)

Alternate Class Progressions
Slightly less unusual, the concept of class-based gameplay and progression fits more naturally into an OSR/DIY playstyle. But how do the classes actually progress?

Instead of every class getting a generalized power boost- their specific role in the party is what is increased instead. Similar ideas do exist in other games; imagine a game where no class gets any To-Hit bonus or more hit points as they level EXCEPT for the fighter, because that's the fighter's role. Thieves only get better at thief skills and stealth, but probably don't get sneak attack bonuses since they're more focused here. Wizards would probably be the same, except with more specific spells- no more combat or creature-avoiding spells, just spells to influence and travel the dungeon environment. (MUs already don't have a "clear" gameplay role, which is why I sort of cut them out in my homebrew.) Clerics on the other hand are simple enough, just more spells and resource management, but get no combat ability as they level up. Turning undead would probably remain their specialty.

Other Forms of Progression?
Depending on the nature and primary goal of a game, other forms of RPG like progression could be chosen. I really like the idea of highly specific bonuses that scale with level, or are unlocked based on role- a classic example are saving throws or the elf immunity to ghoul paralysis in oldschool D&D- it's specific because the game and world are specific. However, with a more stimulationist or "game world" oriented style, tying progression to generalized stats, skills, or power progression tends to work better and be more immersive for players overall.

So here's a list of 20 types of player progression- based on my list of 20 alternatives for gold to xp list.


20 Alternate Player-Power Progression Systems
[1]
You get better at tracking elephants. Strength score increases to better wrangle them with rope.
[2] Combat power increases- though specifically through dueling or single target actions.
[3] Increased ability to pacify natives; savages must make a morale check to stand against you.
[4] This is just Wolf-packs & Winter Snow.
[5] Load up a Harry Potter RPG homebrew- I'm sure there are least a dozen of them.
[6] Progression is based on memories found in the otherspace- you get level ups and class benefits from random classes from other games. So one memory you get a GLOG Acrobat template A, another and you get the saving throw table from an 6th level Dwarf, etc.
[7] You already get XP for murdering stuff and being evil- just reincarnate to level up.
[8] Better gang fighting skills, tagging skills, and avoiding the law. Maybe lets you have more gang members in your posse.
[9] You get stronger against the specific kind of monster your group hunts. Eventually you have acidic blood and the ability to force bats to land if you kill a strong enough Dracula.
[10] Getting better stats = progression. Makes sense to me.
[11] Get better prices from the shops, or get an Appraisal skill that you can use in the dungeon to compare item stats.
[12] Increased knife skills, heat resistance, and ingredients you collect stay fresh longer. Chef powers.
[13] Highly combat focused clan warfare- advance as barbarian. As you level up, you become more and more revered and have mythical feats attributed to you. (If you did them or not- Finn Mccool style)
[14] More powerful angels can call upon more miracles; and keep watch on mortals. You can guide good people on the path to becoming more heavenly-guardians when they die, or perhaps become your replacement after guarding the gate for a thousand years.
[15] It's another Fighter-progression for caravan guards- except your abilities are mostly defensive. When you get to 6th level, you can use your action to corral 6 camels who ran away from the ambush- that kind of thing.
[16] You are farmers defending your crop. You aren't just getting better at fighting goblins, but you also get bonuses to rabbits, foxes, snails, and all other vermin. When you reach name level you get a cat that kills all of your rats for free.
[17] Dark cultists get spell slots. To keep with the theme- you still have to bleed out hit points or sacrifice virgins or whatever as you get stronger- just don't give away too many or else you won't be able to complete the BIG ritual that matters.
[18] Every player advances as thief. You can still pick cool thief knacks though- maybe it's like Payday where you have classes but all the classes are still "thief" classes. Like one guy is the muscle who gets all the health and armor and the other guy is the mastermind who can accurately predict where the next guard patrol is gonna go and so on.
[19] Megadungeon- unlock shortcuts as you level up too. Maybe add the EXploration level uPs system from above; but for your highest level character. If they die- oh well- all those little chalk marks and secret paths they knew are gone now.
[20] Increase your saving throws to magic shard dust addiction.