Casters in “Wizards” – the game about the movie

Part of the “Casters In” Series (previously Empire of the Petal throne, Quest of the Ancients, DSA).

Spellcasting in wizards uses two scores: spirit (some kind of magic energy) and Magic (which is a willpower-based skill).

Wizards is the game about the movie with the same name. It has some interesting mechanics. And Nazis. It feels positively Carcosan.

sorry, no source :(

sorry, no source ūüė¶

At any rate: players are supposed to make their own spells, and there are a handful in the book.

To cast the spell the magic user must roll under magic with a d20 and:

  • if the result is under the difference between magic and the spell difficulty, the caster loses spirit equal to the die roll.
  • if the result is above that, but under magic, the caster loses spirit equal to the spell cost.
  • if the result is above that but under double the magic skill, the spell fails and the caster spends 1 spirit point.
  • if above twice the magic skill, the caster loses spirit equal to the cost of the spell.
  • on a critical failure, there’s an optional fumble. No table, but “fumbled fireball leads to pants on fire” is the example in the book. Which is appropriate and awesome.

It’s also possible to practice and get more experience in a given spell at a cost of a fifth of raising the magic skill.

Casting spell on other people requires, in addition, a contest of Spirit: the same roll for the magic check is used for the caster, and is compared to the amount of spirit the caster had before casting the spell, while the target rolls 1d20 against their spirit. Spirit is fully regained in 30 hours, but sleeping counts as double time, so 18 hours of wake and 6 hours of sleep are enough.

As additional weird thing, it’s possible to try an Evocation just pumping magic: a spirit roll is made, and if successful the caster spends spirit points equal to the d20 and SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS. If the caster fails, they spend points equal to the failure margin and SOMETHING AWFUL HAPPENS.

Why I like Wizards’s magic:

  • if you’re good at a spell, you can cast it cheap
  • mana points used as both “raw power” and “energy left”.¬†The more you cast the least effective your spells become.
  • that whole Evocation “just dump mana” mechanic is simple yet amazing.
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Casters in Das Schwarze Auge

Third episode of my “Casters In…” serie. Previous episodes about Empire of the Petal Throne and Quest of the Ancients.

The king of the hill of the German RPG scene is Das Schwarze Auge. Translated to English as “The Dark Eye”.¬†This commentary on the magic system is¬†based on my memories of the Italian translation of the first edition, both basic and advanced rules.

The review of DSA starts with the effectiveness of mages in combat, and a small commentary on the game mechanics is needed.

Each PC starts from 35 to 20 HP. The mage starts with 20, plus 30 mana (Astral Points in the Italian translation), while the Elf (race as class? yes) has 25 and 25. At each level a character raises a stat by one and either HP or mana by 1d6. Simplifying combat, every character might deal something like 1d6+3 on each hit (once every two or three round accounting for parries), but armour reduces damage. Mages can only wear padded armour (damage reduction 1) while RD 3 is common for adventurers.

Now, every magic user and elf knows a spell that deals 3d6+level, ignoring armour, and costs the same amount of mana. Consequences are left as an exercise for the reader. Back to the rest of the magic system now.

Elves and Mages are the¬†spellcasters of the basic rules. They share a spell list of about half a dozen spells, with mages being able to cast about as many more. All spells in the handbook are known and usable¬†from level one, except the ones found later. The caster¬†pays the mana cost (2/round for a spell that grants protection 2, 15 or so for polymorph other, 1/HP for healing) and the spell goes off. This means that a caster can cast quite a lot, but not incredibly much less than higher-level casters. Some spells have a save,¬†but the mechanics are mostly spell-specific. Sleep is a bit OP against weak opponents, as tradition.¬†ūüėČ

This is a pretty vanilla mana magic system. But the cool thing about DSA is the mage’s staff.

The staff is a normal quarterstaff. Except it’s indestructible. This is a big deal as it’s possible to break weapons on a successful parry.

At any rate, before every adventure, the mage can try to cast an Enchantment on the staff. It costs some mana, so the magic user starts the adventure with less than the maximum amount of mana, but the effects are brilliant. If failed, the MU can try again before the next adventure. Enchantments can be cast from level 2 onwards:

First enchantment: all spell costs are reduced by -2¬†mana per spell. This means that it’s possible to heal 2 hit points per round for free. In the next editions this was changed so that the spell cost¬†must be at least one, which still allows to cast a number of healing spells that head 3HP for 1 mana. 3HP is not a small amount.

Second enchantment: the mage can set his staff on fire, as a neverending torch.

Third enchantment: the staff can be transformed in a 10 metres rope, controllable by the mage.

Fourth enchantment: the staff can be transformed in a flaming sword that deals 1d6 + mage level damage. The problem is that the mage can lose control of the sword: at that point the staff will try to destroy the group and then selfdestruct.

Fifth enchantment: the staff can become a nearly undetectable salamander controlled by the mage, and the mage can transfer his spirit in the salamander and perceive the world through its senses.

Staff enchantments and being able to cast a lot of different spells are what’s cool about DSA magic. In three words: “TOYS, TOYS, TOYS”.

There are also more caster classes: the game mechanics are the same (sans enchantments), but the spell list vary:

  • the wood elves (not sure about their original name, in Italian they were translated as “halflings”, but they are wood elves) cast some D&D druid spells.
  • the druids cast incredibly creepy voodoo spells (dolls? dolls!) and curses and soul-stealing shenanigans. They need an athame made¬†of volcanic glass. Humans can change class and become druids.
  • initiates (cleric) have a common short list, plus three spells for each god. They need to pass an “invocation check” to cast spells. DSA gods are pretty awesome and shenanigan-prone.

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Beyond Vancian: Alterations, Dispensations and Essence Corruption

Vancian magic has its place. But it’s not always appropriate, nor it needs to be the only magic system in your setting. Sometimes you want something more flexible, less mundane and more based on fairytale logic. More meaningful choices and deeper consequences.

Chthonic Codex takes the AFG magic system (available in the free AFG preview downloadable here, explained in section 1.2.1, pp 10,11 and already usable with other retroclones) and adds some, urm, bells and whistles of the arcane variety. The results are usable with all of them old school games you love.

Let’s start with the first spell learnt by most casters in AFG, and see what happens to it:

Unveil Arcana

Level: 0. Range: 1’. Casting time: 1 turn. Duration: instantaneous.

The caster uncannily receives insights and visions enabling them to identify and understand one arcanum, an unknown function of the chosen arcane item or phenomenon within rangeIf cast on a grimoire, the caster will be able to identify a chosen spell from the source. The caster can then learn and transcribe it if their levels are compatible. If cast on other items or phenomena, the weakest unknown function or detail of the object or phenomenon will be understood by the Caster first, with more details conveyed on subsequent castings.

Unveil Arcana is, for obvious reasons, cast very often in my campaigns. The characters meditates and has visions and insights about the unveiled arcanum. It would be interesting, far more interesting if the spell was also working with dreams…¬†the concept of Dispensations enters:

Dispensation – the caster has to sleep at least 1d6 hours with their head close to the arcanum to be unveiled. Comfy pillows can be used, but not overly thick.

A dispensation is a condition that, if satisfied, lets the caster cast the spell without spending mana. In retroclones, the dispensed spell can’t be cast more than once a day, even if memorized. So, there you go, casters have a way of casting spells that they haven’t memorized, but it usually involves dealing with spirits, whispering to fishes, gilting doors and other awkward actions like choreographed singing and dancing montages.

The next concept is Alteration. The spell can be cast in more than a single mode. I’d also love to expose you to¬†Metaphorurgy, the discipline of magic dealing with thresholds (both mundane doors and magic portals) which the Gatekeepers hold dear.

Past Passage

Level: 1. Range: touch. Casting time: 1 phase. Duration: 1 turn.

This simple spell folds a door frame over the caster’s time continuum. The door will open on the first threshold the caster went through since last sunset.

Alteration – by smearing 1 hit point wort of blood on the door, the door will open instead on the first threshold the blood went through since last sunset.

Alterations are not only a matter of flexibility, nor they are a new concept. Reversed spells are alterations. What I’ve done is framing the alternate version in a more explicit form. It’s also interesting to note that since in AFG casters can’t cast a given spell more than once per day, a spell with an altered form can’t be used once per form, but only once. In this way they resemble the alternate spells in the AFG handbook.

Why alterations and not having different spells? First, it’s a matter of meaningful choice: if a character could cast 10 different varieties of the same fireball in a day to avoid the limitation, it would run in the face of the core design of the mana system. Second, you’re giving more flexibility to players, which means more choice. And I like choice. Third, because buying a book to read the same spell over and over again with tiny changes¬†really ticks me off and it’s something i do not do.

Now, the darling Essence Corruption. Everybody loves their metamorphoses, and changing is usually fine, but sometimes it doesn’t work. It’s not a problem of magic lingering, but rather a question of wounding and recovery.¬†Some spells do not merely bend reality, sometimes things go wrong and they change the¬†nature¬†of things. This is a spell of the Chthonic Craft, practiced by hermits and stylites of the Hypogea:

Caprine Climb

Level: 1. Range: self. Casting time: 1 phase. Duration: until dawn.

The lower limbs of the caster change into the hind legs of a goat, making the caster look similar to a bocklin from the waist down. The legs bestow on the caster caprine surefootedness, meaning that the now irsute caster will never fail to climb on any natural surface. Apprentices are encouraged not to try this spell on the giant pile of elven skeletons: while the climb is certainly not a problem under the effect of this spell, some of these long-dead elves are extremely cantankerous.

Dispensation – roll for Essence Corruption (weeks).

So, the spell can be cast for free, but if the Essence Corruption save fails the spell wears off but the effects last 1d6 more weeks. Essence Corruption lasts 1d6 time units as specified, the time units being: rounds, turns, hours, days, weeks, months, years, forever. The next time essence corruption is failed for the same spell the time unit will be bumped by one on this scale, the second time by two, and so on, until the magic is gone but the effects are permanent. There are rumours that essence corruption might be liftable, as a curse, but they are only rumours.

Sure, you can change shape into an eagle or a dolphin or a giant bird-demon or a greater asphaltomorph, and you’re good enough to do it without spending mana. But doing so you’re trading a bit of your soul for something else. And it’s not only for metamorphoses: other kinds of magic corrupt your inner spark as well.

Chthonic Codex: Progress, Spelunking Ferrets and Scapegoats

My three-weeks-long trip through Europe (Glasgow-London-Paris-Lausanne-Milan-Hamburg-Berlin-Glasgow) is now finished and I’m back at work.

There’s been progress with Academia Apocripha and Mystery & Mystagogues and Secret Santicore Mobile but since I spent two of the three weeks with an on and off sinusitis progress is less then expected. Sadly the Mystagogue of the Bridge of Bones was not available, so i spent a few days being completely useless but¬†eating like a pro.

Anyway, school design and writeups are at a good point, more schools and more spells have been added. The count at the moment is 8 or 9 schools: the Great Schools of Necromancers, Chimerists, Fire Dervishes, Gatekeepers, Stargazers, plus the Great Workshop, the so-called School of the Unseen (which might be a yet-unobserved school of illusion, a school posing to be a lie pretending to be a school in hiding or might not even exist at all), the Chthonic Craft practised by Hypogean Ascetics, and possibly the lost School of Pharmacy (why lost? good question). Each school comes with 13 new spells, except Necromancy and Pharmacy which have the full panoply of AFG necromancy and physiurgy (that’s healing for you) because these spells are kind of needed anyway.

If I have time I might even “schoolify” all the AFG magic disciplines, bringing the number of schools to, erm, between 11 and 14 depending on how I feel about having these Moon Hunter weirdos and the arcanaluddite Troll Spellsmiths. And human sacrifices for demon-god-worshippers and their Goetia spells. Even if I don’t schoolify them all, we are talking of about 150 spells, half of them new, the other half from AFG, plus special a few game mechanics specific for every school, like the Elixirs from the School of Necromancy.

And there’s gonna be also other stuff. I expect the PDF for CC:AA to be ready in January, and CC:M&M in February. Bookbinding and box-making to happen in March, shipping as they come ready.

Joesky Tax: Spelunking Ferrets and Scapegoats

There are some weird treasures in the boxed set. I’m not sure if they will end up in CC:AA or CC:M&M but they can probably be more at home in the latter. Anyway, here’s a couple:

Spelunking Ferrets are specially trained LVL 1 ferrets. They are unnaturally quiet and letargic and usually do not move much at all. This changes when they are thrown at an opponent: they will attack and, after hitting, they’ll latch in and bury in the victim dealing damage every turn. They can also be inserted in a willing subject, usually through the mouth, but they are also happy with other body cavities, or even with creating new body cavities. There they will dig, extract and devour any external body like internal moulds and oozes, uncontrolled growths, eggs, half-digested godlings, resident squids and extra souls. In the process the ferret will deal 2d6 damage to the suffering patient, and then probably die of indigestion.

Scapegoats are goats kept in sacks. When someone is to be blamed or about to suffer a curse or a mortal wound, the goat will instead suffer the consequences. The scapegoat can also be given away to someone to temporarily avert their wrath. Bagging goats is a very dangerous fine art practiced only by the most adept Savants, but it’s said that it’s common knowledge between Hypogean Hermits. What’s certain is that the mysteric ritual involves naked chanting the Stodgy Selenic Song under the open sky and must be completed before dawn, and that a captured goat is required. The goat will not survive more than a week in the bag, a month if properly watered.

D&D’s best kept secret: Magic Users can cast all spells

Gary lied to us. Gary kept the secret well hidden.

Tradition is a lie. Behold the magician, and notice how his hands point both Up and Down. White and Black magic. Right Hand and Left Hand Path have to coexist in the Magic User. Restricting oneself is imbecile. Knowledge must be ultimate. Nothing must be hidden. Nothing must be Forbidden.

MUs unlock the secrets of creation, walk on the Sword across the Abyss, destroy their former selves and discover the names of G-D and know the path to the Godhead.

Magic Users can cast all spells. And can wear armours. That “can’t wear armour” in every D&D handbooks is just part of the biggest cover-up in the gaming industry.

The Left Hand Path spells both require a superhuman hubrys and cause an otherwise impossible sensitivity to metal, neither of which is conductive to clad oneself in iron.

The Right Hand Path only requires intimate knowledge and correct pronunciation of the Names of G-D. Iron has no power to stop invokation. Iron bears the Magician across the Abyss. Iron does not stop G-D from hearing. While Clerics don’t understand the nature of G-D, but can just beg and grovel for the tiniest speckle of their power, Magicians¬†demand and are satisfied.

The Left Hand Path is the weakness of their flesh.

The Right Hand Path is the power of G-D.

Comments here.

Pergamino Barocco – Alternative Binding

The Pergamini Barocchi have been printed. If all goes well I should be able to ship the first batch next week.

Tonight I found some binding leatherette and, well, I wanted to know if the Pergamino would do well with an alternative binding. So instead of the two split hardcovers I’d make a normal book case and attach one of the end of the concertina to it, leaving the other free.

Thing is, leatherette hates me. With a passion. It’s a stubborn hateful piece of scorn and I can’t seem to glue it even with a plasma torch.

But tonight, kind reader, tonight the leatherette was conquered.

Here are some pictures.

2013-05-16 22.59.43

Yes, FUN PVA GLUE IS FUN.
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Pressing the cover.

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OH HAI YOU MIGHT BE A SPELLBOOK MAYHAPS?2013-05-16 23.28.48

100% vegan-compatible, non renewable leatherette. Might add some kind of clasp or tie like this braided one.2013-05-16 23.28.58

Contents seem to be accessible.
2013-05-16 23.29.11MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. By the way, this copy is not really for sale as it has some minor imperfections I’m not really happy with. Small imperfections. On the other hand I ran out of dark brown leatherette and have only some reddish left, and I REALLY LIKE THE BROWN ONE. But if you do really like it too we can have a chat.

Mind you, none of them will be 100% straight and without kinks because I’m just an hobbyist.

If you have bought a Pergamino already: if you prefer this binding, let me know and I’ll happily oblige.

If you have inquired about a Pergamino: you’re part of the waiting list. Email me because IT’S BOOKBINDING TIME. This means some kind of transfer of money or food or something so that me and Roger can feel motivated to do more and better.

If you have not bought a Pergamino and want one:¬†at the moment I have what can be termed a surplus of scrolls. But it’s not really a surplus because there’s a waiting list. I’m not sure I’m going to print many more because, well, It’s really expensive to make.

So, yeah. My email is as per use tsojcanth at gmail. The webstore is here.

Adventure Fantasy Game Spellcasting: how I (re)learnt to love undeads, but not that way, and considerations

Spellcasting in Adventure Fantasy Game differs quite a bit from your run-of-the-mill OSR game, and from other systems too. The closest is Roger’s, and that’s because we had a long chat about them back in the day. How is it different from traditional D&D spellcasting?

First, there’s no split between divine and arcane magic. I’m not sure of the reasons that led Gygax to split spell lists, but i suspect none of them are good. Moreover, the concept of clerics getting more spells with levels instead of by increasing the standing in front of their gods is a bit fishy. It seems as if there were no gods but instead the spells came from the cleric inner powers… exactly like magic-users. This change did not break the game.

Second, it’s mana based, but each spell can be cast only once a day. This allows each spell to costs one mana point, simplifying the system a lot, while making actually harder to play casters. Difficulty is moved from “what should I memorize today?” and “is this the right moment to cast Sleep?” to a broader “I have no idea if I should cast now and what”, simply because every spell is a unique life-saving snowflake. It’s possible to cast a given spell a second time using items called fetishes: grab a fetish, spend one mana, a specific spell goes off. A fetish can be used once a day. There are also Mana Vessels which store a mana point; full vessels can power spells up to a given level and need to be recharged by a caster. Also, very importantly, each caster has access to all his spells all the time, so even very narrow-use spells see play instead of laying forgotten and unmemorized in musty tomes. This means that even bad spells are used a lot: Giving the Gift of Life, a level 0 spell that heals 1d6 hits at the cost the same amount of temporal hits to the caster, is seen by casters’s players as a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic¬†kick in the groin.

Third, everybody can cast level 0 spells, provided they can somehow get one measly mana.Rolling a high Spirit is an option, grabbing a full mana vessel is another. The concept is that your level-zero auntie¬†did really cast spells and sung those zombies back to the grave and could read any language. Your non-caster PC might not know spells yet, but fetishes are moderately common and teaching rules are kindly provided. Now, finding an equally kind teacher is a completely different topic. ūüôā

Fourth, every single caster seems to be a little necromancer that could. Possibly because players love pets in RPGs. Possibly because necromancer want to be fiddling with corpses. Possibly because the equivalents of “charm undead”, “animate but not control a skeleton” and “animate a skeleton” can be respectively cast by a caster of level 0, 1 and 2. The first two can be of course combined (but the control spell costs 1 mana a day to upkeep), while the last one costs 50 coins in components. This does not stop low level casters from keeping a few skeletons around “just in case”. This, of course, might bother the peasants and burgers. Which is one of the reasons why casters live out in the sticks. It’s also a useful way of recycling discarded armour.¬†This early undead proliferation is interesting because it directly impacts on the setting: low level mages will exhume corpses from graveyards and will have a small group of fanatical undead goons protecting them, if they can find the money. Some of you will cringe at the thought of game balance suffering from this: don’t. The Original Tilean Murderhoboes are masters at breaking everything, but this did not break the game. Instead, ponder the implication of low-level necromancy on your campaign world.

Fifth, it’s not just the system, it’s a whole different spell ecology. All the 80+ spells are new, the first purely offensive spell is cast at level 2, and there are a grand total of 8 damaging spells in the whole manual. There’s no Sleep spell. Hell Gate, the closest thing to Fireball, opens a gate to hell spouting raging flames, possibly gating in uncontrollable demons. Casters in AFG are not there to dish tons of damage but to do what mere mortals cannot: bend reality with words.

Comments and discussions here