A few potions

I’ve been placing a lot of potions lately, and although I appreciate the basic ones based on standard spells I though I’d put together a short list of “special” potions; I imagine these are created by wizards with a specific knack for potion making, which allows them to create unique things.

D6 Potion Appearance Effect Drawback
1 Troll’s Blood Murky liquid, chunks of olive green flesh. Troll regeneration. Regain 1 HP per round for the next 8 Turns. Lost body parts regrow, survive everything but fire or acid. Cancerous mutations. Save vs Poison or mutate. If mutated, Save vs Poison again or die from shock.
2 Mind’s Call Airy and silvery liquid, almost on the verge of gaseous, metallic taste Lightning mind. Thoughts speed up for 1 Turn, allowing time to grasp the situation. Impossible to surprise, always wins initiative, +4 to hit and AC. Distractions. The quick mind is easy to influence, Will saves are automatically failed while under the influence of this potion.
3 Purifier Steaming, clear liquid. Bottle of leather-bound ceramics, hot to the touch. Purifying heat. The magical cleansing removes all diseases and curses and purges poison from the system. Scalded throat. Suffer D4 damage; unable to speak for D3 days (no spellcasting).
4 Clawing Spirits Swirling mist, a constant very faint scratching noise comes from inside the glass. Cloud of claws. When shattered (or opened) a cloud of malevolent, mindless beings are released. 2D6 slashing damage to everything within 10’. Dissipates in 1 round. Vengeful. If the entity which opened or threw the bottle suffers damage from the potion, this is doubled.
5 False Rot Thick sludge, smells of rotting flesh. Tastes like fermented cheese. Semblance of undeath. Emit a strange odor for D6 Turns; all Undead believe you are one of them (of their exact, specific kind). Undeath. If the drinker is slain while under the effect of this potion, s/he will turn into an undead of appropriate HD.
6 Spider Blood Yellowish ichor, sweet and not unpleasant taste. Chitinous growth. Skin hardens into a cracked chitin, painfully (D3 damage). AC +4 for 2D6 Turns. Stacks with armor only if it is worn when potion is drunk. Shedding. After duration, chitin shreds and reveals a red and sore skin underneath. -4 penalty to all rolls for a day.

tenniel_color_alice_drink_me

Since I know everyone appreciates a nicely laid-out PDF, you can find that by clicking here.

Miracles big and small

I’ve always liked Clerics. I think part of it is how I was first introduced to non-Swedish RPG:s – it was 2nd Ed AD&D, and I was a complete rookie. I came from the established swedish “It system” which was based on Basic Roleplaying, and concepts such as AC, THAC0 and Saving Throws were completely new to me. I was also new to a lot of the more powerful D&D tropes; the healing cleric, the “thief”, scrolls, trolls… I could make this list as long as my arm. I paid the price gladly, dying and trying again, and I learned pretty quickly. Soon, my own system of choice was AD&D.

The warrior-priest wielding divine spells and wearing heavy armor just stuck with me. It feels like the kind of person you’d want in a gloomy dungeon where death is all around.

With my recent return to my “roots” (not really, I’m going further back, but hey) I’ve started thinking about the cleric class and their brand of magic. One thing I find is that I actually miss the channeling rules from 3rd Ed and onward, which actually made clerics cast something other than healing spells. The other is how ill-suited I think the Vancian system is to clerical magic. Why would a cleric pray each morning and ask for specific “miracles” from his/her deity? The reasonable thing to expect would be that aid is asked and given on the spot. “The foul undead approach! I call upon Spindleman the Preserver to ward them off.” (Turn Undead is a spell in LotFP)

I’m thus going to introduce the following rules in my campaign, on a trial basis:

  1. Clerics do not need to prepare spells; they are able to cast a number of spells per day and per spell level as specified in the Rulebook, but may choose which spells to cast when casting.
    1. A slot for a higher level spell may be used to instead cast a lower level spell, but the “excess” is lost
    2. The spell to be cast must still be specified at the start of a combat round
  2. Clerics must still pray in the morning, in order to restore their faith and ask penance from their deity for wielding its power. The time spent is determined by the spells cast the previous day.
  3. Clerics must use the powers of their deity with scrutiny and care; they are not employing their own power (or at least, they do not believe they are, depending on your take on clerics). When praying for new spells, roll 3D6 + the highest level spell slot used the previous day – Wis modifier and check the table below.
    1. The player of the Cleric may choose to apply a modifier of -1 to this roll if he/she considers the use of holy magic the previous day especially justified, such as being used to destroy the undead if worshipping a God of Light or to slaughter elven babies if worshipping the Vile Deity.
    2. The DM may choose to do the same, making the total modifier up to -2.

The table below will probably need some tweaks after I’ve seen it in action, but I think it has about the severity I’m looking for; something that might be an annoyance if spells are used carelessly, but rarely something that spells disaster.

Roll

Prayer effect

≤15

Succor; all non-withheld spell slots regained

16

1st level spell slot withheld; roll again

17

2nd level (or highest) spell slot withheld; roll again

18

3rd level (or highest) spell slot withheld; roll again

19

Highest level spell slot withheld; roll again

≥20

Penance; all spell slots withheld

What’s in your mind?

Meet the Cerebrix. It’s actually not larger than four inches or so, but that probably feels like a lot when it’s fully grown and nesting inside your brain case.

dustmite

Who would let this thing inside their skull? Why, a Magic-User, of course! You just have to spice up the offer with some arcane secrets and watch them debate who’s most worthy.

Touching on my post about Specialists from earlier this week, I present the Secrets of the Cerebrix.

What is a Specialist?

I’ve played a couple of specialized Magic-Users while playing AD&D and 3rd edition D&D. I liked the concept in a way, but at the same time it always felt a bit like min-maxing; the benefits of a specialist in the regular D&D rules were always far greater than the drawbacks.

What I find strange is that this should be some sort of sub-class. Specialized magic-users are defined by one thing; the kind of magic they use. This option, however, is completely open to a “normal” magic-user. Want to be an illusionist? Learn a lot of illusion spells and use them as your preferred weapon of choice. To my mind, that makes you an illusionist.

I do like the general idea that a magic-user would choose to specialize in a type of spells, though. A mixture of circumstances, personality and availability should probably influence the spell repertoire of all magic-users, and some would naturally choose a more narrow path. They research new spells within their chosen field and attract apprentices with the same focus, and gradually an entire school, cult or college might be founded.

I use specialized mages in my game, but I do it in this way; they have access to unique spells (as in distinct from those in the regular rulebook) but that access is not restricted by rules but by circumstance. Sometimes a special pact or action is required to harness their type of magic. Sometimes, casting the spells themselves leaves a mark on the caster which will over time set them apart from others. Most times, it is simply a matter of finding someone to teach you the specific magic, which might require membership in a specific order or living by some kind of code.

  • The dreaded Necromancer is nothing more (or less) than a mage who seeks knowledge of the undead and learns spells which let him create and control them, but among these twisted souls knowledge of some powerful and forbidden rituals are passed.
  • The Viper Mages of Al’Kulia fuel their unique spells with the venom they must constantly saturate their blood with, and the marks this leaves on their body strikes fear into all inhabitants of the Khalifate of Imrah.
  • The Fire Walkers live ascetic lives and strive for bodily perfection in order to master the difficult somatic components of their unique brand of spells which harness fire and heat.
  • The Order of the Seven Secrets is a society of mages who share a few unique spells used for scrying, but which most importantly teaches a special ritual which opens a portal to a sealed fortress in the Astral to which only order members have access.

I’ve prepared one special example where the drawbacks are very much tangible – the heretics who learn the spells from the Liber Heresiac, either to protect themselves from the prosecutions of the Trinity Church or because they resent the church for some other reason. Casting these spells will mark you as a target for the church, but the spells themselves are potent weapons to use against those of the faith.

You can take a look at the Liber Heresiac here or find it in the Library.

Marsh Bullets

The witch-doctors of the people who dwell on the edges of the Great Marsh seek out the nests of the Turga Leech as the spring thaw draws close. There, they harvest the leeches, which have spent winter curled up in deep hibernation, and hurry back to their lodges. Right after severing the tail of the still sleeping leech, they sing their odd magic and the leech turns into stone, remaining in that state “until it flies as fast as the swallow in the thaw”.

These curled up and petrified leeches are known as Marsh Bullets in the surrounding lands, and the few traders who find their way out of the bogland sell them at exorbitant rates.

Sling

Marsh Bullets may be thrown, but are far more effective if used as sling bullets. If thrown, they have only a 50 % chance of activating, and will otherwise remain dormant. Once activated, the bullet turns into a live, ravenously hungry leech in mid-air, covered in a sticky mucus and with teeth sharp enough to cut into metal. On a hit, D4 damage will be caused and the leech will stick to the target, causing an additional D4 damage each round due to blood loss. Since the tail end of the leech has been cut, it will never be sated, and the blood drained from the victim will spray the surrounding area. The leech lives for about a turn, after which the shock from having been petrified and the loss of its tail kills it.

Removing a leech requires a full-round action, and causes 2D4 points of damage on that round as the fangs are torn from the flesh. Healing magic can be used to remove a leech; a healing spell or potion will seal the wound where the leech is lodged and expel it, causing it to drop to the ground and die. Also, any spell or effect that instantly slays the creature will work. Extreme heat or cold can also be used, but this will usually deal damage to the leech’s victim (removing one with a torch, for example, causes D6 damage).

If the Marsh Bullets are ever targeted with a Dispel Magic, or the enchantment on them is otherwise broken, then they will awaken ravenous and attempt to feed on whomever is carrying them; the exact effect of this is left up to the GM, but an easy way of handling the situation is to require a save vs Paralyzation in order to safely get rid of them before they “dig in”…

Horn of the Five Winds

This old, filthy battle-horn appears to have been to hell and back (perhaps it has?). It is made from the curled horn from some sort of ram, but this is hard to detect beneath all the brine and soot it is normally covered with. Cleaning the horn is certainly possible, but it has an uncanny ability to once again get filthy and appear worn.

Anyone can blow this horn, and the effects can be devastating both for the one using it and others in the vicinity. Each time the horn is blown, roll a D6. It is prudent if the person blowing the horn specifies what direction he/she is pointing it before rolling this die.

horn

1. Wind of the Northern Mountain

A blast of deadly cold air escapes the horn, accompanied by an angry howling sound. The  blast of searing cold is projected in a 30×30′ cone from the bell (front) of the horn, causing 3D10 cold damage (save vs Magical Device for half).

2. Wind of the Easter Steppe

The autumn storms of the East are legend, and the horn emits this gale full-force in a cone 60′ long and 30′ wide at its end. Creatures of ogre-size or smaller caught in this wind are thrown 1D6x10′ away from the horn-blower; should they strike a solid surface along this path, they will suffer D6 points of damage for each 10′ of distance remaining. Tiny creatures, such as birds, will be flung twice as far and will suffer 2D6 additional damage from the raw force of the wind.

3. Wind of the Western Water

Sea-air and cold brine spurts forth, spraying everything in a 50×50′ cone projected from the bell of the horn. Those caught in the cone will be soaked (and possibly miserable), and minor fires (such as torches) will be put out.

4. Wind of the Southern Desert

A blast of super-heated air filled with sand streams from the horn in a cone 60′ long and 20′ wide at its end. Creatures caught in this suffer 2D8 points of damage from the heat, and an additional 2D8 points of damage from the blasting sand (save vs Magical Device for half).

5. Wind from the Void

As the horn emits a hideous, disharmonic note it rends reality, and a wind from the blackest abyss spews forth, and riding upon it comes something best left unnamed. Make a roll on the Summon spell table (LotFP Rules & Magic p 142) for a creature with 2D4 Hit Dice. This creature will be uncontrolled and will attack all living things in its vicinity for 2D10 rounds before returning to its own reality, unless the roll for this duration is 20; in this case, it will remain indefinitely in this world, and will feel a permanent and consuming hatred for the individual who blew the horn.

6. The Last Breath

As the horn is blown, the last air is sucked from the lungs of the horn-blower as it attempts to rend out his/her soul. A save vs Poison/Death must be made; if successful, the horn-blower manages to remove the horn from his/her lips and nothing happens. Otherwise, a horrible keening escapes the horn as the blower dies. All creatures able to hear this keening must save vs Magical Device or be Stunned for D6 rounds. Any creatures eligible for Morale checks should also be forced to make one at -2 after hearing the sound.

Needless to say, the horn has changed hands many times throughout history, and is often found clasped in the mummified or skeletal hands of its former owner…

Guild of Mages

Continuing with my musings on Class Guilds, I turn my attention to magic users. To me, a mage’s guild is a gentleman’s club of sorts, where wizards and their ilk can meet on somewhat neutral grounds despite being in fierce competition otherwise – a place where disputes between individuals who wield enormous power might be defused before they spill into the general community and hurt all wizards or start witch hunts.

Another issue arises with the introduction of the “Aesoterium”, a store for buying magical items that is open not only to guild members but (at increased rates) even to non-members. I know there are a lot of opinions about whether magical items should be for sale at all, and if so how and where. I strongly believe so, as long as the game gives the ability to formally create them in some way which has a measured cost.

For scrolls, potions and similar items there is an easily discernible cost – the money invested by the mage on creating the item, the resources that were spent making it and a premium for the time and risk required simply to learn how to perform this feat. I see no reason why wizards would not supplement their income and fund their experiments by brewing potions and making scrolls and selling these – and so, in my campaign world, they do.

I don’t usually allow sales of items that are not one-use, however. These items should have a more unique feel, to my mind. Of course they are both bought and sold; everything is, as everything has a price. It’s just that I think this is more about having them commissioned or private deals away from prying eyes. Also, my permanent magic items commonly have severe drawbacks or involve some sort of rather dark magic, which means they often need to be sold covertly.

My rules for the Mage’s Guild can be downloaded here, or in the Library. To clarify, a laboratory or library is used in LotFP to create potions or scrolls during downtime.

Spell Gems

I’ve been toying with some thoughts about the “Vancian Magic” system of D&D; having come back to this grandmother of all games recently, I still love the simplicity of it, but it has its limitations and since I’m currently playing with lower-level groups many of them are rearing their ugly heads…

I did try to give some more options to the Magic-User through my Weird Magic system, and I like the risk and randomness this system adds to the mix. I did however also like some thoughts on G+ (by mr Greg Christopher) about spells as equipment and the various trade-offs between placing powers in gear as opposed to attaching them to certain characters.

I’ve come up with an option that I will start playing around with in my current campaign; it’s not terribly intrusive, and could be cleared out if it doesn’t work well enough, but I like the feel of it. Basically, it allows wizards the option to buy Spell Gems, items that let them cast their memorized spells without losing them from their memory. The price is hefty (about 1 000 sp/gp, depending on your standard, per spell level they are able to supply) and availability is still under the control of the GM. They cannot be crafted in the same way as scrolls and potions – they are craftable, but require investment in a Gem Cutting skill which means only specialists can do the work without significant loss of materials.

gem_ruby

An item like this serves as a complement to scrolls; it seems more powerful, but there is a deceptive difference – scrolls expand the repertoar of the wizard, since he/she can still use scrolls with unmemorized spells. These gems empower the wizard to cast more spells per day, but only from his selected setup of memorized formulae.

I took the chance to add a more traditional magic item in the form of an Elven Spell Gem as well, while I was at it – more or less same function, but rechargeable (and, of course, effectively priceless due to it).

This still needs some playtesting, but the document so far can be downloaded here and in the Library. I’ll get back to this after I’ve tried it out some more.

The Almighty Divine Scroll

I love scrolls almost as much as I love potions. I can’t count how many times a scroll has saved the day for me as a player, or for my players when I’m a GM. “Hey, I’ve got this scroll of passwall here… do I have time to read it before the ceiling crushes us..?”

One thing that’s always puzzled me, and where I don’t really have a good answer for my players, is the difference between arcane and divine scrolls and the almost universal power of divine scrolls. Mechanically, everything’s fine, but I have always struggled with finding a rationale for it. I usually just wind up saying “well, that’s the way it works” and moving on. Perhaps someone could give me some useful suggestions?

scroll

The first thing is how a divine scroll doesn’t require Read Magic to understand. In that case… who can read it? My take is that only clerics can, but exactly why is harder to find a reasonable explanation for. Is there a secret language? Maybe, but how can it be common to each and every cleric of every faith? For that matter, how come your language skills do not influence this? Is it perhaps some sort of innate magic? It might be possible, but it just doesn’t feel right for the cleric class.

My next problem deals with the universality of these scrolls. You might find a scroll explicitly created by a follower of another deity, quite possibly the follower of your own patron deity’s mortal enemy. The scroll, however, is neutral… the prayers and symbols on it somehow follow some sort of generalized clerical magic and are untainted by whoever wrote them. It just doesn’t sit right with me… how can a scroll penned by an evil follower of the chaotic gods not be a foul thing?

Some fixes are of course easy – I could just impose a lot of restrictions on scrolls to suit my suggestions above – but I don’t want to do that! I still love scrolls, and I’d hate to take away from their usefulness. For now, I guess I will keep saying “because I said so”, but I’d love to get some good suggestions…

Weird Magic

I’ve played around with mechanisms for spell retention many times since I first began playing AD&D a long time ago; my first attempts were very clumsy, and later I developed a system of spell points which was ridiculously complicated and required me to rewrite and modify almost every spell. Needless to say, they were all tossed out eventually.

This system is, to me, far more elegant and also a bit more chaotic, which I think fits the Old School feel much better. It is a deceptively risky system, utilized rarely by my players since they’ve gotten to know it more closely; the minor damage suffered can be devastating for a lower-level wizard, and at higher level the risks increase drastically.

The fact that the entire rule can fit on one page, and that I’ve playtested it with good results for a while, means I wanted to share it here.

You can find the Weird Magic rules in this document or in the Library.