Murder

Let’s talk about murder for a minute.  Not, like, actually killing people, but about the word.  In several recent discussions online about gaming in general and D&D in specific, the word “murder” got thrown around pretty loosely.  Typically in the context of characters killing enemies (and usually taking their stuff).  It seems like the term “murder-hobo” is a favorite of a lot of people for the characters their players run, or imagine other players run.  But I’d like to remind everyone about the importance of precision in language (especially in discussions of morality (perceived vs. absolute) and alignment.  Words mean things.  And even if a large portion of a population agrees that a certain word means something slightly different than the rest of the population, we would do well to return to the established meaning of the word and not be so blase about declaring certain actions to be thus or so without understanding what thus and so might imply to someone who doesn’t share the “group definition” of the word.

Murder.  What does this word mean?

noun
noun: murder; plural noun: murders
  1. the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
verb
verb: murder; 3rd person present: murders; past tense: murdered; past participle: murdered; gerund or present participle: murdering
  1. kill (someone) unlawfully and with premeditation

Ok, that’s pretty clear.  At least it is to me.  But it would appear that a large portion of the gaming community has a more liberal definition of murder.  And I don’t mean applying the term to the killing of sentient nonhumans.  No, most of the usage I have seen has had the implication that killing of any kind is murder, which when looking at the definitions above, is simply not the case.

But what does it matter, you ask?  Isn’t this all just semantics and kind of pointless?  Maybe.  But then again maybe not.  When you start throwing heavily charged words around in a casual manner, you begin to have two effects on the world at large.  First, you desensitize some to the usage of the word, and dilute it’s precise meaning so that the word no longer carries the meaning that it once did to an audience.  Second, to others you extend the meaning of the word beyond it’s original bounds so that it includes other cases which are not actually covered by the word to be associated with the ramifications of the word.

Stop all that linguistic claptrap, you!  Say what you mean in plain English!

Ah, yes. Very well.  To murder someone (you cannot murder something), it must be an unlawful, premeditated killing.  That is a very serious crime, and is only undertaken by twisted individuals, however permanent the twisting might be.  To kill enemy soldiers during war is not murder.  To kill a criminal who has been sentenced to die is not murder.  To kill an animal is not murder.

Unpleasant and undesirable, yes.  Murder, no.

So why do I bring this up on a blog about gaming?  Because in several discussions (mostly involving alignment), any sort of killing is often deemed murder.  Enemy combatants.  Aggressive, dangerous monsters.  Unintelligent animals.  Adventurers routinely go about killing creatures such as these.  But to do so is not (usually) murder.  In the same way, characters who make a living by killing these threats to society are often cast in a light where they are at least as dangerous to society, and often more so than the creatures they dispatch!

If you use alignment in your game, do not be caught in the trap which tells you all killing is murder, and therefore evil.  It is very possible for a Good character to kill creatures, even many creatures, in a just manner.  In a medieval style setting, death is a constant threat which is often faced.  No one was under the illusion that pacifism was a viable option.  Even if you didn’t do the killing, the armies of the king did the killing on your behalf, to keep you from being killed (or worse) by those who desire what you possess and are willing to murder you to get it.  And you were darned glad of it, too!

Yes, yes, I’m getting there.

Be that as it may, yes, killing is obviously undesirable if it can be reasonably avoided.  Having cause to take a life should be a profound source of sadness, if only at the need for it, if not also for the extinguishing of sentient life.  But sadness at a necessity does not make the necessity inherently evil, or even wrong.

Life is too complicated to give us the luxury of using a single word.

Them’s my two cents.

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Play Type Survey

So I’ve spent some time putting this little quiz thing together.  It’s kind of like those stupid little personality quizzes you see on the facebook, but actually legit.  I was inspired by the Angry GM‘s articles on the different types of fun, so I created this thing out of my own brain to find out what my players actually want from the game.  Feel free to share it around.

https://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=mte0ndeyna9e32&id=1143856&ew=430

I’m an Explorer, if you were curious.

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Maybe It’s Me

Something that bugs me when I’m reading other DMs or GMs is when they talk about “the story you want to tell.”  Now, this may just be me, but if I want to tell a story, I just sit down and write it.  I don’t invite four friends over and make them jump through hoops to guess what the final resolution to my epic, earth-shattering doomsday scenario will be while carefully ensuring that they complete all the necessary steps to prevent said doomsday scenario.  Thataway lies a-holerey.

Now, I’m not saying that all DM-originating plots are necessarily railroading plots, nor am I saying that epic, world-threatening cataclysmic events are a terrible plot choice.  What I am saying is that there is a risk for something very similar to railroading to occur when the DM has envisioned a grandiose story arc that will take the characters from 1st level to 20th and drastically alter the foundations of the society that spawned them.  I am also saying that the “Ragnarok Scenario” gets kind of dull and uninteresting when you do it more than, say, once.

I present these two facets of RPG gaming together because so often I see them bound up in each other.  “Fund my Kickstarter for this awesome new campaign arc!” “Here are some ideas to invest the players in your campaign idea!”  “Get your players to write backstories so you can make them personally responsible for the villain that will destroy the world!”

See, the thing about a doomsday scenario is that it leads to (usually) one solution.  The good guys have to win.  They have to.  If they don’t then the world is destroyed, which is kind of a letdown.  I say usually because I suppose there are the kind of folks out there who would let the world be destroyed by whatever evil force was trying to make the planet part of a sandwich after the PCs fail to achieve some goal that would have thwarted the bad guy’s plan.  Where do you go after that?  Roll up a new world, I suppose.

But what happens after the good guys thwart the world-destroying evil?  Do they go build castles and rule nations that pop up in the now-sparsely populated areas devastated by the big bad?  Or do the credits roll because there’s nowhere to go after you’ve gone all the way up?  I tend to think it’s the latter.  Epic campaigns to save the multiverse are exhausting, and there’s always the issue of what to do next.  Players burn out on that sort of thing really fast.  And if you pull out another doomsday device for the next campaign, and the next, at what point do the players start to think, “Gee, this place seems to get threatened with total annihilation fairly frequently, what is up with that?”  Or worse, they think, “Man, I just saved the d–n world last month.  Can’t I just do some exploring for a while?”

And that is when you’ve lost the suspension of disbelief.  It becomes an exercise in number crunching and dice rolling, maybe with some fine script-reading along the way.  But the conclusion is foregone, because the players have to win.  Your story doesn’t work if the players don’t stop the threat.

And that still applies if you don’t have the result of the PC’s failure being that the planet gets melted down into slag and hammered into a galactic croquet mallet.  Every foregone conclusion forces the players into your plot maze, deep as it may be.  And for a while, your players might love it.  They just might want to replay Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring again and again.  But you provide no better service than a video game if that is the case.  D&D offers so much more.

Imagine you are standing in the middle of a field.  Where you were before doesn’t matter.  How you got there doesn’t matter.  You have the supplies in your pack, the knife in your belt, and your wits to keep you alive.  There is smoke from a village on the far side of the trees on one edge of the field, a massive mountain range looms on the opposite side.  You can hear the sounds of the sea and smell salt in the air, brought on a fresh breeze to one side of you, and the sound of strange birds rings in your ears from the other side.  Your future is yours to make.  You can do literally anything.  That is what D&D can offer: Freedom.

That’s what I want from a game, absolute freedom to explore, exploit, navigate, dig, buy, sell, profit, grow, lead, rule.  You can offer the same to your players, if you only give them the chance.  Don’t pull out another script for them to read, let them invent the plot, let them invent themselves.  Let them grow into the kind of characters they desire, not the cardboard cut-outs of your plot devices.  The world can be so big, why don’t you let them run around in it?  If your game offers them freedom, they will return and return and return.  There is no final boss battle, just the next obstacle to their personal goals; and like in real life, failure is always on the table.  Since there is no script, no ultimate victory that must be won, every adventure may be the last.

Tension and drama arise naturally when much is risked. Threaten the characters that have been lovingly built, and real emotions will manifest at victory or defeat.  When personal goals are achieved, elation happens. When tragedy befalls them, actual despair.  Not the simple feeling of self-assurance when the arch-villain is defeated in the glow of just another task completed, but true, actual, glee when the player’s personal nemesis is slain on the field of battle.

You don’t need to threaten the world to get the players invested.  Simply threaten all that they themselves have built.  All you have to do is to let them build.  Someone will always want what others have.  There is always conflict, desire, power grabs, attempted coups, strife, war.  Let the PC’s own actions bring opponents into the field.  Victory is much sweeter when it means something you actually care about is safe.

But maybe it’s just me.

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Non-Vancian Magic: Options

Here are some additional things to increase the scope of my particular non-vancian magic system. Since some people complain about the 15-minute workday that the Vancian system perpetuates, I thought I would add in some extra rules that I had thought of previously to address that particular issue.  I didn’t include them originally because I didn’t want to make the whole thing too bloated.  But I guess I’ll bloat it up over here and call them “optional” rules or some such so that I can claim the whole system is actually elegant and streamlined.

Hmm.  I should come up with a name for my system, shouldn’t I?  From here on out, let’s call it Urbanekovian magic.  Is that too egotistical?  If Elminster, Mordenkainen, Tenser, and Otiluke get to name spells after themselves, why shouldn’t I name my system after myself? Especially since it’s fantastically brilliant.

Anyway, here are the “optional” variants:

1) Cantrips or At-Will magic:

Any minor spell effect may be effected for free, as long as the base cost for the spell is lower than the caster’s level divided by 3 rounded down.  Thus, a 3rd level Arcanist may cast any spell worth 1 SP (before any focus or specialization reductions) for free.  Familiarity point reductions do apply.

2) Healing and SP regain:

There are three options for this variant: Mild, Moderate, and Brutal.

Mild version:  Hit points regained by the caster also add half as many SP into the caster’s pool, up to the max number of SP the caster is allowed.

Moderate version:  The caster’s SP pool is not refilled by sleeping.  Each hour the caster does not work any magic (cantrips included), the caster regains his Int (or Wis bonus for Elementalists) bonus in SP.

Brutal Version:  The caster’s SP pool is not refilled by sleeping.  Each hour the caster does not work any magic (cantrips included), the caster regains his Int (or Wis bonus for Elementalists) bonus in SP.  Further, if the caster is healed, he regains half as many SP to his pool as he gains in HP.  Also, each time the caster takes damage, he loses half as many SP as HP.  Thus, if a caster takes 12 damage, he also loses 6 SP.  If he is healed 12 damage, he regains 6 SP.

Personally, I like the Brutal version best, because it reflects the physical toll that manipulating the thaumflow takes on a body.  Physical exhaustion makes it harder to manipulate the supernatural energies, so taking damage also affecting your casting ability makes sense.

Also of note, neither of these variants has much effect on Called Ones, since their manipulation happens through an intermediary, and they technically don’t even have a SP pool. Which is another way they are differentiated from Arcanists and Elementalists.

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Non-Vancian Class: Called One

This is the second of three major classes related to my non-vancian magic system.  Please see the introduction piece for a thorough description of how the system works.


Ability Scores:

Minimum score: Cha 16

10% XP bonus: Cha 18+

Hit die:

d8

Class Skills:

Concentration, Craft, Decipher Script, Knowledge (Religion), Knowledge (Planes), Profession, Speak Language, Spellcraft

Table: The Called One

Level BAB Fort Ref Will Special Max Spell points:
1 +0 +0 +0 +2 Ceremony 1 3
2 +1 +0 +0 +3 4
3 +2 +1 +1 +3 Prayer 4
4 +3 +1 +1 +4 5
5 +3 +1 +1 +4 Ceremony 2 6
6 +4 +2 +2 +5 7
7 +5 +2 +2 +5 Miracle 7
8 +6/+1 +2 +2 +6 8
9 +6/+1 +3 +3 +6 Ceremony 3 9
10 +7/+2 +3 +3 +7 10
11 +8/+3 +3 +3 +7 Vision 10
12 +9/+4 +4 +4 +8 11
13 +9/+4 +4 +4 +8 Ceremony 4 12
14 +10/+5 +4 +4 +9 13
15 +11/+6/+1 +5 +5 +9 Intercession 13
16 +12/+7/+2 +5 +5 +10 14
17 +12/+7/+2 +5 +5 +10 Ceremony 5 15
18 +13/+8/+3 +6 +6 +11 16
19 +14/+9/+4 +6 +6 +12 16
20 +15/+10/+5 +6 +6 +12 Holy One 17

Class Abilities:

Skill proficiencies:

2 at first level, plus one additional every 5 levels above first.

Weapon and Armor proficiencies:

Called Ones begin with two weapon proficiencies. A new weapon proficiency is gained for every four levels above 1st. The proficiencies may be selected from the following list: bola, bo stick, club, flail, godentag, jo stick, hammer, mace, maul, morningstar, quarterstaff, sling, staff sling.

Called Ones are proficient with any armor and shields.

Spellcasting:

Unlike Arcanists, who recognize patterns in the universe and exploit them to create magical effects, the Called are individuals specifically chosen by a supernatural power (either a god or an agent of a god) for a special task on the Material Plane.  The Called are themselves aware of their particular mission, but often it is to spread the knowledge of their deity and increase the number of worshippers (meaning that the player is allowed to determine their own divine mission, which once chosen cannot be changed).

When a Called One casts a spell, it is not so much the Called him/herself manipulating the thaumflow, but the supernatural entity assigned to the Called One which does the manipulating.  The Maximum Spell Points given on the table above indicate the maximum number of SP that the supernatural entity attached to the Called One (hereafter called the Guardian Angel or Angel) will allow in any one casting.  The number of castings per day is unlimited so long as the Called One is directly acting to accomplish their mission.  If the Called One wishes to cast a spell not directly pertaining to the mission, the Angel will allow a number of spells per day equal to the Called One’s level plus Charisma Modifier.

There are 4 “Realms” which comprise the Called’s spell bases:

  1. Blessing – aid for those who the Called wishes to bring into the fold
  2. Bane – curses against those who oppose their deity’s agenda
  3. Creation – Bringing material objects into existence
  4. Destruction – Removing material objects from existence.

Base effects for each Realm:

Blessing –

  • +1 to attack or damage for 1 round – 1 SP
  • Cure subject of natural disease – 3 SP
  • Restore 1d6 HP – 1 SP

Bane –

  • -1 to attack or damage for 1 round – 1 SP
  • Cause natural disease – 3 SP

Creation –

  • Create food for one meal for 1 person – 1 SP
  • Advance 1 lb plant by 1 season – 1 SP
  • Create 1 gallon water in held container – 1 SP
  • Restores deceased 1 HD creature to life – 10 SP

Destruction –

  • Remove 1 cu. ft. of inert material from existence – 1 SP
  • Inflict 1d6 HP loss on touched target – 1 SP
  • Raise corpse as 1 HD undead – 5 SP

Any spell which a Called One casts through his guardian angel will be tied to one of these four Realms, and may not combine realms.

Divine Focus:

A Called One may possess or create for themselves a symbol which assists in the channeling of thaum  from the Angel to the material world.  Such a symbol will either be an image of the deity itself, or a part thereof, or else a stylized representation of a key portion of the deity’s theology.  The purpose of the benefit of the divine focus is to make more clear to unbelievers who is responsible for the power that they witness.  There are four classes of divine focus, which provide increasing benefit to the Called One who wields it:

Type Cost Benefit
Humble 10 gp +2 SP per spell
Righteous 100 gp +4 SP per spell
Mighty 1000 gp +8 SP per spell
Exalted 10,000 gp +16 SP per spell

Benefit:  A divine focus increases the maximum SP available to the Called One per spell.

Ceremony

The Called is invested at various levels with the authority to conduct certain ceremonies on behalf of the calling power.  The format of the individual ceremonies varies greatly between religions, but lasts at least an hour and involves many symbolic elements, whether physical objects, actions, or invocations.

  • Ceremony 1:Burial, Induction

The induction ceremony “claims” a soul for the deity and opens access to the deity’s particular afterlife for the individual.  Spells cast by Called Ones of the same deity as the Inducted person belongs to are cast at a 20% SP discount.  Receiving a second induction from a different deity invalidates the previous induction, and will mark that person as a traitor to the Called Ones and priests of the original deity.

The burial ceremony (usually) places the soul of a deceased person to rest, opening the way into the afterlife for the soul, and preventing the recently deceased from rising as undead.  This may be performed on any dead person, not just those who follow the same deity as the Called One. An emergency burial may be performed in one minute given a grave is already provided.

  • Ceremony 2:  Marriage, Investment

Married individual enjoy several blessings in relation to both their relationship and the production of offspring.  +2 Morale bonus to attacks, damage, and skill checks while the spouse is within 30 ft, +4 to attacks and damage when the spouse is in mortal danger, +20% to fertility checks.

Invested priests may participate in religious ceremonies and are blessed with the power to perform some simple magic and ritual magic dedicated to the deity. Priests may perform induction, burial, and marriage ceremonies, as well as lead ordinary worship services, offer standard sacrifices, and hold revival services to encourage more worshipers to join.

  • Ceremony 3: Excommunicate, Consecrate

Inducted followers who deviate greatly from the teachings/laws of the calling deity may be excommunicated by the Called of the same deity, whether in person or not.  This ceremony strips the offending individual of any blessings currently ongoing, and marks forever that soul as one who is cursed.  This mark is visible to all Called Ones and Priests, and may only be removed by an Atonement ceremony.

Holy ground or buildings may be consecrated by a Called One.  From that point on, as long as the site is maintained, any dead buried in the consecrated ground/building are immune to spontaneous undead generation.  Blessings cast and ceremonies performed on consecrated ground by followers of the same deity receive bonuses.

  • Ceremony 4: Atonement, Imprecate

Atonement will restore an excommunicated individual (of any religion) into the good graces of the deity (and church) the Called One serves.

Imprecate will call down the wrath of the divine upon any individual, typically leaders of groups directly opposed to the mission of the church or deity served by the Called One.

  • Ceremony 5:  Anoint, Desolate

Anoint is the ceremony whereby sovereigns of nations or heads of churches are installed in their offices, granting blessings to the rulers as long as they support the deity which installed them.

Desolate calls a curse upon an entire nation or region for their defiance of the deity confirming the desolation ceremony.  Effects may vary widely.

Prayer:

A Called One may spend at least a minute in prayer to ask for intercession in an urgent matter to the Called.  The prayer may be accompanied by any number of rituals (including sacrifices, relics, and any other manner of thing depending on the deity being prayed to) for increased effect/likelihood of intervention.  Things typically in the purview of a Prayer are blessings for a large number of people (such as an army before a critical battle), good weather for abundant crop production, or other wide-ranging but numerically small boons.

Miracle:

The Called One may request some form of miraculous event from his deity.  Such things may be creation of large amounts of material, forestalling or causing natural events, or other signs and wonders.  Final result left to the discretion of the DM.  Typical miracles might include the destruction/rout of a military enemy, the creation of enough food to support a nation in time of famine, a particularly showy event to convince undecideds to follow a particular deity.

Vision:

The Called One may receive an immutable vision of the future (typically far in the future). Most will be compelled to record the vision for future generations.  Sometimes the vision is of the deity itself imparting knowledge for a particularly important upcoming event, or for the encouragement of the Called One.

Intercession:

Once per week the Called One may ask his deity for some direct intervention on the part of himself or another which is not technically directly involved in the Mission the Called One received.  (effects similar to a small Miracle or a larger Prayer)

Holy One:

The Called One has gained the highest honor from the deity who called him.  He may now perform at will any minor miracle (any miracle that would have a minor effect on a large number of people, or a profound effect on one person that does not defy existing natural patterns).

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A.M.I.S.S.

I’ve been working on bulking out the second entry in my Non-Vancian Spellcasting classes series, but I’m not going to have it done in time for Friday like I hoped, so I’ll post something else that isn’t finished to make up for it.

That’s right, my much-vaunted gigantic cross-referenced index of every monster published (nearly) I am releasing into the wild.  It isn’t finished but the Agglomerated Monster Index Sorting Suite (AMISS for short) is now available for viewing here:  LINK.  I have it set up so you can sort, filter, and list by every category available.  Feel free to save a copy to your own Drive to set your own filters, and keep checking back because you never know when I might be adding monsters to it.

As I said, it isn’t done yet, but it does have more than 500 individual monster entries included so far.  By the time I’m done, it may well have over a thousand.  I am totally finished with the Heroes of Horror and the Monster Manual III.  I am mostly finished with the Monster Manual/SRD monsters.  I plan to have in the final product the following:  Monster Manual/SRD Monsters, Monster Manual II, Monster Manual III, the Fiend Folio, Heroes of Horror, and any other books I own with monsters in them (version 3.5, but since there aren’t any stats included you should be able to utilize the list for any edition of the game).

What good is this list?  Well, it’s super cool for me because with the filters on I can compile in under a minute a custom random encounter table for any given CR range, climate, environment, organization, sourcebook, type, subtype, and even weight!  No more long prep time coming up with random encounter tables for Warm Forests 5, 10, 20, and 40 miles from civilization.  Just set the filters, =randbetween(1,n) the number of options, and off you roll!

Now, I should say that those entries are based on 3.5/Pathfinder monsters, so perhaps the CR listing won’t be as advantageous for you 5th Editioners out there, but hey, this is a tool I made for me that I’m sharing with you.  Feel free to copy it and edit to your heart’s content.  At least take a look at it, though.  Took me forever to get it this far.

Bonus:  On the second tab (titled “Calculation”) there is my rough guide for levels of encounters based on relative settlement level, as well as percent chance for any given encounter to be one with intelligent humans/demihumans.  Also a seagoing encounter table with weather events.  But wait, there’s more!  If you act now, you will see four whole days of hourly encounter rolls on that same sheet.  Refreshes at the editing of a cell!

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Use-less Idea

Here’s something I just thought of, and have no use for whatsoever. Yet. It’s really quite elegantly simple, and I’d like to be able to use it for something someday, so I thought I’d throw it out here to see if anyone on the internet has a thought to share on it.

Now, we all know there are 52 weeks in a year.  And we all know there are 52 cards in a (standard) deck.  So if you wanted to, you could assign a single card to each week of the year.  If I were doing the assigning I’d start with the lowest card at the beginning of the year, and work my way up, doing one suit at a time.  Curiously, if you mark the cards down on the Saturday of each week, it comes to exactly three months per suit with no carryover.

My initial thought was to come up with some kind of event which happens at different times to different people about five or six times per year (or perhaps a list of five events which happen at different times), and assigning a card to each individual per the week on which the event occurs.  At the end of the year (at a New Year’s party or some such) the cards collected would be compared and ranked based on poker rules, and the winner of the “hand of the year” should receive some prize or recognition.

The problem I have is that I can’t think of any events which happen at different times to different people reliably several times during the year.  Anniversaries are undesirable, as they do not change from year to year, and would not provide much excitement or variation in the cards “dealt”.  Also, many people have significant annual events around the same times, so there is a great chance that many players could have several of the same cards.

So now I open it up to the Internet Generation.  What events could I use to mark “deal weeks”?  Could another game be invented with this idea?  Does something like this exist somewhere already?  Let me know!

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Non-Vancian Class: Arcanist

Please refer to the intro piece first for more information about the changes to spellcasting abilities this class makes use of.

Ability Scores:

Minimum score: Int 16

10% XP bonus: Int 18+

Hit die:

d4

Class Skills:

Concentration, Craft, Decipher Script, Knowledge (any), Profession, Speak Language, Spellcraft,

Skill Proficiencies:

4 plus one additional proficiency at every 4 levels above first.

Table: the Arcanist

Level BAB For Ref Will Special Spell points -16 Int Spell Points – 17 Int Spell points – 18 Int.
1 +0 +0 +0 +2 Magesight +3 +4 +5
2 +1 +0 +0 +3 +4 +5 +6
3 +1 +1 +1 +3 +5 +6 +7
4 +2 +1 +1 +4 +6 +7 +8
5 +2 +1 +1 +4 +7 +8 +9
6 +3 +2 +2 +5 +8 +9 +10
7 +3 +2 +2 +5 +9 +10 +11
8 +4 +2 +2 +6 +10 +11 +12
9 +4 +3 +3 +6 +11 +12 +13
10 +5 +3 +3 +7 +12 +13 +14
11 +5 +3 +3 +7 +13 +14 +15
12 +6/+1 +3 +3 +8 +14 +15 +16
13 +6/+1 +4 +4 +8 +15 +16 +17
14 +7/+2 +4 +4 +9 +16 +17 +18
15 +7/+2 +4 +4 +9 +17 +18 +19
16 +8/+3 +5 +5 +10 +18 +19 +20
17 +8/+3 +5 +5 +10 +19 +20 +21
18 +9/+4 +5 +5 +11 +20 +21 +22
19 +9/+4 +6 +6 +11 +21 +22 +23
20 +10/+5 +6 +6 +12 +22 +23 +24

Class Features:

Magesight:

An Arcanist has the ability to sense the flow of thaum through the world.  By spending one spell point, he may open his mind to see this flow directly.  He may leave this Magesight open as long as he desires, but prolonged exposure to the true nature of the world will have serious repercussions on the mind of the Arcanist.  Everything seen via Magesight is indelibly imprinted in the memories of the Arcanist, and can never be expunged by any means short of death.  For every minute spent viewing dark energies or creatures, a wisdom check must be made.  A failed check means the Arcanist has permanently lost one point of wisdom.

On the other hand, a minute spent beholding creatures or events of extreme beauty and light will have a 25% chance of restoring a lost point of wisdom, or a 25% chance of increasing the Arcanist’s Charisma by 1 point.  An Arcanist may only achieve a maximum of 18 Charisma this way.

Spellcasting:

Arcanists use their force of will to reach into the thaumflow that suffuses the material plane and alter aspects of it to suit them. Altering the material plane costs a certain amount of energy of the Arcanist, measured in spell points.  Greater magical effects cost a greater amount of spell points.

There are 8 schools of magic, which utilize the thaumflow in different ways.  (Focus given as examples, other focuses may be effective depending on desired spell effects). Each spell cast by the Arcanist pulls from at least one school, known as the Base school or Major school for that spell, and may include aspects of other schools, known as the minor schools.  Each school included in a spell increases the spell cost by at least 1 point per school.

Abjuration: Deflects or channels energies – compel motion

Focus: shield charm (Ru), chalked pentagram/circle (Ad), precious metal/stone charm (Sup), Permanent circle of precious material (Subl)

Conjuration: Alters space-time to deliver materials/creatures

Focus: fetish representation of subject (Ru), actual piece of subject (Ad), prepared fetish containing piece of subject (Sup), freely donated piece of subject (Subl)

Divination: Extends perception, even into the near future

Focus: natural reflective surface (Rude), highly polished crystal sphere (Ad), Silvered glass (Sup), polished metal mirror (Subl)

Enchantment:  Binds thaumic energies to objects/persons

Focus: strand of rope (R)

Evocation:  Transforms thaumic energy into tangible energy

Focus: lit candle (R)

Illusion:  Alters perception

Focus: alcohol (R)

Necromancy:  Direct interaction with life and quasi-life forces

Focus: blood or bone (R)

Transmutation:  Transform substances through either displacement or alteration

Focus: insect cocoon (R)

Minor effects cost a small number of spell points, while extending and enlarging those effects cost greater amounts of points.  Examples given below.

Abjur: +1 to one saving throw for 1 round – 1 point

Conj: Summon 1 HD creature for 1 round – 1 point

Div: +1 to attack for 1 round – 1 point

Ench: Make any object a Rude focus for 1 minute – 1 point

Evoc: 1d4 energy damage to touched subject – 1 point

Illus: Create small, silent image for 1 round – 1 point

Necr: 1 point of ability damage to touched target – 1 point

Trans: +1 to physical ability score for 1 round – 1 point

These effects are provided as a baseline for players and DMs to adjudicate desired spell effects.  Any possible effect may be achieved with enough creativity and spell points.

School Specialization:

Most Arcanists, intentionally or not, become more familiar with certain schools of magic than others.  Through exposure, practice, or study, moving energy along similar paths will create “ruts” in the Arcanist’s mind.  These “ruts” make moving energy along those paths easier.  This is similar, and builds on to the “Familiarity” factor, but is specific to the Arcanist’s schools.  When an Arcanist has cast a spell based primarily on one school a certain number of times in a certain period of time, the Arcanist is considered to be a Level 1 caster of that school (Level 1 Evoker, or Level 1 Diviner, etc.).  As a level 1 Evoker, the Arcanist may now cast spells with Evocation as the major school using 1 less spell point.  At higher levels, more points are saved, but the requirements are more intense.

Specialization Level: Point Saved (Major) Points Saved (Minor) Requirement A Requirement B
1 1 0 30 in 30 15 in 10
2 2 1 45 in 40 23 in 13
3 3 1 60 in 50 30 in 17
4 5 2 75 in 60 38 in 20
5 8 4 90 in 70 45 in 23
6 13 6 105 in 80 53 in 27
7 21 10 120 in 90 60 in 30
8 34 17 135 in 100 68 in 33

Specialization Level: There are 8 levels available for specialization in any one school.

Points Saved (Major): The number of spell points saved in any spell with this school as the major school.

Points Saved (Minor): The number of spell points saved in any spell with this school as a minor school.

Requirement A: The basic requirement for specialization to this level.  Given in the formula (Number of Spells) in (Number of Days).  As soon as the caster has cast the requisite number of spells in under the number of days indicated, he is eligible to utilize the school specialization discount.  Also at that point, the caster may begin working towards their level 2 specialization.

Requirement B: The more stringent requirement for specialization levels.  Given in the same formula as Requirement A.

Bonus Level (optional):

If an Arcanist gains a specialization level in all eight schools, they gain a bonus level.  They are considered to have their current XP plus the full difference between their current level and the next level. Thus, they will have the same amount of XP above that required for their current level as they did previously.

For example:  If an Arcanist had 720 XP and required 1000 XP to advance to level 2, and then cast enough spells to become a level 1 specialist in all 8 schools (an unlikely feat, but anyway…), he would then have 1720 XP.

Alternative method:  As an option, the DM may choose to award 100 times the specialization level for each specialization level gained.  Thus reaching specialization level 8 in any school will gain 800 XP.  (There is a total XP award of 3,600 available per school).

Personal Focus:

An Arcanist may craft for himself a personal focus to assist his concentration and control of the thaumflow. It must be crafted of materials worth at least 100 gp, and he must spend at least one week crafting the focus.  It may take any form, but common forms are wands, staves, totems, talismans, and the like.  Each day spent crafting the focus, 8 hours must be spent exclusively on the crafting of the focus.  A further 8 full hours must be spent resting.  The remaining 8 hours may be spent however the Arcanist wishes to spend them.  Further, the Arcanist must weave at least 3 spell points of Enchantment school magic into the focus each day of crafting.  Each day counts as one spell with Enchantment as the major school.

Cost Time to create Bonus
100 gp 1 week +1 save, +1 damage, +1 round duration, +10% range, or -10% SP
1000 gp 10 weeks +3 save, +3 round duration, +1 damage die, +20% range, or -20% SP
10,000 gp 100 weeks +5 save, +5 round duration, +2 damage die, +30% range, or -30% SP; soul fragment
100,000 gp 1000 weeks +10 save, +10 round duration, +4 damage die, +50% range, or -50% SP; Soul bind

Creating a focus may be broken up by week, so that a 1000 gp focus may be worked on for one week, and then put down for some time and then worked on again for another week.  The interval between sessions may be no more than a year and a day.

Personal foci may be used by Arcanists (or even hedge wizards) other than the creator, but only after the Arcanist that created it has died.  Physical descendants of the creating Arcanist may use the focus at no penalty, as well as any Arcanist or hedge mage trained by the creating Arcanist.  Those who would murder the Arcanist and steal a powerful focus will find it a difficult task, however, due to the soul fragment/soul bind properties of particularly powerful foci.

Soul fragment:  The focus is now an intelligent item, with a personality that matches that of it’s creator and an Ego score of 5

Soul Bind: After the creator’s death, instead of going to an afterlife, the creator’s soul enters the focus, and lives on in the form of an intelligent item.  If the focus is destroyed, the soul is released to travel to its appointed final destination.

Spellcrafting Example:

Since all of this has been the bare-bones structure of the system, rather than an explanation of how the system itself works, I will endeavor to provide a few examples of how this process would work.

Example 1: Fireball

Suppose we would like to recreate the classic spell Fireball.  First, we determine which school it belongs to, and if any secondary schools would apply.  Evocation is the primary school, and at the moment it is the only school.  The baseline for evocation spells is 1d4 to a touched target.  To increase the damage to 1d6, we would spend another spell point (2 total now).  Now, since we’d like the damage to be a ranged effect, we add another point to increase the range to Medium, so we have a spell costing 3 SP at the moment.  Now to make it an area effect instead of a single target, we will invest another two points to increase the radius by 20 ft.  So now we have a 40 foot wide gout of flame that we can place (almost) anywhere within 100+ feet of us that will deal 1d6 damage to everyone in the blast radius for a total of 5 SP.  Oh, wait, we need more than that to equal an SRD Fireball?  Ok, how many damage dice would you like?  Add another point for each one beyond the first, and an additional point to bring them up to a d6.  We’ll add 8 points to bring the total up to 5d6 damage, same as a 5th level caster normally would have.  That will make 13 SP for this spell, the first time it’s cast, for an Arcanist who does not yet have any specialization in Evocation.  Which puts it in the realm of possibility for a 4th level Arcanist (though it will drain a significant amount of power from her). The saving throw DC for the spell would be 10+Int bonus (at least 3)+SP/3 (4, in this case) for a total of 17.

That is completely unaided.  However, if the Arcanist has any sort of focus available, she may use it to reduce the SP cost of the spell.  Since the casting time is one round, she has the option to use one focus.  Assuming a fellow party member has a lit torch nearby, she could use that as a seed focus to reduce the cost of the spell by 20% (in this case 2.6 which rounds to 3) for a total of 10 SP.  That is just the right amount to avoid the chance of breaking the focus.

Or, if the Arcanist had cast the exact same spell within the last hour (being a higher level than 4th, obviously), it would reduce the cost of the spell by 1 point (to 12), and the seed focus would reduce the cost by another 2.4 SP (rounded to 2), for again, a total cost of 10 SP.

I know that seems like kind of a lot, but there is a lot of flexibility in the system.  Perhaps you wished to make the fireball effective against only your enemies and leave your allies unscathed.  Adding in Divination as a secondary or minor school would add 1 to the cost, plus 1 for every ally in the radius you wished to avoid.  Or you could add in extra points to make the spell last a whole round or more, potentially filling a doorway.  (The cost for the increased damage and extra dice would need to be paid every round).  Or you could pump in extra points to make the save DC higher.

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Change of Plans

You ever hear of DMs talk about how their players don’t do what is expected of them? Me too. I once ran a campaign that was founded on that principle, in fact. Now I’m older, slightly wiser, and I run a different kind of game now.  Everyone who has followed along up until now will know that I run a “DM’s Plot” free sandbox campaign.  Which is great for being ready when the players jump the rails, because I myself tore the rails up and threw them away before the game even begins.  Which leaves it to the players to look around, pick a direction, and go exploring.

So you wouldn’t think that there would be any rapid plan changes to throw me off, would you?  Well, these are human beings we are talking about, and sometimes they change their minds about what they are doing.  So they did.  Not in a huge way, but I thought that they would sit around in Hamburg for a while while they waited for a ship that was bound for Oslo came in to port.  Turns out they are tired of sea travel (Three thunderstorms in a week isn’t too much is it?), so they bought some horses, tack, feed, tents, and set out north through Denmark to find a cheaper ship, as well as run into some adventure along the way.

That’s all fine.  But I thought there was going to be more time spent dealing with things in Amsterdam.  But our friendly neighborhood Sorcerer-Assassin decided that it wasn’t worth it to explore the house/shop of the butcher he was supposed to scare into silence after he found a notice from the town council declaring it to be vacated and handed over to the Honourable Guild of Butchers.  So they set sail, weathered two small storms (the third was a big one which forced them into Amsterdam for repairs) and made it into Hamburg.  Once there, they made contact with the harbormaster and arranged for passage on a small ship that was due in to port in about six days.  Then they decided to buy some horses (which were cheap), some saddles, (which were not), provisioned up (in theory) and set off.

Which, like I said, is fine.  They are totally entitled to do that.  In fact, I am happy for them.  Because they chose this whole trip of their own accord.  Going to Oslo was their idea.  I believe their intent is to meet relatives.  They probably will, by the way.  Eventually.  But I was not expecting them to take the land route.  Which means I hadn’t looked closely at maps of the area, explored the territory, seen what kind of terrain is between Hamburg and Frederikshaven.  I thought it was going to be a week of chilling in the Big City, maybe being mugged again, and then another week (or so) on the sea.  I didn’t expect to transition into a land-based adventure so soon.  Thankfully, however, I have a few tools that helped me out.

First is my Agglomerated Monster Index Sorting Suite (or AMISS for short).  When it’s actually complete I’ll post a copy somewhere for y’all to use.  Using that, I can sort monsters by CR, Climate, Environment, Type, Subtype, Name, and Weight.  It’s pretty handy when generating random encounter tables on the fly.  Which I did.  Second is Google Maps.  Since my world is Magical Earth circa 1550, I can Google up the distance (and walking time) from just about anywhere (Hamburg, say) to anywhere (Frederikshaven?  I haven’t even heard of Frederikshaven!).  So that’s nice.

Point being, being prepared for the unexpected with quick, useable tools I was able to roll with the change in plan no problem. Although I’m curious to see what they do to deal with that shade they ran across on the road north…

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Truly Non-Vancian Magic

Credit where credit is due: the train of thought that inspired this bucket of madness left the station from this post from Crater Labs. Check that out, then come back here.  It may make more sense where I’m coming from.

First, a definition: Vancian magic is a form of magic based on the existence of spells that must be prepared in advance, for specific purposes, and that can be used a finite number of times.

This is a very handy formula for RPGs which include magic, and that is why D&D (and almost every other RPG on the market) uses it.  But it has limitations.

In order for any system to be (at least in my opinion) truly non-vancian, all of these criteria must be avoided. Otherwise you are still casting the same old spells but using mana points or something instead of casting X spells per day.  And really it isn’t the finite number of times things that I want to get rid of, it’s the advance preparation of specific applications of magic that I want to change.  Because who want to be the guy who can deal 10d6 fire damage to everything in a 40ft sphere, but who can’t get the freakin’ magical stairway to move because there isn’t a spell called “Elminster’s Escalator Energizer?”

So I have invented a framework that will allow this kind of spellcasting, and I present it to you here.  First, the basics, and I will hit you with a few classes later (as I get them finished).


One who has the ability to manipulate matter and energy outside of normal, rational human means (primarily through physical effort) is a Magic-user.  There are many ways that individuals come by this power, and many way that they might channel it.  It is an inborn talent, primarily, not one that can be learned.  In that way magic use is similar to the Force. Unlike the force, there is a wide range of uses that magic may be applied to.

The three most common types of magic user are the Arcanist, the Called One, and the Elementalist.

All of these casters have a “sixth sense” which allows them to manipulate cosmic energies on a small scale.  There is a constant stream of energy flowing through the material plane, and magic users are able, by ritual or by right, to reach out and grab a handful.  Their ability to control and divert the stream depends on their experience and their mental acuity.  Arcanists manipulate the flow of those energies through the material plane to produce effects on the material plane.  The Called contact their divine representative through this channel and together they channel the divine energy aspects to wreak weal or woe on those around them.  Elementalists harness the flow of energy directly and bring it into the material plane.

Arcanists are those who have a high intelligence, and can recognize patterns that others may not notice.  Through study and experimentation (as well as the natural talent required to manipulate super-natural energies), the arcanist can manipulate conditions both physical and metaphysical to harness the thaumaturgic energies of the cosmos.

Hedge-mages are a subset of arcanists that have studied the methods of the arcanists, but lack the insight to create new magical effects on their own.  They have the natural talent required to manipulate energies, but must do so through rigorous training in the harnessing rituals and can only produce limited effects.

The Called are those who have been chosen by a supernatural entity (commonly called a god) to perform some task on the Material Plane.  They receive power through an agent of this supernatural entity.  While pursuing the assigned mission, the power they are allotted is very great, and as a reward for devoted service, they Called are granted a portion of their power for the pursuit of their own personal ends.

The pious are a subordinate class to the Called, who are given knowledge of specific rituals to be performed at specific times for specific purposes.  They often oversee the worshippers of the gods, and assist in the celebration of holy days.  These rituals are often limited in scope, but not always.

The Elemetalists are the third most common form of higher caster.  They draw their power from the cosmos itself, combining the five elements in various ways to perform magical feats.  They possess genetic material which links them to the elements of the universe and allows their manipulation.

Spell Points and Magic Use

There are 8 factors that affect how many spell points a particular manifestation will cost.  These are duration, power, range, focus, casting time, preparation, familiarity, and number of casters.

The caster may choose to expend more SP than they currently have, but at severe personal risk.  There are two options to perform this act.  First, a caster may simply invest up to 1/4 their current HP worth of SP into any given spell.  After the spell is cast, the caster then takes 1d6 damage for each spell point gained in this way.  Second, the caster may inflict damage upon themselves immediately before casting by drawing blood, and for each point of damage inflicted, an extra 2 SP are gained.  Unused points are lost.

Duration:

By default, passive spell effects last for 1 minute, and aggressive spell effects act instantaneously and then dissipate.  Extending a spell for longer than the base duration will cost a number of spell points based on the table below (units are 1 minute for passive spells, 1 round for active spells)

Units: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Points 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55

In addition, active spells will cost the number of spell points devoted to increasing their power each round/minute they are active.

Focus Elements:

Rude Fine white sand, poured out as spell cast Extends spell duration 1 unit
Adequate Quartz crystal on a fine silver chain Doubles SP used to extend spell duration
Superb Perfectly spherical polished moonstone Triple  SP used to extend spell duration
Sublime Polished sunstone Quadruple SP used to extend spell duration

Power:

Spells which cause damage to opponents start at a base of 1d4 damage for HP damage, or 1 point when influencing abilities.  Those which cure damage or augment abilities begin at 1d6 HP or 2 points of ability scores.  Increasing these values costs 1 point per die type or ability point.

The base saving throw for spells is 10 + Ability Modifier + Spell Points/3.  Increasing the save for a particular manifestation costs 1 spell point per point of save.  Decreasing the saving throw reduces the spell points required to cast the spell by one per point of save.  You cannot decrease the saving throw DC to less than 10 in this way and still save point costs.

Focus Elements:

Rude chunk of granite increases damage by 1 die category
Adequate guano and charcoal dust increases damage by 2 die categories
Superb Jade bladed dagger adds 3 to save
Sublime 12 sided polished crystal deals 4 points of ability damage

Range:

The default range of a spell is touch or personal.  Increasing the range costs the points indicated per range increment.

Close is 25 feet plus 5 feet per two caster levels.  (1)

Medium is 100 feet + 10 feet per caster level.  (1)

Long range is 400 feet + 40 feet per caster level.  (2)

Local range is 1600 feet + 160 feet per caster level.  (3)

Regional is 1 mile + 1/10 mile per caster level.  (5)

Baronial range is 4 miles + 1/2 mile per caster level (8)

County range is 16 miles + 1 1/2 miles per caster level (13)

Duchy range is 64 miles + 6 1/2 miles per caster level (21)

Country range is 256 miles + 25 miles per caster level (34)

Empirical range is 1024 miles + 100 miles per caster level (55)

Continental range is 4096 miles + 400 miles per caster level (89)

Focus elements:

Rude 3 flight feathers 1 free range increment
Adequate preserved whole wing 2 free range increments
Superb 2 polished crystal lenses 3 free range increments
Sublime Gold spyglass with diamond lenses 4 free range increments

 Focus:

Casting spells requires concentration.  Utilizing different focusing techniques can make spellcasting less taxing on the caster.  It is assumed that all spells are cast with verbal and somatic components. Focusing energies through these mental foci are a basic technique that may be eschewed.  Forgoing the verbal component will increase the spell point cost by 2, and forgoing the somatic component will also increase the spell point cost by 2.

Channeling spell power from the flow into the material plane can often be facilitated by using a properly aligned material focus.  Using a focus reduces the number of spell points required to enact the spell.  There are two kinds of focus:  Seed foci, and Effect foci.

Seed foci are related to the school of the spell being cast, and come in 4 qualities: Rude, Adequate, Superb, and Sublime.  Each school has it’s own focus material, and each level of quality is increasingly rare.

Quality Reduction Max SP Break Chance
Rude 20% 10 90%
Adequate 40% 20 75%
Superb 60% 30 60%
Sublime 80% 40 45%

Reduction:  Percentage of spell points that using the focus reduces the spell cost by.

Max SP:  The maximum spell points of magic that the focus can be used to channel at one time (after the focus reduction).  Channeling more than this number of spell points (after the reduction) will risk breaking the focus.

Break Chance: If the Max SP is exceeded, this is the chance that the focus will be ruined by channeling the spell.  Sorry

Effect foci relate to each of the spell effects, and also come in 4 qualities: Rude, Adequate, Superb, and Sublime.  Each effect has a different focus requirement, and allows a “free” extension of the particular aspect of the focus.

Only one focus may be used for each round of casting time.

While there are foci listed under each effect, these are guidelines, and other objects/materials may be used as foci at the DM’s discretion.  Foci serve as elements to aid the mind of the mage as much as tap the thaumflow.

Casting Time:

Base casting time is considered to be 1 full round, to gather the energies of the thaumflow and direct it into useful effect.  Reducing the amount of time to cast to a single action doubles the spell point cost of the spell.  On the other hand, extending the amount of time it takes to cast the spell will decrease the number of points required to cast the spell.  For each full round the casting is extended by, it will cost two fewer spell points, to a minimum of 3 spell points per casting.  If the casting gets interrupted at any point during an extended casting time, the caster may choose to release the spell in it’s incomplete form (effects adjucated by the DM), or lose the spell and invested SP.

Preparation:

A caster may prepare beforehand any number of spells by recording them in a specially prepared book, much like a standard wizard’s spellbook.  The spell point cost for these spells is 3/4 what it is normally, and is spent (all except 1 point) at the time of preparation (usually just after waking, though it may be at any time of day, as long as an hour is taken to prepare).  Thereafter, the caster is able to spend the final point and cast the spell as a standard action.  One focus may be used for each prepared spell.

Familiarity:

Most casters find themselves falling into patterns of utilizing the same effects over and over again.  The mental effort of calling these effects into existence becomes less and less with increased practice, much like muscle memory aids in physical tasks over time.  The reduction in spell point costs is given on the chart below:

Number of previous castings: 1 2 4 8 16 32 64 128
Total reduction in SP costs: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Max time frame: 1 hour 4 hours 16 hr. 2.5 day 10 day 42 days 6 mo. 2 year

Number of previous castings: the number of times you have cast the exact same manifestation (whether successful or not) in the given time period.

Total reduction in SP costs:  the number of SP you may reduce the cost by if you have cast the same spell the requisite number of times in the given time period.

Max time frame:  The length of time that the given spell effect has an impact on your mental pathways.  With more use, a spell makes more permanent pathways, but after time those paths fade as the mind of the caster learns and grows.

Number of Casters:

Any number of casters of the same training may join together to cast more powerful spells.  The combined spell points of all casters may be used to power the spell.  Default casting time is one minute per caster involved, to allow each to synchronize their mind with the other caster’s minds.  The mind of a caster is necessarily unique, and to coordinate the energies of multiple minds is a sensitive and time consuming effort.  Reducing the casting time may be done, however, by increasing the cost of the spell by 10% for each minute the casting time is reduced by.  Casting time cannot be reduced to below one minute for a multi-caster spell.

Focus Elements:

Rude Chalked/drawn circle with lines equally spaced connecting the positions of all casters 10% reduction of SP Requirement or lower time reduction to 5% per minute
Adequate Nonpermanent physical circle connecting all casters 20% reduction of SP requirement or lower time reduction to 3% per minute
Superb Permanent physical of base material (wood, iron, water filled trench, etc.) circle connecting all casters 30% reduction of SP req. and lower time reduction cost to 5% per minute
Sublime Permanent physical circle of precious materials (silver, gold, gemstones, etc.) connecting all casters 40% reduction of SP req. and lower time reduction cost to 3% per minute

Regarding the reduction of SP costs: Whole points are deducted first, and then percentages applied to the resultant number, in order from greatest to least.

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