... now with 35% more arrogance!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Damaged or Depleted Spell Resources

The materialistic spell points system is practically becoming its own series of posts. Here are some useful tables for running magic that relies on “mana balls” to power spells.

Since spell balls or mana balls are physical resources, they can potentially be damaged by the environment. Any magician caught on fire who fails a save should roll 1d6: on a 5+, the pouch or container that the mana balls are stored in also catches fire, and the magician must take action to avoid losing supplies. (This roll can be skipped if, for example, only the magician’s back is exposed to flame, but the pouch of mana balls is located on the front side of the magician’s belt.) Being dunked in water or other liquids can ruin, dilute, or taint mana balls. (A waterproof container can improve the odds, perhaps requiring the same 1d6 check.) In either case, the GM makes a 2d6 reaction roll, keeping the result a secret.

2d6 Roll Environmental Reaction
2 Ruined, May be recoverable
3-5 Tainted or Diluted (Spell Failure Check)
6-8 Diluted Effect (Spell Failure Check)
9-11 No Damage to Resource
12+ Boosted Effect (except when wet)

Ruined mana balls are unusable, while Diluted are only sometimes unusable, requiring a spell failure check. Tainted mana balls also require a spell failure check, but such spells never fail completely, they instead have unexpected side effects. Boosted effects double the duration or hit dice affected, but not the number of targets or area of effect; the magician must still pass a spell failure check, but if the spell “fails”, it means the boosted effects have expired and the mana balls return to normal. Water or dampness does not boost effects.

(I, personally, would treat smoke/fire damage, water damage, and other liquid damage in different ways. Smoke/fire can ruin or taint mana balls, but not dilute their strength. Water can ruin or dilute, but not taint or boost. Other liquids can do all three.)

In a comment on another post, I brought up the idea of depleting arcane resources in an area. To save on the cost of manufacturing mana balls, magicians can opt to gather resources themselves, scouring the countryside for rare herb, enchanted springs, or arcanely-tainted minerals. However, these resources may be depleted by overharvesting. The next time a magician searches for ingredients in an area that has recently been harvested, look up the 3d6 vs. Int result on the following table:

3d6 Roll Arcane Harvest Result
3 Last Harvest, no further resources
4-5 Exhausted temporarily
6-8 Depleted, Int halved on future checks
9-12 No change in resource availability
13-15 +2 on resources found, no other change
16-17 Depleted resources restored
18+ Exhausted resources restored

Note that the 3d6 result is being used in two ways:

  • roll > Int means no resources found
  • roll is crossreferenced with table for effects on future rolls

If a magician with Int 12 rolls a 13, the magician doesn’t find any resources. If a magician with Int 16 rolls a 13, the magician finds +2 gp worth of materials.

The GM keeps track of the resource level (normal, depleted, exhausted, or permanently exhausted.) The player isn’t informed of the current state, but can probably figure out if an area is depleted if they only sporadically recover ingredients from the area. If they never recover resources, but know they have rolled under half their Int, then the area might be temporarily exhausted or permanently exhausted, and won’t be sure of which, unless they do some research with the aid of a sage.

Depleted areas, as mentioned, halve their Int for finding resources. This means that even 18 Int magicians may only find resources 37.5 % of the time. On a future roll of 16+, the area recovers and resources are available again. If a Depleted area gets a second Depleted result, it becomes Exhausted.

Exhausted areas won’t return any resources at all, but may recover on future checks. Last Harvest, however, means that the area is so depleted, it won’t recover for decades or centuries without the aid of powerful intervention (like a wish.) Two Exhausted results does not mean the area is permanently exhausted, though. Only a Last Harvest result will do that.

If desired, this table can also be used when exploring a new area, with the first result indicating the general availability of arcane resources in that area. I prefer to assume, though, that depleted and exhausted areas are actually quite rare and wouldn’t require checking the table on the first roll for a new area.

As suggested previously, I see resource depletion not as a punishment or failsafe against player cleverness, but as a goad to adventure. It gives players a possible explanation for why their characters travel and adventure, instead of just camping out and harvesting one area repeatedly.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Non-Materialistic Elves

As I develop this magic system based on materialistic spell points, I’m liking it more and more and want to use it… but there’s a problem I’m beginning to notice. When I first suggested it, I was thinking I would keep “normal” magic as-is, but use the alternate system for elven magic, to help make elves more distinctive. But as I thought about it more, especially after writing about the physical nature of the power source for magic, I began to feel like the relationship should be reversed.

Even though I was using “materialistic” in the literal sense of having a material form, it’s feeling more like a very materialistic system in the philosophical sense: rejecting metaphysical or spiritual matters, focusing on the practical and physical, even tending to be oriented towards commerce. That doesn’t sound like elves to me at all. I’ve always seen elves as being good at magic because they are inherently magical. They ultimately can’t be as powerful as might human wizards, but magic comes easier to them because they are born with a sense of the magical forces in the world.

So maybe I should swap the two magic systems.

Human spellcasters are sharply divided into the spiritual clerics, who draw power from divine forces and have a more limited range in what they can do, and materialistic magicians, who study how to distill mana into a physical form and use it to power a wide range of spells.

Elves, on the other hand, are in between. They have a “materialistic spiritualism” view of the world and can prepare (memorize) spells to cast when needed, without the need for arcane fuel. But they don’t have the freedom of human magicians, who can cast any spell they know as long as they have mana balls as fuel. They must prepare specific spells beforehand.

I’m thinking, though, that elves learn spells from spellbooks, but don’t need to use spellbooks to memorize spells for casting. If they study their spellbooks, they automatically memorize the spells they select, but if they just meditate for a number of hours equal to their highest spell level, they can memorize the spells on a successful 3d6 vs. Int roll (half effective Int in stressful or suboptimal circumstances.) On a failed result, their retention is poor and a spell check must be made every time they cast a spell, to see if it was successfully memorized.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Materialism of Materialistic Spell Points

When I introduced the idea of magicians creating spell balls out of exotic herbs and other ingredients and using them to power spells in Materialistic Spell Points, I didn’t really go too deep into what that meant. These spell balls are physical objects, not an abstraction. Abstract spell points creates simple strategic choices: Spend your spell points as quickly as possible? Hoard them for emergencies? Adjust your spending rate during play? But a physical resource creates infinite strategic choices, for creative players. Anything you can imagine doing to a physical object, or to the process that creates that object, can affect the game.

I mentioned one such possibility: since there’s only a limit on how many spell balls you can make in one day, but no limit on how many you can carry, you could spend extra time and money (or no money and a lot more time) to make more spell balls. A 1st level M-U who memorizes spells can only cast 1 spell. A 1st level M-U who uses spell balls can make 2 or 3 spell balls, if there’s plenty of downtime, and be a little more useful on the adventure.

An M-U with one or two apprentices can have them do the dirty work of scrounging up ingredients, saving money while also shortening prep time.

If there are two M-Us adventuring together, and only one knows the Knock spell, but has run out of spell balls, the other M-U can share a spell ball.

A fighter can try to set fire to a magician’s belt pouch with a torch, hoping to prevent the magician from casting spells.

A thief can sneak up behind an enemy magician and attempt to pick the magician’s pocket, to get the spell balls. Or sneak into an innocent town spellcaster’s house to steal spell balls set out to dry, then give them to the party’s M-U to shorten prep time for an adventure.

Killing an enemy spellcaster in a dungeon might give an M-U a chance to restock on spell balls.

Capturing spellcasters and confiscating their spell balls gives a party a way of controlling their arcane prisoners.

A spellcaster taken captive after exhausting their spells can try to steal a spell ball as part of an escape plan.

M-Us can make spell balls to sell, or sell spell balls found as treasure. Fighters, clerics, and thieves can sell spell balls, too, and should be able to get XP for them.

The local wizard’s guild may have a monopoly on some spell ball ingredients so that they can sell spell balls at inflated prices.

If ingredients are rarer in some places, more common in others, merchants can set up trade routes to exploit the price difference.

Towns that limit or outlaw the practice of magic can search suspected magicians to see if they are carrying spell balls. Magicians can come up with clever ways to hide a stash of spell balls to sneak past checkpoints.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Materialistic Spell Points: XP Follow-Up

I have a reader question to answer and some details to add to the post on materialistic spell points (powering spells with actual physical objects called "spell balls" that magicians make as part of their spell prep, instead of memorizing spells.)

First the question. Christian Kolbe asked:
Are the gp spent on mana balls also converted to XP? It is just a different way to look at investment/spending of XP. You might even reduce the XP required to level since they have to invest XP in each spell.
I gather here that you are using an "XP for gold spent" rule. That's a house rule that has been floating around on the net for a while, although I'm not sure how common it is. I've never ran or played in a game with that rule, myself. It's always been "XP for gold brought back from an adventure" for me. If you use that rule, or any house rule that does away with XP entirely, you aren't investing XP in any spells, so changes to the XP required to level up wouldn't be appropriate.

For GMs using "XP for gold spent", however, it depends on what counts as "spending gold". If it doesn't matter what the gold is spent on, then paying for ingredients to make spell balls gets you XP, the same as paying for anything else would. You wouldn't want to reduce the XP required for an M-U's next level, in that case, because the M-U isn't being penalized for prepping spells instead of spending cash on booze.

But if I recall correctly, Dave Arneson's original pre-D&D rule was that characters had to spend their treasure on non-adventuring items: hobbies, property and property upgrades, social events, anything other than gear you bring into the dungeon. Several of the house rules I've seen for "XP for gold spent" go this route, such as the various carousing tables. In those cases, paying to prep your spells would reduce your potential XP and theoretical slow your advancement, so it might be better to adjust XP requirements for levels.

Fortunately, I made the cost per spell ball 100 gp, which would be 100 xp, and if you only spend one day prepping spells before an adventure, the xp invested would be 100  * your level per adventure. You'd have to gauge how many adventures it takes to get to the next level, and that is going to vary from GM to GM, so maybe a better way would be to give magicians an XP bonus per spell prepped.

... Or just make an exception and allow gold spent on spells to count towards XP. That's probably smarter, since the rules as I wrote them allows magicians to overstock on spell balls or avoid paying for ingredients entirely. If magicians get XP for prepping spells, a player could opt to not spend any money at all, but just gather ingredients and make spell balls all year instead of going on adventures.

That leads in to some other things I wanted to say about spell balls, but I'll save that for another post.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Materialistic Spell Points

I had an idea for a “materialistic” spell point system, meaning one where “spell points” are physical objects that magicians collect or create, then expend to cast a spell. It’s what I called a “fetish” system in a post on non-Vancian magic. I probably would not use this as my sole magic system, because I like Vancian magic just fine, but I’m serious considering tweaking this a bit and making it the default elven magic, to make them feel distinct.

The three important stats for magicians in this system are Intelligence, Level, and Max Spell Level, pretty much the same as in the standard Vancian system. Intelligence has only a minor effect on the study and preparation phase. Level limits the number of spells that can be cast. Max Spell Level equals half the magician’s level (round up) and affects which spells can be cast easily. Magicians must still learn spells, either by locating a spell book that describes them or researching a spell, but no longer need to memorize specific spells before an adventure.

Casting one spell requires using one spell ball. That’s not what they are actually called in the game world, but I’m imagining small (1-inch) balls of exotic ingredients infused with mana, and you know that’s what players would wind up calling them, with all the obvious jokes. I think I’ll call them “vril” or “vrillium” in my world, but you could call them “arcanic earth”, “magic bullets”, “mana orbs” or something else entirely.

Magicians prepare spell balls by mixing 100 gp of herbs and powders (per ball) into a sticky paste while channeling mana into the concoction, then rolling the substance into little balls and setting them out to dry. It takes one day to do this, although the actual mixing and infusing only takes half a day; the magician can do something else while the balls dry.

Instead of purchasing the ingredients, magicians can save money by gathering some or all of them. For each day spent gathering or preparing ingredients prior to the actual infusion process, roll 3d6 for the amount of materials (in gold pieces) that the magician has gathered, up to a maximum amount per day equal to the magician’s Intelligence. Ingredients may be especially rare in some regions (halve the effective Intelligence cap,) or more common in a few very special areas (double effective Intelligence.)

Channeling mana during the infusion process is something only magicians can do, and only for a while, although magicians get better at it with experience. A magician can only infuse 1 spell ball per level per day, and can only safely do that once per week; any more than that is physically taxing, requiring a Constitution check: 3d6 vs. Con for the second infusion session in a week, 3d6 vs. half Con for the third session and each additional session, with failure meaning the magician is in a drained, enfeebled state (half Move, two turns of rest every hour, other Con saves while enfeebled are at half effective Con.) Enfeeblement ends after one week of rest, but recovery time can be shortened with medical care (requires a Con roll once a day.)

To cast a spell, a magician holds up a spell ball and squeezes it in a fist while pointing or gesturing with the other hand and chanting the magic words. If the level of the spell being cast is equal to or less than the magician’s Max Spell Level, the spell ball crumbles as the arcane essence is released. Spells higher than Max Spell Level either can’t be cast, or use twice as many spell balls and require a spell check (3d6 + spell level vs. Intelligence.)

Optional Rule: If the spell level is equal to or less than half the magician’s Max Spell Level, roll 1d6 and add the spell level: on 6+, the spell takes effect but the ball remains intact, only expending a little bit of arcane essence. Additionally, you may rule that spells below 1/4th Max Spell Level never require a die roll, but are always “free” as long as the magician has at least one spell ball. Or, if that is too generous, make an unmodified 1d6 roll instead.
Even if you don’t use spells above 6th level (Men & Magic) or 9th level (Greyhawk, or AD&D,) Max Spell Level can be higher than that, for very high level wizards. A 15th level wizard has a Max Spell Level of 8, which means that the wizard could potentially cast endless spells of 4th level and below without running out of mana.
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Monday, April 24, 2017

Non-Linear Dungeon-Making: Variant

I wanted to offer an alternative method for setting up tunnels in non-linear dungeons. Consider the illustration on the left, which is similar to the illustration in SubMethod II for the pre-connected method, and which may be used as a substitute if you don't want to use the "clock" method. It's basically an expansion of the d8 variant described in the other post. For this variant, you would check where a door leads by rolling a d10.

The rooms numbered 1 through 8 represent directions. Room 9 is the starting point, with one "sample" door in each of the four directions.

If, for example, you were checking where a door in the north wall of a room leads, you would roll a d10. Rolling a 1 means that the door leads due north, to Room 1 in the illustration, or in that general direction. You would extend the white corridor stub to the north so that it would connect Room 9 and Room 1. If, instead, you roll a 5, that would indicate that the north door leads south, which would mean the corridor would go around Room 9, and has two possible routes: the red path to the left or the blue path to the right. Flip a coin, or roll a d6: tails or odd numbers means use the left-hand path, heads or even numbers means use the right hand path.

If you would like more variety, you can use the coin toss or even/odd roll every time you have a choice between a red path and a blue path, so that a corridor could take either the shortest route or the longest route to reach its destination. In cases where there are three choices (red, white and blue,) any result of 5+ on 1d6 means use the white path, or go straight. So, the route from the north door in Room 9 to Room 1 could be short and straight, or make three left turns or three right turns and spiral around Room 9 on its way to Room 1.

On a roll of 9, the corridor leads back to the starting room. Roll a d6 for the location of the second door:

  1. North Wall
  2. East Wall
  3. South Wall
  4. West Wall
  5. Ladder Up/Down, center of room
  6. Stairs Up/Down, center of room

Connect the first and second door, making sure to include a ladder or staircase in the opposite direction if the result was 5+.

On a result of 0 for the d10 roll, the door goes nowhere: it opens on a blank wall or a short, dead-end tunnel. You can roll a d6 for tunnel length (in squares,) treating a 6 as a length of 0, and rolling another d6 to have the tunnel turn left or right after 2 squares.

All of this assumes that you know which walls in your starting room has exits, possibly because you've already rolled some kind of door check (for example, rolling four d8s and reading the result off the d6 table above, with 7+ meaning no door.) But an alternative approach would be to roll four d10s all at once and reading the result as if you were using a drop-dice table, with the positions of the dice indicating the approximate position of the door, and the result indicating where the door leads. Or make the number of d10s rolled variable by rolling 2d3 first for the number of dice to roll.

Once you have your network of corridors leading out of your starting room, you can use the junction table from either SubMethod II or the pre-loaded leximorph method, along with some method of checking every 60 feet of corridor for additional exits, to fill in extra details.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Pre-Connecting Random Non-Linear Dungeons, SubMethod II

Next up on our look at modifying random dungeon generators to make them more non-linear, I wanted to look at a different approach to rolling for a corridor's destination. SubMethod I relies on room numbers as references pointing to physical locations. This works great if you want to use room numbers as your way of keying rooms, but not so great if you prefer letters or multicharacter labels. It doesn't allow for nested structure labeling (room 1 as a main room and 1A/1B as subrooms.) And it doesn't work well at all if you want to use numbers for any point of interest, like a trapped intersection, not just literal rooms.

The solution is to use some kind of relative numbering system, something better than "roll dice and add a modifier to get the actual room number". One answer is to number the relative positions around the current room, for example using 12-hour clock positions, with 12 o'clock as the area due north of the current room, 3 o'clock as due east, 6 o'clock as due south, and 9 o'clock as due west, so that you can roll a d12 to select the room that is in that relative position as the destination of a corridor. In the illustration to the left, the main room in the center has a door in the north wall. We would roll a d12 for the destination of that door; a result of 12 would mean that the corridor heads straight north to Room 12, while a 7 would mean that the corridor turns west for about 40 feet, then south until it connects with Room 7.

(Incidentally, I've been using Alex Schroeder's Gridmapper for these quick demonstration pics. I only recently found out about it, but I've been out of the loop for a while, so probably everyone already knows about it. I work on the pic in another tab as I'm writing the blogpost, then use a Chrome extension called Nimbus Screenshot to quickly save the pic and insert it into my post.)

An alternative that might be easier for some people would be to mentally overlay a tic-tac-toe board over the map of the area immediately around the starting room, with the center square as the current room, and number the other squares clockwise from 1 to 8, starting at the top. Use a d8 with this method to indicate the destination square.

In either case, the corridor heads towards the indicated destination. If the area hasn't been mapped yet, you can roll to see what is in the area using a d10:

  • On a 0, the passage dead ends.
  • On any result up to 6, there's a junction. Roll again twice for destination with either the d12 or d8 (whichever method used above,) with doubles indicating that the junction is a turn rather than an intersection.
  • On any result over 6, there's a room. Roll on any table you prefer to determine room size, shape and description.

You can change the target number of 6 to a different number to shift the proportion of corridors to rooms, or use the junction table on the pre-loaded non-linear dungeon post instead.

If there is a room or corridor already in that location, the new corridor connects with it. (Notice that we don't need to connect with a room, or even with a keyed location...)  Alternatively, for corridors, use the d10 table for crossing pre-existing corridors from the SubMethod I post, which will add a chance for sublevels above or below the main level.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pre-Connecting Random Non-Linear Dungeons, SubMethod I

To continue on the topic of making sure randomly-generated dungeons contain loops to avoid linear designs, let's look at the second method. The first method, you will recall, is to include the loops beforehand and built your dungeon around that skeleton, which I called "pre-loading". I was almost going to call the second method "post-directing", to contrast it to "pre-loading", but I didn't like that name. I'll call it "pre-connecting" instead.

The fundamental idea, remember, is that instead of waiting for the random twists and turns of a corridor to connect to a room, you roll immediately for where the corridor goes and adjust the shape to fit. You are thus connecting the rooms in advance, before knowing where the corridor actually appears to lead. Since most GMs number their rooms, the brute force method of rolling for connections would be to just roll the room number. For example, in the image to the left, if we begin in Room A and need to know where the door in the upper right leads, we could roll a d4 and read the result as the room number. If the result is 1, we draw the corridor turning north (upper blue squares,) then west to connect to the door in Room 1. On a 2, we extend the corridor east (upper red squares) until we connect to Room 2. On a 3 or 4, we extend the corridor south (green squares) and then turn east (lower blue squares) or west (lower red squares,) depending on whether we are connecting to Room 3 or Room 4.

The problem with this is that we need a die roll that matches the number of rooms in the dungeon... and we might not know how many rooms the dungeon has yet. Instead of rolling directly for the room number, then, we could instead roll for the relative room number. We could roll a d10 on the following table:

RollRoom #|RollRoom #
1Current Room - 4|6Current Room + 1
2Current Room - 3|7Current Room + 2
3Current Room - 2|8Current Room + 3
4Current Room - 1|9Current Room + 4
5Back to Current Room|0To Distant Room, Same Direction

In other words, subtract 5 from the current room number, then add the result of a d10 to get the destination room number. This means that most corridors will lead to nearby rooms: rooms you have just drawn, or rooms you are about to draw.

If the result is less than 5, it's one of the previous four rooms you've drawn. Draw your corridor as straight as possible towards that room. You might have to make one or two turns, if the corridor starts in the opposite direction (the way Room 1 in the example picture above is west of the door in Room A, so the corridor must make a U-Turn to connect.) You can still use the random corridor shape tables from whatever generator you are using to test the corridor every 60 feet or so for side passages or doors.

If the result is 5, the corridor re-connects with the room it leaves. Either there are two doors in the room and the corridor connects them, or the corridor splits into a Y or T and forms a loop that way. Again, check every 60 feet, or possibly even every 30 feet, for doors or branches off the main corridor.

If the result is more than 5, the corridor leads to a new room. assuming you haven't drawn those rooms yet. The general direction of the room is the general direction the initial door or doorway is facing. You can use the standard tables from whatever generation system you are using to test the corridor every 60 feet for turns or side passages, or you can roll a d10 for corridor length:
  • on a 0, there is no corridor and the door leads directly into the new room;
  • on a 1-6, multiply the result by 10 for the length of the corridor;
  • on a 7+, draw 60 feet of corridor and then test for turns, doors, or side passages.
If the result is a 0, the corridor connects to a distant room in the same general direction. Find the first numbered room on the map in that direction and use that room number as your "current" room, then roll on the table again for the destination. If the corridor's general direction is into an unmapped area (quite possible when you've just started mapping,) postpone mapping the corridor until you've mapped that area.

For the first five rooms of a map, use the results as the raw room number. If a corridor has to cross other corridors or rooms to reach its destination, roll on the following table:

d10 RollResult
1-4corridor runs under area
5secret door connects to area
6-9corridor runs above area
0dead end, no connection

If the corridor runs under or above the area, there will be stairs just before it crosses the area, and stairs on the other side. Optionally, there are stairs on even rolls and ladders on odd rolls.

If the corridor ends, either with a secret door or a true dead end, there is no need to worry about finishing the connection on the other side of the already-mapped area.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Pre-Loaded Random Non-Linear Example: Blood of Prokopius

I've been sick for the last few days and unable to write the next installment of the random non-linear dungeon series, so I'll instead link to an example dungeon by FrDave at the Blood of Prokopius blog: The Sunken Halls of the Ape Brotherhood. This uses the leximorph-based pre-loading method to establish the main corridor structure, although instead of randomly-selecting letters using a table, he picked the letters "A", "P", and "E" from the most important descriptive keyword in the dungeon title.

The main thing I'll note is the loops and branching paths, which is what we are looking for in these methods. If entering from the south, there are three routes to choose from, all of which can connect to the same areas, forming a large loop: westwards from the western or middle branch to the apex of the "A", northwards through the flooded chambers, then southwards to the Bizarre Ice Gateway and out the eastern branch of the "E". There are several smaller loops as well: the apex of the "A" and the entire "A" form nesting triangular loops (although you'd have to clear some debris in one area,) the square loop of the "P", the loop(s) between the middle and eastern branches of the "E", and multiple loops of rooms off to the side of the major corridors.

On the whole, very loopy! And a tough environment, too!