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Friday, December 13, 2019

Invocation as Magical Power Source

Magic-Users and MagicContinuing to describe the magical power sources… The next up is Invocation, which very similar to Words of Power. Both use speech and/or symbols to call up and direct magical power. The difference is that Words of Power are impersonal and indifferent, while the gods have personalities and plans. Magicians typically aren’t beholden to the deities they invoke. A magician in a sense is just using invocation of deities as a means to an end, but has no faith or devotion to those invoked names. They still run the risk of attracting undue attention.

Worship is a more elaborate form of invocation. Like chanting Words of Power, invoking deities through extended prayer and ceremony takes longer. Take the max spell level of all spells being prepared as the minimum number of hours needed for prep. Roll 1d6: on 5+, the magician finishes in the minimum amount of time. Otherwise, add 1 to the result rolled and multiply by the max spell level to get the number of hours needed for the ceremony. Unlike chanting, the delay is caused by the whims of the deities involved, not the difficulty of reciting the prayers. If a magician has offended one or more of the deities invoked, add 1d6 for each. Rather than tracking each magician’s relationship with every deity in the world, assume that any affront to a god of fire offends all gods of fire and record when the gods of fire are angry at the magician.

The most extreme form of invocation includes sacrifice. For deities, this means offerings on an altar dedicated to that deity. The cost of an altar equals the cost of a spell book, which means each altar is rated for a max spell level and must be upgraded to be used for higher-level spells. Each spell prep session requires an offering worth 1/20th the value of the altar (so, a 4th level altar costs 16,000 coins and requires 800 coins worth of offerings each time it is used.)

Magical Power Source Articles
  1. Astrology
  2. Words of Power
  3. Invocation
  4. Occult Forces (TBD)
  5. Psychic Powers (TBD)
  6. Spirit Binding (TBD)
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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Words of Power as Magical Power Source

Magic-Users and MagicContinuing to describe the magical power sources… You may notice that the power sources are arranged in a particular order, starting with the most abstract, remote, and impersonal (the celestial spheres) and becoming more concrete and personal down the line. The next up is Words of Power, which embody cosmic forces, but aren’t the forces themselves. Or, to think of it another way: words of power are backdoor passwords or cheat codes that enable the magician to tap into primordial forces of creation.

Spellbooks for a pure words of power magic system would describe several words, their precise pronunciation, and what they affect, as well as how they interact. It might include meditations on the concepts lurking behind each word, with commentaries by various famous wizards arguing with each other over time about the true meaning of it all, and the individual magic-user’s own thoughts scribbled in the margins.

For the short version of words of power, spell prep takes ten minutes per spell level. This is can be per spell, or if the GM prefers, magicians prep all 1st level spells simultaneously, then all 2nd level spells, etc., to represent the magician getting quicker at spell prep for lower level spells as they advance in level.

Extended chanting of long, difficult words of power is the more limiting version of the process. For this form, take the max spell level of all spells being prepared as the minimum number of hours needed for prep. Roll 1d6: on 5+, the magician finishes in the minimum amount of time. Otherwise, add 1 to the result rolled and multiply by the max spell level to get the number of hours needed for the chant. This represents restarting the chant if the magician mispronounces a word. Chanting while exhausted or after missing a night’s sleep adds another 1d6. Magicians with Int or Con 16+ are less likely to make mistakes and can drop 1d6.

The extreme version of words of power is Songs of Power. This adds musical instruments constructed to have a special tone or resonance into spell prep. Each spell level has its own instrument, which should cost the same amount as a spell book for that spell level. In extreme cases, an adventure to find banshee hair to weave into strings for a lyre or something similar may be needed.

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Monday, December 9, 2019

Astrology as s Magical Power Source

Magic-Users and MagicA little over a month ago, I created a table of magical power sources, which I intended to explain in more detail. A recent comment reminded me I still need to do that. This post goes into more detail on astrology as a magical power source. First, a reminder of what the power sources are. D&D magic has a two-step spell process: “memorizing” or preparing a spell before an adventure, and casting the spell during the adventure. The way I interpret this is that the prep part is what you’d recognize as a magic spell from non-D&D fantasy media: inscribing symbols on the ground, tossing ingredients into a brazier, reciting incantations, the usual ritual stuff. The magic-user raises magical power from some source during this ritual and links it to a short phrase and hand gestures which act as a mnemonic trigger during the actual spell casting. This trigger releases the power and causes the spell to take effect.

I’ve read several actual grimoires and occult books, from Francis Barrett’s The Magus through Crowley’s Magic in Theory and Practice, books by Eliphas Levi and others… too many, really. So my vision of what those rituals would look like is colored by that. Those books typically involve:
  1. Using astrology to determine celestial influences on the spell to be cast;
  2. Using tables of the names of celestial intelligences and spirits linked to the time of the casting;
  3. Divine names and magic words to invoke;
  4. Tables linking herbs, plants, animals, gems, metals, and other minerals to celestial influences.
Making Astrology and celestial forces one of the magical power sources thus seemed fitting. Some magical traditions perform their magic rituals “when the stars are right”, or change their rituals to match the current astrological influences.

On the simplest level, having astrology as a power source just means that spellbooks include an astronomical emphemeris and tables linking different magical effects to different planets, days of the week, and the like. For example, here is a chapter from The Magus about making talismans linked to each of the seven classical planets of astrology and what each planet governs. There are also individual chapters for each of the planets expanding on this, and later in the ceremonial magic section, the names of the 24 spirits that govern the hours of the day and night, and the angels, planets, and zodiac signs that govern each day of the week:

Day Name Angel Name Planet Star Sign
Sunday Michael Sun Leo
Monday Gabriel Moon Cancer
Tuesday Camael Mars Ares/Scor
Wednesday Raphael Mercury Gem/Virgo
Thursday Sachiel Jupiter Sag/Pisces
Friday Anäel Venus Tau/Libra
Saturday Cassiel Saturn Cap/Aqua

The more limiting version of Astrology (listed in the third column of the magical power sources table) is Limited Time. This is the “when the stars are right” restriction. Instead of being able to prep any spell at any time, as long as the rituals are tailored for the time of the ritual, there are windows of opportunity that open up for prepping each spell type. If the magic-user is prepping a low-level spell, but misses their window, they have to wait a week for the next window. For higher-level spells, they have to wait a month, and for the highest level, a whole season or even a year.

The most extreme version of an astrological power source is the use of Planetary Rays. In addition to the time constraints, the magic-user must have special designed lenses or mirrors to focus the cosmic power emanating from the planet in question. The simple way to rule this is to require a rare substances (sands of Mars, essence of Mercury) to be added to the molten glass that is later ground into a lens shape. It mainly adds a monetary cost to replace a lens, possibly an adventure if a particular substance becomes temporarily scarce.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

End-of-the-Year Maintenance and Plans, 2019

I took a spur-of-the-moment vacation from blogging this week, and have in general not had much time or energy for many projects, for a variety of reasons. The main issue is that there is just too much going on in November and December to allow me a good chunk of uninterrupted design time. As a result, I did not complete any of the tasks I set myself for November: no maps, no reference sheets, no player’s guide.

I’m not expecting things to get better in December. Lots of stuff going on. I will, however, work on the Liber Zero player reference sheets and maybe get started on GM reference sheets. If I can, I may squeeze in a map, but the chances of that happening are not looking good.

(The difference between the two, for those wondering, is that I’ve thought and written a lot about Liber Zero over several years and already have what are essentially rough drafts scattered throughout various posts, so it’s mostly a matter of tracking things down, tweaking a few rules, then rearrange and rewrite, whereas map work requires actually making something new from scratch. It takes hours just to make the maps for a pamphlet dungeon, and that doesn’t even include coming up with the ideas or writing up the text. A larger dungeon takes at least five times as long. That’s a huge disparity in the amount of creative effort needed to make a map versus making an LZ reference sheet.)

The Assembly of Ill-Formed Flesh and the LZ Player’s Guide will probably be delayed until next year. Also, I’m mulling over changes to my blogging. There will be a full report in my annual retrospective and planning posts.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

More on Metagaming

My previous post on metagaming started a mini-discussion. Robert Conley gave his own definition of metagaming in the comments, and expanded on it on his own blog. Dennis Laffey clarified that he didn’t entirely disagree with the original definition of metagaming in the video, but focused more on the natural conclusions you have to draw if you are using a definition like that.

And I totally get that. I didn’t give my own definition of metagaming, either, or really address what I thought of that definition. But now is the time for me to talk directly about how I define metagaming. Or rather, to say I haven’t quite decided how to define it, because I’m not entirely sure it’s a useful concept.

Here’s my line of thought on this: When we make up a new word with the “meta-” prefix, it’s to talk about an abstract level one step above, beyond, or removed from a more direct concept. An example directly relevant to RPGs is metaplot, the story that some RPG products create that overrides the plot ideas individual GMs and/or players create at the table.

So what would “metagaming” be? It’s the abstract level above the level of game rules or game play. Behaviors that override the game rules themselves. Both of the metagaming definitions being discussed incorporate some sense of that. But I’m thinking that roleplaying itself overrides system-level concerns. It’s the real metagame level. What’s usually being discussed in debates about metagaming is something interfering with the roleplaying aspect, because the player is either using knowledge that the group considers outside the character’s reach or socially manipulating the GM or group to get their own way.

The solutions usually proposed to fix the metagame problem are either system level (XP penalties for acting out-of-character, for example) or social level (having a serious talk with a player.) You can, as I suggested previously, see this itself as metagaming… or meta-metagaming… or maybe metaroleplaying. It’s really more like a back-and-forth between game system and player control, with one overriding the other for a while until the balance seems tipped too far in one direction. I’m not sure you can actually pin down what counts as metagaming, or what counts as bad metagaming, even for an individual group. It’s something that’s constantly in flux.

I may have more to say on this after Thanksgiving, as I mull it over.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Is This Metagaming?

Dennis Laffey has a post on his blog where he responds to a video discussion about metagaming. I’m not going to discuss the video itself, because Dennis has that covered. But the discussion itself got me thinking about that definition given for metagaming: “Using any knowledge the player has instead of knowledge that the character has available.”

I’m surprised Dennis didn’t take exception to that definition, since it seems to depend a lot on the definition of roleplaying as “acting in character” or being an amateur thespian. If you believe the true purpose of an RPG is to pretend to be another person, expressing their feelings and motivations rather than your own, then naturally anything that breaks character is going to seem like a step beyond the game’s intentions.

But what gets me is that people into that kind of roleplaying never seem to see the game rules themselves as a violation of roleplaying. Instead, they frequently try to use game rules to enforce acting in character: dice rolls to see what a character knows, XP awards or penalties for how the player plays their character.

It seems clear to me that a focus on rules is what ruins roleplaying. But maybe that’s just me.

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Support and Upkeep

Here’s a weekly support and upkeep system that fits with Liber Zero, OD&D, and almost any D&D compatible ruleset.

Level Weekly Upkeep Residence Cost Servants
1 15 coins N/A 0
2 45 coins 150 coins 1
3 90 coins 450 coins 1
4 180 coins 900 coins 2
5 360 coins 1800 coins 2
6 720 coins 3600 coins 3
7 1400 coins 7200 coins 4
8 2800 coins 14000 coins 5
9 5600 coins 28000 coins 6
10 11,000 coins 56000 coins 8
+10,000/level +50,000/level


Weekly Upkeep is how much an adventurer has to pay for room, board, equipment repairs, and the occasional minor tax (gate tolls, market fees.)

Residence Cost is how much an adventurer has to pay for a permanent residence in town if they want to reduce the weekly upkeep costs. If a character has a level-appropriate permanent residence, shift up one row for the weekly upkeep costs (minimum 15 coins/week.) HOWEVER…

Servants is the minimum number required to maintain both the residence and one’s own social standing. If a character doesn’t have enough servants, there should be a weekly chance of some kind of minor disaster: rodent infestations, bed bugs, water or smoke damage, and so on. Roll 1d6 for every missing servant, with something bad happening if any die rolled is 5+. Multiply the total of all the dice rolled by 10 for replacement or repair costs.

If either the residence value or number of servants is below what is indicated for the character’s level, the character will be seen as being a lower level. For example, a 4th-level hero with a single-floor residence worth 150 coins is seen as a 2nd level character. Shift reaction results down one category (Good reactions become Average, etc.) Or, roll 1d6 for every level of difference to check for social catastrophes, similar to the way you would check for minor disasters at an understaffed residence.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Reload Last Save?

I’ve been playing modded Skyrim again recently, so it’s reminded me about something that irks me in video games. It’s easy in Skyrim to get suddenly overwhelmed by enemies and swiftly killed… and then the game loads the last save and you start over. The worst things that can happen are:

  • forgetting to save for a long while and losing a lot of progress,
  • getting killed so close to your last save point that you get stuck in a “death loop” and have to abandon that save, rolling back to a previous save.

Sometimes, it’s even better to die in a couple situations to gather information about coming dangers. All of this can break immersion, if that’s what you’re looking for in your game experience. Dying really doesn’t matter.

Which brings us to a point many OSR bloggers have made before: dying has to matter in old-school games. This is why there’s so much pushback against “fixes” like negative hit points, healing surges, or eliminating save or die situations. There’s certainly room for discussing proper GM practice, or giving players a few more options to avoid instant murder. And honestly, old school play isn’t really more deadly than other RPGs, as long as you play smart. But the general feeling among the members of the OSR community is that play should be thoughtful and cautious, and death should be a constant threat. Remove too much of the threat and you turn the game into a meaningless adventure simulator.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Delusions and Illusions

Before continuing the exploration of mystical states of matter I started in this post, I wanted to say a little more about the old mystical states of astral and ethereal matter and how they affect spell-casting.

I believe I mentioned a long while ago that illusions have a special relationship to astral matter. An illusion spell cast while the spell-caster is astral takes on its own semi-permanent reality. Hallucinatory Terrain creates a sort of pocket astral realm, while Phantasmal Forces can make self-willed astral beings. Conjuration takes this one step further, causing these astral beings created from pure thought to physically materialize for a while.

Similarly, ethereal matter is affected by desire and emotion and can be used to transfer these to another being. Call it “delusion” in contrast to “illusion”. The simplest delusion spells would transfer simple physical sensations, like sleep and hunger. Charm spells would also depend on ethereal matter.

The way I’m imagining it: spell-casters during their spell prep would imagine themselves feeling sleepy, hungry, or loyal, basically practicing self-hypnosis, while chanting magical phrases, scribing symbols, and burning incense or other ingredients, impressing their desires on etheric material and binding it to some trigger phrases and gestures so they can recall and direct it later.

Since Sleep and Charm Person are 1st level spells, while the first illusion (Phantasmal Forces) is 2nd level, I’m thinking astral equivalents of ethereal manipulations are all basically one level higher. For example, Invisibility (2nd level) transforms light that reaches the target into ethereal light, so that those unable to see ethereal things would be unable (or barely able) to see the target. An astral equivalent that is harder to detect and is more like an illusion, able to be turned on or off with a thought, would be 3rd level. Detect Evil and ESP are ethereal-based, Clairvoyance and Clairaudience are astral-based and one level higher.

Extrapolating further: Dimension Door (4th level) relies on astral distortions of distance (I know AD&D says its a form of ethereal travel, rather than astral, but I don’t see it that way…) What would the 3rd level ethereal equivalent be? No spatial distortion, but temporary intangibility. This is pretty close to Phase Door, although that is rated as 7th level. I think it should definitely be lowered in spell level, although the multiple use version could be set at 5th level (and the caster should be allowed to take up to two others through the phase door.)

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