... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, June 7, 2021

How Many Miracles Will Your God Grant?

Here’s an expansion of Clerics Without Spells. my rules for using reaction rolls for clerics casting spells on the fly. These days, I assume spells prepared beforehand (“memorized”) can be cast without risk of spell failure. But there’s a couple situations where a cleric prays for spells:

  • When preparing/memorizing those spells,
  • When casting a spell that hasn’t been memorized,
  • When praying for a miracle (higher spell level than they can memorize.)

Religious characters who aren’t clerics can also pray for miracles.

So what if you don’t want to use a crude “all spells granted/no spells granted” approach?

This table should take care of it.

2d6 Roll Reaction Detailed Explanation
2 Fall from Grace No spells granted until character atones at a shrine or temple.
3-4 Divine Wrath If any spells are granted, they are at least two levels below max level.
5-6 Divine Impatience Some spells may be granted, but not those at max level or those one level lower.
7-8 Divine Disfavor Most spells granted, but not those at max level.
9-10 Divine Favor All spells up to max level are approved.
11-12 A Miracle Is Granted Spell one level higher than normal granted on one-time basis. Does not apply to prepared spells.
13+ A Great Miracle Is Granted Spell two levels higher than normal granted on one-time basis. Does not apply to prepared spells.

Max Level refers to the maximum spell level a cleric can prepare beforehand. For example, a 2nd level cleric’s max level is 1, a 4th level cleric’s max level is 2. Max level is half cleric level, rounded down. (officially, OD&D diverges from that after 5th level, and other D&D versions tinker with it, but this is the quick and dirty replacement I use.)

Miracles here are spells that the cleric or worshipper doesn’t cast themselves, but ask to be cast. Any spell above max level is a miracle.

The table is basically the standard reaction roll with the 2 x (cleric level - spell level) formula built into the results already, so no calculation is necessary.

Despite the wording (Favor, Disfavor, Impatience, Wrath,) spells and miracles granted are not considered absolute proof that the cleric or worshipper’s belief in their god is justified. It’s all a matter of faith, not objective truth.

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Monday, May 31, 2021

Cross-Class Training: Teachers

In last week’s cross-class training post, I didn’t mention anything about hiring a teacher. This is partly by design, and partly because I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to go with that.

I definitely don’t want to require a teacher. I don’t see classes as professions, more like semi-fantastic abilities. Player characters are larger-than-life figures in some ways, and should be able to train themselves, if need be.

But after a little thought, I think I see an easy way to add the option of finding a teacher. Remember the effects of prime ability scores on training time? If you have a score of 16+, you automatically take the minimum time and spend the minimum amount needed. That basically makes it match the by-the-book rules for changing classes. But if your score is lower, you may have to spend more time, sometimes a lot more, increasing the total cost.

If a character has a teacher, they use the teacher’s prime ability score, rather than their own. Simple! What the teacher charges for their services counts as part of the training cost. At least half the weekly training cost must go for training supplies, though, so if the teacher charges more than that, the excess is just an extra weekly cost.

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Thursday, May 27, 2021

Cross-Class Ability Training

Since I recently simplified ability checks, I’m feeling in a simplifying mood. Let’s simplify changing classes and multi-classing!

To add a second class, spend time and money training in the new class.

  • Cost Per Week, in coins = Current XP/10
  • Weeks Needed: Level modified by Prime Ability score for new class (Strength for Fighters, Dex for Thieves, etc.)
If Score Is … Time Is …
3 Level x 4
4-8 Level x 3
9-12 Level x 2
13+ Level

GM secretly rolls 1d6. No roll is needed for a prime ability score of 16+.

On 5+, the character improves in the second class, one level at a time, after the minimum amount of training time.

On 1 to 4, add 1 and multiply by minimum time to find out how much more training the character will need.

Apply current XP to new class to find max training level for new class. After reaching this, new levels are added by earning XP as usual.

Old class does not improve further unless character trains to “switch back”.

Use best hit dice, attacks, and saves from all classes, up to last level earned in each class.

I might make a few tweaks to numbers, but there’s only one major change I’m considering for these rules.

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Monday, May 24, 2021

Mystical States: The Astral Realm

It’s been a while, but it’s time to continue the re-thinking cosmology discussion about multiple mystical states of matter that create the illusion of multiple planes of existence in a single-plane universe…

The physical realm is tangible and detectible, the ethereal realm is intangible and undetectable to the physical, while retaining other physical properties like size and duration. In keeping with the pattern, the astral realm is to the ethereal realm as the ethereal realm is to the physical:

  • Astral matter doesn’t exist for ethereal beings, in the same sense that ethereal matter doesn’t exist for physical beings. It can’t be felt, has no hardness, no temperature, no feeling of substantiality whatsoever.
  • Naturally, astral matter doesn’t exist for physical beings, either, and is undetectable with any physical sense (invisible, silent, and odorless.)
  • And of course astral matter has no mass, is unaffected by gravity, and doesn’t block movement for either physical or ethereal beings

Again, astral beings can see, hear, and smell either physical or ethereal matter, but are unable to touch, taste or feel anything that isn’t astral, and can pass through any matter that isn’t also astral. But while ethereal beings experience the physical world as slightly out of focus and full of echoes, astral beings see the physical and ethereal world as a mildly-glowing, semi-transparent version of reality, with all sounds at a lower volume.

Spirits are ethereal, but souls exist in the astral. I won’t go into the difference between spirits and souls again, but the short version is that spirit retains emotion, but eventually dissolves without a soul, while souls retain the personality and memories of the living. Souls generally don’t linger in the spot where they die, but move on to another place…

The astral realm tends to feel more empty than the ethereal. But the presence of astral mirror matter can change that. Magic can create a copy of a physical or ethereal object or being in an astral state, which gives it these properties:

  • It doesn’t glow and isn’t transparent to astral beings, but remains undetectable to physical and ethereal beings.
  • It is solid to astral beings, who can touch, move, or use it in the same way a physical being could touch, move, or use a physical copy.
  • If an astral mirror is made of a being or object that is present, the mirror occupies the same space as the original and follows its movements until an astral being or object changes it in some way. This has no effect on the original.
  • Astral mirrors are basically solid illusions. They persist in astral form as long as there is an astral being there to perceive them.

Illusion spells basically make astral mirrors of a spellcaster’s thoughts, which are then partially manifested in the physical realm, made visible and audible.

Summoned creatures are astral mirrors of imagined creatures that are made fully manifest in the physical realm for a limited time.

The Mirror Dimension in the MCU Doctor Strange movie is basically just an astral mirror copy of everything around the sorcerer, allowing sorcerers to cast spells in a “real” environment without affecting the originals. At the other extreme, powerful magics can be used to create an astral pocket realm (sometimes called “pocket dimension”,) which is an astral mirror of a real or imagined place that also distorts space.

  • From the outside, an astral pocket realm appears in the astral realm as a softly-glowing orb with shifting color patterns on its surface. It can’t be seen without magical aid by physical or ethereal beings.
  • All astral, ethereal, and physical beings pass through an astral pocket orb without effect.
  • An astral pocket orb may contain an area as small as a chest or room, up to the size of entire kingdoms or worlds, all in a tiny area.
  • To enter an astral pocket, a traveler must either be able to visualize the realm within the orb or get assistance from a being inside the orb.
  • Some being or soul must always remain in the astral pocket or it will cease to exist.

In a future cosmology installment, I’ll start looking more into exploiting mystical states for the magical properties.

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

A Simple Way to Handle Ability Scores

Long ago, I settled on a simple way to use ability scores:

  1. Set the Difficulty of a task to either Low (8 or less) or High (13+.)
  2. Skip the roll if the character’s ability score is higher than the difficulty level.

Roll is 5+ on 1d6. This is not a roll to succeed, but a roll to see if the task is finished in the shortest time possible (1 round, if performing an action in combat.) On a “failure”, the result is how much longer the task takes.

I’ve finally given in to an urge I’ve had for years: the base difficulty is equal to three times the dungeon level, or three times the hit dice of an opponent, or three times the spell level, unless the dungeon notes or rules say otherwise. This makes every spur-of-the-moment GM ruling so much easier.

Player wants to inch along a narrow ledge? If this is happening on Dungeon Level 1, no prob (everyone with Dex 3+ can do it.) If it’s on Dungeon Level 4, only those with Dex 12+ can handle it. Dungeon Level 6? Only Dex 18 characters can handle that crazy crumbling ledge.

Taking longer lowers the difficulty, enabling low ability characters to handle situations that would be impossible for them to deal with otherwise.

Training helps. Anyone with the appropriate skill can use their years of experience in place of their ability score. If that’s not high enough, they can use special gear (use 3 x gear’s level rating in place of ability score.) Untrained characters gain no benefit from special gear. Level 2 gear costs five times as much normal, Level 3 costs ten times normal, Level 4 costs 50 x normal.

Class helps. If a skill is part of a character class’s abilities, they can use 3 x character level in place of ability score. Heroes (4th level Fighters) can easily negotiate physical obstacles on the 4th dungeon level even if their Strength and Dexterity are below 12.

New magic spells can be easy to apply even without a detailed description. What’s the spell level? Multiply that by 3 to get the equivalent ability score when dealing with the targeted situation. So, a 3rd Level Chasm Leaper spell, without any special write up, will at the very least allow leaping successfully across average chasms on the 1st through 3rd dungeon levels.

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Monday, May 17, 2021

How Much Should We Worry About Ability Scores?

I know I'm already working on two other multi-post topics here, but I thought I'd take a break and draw attention to What's the Point of Ability Scores? (Part I) over on the Grognardia blog. James Maliszewski is diving into the topic of what ability scores used to mean vs. what they mean at later points in the evolution of D&D and related Class and Level Exploration Fantasy (CLEF) games. The D&D community went through several stages:
  1. referee rolls ability scores, player chooses class afterwards
  2. player rolls ability scores, then chooses class afterwards
  3. player rolls ability scores, chooses class, and adjusts scores bases on class (point swap in Holmes, etc.)
  4. player chooses class, creates ability scores targeted to fit that class (AD&D 1e Method V, point buy in later editions)
These stages of development sort of match up with changing views on the importance of ability scores:
  1. guidelines only, few iron-clad mechanics tied to scores (3 LBBs OD&D)
  2. some modifiers for high/low scores, gatekeeper function for certain classes (post-Greyhawk OD&D, early AD&D 1e)
  3. modifier/gatekeeper functions + roll under rolls for non-weapon proficiencies (late AD&D and Classic D&D)
  4. modifiers to "universal" game mechanic (D&D 3e and later)
In other words, the more important ability scores become, either for getting the class you want or just plain survival, the more players are going to want more control over their ability scores, either through guarantees that they can get at least one high score or through actual point-buy.

Since I've made no secret that I prefer using ability scores as guidelines and have been removing modifiers from my own gaming as much as possible, the low numbers on both of the above scales are my sweet spot. Although as I mentioned in a comment on Grognardia, I'm pretty committed these days to the idea of "either roll 3d6 in order, or just pick your scores and let's move on". Some of my ideas on that I've covered before here.
I'm not sure where that would fall in the development of ability score generation methods, although I like to think of it as Stage 5. Once I realized that all ability score generation methods were basically about getting as close to the scores you want without the GM and other players thinking you are cheating, then really everything other than "I'll take whatever scores I get" is some form of "I'll try to get the scores I want". It's just easier to cut out the dice rolling or point distribution tricks at that point, pick the scores you want, and move on. And if the GM is not interested in being a dick about what players can do, there's not much reason to worry about cheating on rolls, is there?

Friday, May 14, 2021

Iconic Magic-Using Archetypes

Because of a comment JB made on the previous post, I created a companion chart.

These are magical archetypes rather than classes. They are loosely defined, compared to classes, with boundaries not even as rigid as I've shown here. They are the four basic approaches to magic:

Dabblers, brought up by JB, are those who aren't dedicated to improving their magic. It's just something they occasionally use. They might not even be magic-users by class, but may just pick up a spell or two somewhere, or have an innate power either inherited or acquired by accident.

Scholars are those who acquire spells through study and practice. They form the bulk of what most people think of as D&D magic-users: professional thaumaturges with an arcane library.

Mystic is a perhaps inaccurate label for those dedicate to exploring all that is possible with magic. They may be researchers, experimenters, or mad wizards, locked away in some tower somewhere, amassing huge magical libraries and binding hordes of demons, elementals, and other spirits to their will.

Power-Seekers was the most neutral-sounding label I could think of for those who seek power rather than knowledge. They don't care how it works or what they have to do the get it. They might study, if that's what they have to do, but if they find a shortcut, they will take it.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Iconic Magic-Using Classes

I’m still occasionally working – well, half-working – on ways of making the magician (magic-using class) easy to modify on the fly. The way I imagine it working is that you offer players only three classes (talent, hero, magician) and when a player says “can’t I be a [more specific class concept]?” You reply “Sure! Just take one of those classes and we’ll make these changes.”

For magic-using classes, you can make superficial changes to how spells are recovered, how they are cast, and how they are dispelled and that will cover a lot of variations. But before I even go there, I think I need to start with defining iconic magical types. Not “iconic in the history of D&D”, but “iconic in literature and folklore”. I really don’t like some of the standard D&D class definitions, which seem to focus on mechanics, and I prefer to lead players away from thinking about mechanics.

My current iconic class concepts start with this simple progression from “arcanely academic” to “selfishly practical”:

  • Magicians are your standard OD&D magic-using class, with loads of spells studied from books.
  • Witches are naturally-gifted magic-users who can supplement their inborn talents with either dominance over spirits or arcane learning.
  • Warlocks are self-made magic-users who have taken their powers from others.

It’s important to note that the WotC warlock class would sometimes fall within the bounds of “warlock” as I define it, but my definition is broader. A warlock, in my mind, is the kind of magic-user seen in some fantasy lit who steals magical power from those who have acquired it through birth, blessing, or training. So, more like warlocks in “Charmed”, or what the MCU-version of Baron Mordo seems to be heading towards. Getting powers from pacts could be thought of as a variation on this.

There’s basically a two-axis concept grid hiding behind those three core iconic concepts:

  • Power Taken From Others vs. Power Developed Within Oneself (Dependency Axis)
  • Flexible Spell Options vs. Limited Power Choices (Variety Axis)

Scholarly Magicians are Low Dependency, High Flexibility. Power-Hungry Warlocks are High Dependency, Low Flexibility. Witches are dead center, with a limited set of natural powers supplemented by magical training. You can see this easier on this diagram.

Explanation of other iconic classes on the chart:

  • Sorcerers for me are not the WotC class (which probably resembles my concept of witches more than anything else.) They are instead academics who know some spells, but expand their power by using their knowledge to bind spirits and demons to their will. They may also make pacts for more power, making some WotC warlock concepts fit better in that category.
  • Necromancers get power by commanding spirits of the dead. There’s still more flexibility than warlocks, but not as much as standard magicians or sorcerers.
  • Bards are highly variable in their fantasy lit representations, but I went with a more limited range of magic (songs that influence emotions and spirits) vs. a reliance on natural gifts + training. They could easily be up in the same position as witches, though.

Gray entries are not traditionally considered magic-users in D&D, but essentially that’s what they are.

  • Psychics are basically witches who can’t learn additional spells in this schema.
  • Priests typically get all their power from gods and can lose their power at the god’s whim.
  • Godlings aren’t really a class, but represent where various beings like spirits and deities would fall: requiring some power taken from their worshippers, but being innately gifted as well and quite flexible in what they can do.

Any iconic character concepts that I missed?

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Mystical States: The Ethereal Realm

Continuing the re-thinking cosmology discussion about multiple mystical states of matter that create the illusion of multiple planes of existence in a single-plane universe…

While physical, ghostly, and eternal matter remains tangible and detectible, the essential property of matter in the ethereal state is intangibility. And here, I don’t just mean “intangible” in the literal, narrow sense of “can’t be touched”, but in the broader sense of “unable to interact with things physically”.

  • Ethereal matter, from the viewpoint of physical beings, doesn’t exist. It can’t be felt, has no hardness, no temperature, no feeling of substantiality whatsoever.
  • Ethereal matter is not only invisible, but undetectable with other physical senses as well. It makes no sound, has no odor.
  • Ethereal matter has no mass for physical matter. It is unaffected by gravity, doesn’t block movement, and can’t be blocked by physical obstacles.

Being ethereal has an effect on the ethereal being as well. Although they can still see, hear, and smell physical things, there’s a noticeable difference. The physical realm seems slightly out of focus, sounds are less distinct and have a slight echo. None of this applies to other ethereal beings or objects; an ethereal person can’t walk through an ethereal wall, and another ethereal person could attack them and even do damage.

The ethereal realm is also a realm of spirits. In fact, spirit is an ethereal substance, something like a thick fluid, with the peculiar property of storing emotion.

  • Living beings possess ethereal spirits. When they die, the spirit slowly disengages from the dead body, taking with it a record of any strong emotions it felt during the being’s life, especially any emotions felt at the moment of death.
  • If an ethereal spirit somehow remains connected to the physical realm, either through the being’s physical remains or through some object or place, and gains the power to animate matter, it becomes either a ghost or undead.
  • If an ethereal spirit isn’t connected to the physical, but it somehow contacted, it reacts as if it were a wild animal, with pure instinct, driven by its emotional memories.

Although standard ethereal matter is undetectable in the physical realm, two subforms of ethereal matter remain quite detectable: umbreal and empyrean matter. Each of these has a visible physical component, either impenetrable darkness for umbreal matter or brilliant light for empyrean matter. They also give off a detectable chill or warmth, but are otherwise undetectable through normal means. Umbreal or empyrean spirits act like other spirits, but appear as silhouettes of darkness or light that move under their own power.

In the next cosmology installment, things will get even more rarified.

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