domingo, 9 de dezembro de 2018

Set and Setting - VI - Death and Passing Rituals

Set and Setting is a series of posts intended as aid in fleshing out a world by way of setting-specific rule design and reinterpretation.



Introduction

First disease, now death. The onset of Winter does prompt the morbid streak.

It is known that characters on the old school warpath constantly walk the line between the rewards of odds-defiance and the dregs of disposability. Superiorly played characters are made to thrive between these two extremes whereas others just end up as casualties. This post happens to be about the latter.

Even as one advocates rolling in the open, not cuddling up to players, not defusing hard choices and keeping the threat of death dangling at the front, back and general periphery of adventurers, there lingers this nagging awareness that, as one walks this talk, there is just this one little snag that, statistically speaking, will eventually come to pass… *cue the drums*


The Protagonist Lies Dead

Verily a dismaying premise with which to begin a post.

As an all too natural consequence of repeated brushes with death, even on the players' own terms, someone is bound to eventually slip in the proverbial bathtub and ingloriously snap their gangly neck. Just ask Friedrich Barbarossa about his name-level sometime.

Dealing with the event of a cherished persona’s demise, saying farewell to a storied survivor of many battles, no matter how glorious the final act, requires a level of maturity and upper lip starch that doesn’t come easy. A senseless death is always hard to stomach and the playstyle here endorsed forcibly presents plenty of chances for a character’s death to be just so. Speaking of a running where death is not regarded as something wholly unavoidable, a couple of questions then beg themselves: 

"When to introduce the replacement character into play?"

and

What is to be done with a character’s possessions and wealth once he leaves the mortal coil?”.

or even

How to line such a debacle in silver without abdicating from the running’s core principles, mainly the one stating that a new character is to unfailingly begin play at first level?

Regarding the issue zero of character replacement, an agile generation process and swift inception into play are matters where a setting’s realism dial can be relaxed to the utmost. Having players who are real people with finite schedules twiddle their thumbs because the party has yet to travel enough miles to reach the nearest population centre and credibly recruit a worthy successor is the kind of stonewalling that is not conducive to good play. Whenever there is a need for a character to hold the torch aloft, conceding to a series of fortunate events short of coincidental teleportation is the soundest practice. However, what fate to reserve for the deceased one’s belongings is quite another matter. The gamist optic would point at the strange newcomer being expected to inherit everything for being under the control of the same player with not a peep heard from the rest of the characters, whereas the more realistic approach would sooner see these spoils declared as communal property of the party. What follows is an attempt to straddle the road.

The procedure, far from being a novel idea, was directly inspired by OSR readings, though the exact source eludes me. Working best with a more accumulative style of play, it is envisioned to serve the dual purpose of allowing a degree of in-setting mitigation for character death without compromising the running’s principle of new characters joining as glorified nobodies and introducing a way to shed wealth and gear off a party’s hands, shearing excesses that might come with successful adventure.


Raising a Horn for the Fallen

It is presumed that members of a party are conjoined by iron bonds of camaraderie, friendship and mutual respect, forged in the heat of braved danger, with nothing but a little less to be expected from among the respective players.

Having surviving party members merrily hand their departed comrade’s panoply to a new arrival is behaviour that is past enforcing. Sentiment, religious and moral ethics could presumedly conspire to prevent other characters from simply making away with the fallen’s gear and treasure share, to say nothing of his inheritance and estate, but necessity lies at the heart of exploration and the heartless types are people too. Accepting that the world turns on incentives – games presenting an excellent microcosmos of this truism – just wishing for parties to care about their fallen isn’t garanteed to accomplish much, especially in a sandbox-type running.

Ultimately, the decision to avail oneself to the advantages of a ritual of passing is to lie with the player of the deceased character. The stark trade-off being that any prized possessions should follow their rightful owner on to the next life, that they may serve in battles and trials yet to come.

“Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty,…”

Mausol’s Tomb, the Valley of Kings, towering Grave Mounds, portentous Last Voyages and Funeral Pyres to hold the very night at bay. These structures, these rites, they all exist to serve as a marker in time, to signal the point of a great passing and, on a world with fewer people, with the mark of greatness being more keenly felt, the erecting of a unique structure or the enactment of such momentous rites resounds as a clarion call for all sorts of questing hopefuls and minor would-be heroes across the land to go on a pilgrimage and come bear witness to a great departure, known faces from the character’s remote past as well as those met during a life rich with adventure. From among them, one may offer to join the fallen hero’s bereft companions.

The Crunchy Bits

The procedure consists of two parts, one being the practical effects that are mechanically formalized and the other being the ritual proper, which is abstracted and mostly freeform, open to player preference as it comes to the ceremony itself, meant to generate play that will fill downtime while a new character is rolled up and equipped.

‘Habeas Corpus?’ (Prequisites)

- The fallen character’s body, if still whole, must be brought back to civilization, that it may be ritually displayed, mourned over and take its due part in the performance of the death ritual. If only bodily remains are left, these too must be brought back, though the experience total afforded by the ritual will be halved; If no body is present at all, the cheapened ceremony’s yields will be halved yet again;

- All of the vanquished’s personal possessions (armour, weapons, magical items) must be permanently removed from play, in whatever way deemed appropriate to the death ritual;

- Mundane objects (such as rations, rope and other sundry adventuring equipment) can be put to use however the party sees fit;

- Hirelings and Retainers associated with the deceased will disband upon returning to civilization unless a new mutually beneficial arrangement can be produced.


Rituals of Passing

How the preparations are to be made is entirely up to arrangement between the players and the referee. The mechanic cares only for fungible value, no matter if it be spent on professional mourners, incense, grave goods, commissioning bards, exotic scented wood for a pyre or in the act of putting people to death for service in the afterlife. Logically, the lower tiers of expenditure will correspond to lesser perishables and ceremonial expenses, whereas the upper reaches of value may allow the players to dot the landscape with an impressive monument.

What follows is a very raw table of generalist items, placeholding for whatever the appropriate in-setting representation of passing rites may happen to be. Regarding the part of retinal imprint: how elaborate the ceremony, how imposing the religious character of the event and how long it all takes to fully pan out, that should be strictly a matter shaped by circumstance and the flow of player investment.



A New Protagonist Emerges

Once the prerequisite issues have been resolved and the party finds itself amidst civilization, the group having decided upon what sum to devote to the ritual and plotted its general outline with the referee, comes the point where the final tally can be calculated:

- A new character will enter play with a corresponding number of starting Xp points equal to the number of silver pieces spent on the death ritual;

- If the new character has already joined play by the time the passing is enacted, the above amount won’t be awarded in bulk but will instead constitute a pool from which Xp will be drawn in a phased fashion, matching whatever experience the character gains with an equal amount from the pool, effectively doubling the Xp gain as long as the pool persists;

- Individual contributions made by companions of the deceased are likewise converted into pools that will increase their respective Xp gains.

Limitations

- The new character must be at least one full level lower than the departed. Ritual expenses past this point will cease producing Xp benefits, though other, less intangible ones, may possibly be unlocked;

- Though a single character can foot the costs if he so wishes, players must be allowed to contribute at least an equal share.

This is meant to enable the occasional new character to join that isn’t a rank neophyte, though it is expectable that parties will hardly ever have enough wealth to uphold multiple such rites in quick succession should fatalities begin to mount. This could lead to a more strategic use of wealth in the form of reserve savings for the eventuality of an early demise.

Closing thoughts – Those that bid farewell

Characters that are simply retired from play are not entitled to pass on their gear beyond token gifts, as the act of retiring grants them NPChood and thus a will of their own, being that there is little way to conceive of a character handing over all of his hard-won possessions and fortune, even to former comrades.


domingo, 25 de novembro de 2018

Them Bones of Adventure - XX: Disease

An ongoing exposition on table procedures for common exploration feats and rules, which began here with part one.


Introduction

By definition a challenging subject, characters succumbing to disease is a shorthand for bad times and its representation on the tabletop is justifiably marginalized, the lack of appeal making it pretty much a conceptual nonstarter, modern disneyfied DnD being content to reduce it to just another form of contact poison discharged by some monster’s special attack or painting it as inert set-dressing, if anything.

Salvaging what little gameability could be squeezed out of microbial foes definitely took some odd turns. The proposal that follows is, for once, more conceptual than systematic, writing its checks to the name of Mr. Tone and Mrs. Mood.

Any reader who squints will see that the settled approach wouldn’t be at all out of place if filed under rules musings. It fits this rubric on account of the fact that disease has ever occupied a prominent position on the annals of exploration and adventure narrative.


A Cold, Dank and Ill-lit Place

While the standard host of debilitating effects are simple and effective signifiers of localized danger (and absolutely fair game to me), what I’m here to discuss is truly withering illnesses – the likes of which cut down characters of level high or low – and their practical applications on a running. I’m talking the inominable plagues of antiquity, thought to originate from the miasmal outflows of the underworld itself, the kind of disease that doesn’t just debilitate, but utterly prostrates.

Hazy and foetid swampland, sweltering rainforest thick with fungal spores, noxious shafts driven into the cold earth, sickly and isolated dying hamlets or the virulent bustle of overcrowded city wards, through a blend of whispered rumour, fragmented histories and apocrypha, the enmity towards life of these blighted places ensures they acquire all sorts of names for themselves. Characters visiting such insalubrious locales will quickly become aware that, by tarrying about or proceeding any further, they do so braving the risk of contracting disease.

Even going past this thin layer of agency, it would not do to allow a character to become so ravaged by illness as to become incapacitated, such being simply antithetical to the wider conventions of getting people together in a room for the express purpose of playing a game. But it offers up some negative space, fit to be reframed.

The Fifth Column on the Fourth Wall

From my usual viewpoint, mechanic approaches to the topic seemed dispiritingly inadequate: going full-on old school would have meant dispassionately offing characters for standing at the wrong confluence of place and time; taking a page from the OSR’s gonzo playbook would mean table time consumed with players shitting live donkeys for laughs while skirting or copping-out on the problem’s essence, that of representing illness as a negative status with no remedial counterweights whereas, on the far shore, emulation tantalizingly invited one to the edge of a rules sinkhole to govern exposure vectors, incubation times, modes of transmission and arrays of symptoms for what in the end would differ but little from elaborate curses with pseudoscientific clauses for activation, dissemination and erradication. These ended up resolving into the paths not taken.

- The proposal: When a player misses a game session, if the character is either currently exploring or previously passed through a blighted place within the last two runnings (or forty in-game days) he succumbs to disease, becoming incapacitated for the current session’s duration, to recover only upon the player’s return.

Instead of leaving it to game-related structure of rolls and probabilities to carry the impact of flagging a place as dangerous, the suggestion is to stress a different angle: embracing the shared commonality between the vagaries of disease in a low fantasy setting and the mundane social constraints of players missing the game night.

It is known that the two things are disagreeable but altogether unavoidable certainties of, respectively, a setting that rings true and the gaming table. Both can strike suddenly and without rhyme just as they can remit much the same way, disrupting the normal flow of the game for both the afflicted character and the wider group.


Fear of Missing Out

Typical refereeing ethos counsels one to willingly bend reality and inflict as much of a strain on the economy of coincidence as it’ll bear. But there is such a thing as a middle ground between the extent to which these options represent the lesser evil on the path to promoting gameplay and interesting decisions and the wanton cutting of corners just to get to the next combat encounter. If a character perishes, I’ll be one to say that marginalizing the player until the return to civilization happens because it “wouldn’t make sense for anyone else to show up down here” is not an acceptable argument.

As such, it is understood that allowing the outside world to intrude upon the game is decidedly not a peaceful proposition. But before tearing one’s vestments, consider the cast of unappealing solutions: characters that are temporarily abducted, get lost in tunnels, become mind-controlled drones in the hands of their fellow players or recipients of the ubiquitous “magical teleportation passe-partout & no questions asked”. These oscillate between pure softball and barely-satisfactory, all fall short if looking to deliver a grittier running experience.

Ironically enough, this proposal only makes sense if running a healthy and cohese playgroup, one whose players are mature, reliable and where instances of absentism are both exceptional and evenly distributed among all the participants, with no poor soul getting singled out. It also requires that the players embrace a stance or at least some concept of heroism, with callous behaviour targetting their burdensome ward being pretty much unthinkable.

Grit in the gearbox – Gameable Implications of Disease

How hard to go on the disease-ridden character whose player is missing? Ideally, no more and no less than what a credible game world will dictate. This should be off the referee’s hands, the gold standard to uphold being that player absence cannot be tacitly equated with character invulnerability.

Knowing from the start that the baseless assassination of bedridden player characters is not condoned, the casualties or even the dreaded total party kill that may happen amid an expedition gone foul will lie at the other end of the spectrum: the character that has fallen ill and is being dragged about on the sled is still factually there, he should not be exempt of the danger in the face of the absence of his player.

Consider the scenario of one among the party’s number having fallen prey to disease and now lying wracked in a feverish haze on a makeshift stretcher, effectively incapacitated. From this fact will spring actual – gameable – challenges, ones whose repercussions should be played to the hilt:

·         The party will have to make do with carrying both their downed comrade and the extra weigth of his now-unattended possessions, accounting for the reduced travel speed when facing the miles of trackless wilderness;

·         Likewise when exploring the sinuous confines of the underworld, obstacles such as ledges and climbs will become much more daunting, requiring special measures carrying both risk and additional time expenditure;

·         Random encounters are on the party to prevent, head off or otherwise react to, with the simplistic act of leaving their comrade somewhere behind not necessarily constituting a vouchsafe from danger;

·         Spells and features that target or prevent disease become more valuable, as they might at least temporarily ammeliorate a sick character’s condition enough to allow feeble participation in a fight or retreat;

·         Leaving a sick character behind amid civilization to be safeguarded being doable with no concern, the fact remains that the party moving geographically away will imply a need to link up at a later time.

Closing Thoughts – Disease in a Setting

In terms of wider setting building, the whole “germs” face of the triangle can handily bear some weight in terms of explaining population dispersions, also serving a gating purpose for places that lesser characters learn to fear to tread, offering a different facet of inacessibility as opposed to someplace being underwater or way up in the clouds.


segunda-feira, 19 de novembro de 2018

Set and Setting - Character Classes (Landing Page)


Informal bit

Before going any further let me start by saying that what follows absolutely does not pass muster for what I consider an actual post but that with your, the reader’s, help this can be somewhat remedied. I’m churning the inkpot for something a darker shade of tangible at the end of the week. Until then, pray read on.

As the months pass me by, I keep being amazed at how incredibly adept I’ve proven at eluding both my higher cognition and a player base in pursuit of yet more rule structures. Must be this ‘enthusiasm’ thing I keep hearing about. It’ll be a couple of posts yet before I actually roll up the sleeves for the matter at hand, but it is already shaping as a practical next step to keep me off the streets gaming table: the gradual reinterpretation of different character life-paths and careers as distinct entries.

It stands to reason that the victory lap that is a landing page would be reserved for the end of a series, as might soon be the case with the Bones of Adventure, but for a couple of considerations: firstly, that my mind has difficulties with the concepts of closure and letting go; secondly, me figuring that for once I might take the chance to let in the faintest whiff of breathable air and foster some interaction on this cloistered blog: given as certain that I ought to lean into the different character classes at some point in the near future, it’s also true that I currently have no particular order nor table demand pulling my focus this way or that, inviting the thought that no harm would come from affording whoever gives my ramblings the time of day the chance to pipe up with a preference.

Associating this freeform polling to such a long-running string of future posts means it’ll enjoy the advantage of being valid for a long, long while, as a new reader or player seeing this for the first time six months from now could still plonk down some sort of worthwhile reply.

In case you’re wondering what hashdream propelled this idea, a significant part came from the all-too-modern concern with “Separating the Men from the bots”*. Taking the numbers at face value, I’ve pretty much cornered the pen-and-paper outdoorsmanship houserules market among slavic botnets. And southeast Asia seems ripe for the plucking, too, so a cat gets curious.

*(girls definitely allowed in the treehouse, the wordplay just wouldn’t fetch otherwise)

Slightly less informal bit

This won’t be anything too fancy, I'll just start by digging a small trench and progress further down one shovel-sweep at a time until the writing starts hitting rock, each write-up being meant to only brush the wide angle, inform a new player on what a given class is about and go a couple of levels deep at most, as doing more would mean committing my limited time allowance to things that may simply not be getting used anytime soon.

The whole thing will doubtlessly take a while and I can’t compromise with much beyond, when settling down to write up a character class, heading for the general direction of the one currently most voted for, as according to the precepts of digital democracy: one screen-name, one vote; multiple handles that I cannot in any way verify, multiple votes.

I’m not up for anything exotic at least before reaching the end of the PHB’s rope and, truth be told, the starting focus ought to be on the game’s core classes (Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Wizard), though conceding that part of the point of this post is that I can indeed be swayed by gently whispered sweet nothings.

Updated Listing of Character Classes:

[Tumbleweed.jpg]



sábado, 10 de novembro de 2018

Set and Setting - V - Magic

Set and Setting is a series of posts intended as aid in fleshing out a world by way of setting-specific rule design and reinterpretation.



Introduction

And lo! Here we come to a thorny but massively looming subject, a fraught and murky first sweep that merited being waited out for the first fifty-odd posts from the blog’s inception. Before even thinking of tackling any of the classes proper there is groundwork that needs to be laid as concerns the whole of magic use.

If we’re being honest, this may effectively count as rewriting a significant chunk of each of several classes in one sitting. I've cast the net of influences far and wide, so gathering my whole thinking in one post helps me keep clear what I’m doing and will aid in maintaining a more cohese, referable and transparent approach designwise. 

Given the nature of the fantasy game, even for what is to be a low-magic setting lensed through to a low fantasy style of play, magic is a special subject that casts a huge pall over the proceedings. Shoving its connection to the fundamentals of a setting’s cosmogony aside for the moment, it is the enthroned nature of its importance in the minds of players that lends the topic such weight.

Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t happy with the rules as presented, being that I’m fully against the idea of magic as something stable, asseptic and reliable, reduced to the status of mere technology. To add some dirty fuel to this fire, it soon became apparent that game balance would be fast becoming a mirage in the rearview mirror the more I tinkered with things. Yet tinker I did, so that, more than just getting my design rocks off, I hoped to follow through with aiming them square at hornets’ nests.

The Colours of Magic (now in Technicolor)

DnD across its miriad incarnations never made too much fuss out of diverging spellcasting methodologies, aknowledging various methods, sources of power, domains or subtypes on paper, but being perfectly content to let a simple unified system bear the load, with differentiation shipped to the activating stat, fating all spellcasters to be similarly efficient, seeing as no matter the mental stat being used for spellcasting, all would be equally attributed a high number and, no matter the class’s underlying principles, it would always come down to slots and the spells to fill them. It’s never really made clear how the common man might set Wizard apart from Cleric and why one might be reviled where the other is revered.

Mechanically speaking, “Vancian”, too, is no longer a term that comfortably describes the system, as a number of developments were introduced, all of them gravitating in the direction of more magic, more casually, more of the time, shifting from the traditional “nuclear” magic-user with few but decisive slots to the “bag of tricks”, curbed from hitting the high notes in power but endowed with a dizzying (and reliable) versatility that puts the magically-impaired to shame, cantrips in particular becoming such offenders that a creative player can extract enough uses out of them to fill in for a whole party’s worth of monkey wrenching.

Whereas Fourth edition found no other way of reconciling the quadratic with the linear than to leash both to the same length of rope, Fifth edition’s approach was to develop the post-Vancian paradigm even further, with the special daily use abilities of certain classes being repurposed as spells and also accessed through slots, further devaluing the concept of magic by generalizing its access to most all classes bar the few remaining holdouts of a couple of martial archetypes.

This post comes to initiate a veer in direction. Instead of reducing everything to the same generic system, Magic (and the classes that wield it) can be turned into a bit more compelling a concept by way of some uniqueness, reintroducing notions of magic as something treasured, daring and finite and of wizards being willing to swing a sword if pressed into it.

The plan was not to raze everything to the ground as, despite the subject matter, there is no need to turn the process into something arcane and have players solve rubik’s cube to blind their foes with kabbalistic numerology. Rather, to add some branching gradation to classic methodologies and mechanics without upturning the raft whole, being aware, even in my relative geek naïveness, that magic systems are a pinnacle of heartbreaking of sorts and have run the gamut through the ages with possibly little if anything to gain from being overbearing and abstruse. Repeating my oft-lapsed mantra, I don’t honestly look at having complexity be the answer, I just want to escape the dull grey swamps of sameness even if I have to take a few design risks to pull it off.

In the end, what kindles my interest is usability and flavour. Balance, too, may come eventually along, daintily dragged by rope and bruised at the knees, if anything.

Spell lists and descriptions - what this post isn’t about

What is contained herein is a litany of practices explaining the setting’s different spell-using classes. Each class’s proprietary list as well as the individual spells themselves, though both deserving of revision, are off the limits of today’s effort and the same going for the classes proper. Such a time will be heralded once a player actually decides to pick a magic user as an avatar and the associated wormvessel is duly shattered.

If you do a blog post about magic you're contractually obliged to use this picture.


Vancian Latitudes

As design options go, the core book’s biggest sins regarding the magic system are that it’s either boring, uninspired, lazy or boring. Magic comes across as this streamlined, all-figured-out kind of thing whose design was clearly more concerned with neatness and a sense of playground-fairness than with ever even hinting at the feel of unbridling that magic ought to evoke.

Bounding past the choice of not breaking with the past and settling for the classic Vancian spellcasting as my major design constraint, I wish to lay out the system’s constituent elements. The following will touch on both fluff and crunch but the whole of it ought to be of use in defining a caster’s place in the setting, on what amounts to a series of branching paths, flowing down from the power’s source and taking final shape in one of the established caster traditions.

Considering the Source – the Divine, the Primordial and the Arcane

First to be considered must be the prime movers of magic, emanating from three archetypical sources of power:

Divine magic emanates from full-fledged Deities, who by dint of whim, interest or passion have cast their lot with mankind’s fate, sometimes being outright entwined with it. Contained herein are the very forces that shape the wheeling ways of the world and that enforce everything that will ever matter, from the eternal turn of the seasons to the cycles of life and death.

Primordial energies flow from a removed “thou”, that despite possibly commanding sufficient power to integrate a pantheon and suscitate structured worship simply transcends the concept entirely, either by definition or by being antithetical to humankind. Entities like Demons, Titans, Nature Spirits or even transplanar Others. Untinged by civilization, impervious to human understanding, unfettered by moral considerations and utterly indifferent to the shallow trials of mortality. These profane energies fuel those aligned, knowingly or otherwise, with entities wholly given to entropy, chaos or the aloof indifference of nature.

Arcane power is extracted from the unbounded potential within the self, the barriers that contain it broken down through whichever accidental combination of fortune and entropic trauma. It is at once the most crude by origin and sophisticated by design, the most tightly reined and the most spectacular. Its existence by itself testimony of a profoundly upsetting shift of a world’s inherent balance, as it embodies the usurpation by mankind of the wherewithal of greater powers.

Channeling the Source

Beyond the three mystical wellsprings, there is an overlying duality explaining the mediation of access to each of them: a divide of methodologies, the first based on revelation, humility and submission to higher power, the other on discovery, appropriation and solipsist hubris, such are the differences between Conduits and Shapers.


Conduit

Power.

A Conduit has it but it is borrowed. And the borrowing’s the thing.

Drawn by calling, feverish search or inscrutable whimsy, a character can become conversant with the supernal. For some, even this summit may be scaled past as one sees oneself fall into an entity’s unknowable good graces, becoming chosen as a recipient to its power, a mouthpiece to its glory and made to ingress upon the great cosmic chessboard.

The benefit of interpreting the second-hand dreams of an invisible metaphysical superfigment and passing them onto edict, lending the thing its reality and hoping it doesn’t forfeit yours comes at a price. Settled along monomania’s inner border, the patron becomes a palpable and undeniable part of the character’s worldview, if not his sole reason for living, whatever use reserved for its surrogated energies loud and unabashedly proclaimed as furtherance of its cause. A bargain deal, if ever one.

Shaper

The direct harnessing of magical energy, with no demiurgic mediation, is the state of orphaned self-sufficiency that defines a Shaper.

In a world where magic actually exists, the crucible of mortal obsessions and fickle godly disputes ere long guided the next step past the stealing of fire and deposited into the questing hands of mystical pragmatists the means to tamper with the province of greater powers, caressing the elements, warping reality and ruffling the feathers of fate, all at the tip of the digits and at the behest of one’s usurping pride.

Yet, a Shaper’s strength is built from weakness, a focus on the lacking implied by left-handed use of power purloined from upon high: no guidance on how to leverage it, no cushioning for the falls that may come.

As temporal power corrupts mortal hearts so must magical one – at the best of times – elicit similar debasement, paving a causeway to utter and absolute perdition of mind, body and spirit. Whereas those espousing the glories of heavenly bodies keep humanity safely chained in perpetuation of the cycle and acting within its bounds, the few dabbling soothsayer primates who would break it wilfully risk loosing all the evils into the world in exchange for spurious knowledge and tawdrier power.

Art and Tradition

The end result of pairing each of the three metaphysical power sources with one facet of the channelling diad thus shapes the different magical traditions and explains the setting’s ensemble of spellcasting character classes, some of them Conduits for a higher power, others independent Shapers of raw energy, where we get:

- The Bard, a Divine Shaper (spellcasting attribute: Charisma)

- The Cleric, a Divine Conduit (spellcasting attribute: Wisdom)

- The Witch, a Primordial Shaper (spellcasting attribute: Wisdom)

- The Druid, a Primordial Conduit (spellcasting attribute: Wisdom)

- The Wizard, an Arcane Shaper (spellcasting attribute: Intelligence)

- The Sorcerer, an Arcane Conduit (spellcasting attribute: Charisma)



The Crunch

The main thing to be impressed upon players is that magic has a jagged edge and its performance cannot be taken for granted. Given this, there was a need to balance this design thrust with the pitfalls of the system becoming a complete lottery. The crucial point is for a referee to clearly and consistently communicate the wagers to the player and to keep the decision in his hands. Both source of power and channeling method have implications on certain basic aspects of a class’s spellcasting technique, with some of the features present in Fifth edition being preserved, such as concentration, ritual casting and spell enlargement by slot.

1. All in the Mind – Mental Attributes and Spellcasting

Instead of boiling down the efficacy of a given magic tradition to one single attribute the decision was made that all three mental stats should be concurrently involved in the making of an optimal caster.

Intelligence: focus, memory function and the cerebral part of casting, influencing the capacity to learn and retain spells in the mind, represented by spell slots.

- Intelligence impacts a spellcaster’s slot capacity, explained for ease of reference by the following table, with the benefits or penalties being cumulative; slot additions or deductions are applied only once the character is of a high enough level to access the corresponding spell tiers:

-4
-3
-2
-1
No mod.
+1
+2
+3
+4
One less level 4 slot
One less level 3 slot
One less level 2 slot
One less level 1 slot
N/A
Additional level 1 slot
Additional level 2 slot
Additional level 3 slot
Additional level 4 slot

- Concentration is a function of Intelligence (see “7.1 Concentration”).
Wisdom: the more empirical and prosaic aspects of casting, defining how at ease the caster is with the practice of his tradition and how deftly he can manage the ritualization required to both reacquire spells as well as to bring their effects safely into existence.

- Slot recovery and spell preparation time are both impacted by Wisdom (see “4. Preparing Spells”);

- Miscasts generate magical backlash (see “6.2 Sour Magic”), which can be avoided by way of a Wisdom saving throw.

Charisma: the instinctual qualities of the caster’s inherent resolve, important for beseeching the divine and, for Shapers, outright defining the sheer force of will imparted to their molding efforts upon the fabric of reality.

- Influences, directly or indirectly, the save difficulty of a caster’s spells (see “2. Spellcasting Attribute”).  

2. The Spellcasting Attribute

As determined by each class, the attribute employed by a spellcasting tradition resumes its role in determining the modifier applied to magical attack rolls and the difficulty of saving throws made by targets against the caster’s spells:

Spellcasting Roll:

- D20, plus spellcasting attribute modifier, plus proficiency modifier

Spell Save Difficulty:

- Conduit: DC of [(variable*), plus spellcasting attribute modifier, plus proficiency modifier]

- Shaper: DC of [(halved Charisma total), plus spellcasting attribute modifier, plus proficiency modifier]

* base number varying by divine favour or strength of supernatural patronage, typically in the 5-9 range (see “4.1 Preparing Spells - Divine Sanction”);

3. Learning and Acquiring Spells

A character’s starting spells are always randomized for any caster class. From that point on, Conduits continue acquiring spells as dictated by the will of the gods (which is to say randomly determined), unlocking new boons as they advance in class levels, whereas to Shapers spells function more like equipment, meaning levels grant only increased slot capacity but none of the contents with which to fill it with, research and exploring effort having to be put into their development or acquisition.

- Known spells are drawn from a class’s proprietary list and acquired by characters in a way consistent with their spellcasting tradition:

- A Conduit’s spells are randomly determined.

- A Shaper’s spells are acquired through play.


4. Preparing Spells

The spell preparation process goes back to basics, abolishing the difference between prepared spells and slots, as the act of preparing a spell directly fills an available slot and rigidly fixes the level at which it will be cast (retaining the possibility of spell enlargement).

As one of the most tangible measures of spellcasting power, slots define the number of times casters may avail themselves of the mystical power to alter reality before the mind gives out. Multiple slots bearing the same spell representing an abstraction for a reinforced idea of the same magical knowledge being etched deeper in the mind of the spellcaster and, with the last slot expired, the particulars of a spell deserting the caster’s mind like so many grains of sand between outstretched fingers.

Preparing spells is a term that sums up an array of metacognitive mnemonic processes that once committed to memory through the preparation rite allow the spells to be triggered at a moment’s notice.

- A spellcaster recovers half of his total spell slots with each extended rest, modified by Wisdom (minimum of one), starting with those of lower level.

- Preparing spells requires a mind fresh from a night’s rest and takes a number of hours equal to the highest level of spells being prepared minus the character’s Wisdom modifier (minimum of 1 hour).

4.1 Divine Sanction

Conduits (except for the Sorcerer) furthermore must beseech their deity for power, which has momentous repercussions beyond spell preparation:

- To enact a beseeching, the character must devote at least an entire day to his deity, observing and participating in rites, engaging in contemplation, prayer and study. The following morning, the player makes a Reaction Roll modified by the character’s halved Charisma modifier, the result determining his base Spell Save Difficulty. This bond will then slowly fade by one point for every undedicated day gone by, until a new beseeching takes place.

5. Requirements for Casting

Wizards may be subtle but spellcasting is, if anything, rather obvious. Like a prelude to lightning, paying witness to someone tapping into arcane forces will dry the mouth, tingle the spine and raise the hairs on end before a character’s even fully cognizant of what is happening.

Spells are cast in a way consistent with each class’s magical tradition, necessitating first and foremost that the caster enter a state of near-trance, of intense and absolute focus, facilitated to a degree by fetishistic aid ranging from manual tracing of patterns and vocal intonations to the use of materials that, through their mystical significance, propitiate the desired effects.

- Spellcasting requires both hands free, the only exceptions being afforded to items classed as components or focuses.

- Casting requires freedom of movement, such that a character cannot be Encumbered and, in order to cast while wearing armour, must be proficient with its use.

- Vocal components require that the caster be able to speak freely, Somatic components require that the caster have freedom of movement, Material components require that the necessary materials be held in the caster’s hand during the act of casting.

- Conduits must cast by loudly adressing their patron and their nature can be ascertained by onlookers, as they invocate changes upon the natural world, the more overt effects, if any, appearing to come from a source other than the caster himself.

- Shapers must speak in at least a normal tone of voice while performing their incantations. The glinting motes emitted by their gesticulation rendering their glamouring efforts plain and obvious to all.

6. Spellcasting

6.1 The Spellcasting Roll

Translating force of will into conjured flame is a delicate and exacting practice and not an easy one to reconcile with the vicissitudes of adventuring. Rigorous hypno-meditative concentration is required not just to maintain lingering magical effects but must also be achieved, along with precision of gesture, to enact the casting of a spell, the act being prone to disruption when attempted in adverse conditions. A spellcaster aspiring to adventure must be able to deal with far more than the average white plastered room, steeling the mind to everything ranging from being jostled in a crowd to the vigorous motion of riding a mount, the rigours of weather or being grappled, all of these being things that can and will impact a casting’s inherent risk, the fallout of which can sour into mischanneled magic that, depending on the stability of the source of its power, will generate a gamut of diverse reactions as natural law is reasserted and reality reknits itself from the attempted disruption, sometimes seamlessy, oftentimes violently.

- The act of spellcasting is always mediated by a Spellcasting Roll, whose base standard difficulty is that of the spell’s level.

- If a spellcaster divides his turn’s attention by doing anything other than focusing on the spellweave – including movement – or is subjected to external interference, this will reflect as an increase on the DC of the Spellcasting Roll, applying only the highest penalty from the following list:

- Minor disruptions* (5´ of movement, use of bonus action) will account for a DC increase of 5;

- Moderate disruptions* (movement beyond 5’, minor physical disturbances) a DC increase of 10;

- Serious disruptions (physical disturbance, such as being pressed amid a crowd or trying to cast from a moving chariot) will account for a DC increase of 15;

- Major disruptions (exposed amid a snowstorm or on a wave-tossed boat) will imply a DC increase of 20;

* players can move freely or use bonus actions after casting the spell, but must communicate to the referee their intent to do so in advance so as to adjust the DC to account for the rushed casting.

- In addition to the highest penalty originated by disruptions applying to the casting roll, the following hurdles must all be separate and cumulatively considered:

- Damage suffered by the spellcaster between the end of his previous round and his current initiative step will mean the casting roll’s DC increases by one per each point sustained of bodily harm;

- Concentration on active spells being currently maintained adds their spell level to the DC;

- For Spellcasting Rolls that are also Spell Attack Rolls, the AC of the target is used instead of the DC if it is higher.


6.2 Sour Magic

Failure to rigorously perform during the casting will mean the spell’s weave is compromised just as its power is channeled into being and the conjuring must be brought to a halt.

- A spell that fails to manifest remains intact in the caster’s memory unless it was an attack roll.

- Critical success discharges the spell without it departing the caster’s memory.

- If the caster outright fumbles during his channeling, magical energies lash about wildly, requiring a Wisdom saving throw with the same DC as the Spellcasting Roll (or half of that for Conduits) to regain control of the casting and bring the volatile energies under control. On a failure, a roll must be made on the Mischanneling Table presented below. Divine casters roll with a d4, Primordial casters roll with a d8 and Arcane casters roll with an explodable d12.

Magic.

6.3 Casting in Combat and Ruined Spells

- Casting a Spell in melee is an action that provokes attacks of opportunity.

- Being hit by an attack amid the delicate casting process immediately ruins a spell and strikes it from memory.

- A spell successfuly cast can still fail for reasons external to the caster, whether due to inadequate targetting choices or unpropitious external conditions. Invoking spells that admix inimical elements such as fire and water can have all manner of unexpected effects but most often results in failure.

- Spellcasters that become wounded as a result of rolling on the Dismemberment table immediately have all of their spells wiped from memory, due to shock.


7. Teeth, toes and other trinkets – Concentration, Cantrips, Rituals

7.1 Concentration

Certain spells have enduring effects that last while the caster affords them his low-level concentration, with a lapse of this mental foothold dispelling all active dweomers with no further effect.

- A caster can keep a total of simultaneous effects requiring Concentration equal to his Intelligence modifier (minimum of one).

- Concentration can be kept without testing, even in the face of disruptions, as long as the character acts normally, but it must be tested if the character endures serious physical disturbance or otherwise divides his attention. This is done by rolling an Intelligence saving throw of either DC 10, the summed spell levels of the active effects or the damage sustained in an attack, whichever is highest.

7.2 Cantrips

Spells that, once prepared, are dischargable at either their full power or as a minor manifestation internalized by rote and fuelled by a shard of the spell's power itself (aka a cantrip).

- Cantrip is a keyword;

- Spells with this keyword are regular spells in all regards other than being castable as cantrips; 

- Whenever cast as a cantrip, the caster must roll an exhaustion die determined by the slot occupied by the spell, with a ‘1’ result meaning the spell is wiped from the caster’s memory: a level 1 slot rolls a d4, a level 2 a d6, etc, up to a maximum of d12.

7.3 Rituals

Spells that stand to be replicated in ritualized form can have their effects manifested by alternative means. These sinuous invocations, being precursors of and not actual spells in the true sense of the word, rely instead on extensive fetishistic aid, meticulous preparation and observant repetition, trading immediacy for treasured stability.

- Rituals dispense with both the memorization process and a Spellcasting Roll, stressing time and the use of material components instead;

- The duration of a ritual is twenty minutes per spell level; If disturbed during its enactment, it must be started anew.