Thursday, July 22, 2010

Magical Alteration Zones of Wyrd Greyhawk, & four new spells from the Weighty Tome.

Singular events of great moment, or the presence of objects of power or importance, magical, divine, infernal, or otherwise, leave impressions on the arcane aethosphere of Wyrd Oerth. Mighty works of magic, godly visitations or devilish intrusions, great conflicts or acts of infamy, leave behind them sumps, eddies, vortices, undertows, or other such disturbances in the normal ebb and flow of eldritch energies about the world.

These disturbances result in zones of magical alteration where normal spell casting is both dangerous and unpredictable. Any particular alteration zone will have a given % chance of causing a spell mishap to occur should an unwary magic-user attempt spell craft within its area of effect. This chance is determined by the Dungeon Master and should reflect the magnitude of the event which caused the aetheric impression originally.

If a spell is cast within an alteration zone, and a mishap is indicated, it may take several forms.

• A simple spell failure is possible. The spell’s energies are drawn into the disturbance with no effect.

• A spell alteration may take place. In some random fashion, the spell’s characteristics are altered. A fireball for example could manifest as a stream of flame that runs along the ground rather than a sphere which flies to its target. Alterations could potentially be helpful or a dangerous hindrance. The fire-stream in the above example could set other objects or persons alight as well as damage its intended target.

• An arcane wildfire could occur. In this case the spell runs out of control. It’s duration, range, area of effect, or power level could triple, quadruple, or the spell could become a permanent manifestation. In this last case, the spell is now drawing energy in a self sustaining manner from the currents about the arcane disturbance itself and has gone beyond the casters ability to end or control.

• A backfire may result. In this case the spell turns back upon the caster, delivering its full effect upon him.

• An unrelated magical manifestation accompanies the spell. A rainbow appears, sprites infest the casters beard, a wagon sized turd falls from the sky, etc. I employ parts of the 2E wild magic rules for this result.

• A spell-ghost occurs. This is not an undead spirit, but a re-manifestation of a spell which was cast previously within the alteration zone. The spell-ghost will take the form of a randomly determined spell which acts at one half of its standard strength. If the spell normally affects a target creature, the Dungeon Master must randomly determine who among the PCs and NPCs present the recipient of the magic is. If the random spell is one that increases in strength by level, the Dungeon Master must also determine the original casting level.

• A revelation strikes the spell caster. Previous or future events connected to the location of the alteration zone are revealed to the caster in an instantaneous vision. The caster is also stunned for 1d4 rounds.

• An arcane reverberation occurs. A wave of magical energy washes out from the locus of the alteration zone. This wave does no damage, but will be felt by all magic-using creatures within 1-100 miles, (2d10), of the disturbance. The reverberation will draw the attention of any such creature or person and may spur them to investigate its source. The reverberation will also be felt on both the astral and ethereal planes, as well as any other such plane which borders directly the prime material.

Famous magical alteration zones in Wyrd Greyhawk include, the Swords of the Old Gods, The Black Spiral of Ket, and the Mirror Water Pools. I intend to detail all of these in future posts.

When designating any particular space as a magical alteration zone, the Dungeon Master may roll 1d8 to choose the nature of potential mishaps, assign percentile chances to each possibility, or simply pre-choose which effect will be manifested in accordance with the circumstances of the zones origin.

If a magic-user is aware of the existence of a given magical alteration zone, he may cast spells normally within its area of effect if, before each attempt at casting, he successfully Saves VS Magic. Otherwise, a spell mishap is certain to occur.
Because of the danger presented by the existence of alteration zones, as well as the generally inconstant nature of magic in Wyrd Greyhawk, most masters include in their apprentices spell books a spell known as,

Discern Arcane Aethography

Level: 1
Range: Visual range of caster
Duration: 1 round
Area of Effect: N/A
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 3 rounds
Saving throw: N/A

If a magic-user has some indication or suspicion that the currents of magic are disturbed or unsettled in a given area due to past magic or other influences, the casting of Discern Arcane Aethography will reveal to him the nature of the disturbance and also what effect it may have upon his own spell casting.

As example, Sugraid the Spindly casts Discern Arcane Aethography upon encountering an ominous arch of living trees deep within the Old Forest. This reveals to him that spell casting here will result in an arcane reverberation unless he first Saves VS Spell successfully before each casting. As Sugraid has no wish to reveal his location or presence, he must refrain from magic-use within the alteration zones area of effect.

Magic-users with an Intelligence score of 16 or above who cast Discern Arcane Aethography prior to casting a second spell in areas outside of magical alteration zones will gather enough of a feel for the shape of magic in their immediate area that the following spell will act as though the magic-user were one level of experience higher than he actually is.

Remlap’s Arcane Inscriptor

Level: 3
Range: Centered directly upon caster
Duration: permanent
Area of Effect: up to a 10’ diameter circle, dependent upon available space.
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 6 rounds when pre-cast, 1 segment when activated.
Saving Throw: N/A

When activated, the Arcane Inscriptor instantly burns a magic circle, pentagram, thaumaturgic triangle, or other designated protective inscription into the surface the caster stands upon. Regardless of the nature of the surface, stone, wood, a grassy lawn, a lake, the chosen design will appear complete, unbroken, and legible. This inscription is permanent and may not be broken or erased.

The major portion of this spell is first cast in a secure location, with the magic-user drawing the desired protective inscription on the floor by hand. Then the spell is carried in the casters mind and only activated by the uttering of its final word.

The design created by the Arcane Inscriptor enhances the power of a single spell which is cast after its creation. The inscription created, and the spell enhanced by it must be related. A magic circle will enhance the spell, protection from evil, a pentagram will enhance summoning/binding spells, and a thaumaturgic triangle will enhance divinatory magic.

Specifics are left to the individual Dungeon master to tailor to their own taste.

Call forth the Guryms

Level: 2
Range: 20’
Duration: 1d6 rounds per level
Area of Effect: all within reach of the Guryms
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 round
Saving Throw: N/A

This spell when cast summons 1d4 of the Guryms per level of the caster. Creatures of the fey underworld, the Guryms are unaffected by other monster summoning spells or magic. Only this specific spell can call them to the prime material plane. The Guryms are completely and utterly uncontrollable. Immune to charm, hold, suggestion, paralysis, binding, or other such magic, they naturally possess an aura of free action and may not be physically bound, restrained, or contained. The caster will have no influence over the actions of the beastly little men. At the end of the given spell duration, the Guryms will fade back to their own dimension.

The Guryms appear as two and a half foot tall, extremely hairy men with disproportionately large heads, blazing blue eyes, and wide mouths filled with sharp teeth. They wear kilts or short pants but no other clothing.
When they appear, their actions are determined randomly. They may, attack all present, revel wildly, steal all things they lay hands on, eat anything ingestable, destroy all objects they can reach, or create art. Roll 1d8 to determine.

Guryms, AC: 4, Hit Dice: 2, Move: 140’ per round, Alignment: Chaotic, Special: unharmed by non-magical weapons, Those face slapped by a gurym will join them in whatever activity they are engaged in until they return to the fey underworld.

Clear the Air.

Level: 3
Range: 60’
Duration: 3 rounds
Area of Effect: Whatever enclosed space the caster occupies, or, 1000 cubic feet of outdoor space, per level
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 6 segments
Saving Throw: None

When this spell is cast, a stiff breeze of pure, cool air blows through the immediate area about the caster and instantly clears the air of smoke, smog, dust, spores, steam, gas or vapor and renders it clean and breathable.

The action of the spell also ends the effects of any magic which causes such atmospheric contamination, such as, stinking cloud, as well as shielding the caster from poison gas attacks such as green dragon breath.

The spell functions in a metaphoric sense as well. Clear the Air will also put an end to Charm and Suggestion or other such mind affecting magic. Recipients of the spell’s benefits may also feel a sense of clarity and inspiration. What may come of this is left to the Dungeon Master to decide.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Does anybody want to trade me for this White Wolf stuff?

I went through a period of voracious collecting of any and all rpg material looking to mine ideas. My trawling netted stuff that didn't really mesh with my own gaming leanings just because I thought I could maybe squeeze something useful out of it.

Now I'm sorting and eliminating things as what I like becomes more clear to me, so I thought I'd see if any of youse guys would like to trade. None of this is rare, but it's in very good shape. If I took the stack to half-price books, they'd give me 1.25 and a kick in the ass,so if anyone has anything they'd like to just trade straight up, send me an e-mail and let me know.

I don't know what shipping cost would be, but if the exchange is roughly even, I'll pay to ship to you if you pay to ship your stuff to me.

If you only want 1 book, that's fine also, you don't have to take them all if you don't need them.

A couple of these have a bit of price tag goo on the cover, but other than that, they're clean and undamaged.

I've got, a Get of Fenris clanbook, the Horizon sourcebook for Mage, the Book of Shadows for Mage, the Nosferatu clanbook for Vampire, the Werewolf Players Guide, a Vampire the Masquerade hardback, a Mage the Ascension hardback, and a second edition Werewolf the Apocalypse hardback.

I'd like to have stuff like, Fading Suns material, Kenzer's Aces&Eights, Alternity stuff, Knights of the Dinner Table comics,( I'll have to check and see which ones I'm missing), and of course, old TSR or new OSR materials. I've probably already got a copy of the TSR stuff, but you never know. Whatever you'd like to trade, let me know.

I'm not interested in making a profit or getting a deal on this stuff, I'm just looking for an exchange of roughly equal value.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Will the real OSR please stand up? Oh look, they all did.

Restoration, See above image.

This is the definition by which I navigate on matters concerning the Old School Renaissance.

In my mind, OSR is a term which describes new materials, games, rules, art, attitudes and philosophies towards role playing games which are derived from, consistent with, amenable too, or congenial with, those same elements of the original editions of the first generation of role playing games.

This is a broad definition, and each facet of it is subject to debate. That’s fine with me. One of my maxims is that, “All statements are generalizations,… generally.” When an apparent contradiction arises, it usually means I’m missing something, that I’m too close to the issue and I need to expand my focus to take in the bigger picture.

I think that the majority of conflicts, in all things, not only RPG discussions, are due to conflicting definitions. So, I try to be as forthright as I can be in sharing the meanings of the terms I use. Most especially here on the web, where 90% of the subtleties of interpersonal communication are stripped away and reduced to stark black and white lettering.

I don't think there is a single OSR. I think there is a multitude of overlapping personal OSR's, each sharing to a greater or lesser degree differing amounts of the various elements that are commonly perceived to make up Old School gaming. I don't think it's possible to sharply define what is and what isn't Old School, and I'm really only interested in general definitions anyway. I think it's porous, the borders are shifting and ill defined, and I like it like that.

At the dawn of role playing gaming, there were no limits. Rules were formulated and tested to see if they would provide the play experience the maker was seeking. There is a primal chaos at the naissance of any and all things which later grow and expand. Anything is possible at the beginning, but for there to be growth, choices have to be made and each choice made both provides structure, and eliminates possibilities. Order is required for growth, but too much order causes stagnation and death.

There have to be rules for The Game to be a game, and not just backyard make-believe, but as each later edition expanded the rules and further defined The Game, it also narrowed the range of possibilities at the same time. This is unavoidable, more rules means fewer real choices in the Game, just as bigger government means less liberty in real life.

The thing here is that there is a sweet spot on this sliding scale of imaginative chaos vs. rules order that I think of as Old Guard, or Old School if you like. Where exactly you see this sweet spot on the scale probably has a lot to do with your personal proclivities and also, at what point in rpg history you were introduced to the idea of role playing. For myself, it was the Holmes edition D&D, and immediately after, AD&D. That’s where I’m coming from.

Renaissance, See above image.

A renaissance is a re-birth, a second beginning, it is not a restoration.

I think a very great deal of the internal conflict, but not all, that I read is due to the confusion between the two terms. The camp that requires original rules purity is actually pursuing an Old School Restoration, rather than a renaissance. There is nothing wrong with this. This is the same attitude towards The Game that a classic car restorer has about returning a model T C-cab to original condition. It’s important for understanding and appreciation the history of the game to preserve attitudes, approaches and ephemera as well as the original rules themselves.
The conflict comes from a failure to recognize the different goals of the renaissance promoters and the restorationists.
This, I think, is the origin of the dogmatic absolutism that concerns some of our good fellow game bloggers. I myself don’t find the uber-grognards particularly troubling. Growing up in rural Indiana, I’ve had to deal with more than my share of obstinate, crusty old bastards and I just see them as part of the local color. I treat them like I do upper management, smile and nod and do what I’m going to do anyway.
I suppose the head-butting between the restoration and the renaissance is something like the disconnection between historical re-enactors and the Society for Creative Anachronism. Of course this is a generalization, don’t carp at me if you don’t like where you come down in this comparison. Heh…

Anyway, My Personal OSR is a renaissance and not a restoration. Full speed ahead! Damn the torpedos! I've got a bad feeling about this! It’s about reexamining the originals to figure out why I like them so damn much. It’s about rebuilding them in my own way. It’s about getting back to that root, that origin point, and examining, considering, and testing all the directions I can think of that The Game didn’t take the first time. And also in just creating materials that I enjoy that do work with the early editions as written. I see no contradiction in these approaches and I do them both concurrently. I appreciate that fully restored classic just as much as I appreciate all the work that goes into a modified hot rod roadster.

I get my kicks by exploring what it is that appeals to me about the old games, and building off of those elements to augment the experience of play. Testing the ideas, rules, approaches that others put forth, or are inspired by the experiments of others, to see what happens, and if I find them congenial to my game, lets me expand my horizons. If I don’t like where the experiment goes, that’s fine. I put the idea back on the shelf and start over. No harm done.

I love the OSR, or at least, I love my OSR. After a dozen or so years of thinking I was the last AD&D supporter on earth the online old game community has made it possible for me to blather on about My D&D to people who actually give a crap and to contribute what I can to the preservation and advancement of Old Guard Gaming. I love it because now I have the chance to contribute to The Game in a way that I couldn't back when it was created. I'd have given my left 20-sider to have been there at TSR at the beginning, but I missed that boat by a decade and it wasn't until I blundered into the online community that I had any chance of actually getting my game writing and ideas out there. It was this blog that brought me the chance to write for Rob Kuntz, which is of course, frikken awesome! My wife dosn't understand the girlish glee that brings me, but she's glad it makes me happy. It was the OSR that got me that chance. As an originator of The Game, Rob himself has no need of the OSR, but for myself, it was what reignited my fire for The Game and got me to actually start writing out all the stuff that clogs my head. The unembarassing stuff at least.

This is what I do. I can’t speak for anybody else and I’m not interested in doing so. I have enough NPCs to manage.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Spontaneous Creation of Magic Items in Play.

I think of my Wyrd Greyhawk as a low magic campaign world, but in fact, it is awash in it. Magic is elemental, a fundamental natural force which permeates and penetrates all space and things in the game world, living and not. Wells and currents of magical energy dot the world, allowing for things and creatures that mundane physics would deny. Raw arcane force has properties and behaviors of it’s own, but these are not completely definable as they vary, shift, and change from time to time and place to place. The only reliable definition of magic is that, it is that which science is not.

The thing that is actually low in Wyrd Greyhawk is the PC’s ability to access and control magic, and employ it to do their bidding. Harnessing magic to create a magic item, or cast a spell is like building a water wheel in order to to use the power of a river to run a mill. Spell work or magic item creation require extensive knowledge, skills, and resources, as well as a proper location and the needed natural energy. Just as a water mill would require knowledge and skill in metallurgy, woodworking, stonemasonry, a basic understanding of physics, the necessary materials, and a strong flowing stream, so too does magic use have a great number of prerequisites.

These things are well beyond the scope of the vast majority of people in Wyrd Greyhawk. Creating a magic item requires knowledge of magic that would be on a level equal with the ability to build a wind turbine to generate electricity, from scratch, without formal schooling. Remember, there are no magic universities or schools in Wyrd Greyhawk, only individual archmages who may choose to take apprentices or not.

This makes the number of magic items and their availability to the PCs in The Game very low and infrequent, which is what the phrase “Low Magic” is commonly seen to mean in gaming terms. This allows me a game world steeped in eldritch glamour without having PC’s suffering Christmas Tree Syndrome and cheapening the weird and unsettling feeling I want magic to have. I actually employ parts of the 2E wild magic system under certain conditions to enhance the atmosphere and ensure that players never take magic for granted. But that’s a post for another day.

This post is about how the natural flow of background magic, combined with circumstance and motivating action on the part of PCs, as well as the good judgment of the DM, occasionally results in the spontaneous creation of magic items.

When a PC shows a particular liking for, and flare in the use of, a particular mundane item, I begin assigning that item Arcane Potential Points, (APPs). Each time that item is employed in a manner which is inventive, showy, changes the course of an encounter or adventure, increases that character’s stature or renown in some way, snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, or is above and beyond the ordinary in some way, I award the item 1 APP. Sometimes 2.

This is a measure of the natural magic of the game world being invested in and/or attracted to the item by the heroic or infamous actions of its wielder. Some events, desperate acts performed under duress or moments of incredible luck, cause ripples and reverberations in the arcane aether, drawing currents of magic towards objects and people. Such actions need not be good in nature, but must be of consequence. I don’t tell players this sort of thing, it’s above their paygrade.

Once an item has accumulated 10 APPs, it has a chance of spontaneously demonstrating magical abilities. This chance is equal to the weilder’s chance of Saving VS Magic. If the item fails the save, it will never become a spontaneous magic channel, end of story. If it succeeds, it has become a magic item.

The DM may proceed in several ways according to the goals of his particular play style from this point.

The magic may be rolled for randomly, using the magic item lists from whatever iteration of The Game you favor and adjusting the result to fit the item. This can be fun, but nonsensical. Which may or may not be a problem for you.

The magic may be dictated by the circumstances of the event which bestowed the final APP. A troll slaying may result in the sword bestowing regenerative abilities on its user. Knocking a thief off a wall with a staff might give the staff the power to cause vertigo or loss of balance on a hit, etc…. I tend to favor this approach myself; I like symmetry and sympathy in magic.

The magic may be related to the characters backstory if you run a story driven campaign. It could be that the character’s actions have activated some destined fate and the spontaneous magic item will in some way make possible a previously unknown or unreachable goal. You could easily retcon any number of plot points into the game in this manner.

The magic may be influenced by powers divine or infernal if such are present in some way at the moment of magical investiture. It may even be possible that the item could become cursed in some way if the final APP derives from an act of evil.

The magic may cause the item to become sentient in addition to whatever magical powers may be gained. In this case, the rules for dealing with intelligent swords come into play, with all that entails regarding power struggles between the PC and the item.

Weapons are the obvious items to become spontaneously magically charged, but any item which a character uses regularly in the requisite manner may possibly become magical. This especially applies to items which are intrinsic to the characters class. Items such as a thief’s favorite crowbar, a friar’s fighting gloves, a paladin’s spurs, or items like a frying pan, a banner, a blanket, etc… May begin to accumulate APPs, if through play they become a regular part of a character’s idiom.

This system allows for magic items to be inserted into a low magic campaign in a way that doesn’t lessen the weirdness of magic, and at a rate that is controllable by the DM. Magic items that come into being this way are very personal to the characters and are treated as having much more value than the generic sword +2 looted from orc hoard #47.

You may or may not wish to inform the players of the new magical power of their item. I find it entertaining to cause unexplained events and drop hints rather than outright announce these things. If the PCs get suspicious and drop some coin on sages and mages, they may find out what has happened, but probably not how, or why. The thing that makes magic, magic is its unpredictability and ultimate uncontrollability. Science is repeatable; magic may or may not be so.

The players don’t get to manipulate this system to create magic items as they wish. As a DM of the Old Guard, I don’t need proof of rules lawyery or bad faith manipulation to get all smitey, only suspicion of same.

The pic is a clip from the center of a Frazetta painting for Karl Edward Wagner's Kane. I dig it. In my fantasy afterlife, Frazetta sits in on Gary's game in the sky and does the character portraits.