Monday, August 19, 2013

The Brainiac

I took some inspiration from the Lamentations of Flame Princess Specialist and Rolang's Illusionist and decided to try a very Specialist-y, self-policing, self-defeating mentalist. Think of it as a form of magic limited to extending a user's direct physical influence, instead of a whole new power source or anything.
HD: d4
Saves: as Thief
Attacks: as Thief
Advances: as Dwarf
Requirements: Constitution 9, Intelligence 9
  • Brainiacs may wear leather armor and use any weapon a Magic-User can use.
  • Brainiacs can enter a trance once per day for six hours, gaining all the benefits of restful sleep and curing themselves of any negative Shock effects (though not lowering their Shock Value).
  • Brainiacs may have up to Shock Value 30 before they become NPCs.
  • Brainiacs roll Barrel Points at 1st level as a Thief.
Brainiacs have seven gifts. You roll 1d6 to use them, except for Biofeedback.
  • Intuition- Guessing the intent of something or someone.
  • Telepathy- Conveying a thought, image, or idea mentally, at an effective range in feet of the Brainiac's Wisdom.
  • Telekinesis- Manipulating physical objects with mental force. Use Wisdom as range and Intelligence as strength.
  • Pyrokinesis- Lighting things on fire as if you had a torch. Use Wisdom as range.
  • Misdirection- Confusing or misleading a target's perceptions. They get a save for this one, against the Brainiac's Intelligence.
  • Empathy- Reading or imbuing an emotional state. Range is Brainiac's Charisma.
  • Biofeedback- Force of will and total control of mind and body give you a bonus to AC.
Your chance in 6 for each of these to be successful can be improved by spending points on them. When you have 6 in an gift, you must roll a 6 followed by another 6 to fail your test. Biofeedback begins with 1 point in it already so you begin play with a 1 point bonus to AC, and improve your AC further for each point you spend. You begin play with 4 points to assign anywhere, and gain 1 point each time you level.

At level 7, a Brainiac may receive information with Telepathy, as well as transmit.
A Brainiac may attempt to use her gifts as many times per day as she likes, with two major caveats:

1) As with Gnomes, the DM rolls their die, and may allow them to believe an erroneous result.
2) A normal botch (6) results in psychic backlash, reducing Constitution by 1 point. A major botch (6, then 6 again) reduces Constitution by 2 points. Brainiacs lose all Biofeedback bonus until their Constitution is restored, at a rate of 1 point per day. It is possible to die from psychic backlash if the reduction in Constitution reduces your Hit Points to 0 or fewer, and it is possible to die if your Constitution is reduced to 0 or less.

Random Wizard's Questions for Doublecrossroads


(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no? Everybody is human, except the Aurum who are human-plus and the Machines which are unliving. Those, yes, are race-as-class.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls? Agarthaurum have weaponized souls, for the guard Hell. Machines do not.

(3). Ascending or descending armor class? Ascending, though if you've statted up for Descending no biggie I've got the conversion chart right here.

(4). Demi-human level limits? Every class has a level limit. Soldiers may advance to 20. Others usually cap out at lower levels.

(5). Should thief be a class?
I have no problem with it per se in most RPGs or when I run B/X. However, in XXR everyone's a bit of a fighter, everyone's a bit of a thief, everybody's scrambling to survive. My closest 'thief' is based more off the LOTFP Specialist.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills? Yes, usually associated with their Career or Classification. Very few of these can advance those Skills normally, otherwise they must luck out rolling on the Level Up chart.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)? Ughhhhhhhhh this question is so boring. If anybody ever suggests that they're having less fun because someone else is awesome, my suggestion would be to be more awesome. If you want more toys we'll talk after the game but enjoy something that isn't all about you and your Drow.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?To the extent that everyone speaks Lawful. Otherwise I don't really use alignment.

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc...)?
Both. XP for more than that. XP for everything. Though I'm on a silver standard, and I'm not handing out piles of the stuff: I'll spread a little coin around and give you the XP as if you found the whole lode, but you're back to working your shit job for your daily wage come Monday.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E DD, 4E DD, Next ?
I'm using stuff stolen from or inspired by.....what six of those?

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?

Magic-Users, What They Mean And Don't Mean, And Easy Spellcasting Variant Options

So they're not called wizards because that evokes specific images. Gandalf, Merlin, Harry Potter. They're not called witches because that evokes something pretty specific too. Margaret Hamilton. Snow White bitch. Ron Weasley. They're not sorcerers or mages or spellcasters or enchanters or illusionists or bards or mystics. They're Magic-Users.

There aren't always knights and paladins and rangers and mercenaries in old school D&D but there are always Fighters. Thief is a pretty specific appellation but they also cover pirates, assassins, ninja, and so on. We have Clerics instead off priests, prophets, friars, Benedictine monks, or Jedi. Each of these very broad classifications can cover any of these kinds of characters or ones I haven't listed. Not just archers but like pikemen, not just pickpockets but like spies. So on. They're just grouped according to what they use to get the job of exploring a Dungeon or fighting a Dragon accomplished, but also imply their use to a specific end. Fighters use weapons and armor to help them fight. Clerics use their faith to help them survive and care for others. Thieves use skill and guile and surprise to steal things. Magic-Users use magic.

A Magic-User is a Fighter who decided making people pass out so you can stab them in the eye was a good way to fight. A Magic-User is a Thief who decided that Knock would be more generally useful than Open Lock. A Magic-User is a Cleric who decided that the gods who have temples are great and all but The God In The Bowl is pretty righteous, too.

That's it. I mean there's a mystique to it but the default D&D assumption is that anybody can use magic with enough time, study, and fortune. You have to sacrifice some things (you don't have time to practice enough to get skilled at other more esoteric practices, will never be as fit or hardy as a fighter, you've probably pissed off the gods too much to ever get much  out of them) but you get a wide range of abilities and some very powerful ones. The Magic-User spell lists would befit a politician as much as they'd be useful for slaying a manticore. And that's entirely possible because the only end that the existence of Magic-Users as a class implies is existence as a Magic-User. That knowledge and growing more powerful is its own reward.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess implies that all Magic-Users are twisted and shunned from polite society, which is why there are so many adventuring Magic-Users. I think that's a good idea but I think it's as likely that the kind of people who don't fit into society anyway and go a-wandering are the kind of people who put in the trouble and struggle to learn how to use magic in the first place to get some more specific end. I think that interpretation sits well with more people than even realize it because it's a specific end and the method by which it's accomplished that would really differentiate someone's approach to how they use magic and for what and would obviously produce some vastly different Magic-Users in the course of play, from a pure role-playing perspective.
This is where some people have a sticking point with the Jack Vance inspired spellcasting in D&D. I don't really bat an eye at it because it's one of those things like separate classes, saving throws, halflings and medusas that I just shrug off. I mean, that is the game, right? There are lots of other games without those things but those games, while awesome fantasy rpgs, aren't D&D. If I wanted to play "D&D But" I'd play one of a dozen games like that, but I'm not so I deal. However, it does rely on a very specific literary point of reference and a lot of people (who usually phrase this problem as "realistic spellcasting") vastly prefer a completely different-yet-specific literary influence on their magic. Most players I see just shrug and get on with it but it's definitely why Magic-Users seem to have so many class variants over the years. It's not just flavor, it's physical limitations and such that people build whole classes to get around. This is part of what led me to try something like the Scrivener, the class I put together mostly for NPCs but made a PC option. Now, looking back, I kinda think it wasn't worth the effort, because going forward....

1) If a normal regular Magic-User is not to your liking, you can play one of the mere specific/weirder magic classes people have introduced over the years, from Illusionist to Muscle Wizard to Bard. Know of course that you're usually still dealing with a very Vancin structure, if not Vancian methods. However before you make that decision know that....
2)  There's nothing stopping you from playing a normal Magic-User and us changing some things very simply and keeping you very the same while feeling very different.
  • You want to be a bard? You get a free instrument, I cherry-pick you bardy spells, and you can cast magic by playing music. You can use your instrument as a weapon, El Kabong/El Mariachi style, but if it gets broken as a weapon it's broken as an instrument, too, and you can't cast spells til it's replaced.
  • You want to be a sorcerer? You don't have to keep a spellbook, but you as a player also don't get to write down all the spells you know; you have to remember them or someone at the table has to remind you, and you're still stuck with only so many slots per spell level.
  • You want to be a Magus or Swordmage? Normal progression of spell slots, slots are "charges" you can expend for free in a round to give yourself an AC bonus equal to the spell level or do extra damage, or they may be filled as a spell normally with all touch spells or spells targeting the caster being cast on the sword.
  • Enchanter, artificer, magical armsman? Normal spells and you can wear chainmail or less but can't use shields, you can NOT cast spells but instead store them in weapons, armor, and items for one day, and you (or whoever) trigger them using a touch and a command word.
  • Alchemist? Spell slots are potions you can brew per day. A potion of that spell level can be anything from the normal spell chart for that level but suffers a percentage of Failure and a much higher percentage of Side Effect.
  • And so forth. There's lots of little changes we can make. Hell, you want greater spell flexibility or more spells per day? We can talk about that, tradeoff and consequences, like DCC spell failure and backlash effects or something.
Those are just the obvious ones. Playing an Elf but instead you want to be Dobby? Well I hate you. Also, for every elf perk you ditch other than your spells, you get additional first level spell slots per day and need 100xp more to level up to 2, with that xp change compounded every level like normal. Ice King? All your spells change to cold related spells and we can work out some kind of at-will ice zap equal to your hit die. Maybe all of your spells are drugs you have to take, and there's a risk of overdose. One of my friends likes to complain that in 4e "everyone has spells but nobody has spells." Want some permanent spell effects you can use at will? We can have a conversation.

That's what D&D is about, really, at least these old school versions like I'm running: you want something special, we can talk and bolt it on no problem, and we don't need Mike Mearls' seal of approval to do it. Let me be clear I have no problem with all the different class variants, but say the Scrivener's Enchantment I did? There's no reason I can't just say "Have an Int of 9 and you can cast a spell or do that for each slot." Having that codified and written out for people to browse and take and use as an off-the-shelf option is cool, sure, but it's not necessary to make a whole new class and new subsystems and rules to the extent of full class design for every little change from Strict Vance. But neither does changing something about the Vance style (full range of movement, some physical components, magic words, memorization that's like putting a demon in your head and it's hard to do anything else) and D&D spell structure (spell levels, so many slots per spell level per character level) aren't necessarily married til death do they part, and a lot of what gets accomplished by reinventing the wheel altogether can be taken care of by just fiddling with one aspect or the other quite slightly.

Doublecrossroads Looks Like...

A little inspiration to get my players in the mood, starting and ending with a classic...

Friday, August 2, 2013

50 Level 1 Spell List for BX/ODND/OSR/ETC games

I don't hate on the 12-spell table. It is great and there's not a spell wasted there. It's all lean. I mean I make protection vs. evil work differently but screw it it's a fantastic spell list. But when every Magic-User and Elf is drawing from that same list, and know more Level 1 spells than any others for so much of their careers, and so do all NPC spellcasters who are drawing from the same list, and then you're also generating a bunch of scrolls with the same list for NPCs and PCs to stumble upon and use...Eventually a little more variety can be really cool, and there are so many great spells out there. I want to try them all. I want my players to have the chance to try them all.

I've got no problem with an entire party where the spellcasters all know Charm Person, and they fight a group of Ogre Mages who all know Charm Person, and their loot has a scroll of Charm Person...that all sounds fine to me. Actually it sounds like a hoot. But if I've got a larger pool of Level 1 spells that implies a larger world of magical research and study and invention, and thereby a larger, weirder, more unpredictable world. Running into a new spell has a bit more of a WTF factor and makes any new encounter with a spellcaster a little more dangerous, which is always good.

This is nowhere near all the level 1 spells I could have collected, obviously, but it's what I limited myself to. This also meant not putting in any of my own spells, but merely spells found in the Basic rules, modified spells from Dungeon Crawl Classics, some from Lamentations of the Flame Princess/Better than Any Man, and a few from Labyrinth Lord Advanced. I also threw in a few level 1 spells (or ones I'm using at Level 1) from Playing D&D With Porn Stars, and, recently, added a few from this Space Age Sorcery document.

Make a percentile roll, re-rolling if you get a result above 50 OR doing the good ol' divide-by-half-round-down routine. You can also drop the first four results off the list and just roll 5d10:

1. Rugosity
2. Side-Step
3. Melt
4. Memories of the Trailblazers
5. Summon
6. Cantrip
7. Charm Person
8. Detect Magic
9. Read Magic
10. Comprehend Languages
11. Light
12. Shield
13. Sleep
14. Ventriloquism
15. Magic Missile
16. Protection Circle
17. Hold Portal
18. Floating Disc
19. Bookspeak
20. Enlarge
21. Faerie Fire
22. Feather Fall
23. Mending
24. Message
25. Spider-Climb
26. Unseen Servant
27. Allure
28. Burning Hands
29. Erase
30. Jolting
31. Jump
32. Manipulate Fire
33. Shocking Grasp
34. Be Impressive
35. Detect Undead
36. Speak with Insects
37. Enhance Sensation
38. Detect Weapons
39. Deflect Damage
40. De-Age
41. Read Brains
42. Cursed Utterance
43. Drunk Reversal
44. Animal Summoning
45. Mystical Mask
46. Force Object
47. Obsession
48. Ildiko’s Hideous Minstrels
49. God-Bet
50. Patron Bond

 I do tinker with these spells a bit, particularly in the naming. God-Bet was called Sacred Contest on Zak's blog, for example, but those kinds of changes are few and simple to figure out using those lists. 

I also redo the "protection from evil" spells to be general protection circles: they will protect you from what you ask them to protect you from when you draw them out. Level 1 is a protection circle you can fit in. Then there's a protection spell to ward a room, and everyone in it. Then there's the blood-above-the-doors warding that casts protection on a whole building (under a certain cubic footage of course).

The weird spells on the list are Patron Bond and Cantrip from DCC and Summon from LOTFP. I admit I'm mostly taking the spirit of these spells. 

Someone with Cantrip can add a little bit of magical flair to everything they do, like a good stage magician, or keep a spoon stirring the beans. There's no mechanical benefit other than style but being stylish can often be a benefit in itself.

Patron Bond works kind of like it does in DCC. You have to roll to connect with a Patron at first level and you can keep trying until you get a taker but you do take a negative effect each failure. Once a Patron (say Thor) is bound to you, you have "Invoke Thor" instantly prepared in your mind, and then a few level 1 spells that someone calling upon Thor could reasonably expect help with. This becomes a floating spell effect for that particular slot, balanced by having to make contact in the first place and potentially losing that slot for the day, the additional crummy failure effects (mutations, increase of Shock Value, loss of Barrel Points), and having to do shit to pay Thor back OR ELSE.

Summon has a base floor of mechanics I can rely on which is fantastic. In general though I use something like Animal Summoning and Charm Person as a baseline and give it a 89% chance to summon a 1HD critter of some kind, similar to those other level 1 spells. I add an extra 11% of failure chance depending on how high a spell level I think any greater summoning would be, so that at level 1 a Level 9 summoning would have 99% chance of failure or going awry. When you can cast 2nd level spells, that same 9th level summoning improves to a 12% chance, and so on. I eyeball it. This does mean that a caster who can cast level 9 spells effectively gets another level 9 spell, sort of, but there are some other variables from the LOTFP rules I can use to mitigate that a bit. Also it's something I'll worry about when any of my players actually get to level 9 spellcasting.

It'll be a long while before I expand the chart any but hey I've still got bard spells/illusionist spells/my own spells to cherry pick from.

And yes I do plan to expand the Cleric spells a little...but ONLY a little. Nothing like this.