Tag Archives: magic-user

Summoner and Pyromancer playbooks

Here are Summoner and Pyromancer playbooks. The playbooks include instructions for creating an adventurer along with core rule cues. Below are slightly more precise spell rules.

This summoner is a tightened up version of the OD&D summoning rules I posted a while back.

As a reminder, intelligence checks control how many times an adventurer can cast a spell. After casting and resolving a spell, the adventurer makes an INT check. Failure means the adventurer looses the spell. Spells refresh during downtime.


Summoner Spells

To cast summoning spells or use magic, adventurers must have a catalyst in a hand slot.

Charm

Bind a neutral or friendly creature as a minion.

Hostile creatures and creatures of higher level than the summoner get a saving throw.

Minions resist commands that are suicidal or anathema.

Compel resisting minions with a CHA check. Failure breaks the charm.

Previously charmed creatures become hostile when liberated.

Summon

In a puff of smoke, a monster appears. Determine monster randomly.

Choose: careful, reckless, or named.

Careful results in a monster with level not exceeding the summoner’s.

Reckless could summon anything, even a duke of hell.

Named summons a creature by true name, which must be known.

Optional: choose a minion specialty. Summoners with a specialty may opt to summon minions of the chosen type during any particular summoning occasion. When summoning in this manner, determine specifics of summoned creature randomly within desired type. Once chosen, the specialty may not be changed though summoners may acquire additional specialties through play.

Ward

Draw a boundary, either circle or line, on the ground with a catalyst.

Summoned or extra-dimensional creatures may not transgress this boundary.


Pyromancy Spells

To cast pyromancy spells, adventurers must summon a pyromancy flame.

Adventurers knowing pyromancy spells may summon or dismiss pyromancy flames as an action.

A pyromancy flame occupies a hand slot.

Pyromancy flames are fist-sized, hovering, smoking spheres of dim pulsing fire that smell acridly of sulfur and seared tar. They shed about as much light as a dying ember. The odor makes concealment difficult.

Fireball

Deal 1d6 + (1d6 × Level) damage (save for ½) to all in an area.

Flaming Weapon

Ignite a weapon. Weapon deals +1d6 damage and damage is magical.

The enchantment persists as an expiring resource during exploration.

Traditions and corruption

2016-07-08 19.15.49 copy

Personal photo of Symbaroum core book

Several different traditions of magic coexist in the world of Symbaroum, including wizardry, witchcraft, theurgy, and sorcery. All forms of magic entail the risk of corruption, but the risk can be decreased somewhat by following the rituals and practices of a given tradition. Each tradition grants access to a set of spells and casting these spells in the traditional manner avoids some of the dangers of raw magic.

Wizardry is highly codified arcane knowledge as set down formally by the Ordo Magica. Learning wizardry requires long, systematic study and extensive formal training.

Witchcraft follows older ways from the great forest Davokar. The witches serve as spiritual advisors to the barbarians living on the outskirts of the great forest Davokar. Many Ambrians are highly distrustful of witchcraft and see witches as little different than demon-worshipers or sorcerers but witches have elevated social positions within their own tribes.

Theurgy channels the power of the gods, most commonly the sun god Prios. Covenants with other lesser-known powers are becoming more common following the exodus.

Sorcery is the least formal of all the traditions, though there are many secret lineages. Some sorcerers come to the art by pact with occult beings while others discover ancient proscribed treatises and are self-taught. Despite the dogma of the Ordo Magica, sorcerers do follow rules, just highly idiosyncratic rules. To someone trained in one of the other traditions of magic, sorcery can seem pure chaos. Sorcery is forbidden according to the law of old Alberetor, but that has less force in the frontier of Ambria.

Characters on the Path of Wonder choose a tradition before play. Other characters with Magic stat greater than zero may enter into a tradition during play. Characters may not belong to more than one tradition.

When a character casts a spell within the bounds of tradition, there is no immediate chance of catastrophe or abomination, though the character accumulates a point of corruption for each spell cast. Once the number of corruption points equals the character’s magic stat, however, the safeguards of tradition become less able to control the mystic power unleashed. Characters reset corruption points to zero during each Haven Turn. See the Hazard System for details about Haven Turns.

If a character casts a traditional spell when corruption is equal to the Magic stat, there is a chance that they are unable to control the arcane power. Reality objects to being ungently used and reacts proportionally. The spell caster must make a Magic Test or acquire a permanent stigma, a physical mark of arcane corruption. Determine stigma randomly.

Casting a nontraditional spell when corruption is equal to the Magic stat follows the same rules, but failing the Magic Test results in a catastrophe in addition to a permanent stigma. This is why untrained magicians are so feared and traditionally punished with exile or death. The Ordo Magica is often blamed for any magic disaster and so is particularly harsh in hunting down and punishing renegades.

Once a character has accumulated a number of stigmata equal to their Magic stat, their humanity hangs in the balance. The next time that character would acquire a stigma, instead they are fully transformed into an abomination. At this point, the player must make a new character and the abomination becomes a monster under the control of the referee.

Characters with Magic stat greater than zero and no tradition may still learn and cast spells or use enchanted objects following the magic rules, but have none of the safeguards against corruption that the traditions provide. Attempting to learn a spell outside of a tradition and failing also causes either a stigma or a catastrophe (the player may choose).

Spells marked as rituals take a full Dungeon Turn to cast. See the Hazard System for details about Dungeon Turns. Other spell can be cast as a combat move.


The four magic traditions and the progression from stigmata to abomination are based on the Symbaroum setting.

 

Spell attunement

2016-05-02 19.28.37 dark souls 3I want spell rules that:

  1. Do not require regular spell preparation (to decrease complexity)
  2. Avoid locking players into a very small spell list (for variety)
  3. Support acquisition of new spells through adventuring

Several other rule sets have systems that feel to me like they were built to satisfy similar goals. ACKS (2012) differentiates between repertoire, which are the spells available for casting, and formulae, which are all the other spells that a mage has access to (in something like a library). Mages in ACKS can swap spells in the repertoire with formulae, but only at extremely high cost (ACKS core, page 67):

An arcane spellcaster who already has a full repertoire of spells may sometimes wish to replace one spell in his spell repertoire with another of equal level. It costs 1 week of game time and 1,000gp for each spell level to replace a spell in the repertoire with another.

D&D 5E (2014) uses a similar approach where there is a difference between known and prepared spells but then adds an additional layer of complexity with spell slots, which are different in 5E than in previous editions, and function essentially as level-rated mana or spell points. To learn a new spell, 5E wizards must write the spell in a spellbook, which serves a similar function to formulae in ACKS, though there is only cost involved in the initial copying step, not when making the new spell available for preparation (5E Player’s Handbook, page 114):

For each level of the spell, the process takes 2 hours and costs 50 gp. The cost represents material components you expend as you experiment with the spell to master it, as well as the fine inks you need to record it. Once you have spent this time and money, you can prepare the spell just like your other spells.

Abstractly, both systems represent two pools of spells, essentially online and offline. I find both systems somewhat cumbersome to use and difficult to explain.

The traditional approach, probably represented most paradigmatically in AD&D (1978), also uses spellbooks as collections of offline spells, along with a complicated host of intelligence-based limits and checks to learn new spells (AD&D Players Handbook, page 10):

Acquisition of Heretofore Unknown Spells: Although the magic-user must immediately cease checking to determine if spells are known after the first complete check of each spell in the level group, or immediately thereafter during successive checks when the minimum number of spells which can be known is reached, it is possible to acquire knowledge of additional spells previously unknown as long as this does not violate the maximum number of spells which can be known. New spells can be gained from captured or otherwise acquired spell books or from scrolls of magic spells. In the latter event the scroll is destroyed in learning and knowing the new spell or spells.

Actually following all the AD&D procedures results in nicely differentiated magic-users that can acquire new spells from adventuring, but the overhead is rather high and the various rules are scattered all over at least the Players Handbook. The AD&D approach also warmly embraces and rewards high-maintenance spreadsheet-assisted play, which is not what I am looking for.

Below is an approach I have been working on, encoded in two rules: Attune and Scribe. The rules are written in cryptic Hexagram style, but for D&D application, replace Magic rating with class level or your favorite determinant of spell capacity. The transaction cost of swapping spells between equipment slots and spell slots is represented by magic ink, the cost of which needs to be squared with the other relevant economies of gameplay.

(For anyone that does not catch the allusion, this approach is inspired by Dark Souls.)


Attune. To attune a Spell, consume a Spell Scroll and add the Spell from the Scroll to the list of Attuned Spells. Attune no more Spells than the Magic rating. For example, an Adventurer with Magic rated 3 may attune no more than three spells.

Scribe. To scribe a Spell Scroll, consume magic ink, add a Scroll of an Attuned Spell to the Gear list, and optionally remove the Spell from the list of Attuned Spells. Like all items, each Spell Scroll occupies one Gear slot.

 

Alexandreum

Mysidia from some Final Fantasy game

Mysidia from Final Fantasy IV

The greatest known college of magicians was founded thousands of years ago by the long-dead conqueror Alexander as a gift to his magician lover Hephaestion. Alexander’s dynasty collapsed after several generations, but the school thrived, accumulating all the sorcerous knowledge that mortals could structure, systemize, and preserve in magical taxonomies.

However, attendance in latter days has dwindled as fewer applicants could pass the stringent entrance exams, developed by some long dead master and now operating autonomously. Currently, most of the school is no longer occupied by mortals, with only several smalls wards housing the Magicians and their few pupils. The rest of the academy is sprawling halls filled with ignored and forgotten spells. Lacking proper oversight and maintenance, the spells, often lonely, now rule the far parts of the Alexandreum as dwimmers.

Legend has it that any spell ever harnessed by mortal minds (and some that have imagined themselves into existence) can be found somewhere in the Alexandreum. Many, however, have become uncooperative in their isolation. Though it is against the rules to enter the cordoned-off parts of the Alexandreum, in practice it is not hard to sneak in, and adventurers have been known to venture within seeking spells and other treasure.

So strong has the power of mortal authority over reality become within the grounds of the school that not only can divinities and their supernatural agents not affect the school, it does not even exist for them. Though covenanted adventurers may use boons within, deities are remote and unreachable. Spirit Points only replenish during Haven Turns spent in the mundane outskirts of the Alexandreum, a small area of coach houses intended for travelers and visiting merchants.

The appearance of the Alexandreum can be a surprise to new visitors, who often expect soaring and fantastic architecture in keeping with the wonder of a school for magicians. The outer district is highly traditional, with separate spired towers for each robed master and squat dormitories for apprentices. The grounds between are landscaped and crisscrossed with paths tracing out arcane geometries interspersed with gentle streams crossed by low bridges. Closer to the heart of the school the towers give way to low, ominous archive piles along with archaic groups of standing stones, often in abstract and disquieting patterns. Below lie the twisting tunnels and mineral-shielded experimentation chambers of the abandoned wards.

Magicians can consult the archive catalog, still maintained in the outer district, for directions to particular spells, though addresses so obtained can sometimes be difficult to interpret. However, sometimes it takes the master archivist several haven turns to locate the relevant information (which is convenient, given that the referee may need to map and stock that particular dungeon area).

Dispell as counter-spell

To counter a spell, expend one prepared spell and follow the formula presented for dispell magic:

Dispell Magic: Unless countered, this spell will be effective in dispelling enchantments of most kinds (referee’s option), except those on magical items and the like. This is modified by the following formula. The success of a Dispell Magic spell is a ratio of the dispeller over the original spell caster, so if a 5th level Magic-User attempts to dispell the spell of a 10th level Magic-User there is a 50% chance of success. Duration: 1 turn. Range: 12″.

Source: Men & Magic, page 25.

That is, any prepared spell can be “converted” into an antagonistic dispell magic. One could without issue probably extend that to full dispell magic functionality (thereby doing away with the need to find, learn, or prepare dispell magic as a distinct spell), given that removing enchantments is a relatively core aspect of wizarding, though I could understand wanting to keep the full dispell magic a separate thing.

Note that OD&D does this differently than AD&D, which works like the BRP resistance table (50% success modified by level differential). To make the difference clear, in OD&D a 9th level magic-user has a 90% chance of successfully dispelling an 10th level magic-user’s enchantment (9/10), while in AD&D the chance would be only 45% (50% -5% for having one less level).

Alternatively, compare spell levels rather than class levels using the OD&D formula. So, expending a second level spell in an attempt to counter a third level spell would have a 2/3 (66%) chance of success. This method might be preferred if you see the countering process as an opposition of specific spell energies rather than a contest between the overall skill of the two magic-users.

The burn spells paradigm is becoming increasingly attractive to me. There is some danger of complexity creep, so the possibilities should be limited to a small number of effects. That said, having several default options frees up magic-users to prepare more obscure or interesting spells, which otherwise might not get as much use, much as 3E clerics were able to convert any spells into cures. Further, requiring the expenditure of prepared spells to power such effects retains some degree of resource constraint, unlike make other unlimited or at-will approaches, and doesn’t require tracking any additional information, since spell slots are already managed.

The options so far that I have thought about are maleficence, magical defense, and now dispell magic. I could see adding read magic to that list perhaps, though I am also experimenting with replacing read magic with a “skill” type d6 roll that comes at the cost of an exploration turn.

(This idea came to me when I repurposed dispell magic for banishing summoned creatures.)

OD&D summoning

Mateo had the (brilliant) idea to use the retainer and morale system as the base for a summoner class. His approach adjusts the loyalty rolls based on summoner level, monster HD, and other factors. This allows higher level summoners to control more powerful creatures (on average).

Here is another take on the same basic idea, but using the retainer system literally. That is, summoned monsters just occupy retainer slots. Reaction, negotiation, and loyalty rolls are made exactly as if the monster was encountered in the wild. Base rules are 3 LBB OD&D, but I suspect a similar approach would work with other systems. See pages 12 and 13 in Men & Magic and also this old post I wrote about OD&D loyalty and morale.

Monsters defeated in combat may be subdued and brought into service following the rules in Men & Magic. Now, we could pretty much just end there and have a relatively comprehensive system. Magic-users would need to find minions during adventures and convince them to serve or employ charms. However, I like the idea of magic-users being able to gate in creatures directly, and the only even remotely similar spell in Men & Magic is conjure elemental. The monster summoning spells introduced later are not to my taste. So it seems like at least one new rule is required, in the form of a spell that any magic-user could employ if learned:

Summon Monster, level 1 magic-user spell

In a puff of smoke, a monster appears. Use the dungeon random encounter tables, determining first dungeon level* then monster with dice. Establish reaction normally, adjusting for incentives (2d6: 5- hostile, 9+ friendly). Only one monster is summoned. Do not use the number appearing value.

I like the minions that Mateo crafted, but also find the idea of just leveraging everything in the Monster Manuals compelling.

Beyond the new spell, the core of the summoner’s art lies in the skillful application of other standard spells.

Summoned creatures cannot cross a properly prepared circle of protection (requires salt and casting the spell protection from evil). Creatures may be summoned into or outside of such a circle, at the summoner’s discretion.

Other spells that a summoner may want to master: charm person, charm monster.

The dispel magic spell may be used to banish summoned creatures. The “original spell caster level” is the higher of summoner level and monster HD.

The polymorph others spell may be used in conjunction with flesh to stone (using special techniques, they may be cast together, though both must be prepared separately) to transmute minions into figurines, holding them in stasis until recalled using dispel magic (no check required, given that you are dispelling your own enchantment). Such figurines are significant items, and creatures that resist are permitted a single saving throw versus the combined polymorph/stone effect.

Thus, higher level magic-users become better summoners because they are more likely to have all the other spells and be able to set up the summon, ward, compel “combo” more easily and reliably than a lower level conjurer.

In OD&D, I allow magic-users of any level to create scrolls of any spell possessed, even if it is too high level to prepare normally, at the cost of 100 GP per spell level and one downtime action. This rule is based on the scroll creation system in Holmes. It essentially allows ritual casting of higher level spells given time and sufficient GP. Thus, with proper access to spell texts and resources, even a low level magic-user could perform a summoning, but it would be a long, expensive, arduous undertaking, and still entail significant risk.


* Roll 1d6 for dungeon level if using The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures (page 10). The AD&D Monster Manual II probably has the best dungeon encounter tables (page 133), though, so I might use that instead, in which case roll 1d10 for dungeon level. The MMII provides the chance of randomly getting, for example, a duke of hell.

Wonder & Wickedness draws near

wonder wickedness titleSoon, if all goes well, Lost Pages will release my sorcery supplement, Wonder & Wickedness.

The book will contain:

  • 56 spells divided into seven specialties
  • 50 enchanted treasures
  • 84 sorcerous catastrophes (12 each for 7 kinds of magic)
  • New illustrations by Russ Nicholson
  • Sorcery rules: spells without levels, spell duels, and more

The text is done and layout progresses, about 90 A5 pages. We are working on a small number of hand-bound hardcovers as well.

The spells and several of the enchanted items have appeared before on this blog, though I have modified a few of them. All of the catastrophes and the bulk of enchanted items are new.

We do not have an official release date yet, but hope to have this available before the end of december.

Stats and magics

Playing Dark Souls has helped crystalize in my mind a lot of how I want the character advancement options to work in The Final Castle. Back when I was working on the Hexagram rules, one of my main goals was to support flexible cross-class abilities without complexity or undermining traditional class archetypes, though now I find the particular approach I was working on somewhat unsatisfying. There was too much discretion, not enough structure, and the lists of system options were too long.

The Final Castle has a far simpler, and more elegant, method of advancement which I believe satisfies my original requirements. Characters may advance potentially to level ten, and each level gained allows the increase of one ability score* (though the same score may not be increased over subsequent levels). The ability scores are combined with a class bonus (which is half level, round up) to determine most action resolution. So, for example, a character is going to roll something like 1d20 +dexterity +fighter (shorthand here for fighter class bonus) when making a combat roll. Starting stats range from 0 to 3, a given stat can be increased up to +5, and the class bonus rises to +5 at most, yielding a nice range of bonus for even the luckiest and most focused character (up to +13 on the d20 scale at level 10). Such specialization comes at the cost of flexibility, as will become clear momentarily.

It may seem at first glance like this does not have much to do with the previous discussion of Dark Souls. However, like Dark Souls, the magic rules apply to characters of all classes. That is, a fighter, for example, rolls 1d20 +magic +magician when casting spells, and the number of spells that can be prepared is also governed by those numbers. (Recall that intelligence has been replaced by magic.) Now, in the case of a fighter, +magician (the class bonus) is always going to be zero, but +magic may be increased (if the fighter wants to dabble in magic) during level up rather than one of the physical stats. Magicians have access to more methods for learning spells, but any character with sufficient stats can at least learn spells from a teacher, and any character has the potential of sufficient stats through level up choices.

Cleric magic (called boons), is handled similarly, with +charisma and +cleric taking the place of +magic and +magician. Rather than learning spells one by one as does a magician, clerics are granted access to a full suite of powers upon making a covenant with a given immortal. The default covenant available to clerics at first level is with The King of Life**, but other covenants may be discovered during play and accessed by any character that has sufficient charisma score. Most immortals will not covenant with characters that use magic though, as such is considered presumptuous and hubristic. More than one covenant at a time is impossible, and breaking a covenant may come with serious consequences.

* Oversimplifying slightly for clarity.

** Inspired by Dogs in the Vineyard and used with permission.

Dark Souls magic

Almost all of the Dark Souls rules are somewhat applicable to the tabletop context, but the magic systems seem especially so suited. There are three magic systems: pyromancy, miracle, and sorcery. There are “classes” associated with each, but any character can level into the various kinds of magic by increasing the appropriate stats. Each magic requires a characteristic implement be equipped in order to cast spells of the given type. Each interacts with PC stats in a slightly different way, and the number of overall spell slots, which must be divided between all types of magic, is controlled by the attunement stat. Spells must be prepared (“attuned”) at bonfires, which is the equivalent of downtime or recovery in D&D, and may only be used a limited number of times before resting again.

Pyromancy is the simplest type of magic. There is some intimation that it is more primal and less sophisticated than sorcery. It is often associated with swamp dwellers, symbolic of exclusion and the primitive. There is a similarity here to the distinction WotC D&D makes between wizards (pseudo-academics) and sorcerers (wild talents, magic by lineage). Pyromancy power is not affected by any stats, other than the slots from attunement needed for spell preparation, and their power is dependent only upon the strength of the pyromancy flame used, which is the characteristic implement.

A pyromancy flame can be upgraded independently by spending souls, which, remember, function like both GP and XP. Most pyromancy is simple attack magic, fireballs and so forth, though there are also a few defensive spells, such as iron flesh and flash sweat (which increases defense against fire damage). From a game perspective, pyromancy gives players a way to get access to magic damage by dumping souls into an upgraded pyromancy flame and a few pyromancies without needing to increase level at all, assuming a PC meets the (very low) attunement requirement to be able to prepare any spells at all.

Sorceries are more academic, and higher precision. They often have intelligence prerequisites, and spell power is affected by intelligence. A character that wishes to be a competent sorcerer must dedicate a number of levels to the sorcery-oriented stats. The characteristic implement is the catalyst, often depicted as a wand or staff. Unlike pyromancy flames, or weapons, catalysts cannot be upgraded. You must find better ones.

Though there are several attack sorceries (such as soul arrows, which are basic “magic blasts” that also have the useful function of tracking enemy movement to some degree), there are in addition many utility and misdirection spells, such as aural decoy (which lures enemies away by creating a sound elsewhere), fall control (as feather fall), and hidden body (basically, invisibility). I have been playing a warrior and have only dipped lightly into sorcery so far, so I do not have much direct experience with these spells beyond soul arrows, but for a combat-oriented action RPG, there are a surprisingly large number of spells that seem to enable non-combat creativity.

Miracles are the province of the cleric, and are mostly, by default, as in D&D, defensive or restorative. However, the miracles a character has access to depends on which covenants are formed. For example, if you join the gravelord servant covenant, there are miracles that call giant phantom blades to attack your enemies. This is a fascinating system, reminiscent of “clerics of specific mythos” in 2E D&D, but much more dependent upon action during play. Further, a covenant comes with clear, objective factional duties and restrictions. I do not fully understand exactly how this affects gameplay, but what I have seen of the periphery makes the covenant system one of the most interesting aspects of Dark Souls design, and one that has been highly influential over my conception of clerics as servants of immortals in the world of The Final Castle. Beyond this contextual aspect, miracles work similarly to sorceries, requiring attunement at bonfires, and dependent upon the faith stat for power. The characteristic implement, which must be equipped to call a miracle, is the talisman.

This system design engenders several different kinds of trade-off. First, there are the advancement decisions about which stats are increased during level up. While strictly speaking it is possible to grind souls and increase everything, in practice this is tedious, and further unnecessary to be successful*. If you are just playing the game to explore and overcome challenges, you will naturally need to choose between physical capability and the various kinds of magic. This mode is also more applicable to the tabletop context, where grinding dynamics are minimized or nonexistent. Second, there is the cost and availability of various spells. Third, when you set out from a bonfire, you must divide your available attunement slots between spells. If you have four slots, for example, two could be miracles and two could be sorceries.

Fourth, and most importantly in terms of the gameplay experience, you must wield the appropriate implement to cast a given spell. While encumbrance rules do not prevent you from carrying everything with you (an aspect of the game I find somewhat strange), they do prevent you from equipping more than a few items, and switching between items that are not equipped during combat is asking for a quick death. In practice this means that you have a primary and secondary equipped item in each hand that is east to switch between. The left hand is usually occupied by a shield and either ranged weapon or tool (such as the skull lantern). This leaves the right hand for (likely) a melee weapon and magic implement. The final result of all of this design is that it is impractical to ready more than one kind of magic on a given excursion. Fifth, and finally, casting a spell has a more or less lengthy animation and thus requires a trade-off consideration in terms of when you start to cast a spell, as enemies may take advantage of that time or your vulnerability.

* At least in single-player mode. If you are into PvP it is likely different. The fact that grinding souls might make a big difference in the viability of character power is part of the reason I have little interest in PvP.

Learning spells: risks & investments

I have been experimenting with an approach to learning spells inspired by AD&D’s intelligence derived % chance to learn system. The goal is to individuate magicians by the spells that they are able to learn during play. My own issue is that the magic stat in the rules that replaces intelligence and controls most aspects of sorcery increases somewhat predictably, making it easier to learn spells if you wait, which is a dynamic that I do not want. I did come upon a solution (or rather, someone suggested something that I think will work), but that is not what this post is about.

While discussing the problem on Google Plus, Benjamin Baugh threw out an idea that I thought was worthwhile even though it did not fit exactly what I was going for, and I suggested that it was worth a blog post of its own so as to not be forgotten. As Benjamin does not maintain a blog, I thought it would make a good guest post, and he liked the idea as well. All words below here are Benjamin’s.


I riffed this originally on a g+ post of Brendan’s related to how a magician would learn spells in his old school game’s magic system. It was too verbose for his tightly focused ruleset, but he invited me to expand on it, and host it as a guest column on his blog, so here we are.

I’d originally tossed this out as a way to see if a old school mage could learn a given spell, with the chances being modified by the effort they put into the magical study and what they risk up front to learn it.

I went with one of the simplest possible old school mechanics – the X chance in 6. I also didn’t include anything like level or ability modifier, though there’s no reason you couldn’t do this too for something a little fiddlier. You could expand the range as well, making the check based on 2d6, and using the Basic reaction table’s range of outcomes. But for now, I’m going to stick with the chance in 6, as it’s dead simple, and keeps the effort focused on player choice and character action rather than stats.

You could use this kind of scheme–with different risks and investments–for other downtime actions, like making contacts, hiring retainers, sourcing rare equipment, accessing specialist services (like curse removal or resurrection). You could expand on it, and turn it into a general purpose ritual magic system.

So to start, here’s the basic scheme for learning new magic. All the things invested in the learning process are committed before the die is rolled, and lost if it fails. Them’s the breaks. This scheme is especially advantageous in B/X and other editions which don’t have a system in place for learning spells outside of those granted by character leveling.

The basic chance to learn a spell is 1 in 6.

You might rule that the basic chance requires some reference – a scroll, spellbook, or instructor. Or, you could rule that with those reliable basics, you don’t need to make a check to learn a spell, and the following scheme is for personal experimentation. It works however you position it.

Each risk or investment you make in the process expands your chances by 1.

It will be possible to take on as many of these as you like – and with five, you can learn a spell without any chance of failing. But, the process is going to be fraught, and there’s going to be consequences.

To keep things interesting, you can rule that a character can’t use the same risks or investments twice in a row.

Take extended downtime, requiring weeks of seclusion. The character is unavailable to play during at least one session, possibly longer.

Expend high quality materials – magical reagents, experimental apparatus, baths of ritually purified mud, inks made from monster blood, sheets of colored crystal, incense, oils. This costs you up front d6+spell level x 10 gold.

Invoke Demonic Aid – there are many otherworldly creatures willing to aid a spellcaster in his studies, for a small price. Such a small price. A magician has a lunar month to meet the price, and if he fails to do so, the knowledge of the spell curdles in his brain, becomeing useless – and that spell may never be learned again. Roll 6d6 to see who you invoke…

d6

1

Gar’

Kolmabach

of the Hateful Face

demands

Joyous

Lie

2

Tur’nok-

Sek

the Moon-Eating Maw

commands

Vengeful

Theft

3

Silough-Ma’

Omon-Po

Who’s Wings Blacken the Sky

requires

Hateful

Murder

4

Durgen’opah

Sif Sanar

the Hungry Childe

‘suggests’

Unjust

Slander

5

Xaxaxaxxax-

Bloone

of the Thousand Eyes

orders

Deadly

Betrayal

6

Zef-Neh’

Shakan Gu

the Whisperer

ordains

Secret

Gluttony

Mortify the flesh to exalt the spirit. Ritually deny the body, castigate the flesh, use bloodletting, leeches, sweat lodges, or other methods to invoke altered states of consciousness with extremities of pain and deprivation. Suffer a d4+spell level Con loss, which returns only slowly.

Pick up a Habit. There are many formulations of herb and alchemy which expand the consciousness and open the inner eye. Many magicians find these dream drugs enhance their perceptions of magical realities. Using such drugs in quantity is a way to discern occult insights, but risks addiction. Spend d6x10 gold on occult drugs, and make a Save vs Poison. Success on the save means you are free of addiction. Failure means you pick up a nasty habit. Without at least 3d6 gold worth of the drug in your system each day, you are at -1 on all checks and rolls, and can memorize one spell less from each level you can cast. Only high level curative magic or extended downtime with the Brethren in the mountains can cure this addiction. It is possible to have more than one addiction, and the effects of detoxing are cumulative.

Perform Risky Experiments. Suffer a d6 damage per spell level. Save vs Spell for half damage. This might kill you. If it does kill you, you are dead.

Bribe a powerful mage to tutor you. A more powerful spellcaster might be induced to aid your studies and share her knowledge, but magi are jealous of their power, and their integrity does not come cheap. This will cost a d6x100 gold pieces, but this cost can be reduced by finding leverage with which to blackmail, intimidate, or otherwise force the wise one to share her secrets. This costs nothing, but earns an enemy.

Cause a Magical Catastrophe. Your experiments release terrible magical contamination into the area, with character, range, and severity based on the level of spell being learned. This poisons your reputation locally as surely as it poisons the land – you and those associated with you will be unable to buy and sell in the area, and hirelings from the area will abandon you or refuse to answer the call. There might be local legal sanction as well, if you stick around to find out. If done in the wilderness, this this contamination is the seed of a tainted land, and will attract dark things.

Allow the magic to mark you. The magical revelation marks your flesh permanently, altering your appearance in weird, grotesque, or horrific ways. You have a harder time convincing hirelings to join you, and those you meet on your adventures will be more wary of you. Your charisma is reduced by 1 permanently. The changes wrought on your flesh will be in character with the spell being learned.

Take on an Apprentice. They say the best way to learn is to become a teacher. In exchange for helping you with your studies, the local magic guild, college, or counsel of crotchety old bastards sticks you with an apprentice. You must teach the surly youth the ways of magic, keep them from harm, and see that they do not get into trouble. You are responsible for their health and their actions, and officially anyhow, they must call your Master and obey your will. Roll 6d6.

d6

1

Beechum

Hogsgutter

the Foundling

a surly

fat

youth

2

Plok

Weaver

the Butcher’s Child

a smart-arsed

dapper

idiot

3

Veenian

Smithsget

the Lord’s Heir

an ever-smiling

naive

liar

4

Shian

Pyronian

the Chosen One

a hot tempered

hungry

thief

5

Saria

Tup

the Privy Cleaner

an inept

sweaty

drunk

6

Ish

Derbian

the Prodigy

a gormless

little

student