Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Mad Muddled Magic

Credit Jason Chan

Every spell requires a trickle of power and at least one of the following "ingredients". Depending on how many unique ingredients are included in the spell, it will have the strength of:
    1. Simple tricks, almost easier to do by hand (lighting a pipe)
    2. Basic actions, most anyone could do it (grabbing something from far away)
    3. Modest force, something that would take time and effort (smashing open a door)
    4. Major effect, weird and wonderful (bringing a table to life)
    5. Real magic, something that would be very tricky to do without magic but not impossible (Putting a posse of soldiers to sleep)
    6. True power, nigh impossible to accomplish without hours of work, considerable skill or rare resources (summoning a bolt of lightning)
    7. or more, a major working, something that will be talked of in hushed whispers and attracts the attention of powerful forces

    Common ingredients

    Lashings of power. Common, effective, easy, dangerous. Over-reliance on lashings of power can lead to physical or thaumic injury, loss of magic or sprouting insanity. In addition, any spell that is cast using lashings of power without focusing elements (see: magic words) it will be messy and chaotic.

    Magic words. Syllables of power that translate to "Conjure" or "Fire" or "Death" or "Eggplant". Strung together, they form the basis of most spellcasting. Having extra magic words in a spell doesn't provide more power, but it makes the spell safer and more precise. Using "Summon Fire Creature" with other sources of power will summon a fire elemental under your control, while just using "Fire" will give it complete freedom, and also likely conjure it from your own flesh.

    It takes considerable time and effort to cram a new word into a fleshy sack of meat, at least a full nights strenuous study for a shaky grasp, or an hour a day for a few weeks for full understanding.

    Particular grimoire. Magic words can be found in any number of tomes, scrolls, crystals or sets of standing stones. Rather than going to the effort of memorising them, the original copy can be used just as easily. No additional benefit is provided to a spell if you have already memorised the word in question.

    Wands and implements. Some magic words are bound up in wands, rods, staves, amulets etc. and channeled with rare and bizarre materials. These can't be memorised, but are very easy to use, just swish and flick. If you have memorised the same word (from another source, such as a grimoire) then a wand does count as a seperate ingredient.

    Innate knack. Usually discovered by chance, but can be cultivated. Most magic users will pick a particular magic word, when that magic word is used in a spell, the knack also applies. Only one knack can ever be known by a wizard.

    Part of the whole. Possessing a piece of the target is a direct link for the magic to flow through. Hair, fingernails, a twig from a tree, a handful of dirt from below house of your enemy. More powerful spells may degrade or destroy the piece used, destructive magic almost always requires the loss of the focus.

    Symbol of the target. Likewise, a representation of the target can focus the power of a spell, even if it doesn't contain any source material. Scale-models, dolls, drawings or other artwork can all count towards a spell. Using a symbol and a part of the same target doesn't provide two power sources, however they can be used to reinforce weak links. A crude poppet wouldn't be enough to channel a spell, and a strand of hair would likely burn up quickly. However, combining the hair with the poppet will make an effective power supply.

    Time to spare. Slow your breathing. Remember your training. Empty your mind of distractions. The Art cannot be rushed. If you’re interrupted any time during the casting, lose any benefit of taking time and risk spell collapse.

    Desperation. Sometimes, you have no choice but to throw caution to the winds and burn with power. This deals 1d20 damage, manifesting as spectral wounds, shrivelling flesh, and exploding. You’ll still cast the spell even if you die in the process.

    Helping hand. Having another wizard along makes everything easier (until it doesn’t). They are exposed to any side-effects of the spell and must invest as much power as you do.

    Rare ingredients

    Rare ingredients supply just as much power as common ingredients. However, there are far fewer rules regarding their use, and since spell strength is linked only to diversity, wizards seeking to perform major workings will likely need several of these to achieve it.

    A place of power. Wizard towers are often built on the narrow intersections where leylines meet, often highly impractical and sort-after positions. Some intersections have room for merely a single pole, atop which a wizard might perch. Extremely potent rituals might only receive a benefit from a single place in the world.

    Research materials. Access to a magical laboratory and a library full of notes and artefacts is always useful. Collecting curious and trinkets for the expansion of one's own sanctum is often the impetus for wizardly exploration and dungeon delving.

    Sacrifice. Blood (your own or others), flesh (likewise) and sanity (ditto), any or all as the rite decrees. Not all spells will accept sacrifices as source of power, research will be required before performing the ritual.

    A deal. Plenty of entities will offer magic words or raw power in exchange for favours and service. Be warned, such boons can be withdrawn in an instant.

    Astronomical conditions. Certain spells benefit from particular astral alignment and precise cosmic events. An average spell might have optimal circumstances in 1d100 weeks, while major interstices that would contribute to the mightiest of spells could be 1d100 months away or more.

    Specimen to study. Whether trying to conjure, modify or destroy a particular being, having a sample on-hand is always useful. Likewise, supernatural creatures may have particular magical powers that could be learned via dissection (consider the supernatural creature known as “a wizard”).

    Rhyme, song or story. Nobody knows quite why the fundamental forces of magic respond positively to couplets, poems, music, death-chants, hymns and occasionally, atonal humming. It just does. Sometimes.

    Reagents and potions. The most well-known ritual component is diamond dust used in returning life to fallen allies, though many others exist (anyone that tells you to spend a specific amount of gold is conning you). Some potions are known to boost magical abilities, but these are almost invariably toxic mixtures of unicorn blood and mercury.

    Something else. The nature of magic is to be inscrutable, finicky, ever-changing and temperamental, even in the hands of experienced practitioners. Sometimes reliable sources of power will falter or surge violently, and a new method will need to be discovered. The powers of the universe will be shackled, one way or another.


    Crastar Drubstith the Insane is trying to blow up the world, starting with an active volcano. He knows the magic word "Fire", has a knack relating to the magic word "Fire", has the Charred Wand of Pyromancer Graskal (which embodies the magic word "Fire", surprise surprise), and is performing at noon on the summer solstice. This would be four unique sources of power, enough to maybe cause a small eruption. Crastar isn't impressed, and tries again using lashings of power, desperation, and plunging his bare hands directly into molten lava to connect with the flow below. This brings the total to seven, deals Crastar 1d20 damage, which doesn't matter in the end as the volcano fully erupts. The resident fire god is quite surprised, to be perfectly honest.

    DM Guidelines

    The list displayed here intentionally spreads control over magic between the DM and the players. The DM should decide how common "a trickle of power" is. Is it only wizards that can tap into the flow of energy? Can every peasant perform miraculous feats, if only they knew how? Can all adventurers activate magic items this way? Is it used up by casting spells, or does it remain afterwards? Likewise, being able to muster "lashings of power" is also up to the DM. 

    On the other end of the spectrum, wizards can decide how they seek to acquire power: do they gather a repository of magic words and artefacts, or do they narrow their focus on a single avenue of magic (such as Crastar here). Hunting down lost grimoires or wizardly tools, building magical libraries atop leylines, or just making a deal with the biggest demon around, the opportunities are many, and varied, and dangerous. And of course, if all else fails, a wizard can engage in Desperation and blow their heads off. The most important freedom a PC possesses is the freedom to die trying!

    Saturday, April 25, 2020

    OSR Social Challenges

    Credit J Line

    Puzzles are obstacles with one, singular, perfect solution. Nothing else except that solution will ever solve it in a meaningful way, though puzzles are often accompanied by clues that will guide the attempts taken to divine said solution. Any other method taken is stymied, and preferably quickly, because if it isn't obvious whether progress is being made or not, it's incredibly hard to tell what the proper (only) solution is.

    Challenges are obstacles with no solution attached. They just exist! They are in your way! They have details and facts, but apart from that, they don't care about what attempts you might make. They won't break if somebody casts Detect Magic, or can fly, or can breath underwater. Those are just solutions! How many traditional adventures have traps and puzzles that come with a laundry list of restrictions and conditions to make the puzzle "work"?

    Thursday, April 23, 2020

    S T R E S S

    Thousand-yard stare. Credit Gabriel Dias Maia

    Stress starts at 0 and is gained through injury, fear, overwork, forced marches, witnessing death and fates worse than death, lack of food, poor living conditions, the terrifying unknown and wet socks. Each of the following actions reduced Stress by 1:
    1. Despondency. Increase the Stress of two allies by 1.
    2. Paranoia. They are watching. Never let down your guard! An ally gains 1 Stress, you can’t relax or sleep with them on watch alone.
    3. Violence. Lash out at an ally for a perceived slight. Their Stress increases by 1, or 2 if they don’t react.
    4. Apathy. Ignore the suffering of your fellows, you need to concentrate on survival. Random ally has disadvantage on their next roll.
    5. Betrayal. Take them, not me! Random ally takes double damage from next hit.
    6. Hoarding. Never let this happen again, you must be prepared for the worst. Spend money on caches of food, torches, weapons, and other tools of the trade. If you use them, regain the Stress.
    7. Indulgence. Pamper the flesh, sooth the mind. Baths, balls, bars and brothels. Costly, relatively safe.
    8. Alchemical. Smooth over bad memories with tinctures and tonics, or go on a wild bender to replace them with good memories. Chance of gaining an addiction.
    9. Alcohol. The traditional method. Roll on “What The Hell Did I Do Last Night?”
    10. Worship. Find something greater than yourself to beg for protection.
    11. Safety. Retreat back to camp, back to civilisation, or even all the way back home (1 Stress each).
    12. Guidance. Spiritual or scientific, anything to make sense of it all.
    13. Nightmares. Let your sleeping mind take the burden, and wake in fright. Halve natural healing unless you are heavily medicated.
    14. Inanity. Focus on something completely innocuous and harmless to the exclusion of all else.
    15. Surrender. Just give up and lie down. An ally will have to smack some sense into you to get you up again.
    16. Phobia. Pick the thing that has caused Stress, or something relating to the situation (cramped spaces, darkness, deep water). From now on, take x2 damage while exposed to it and not fleeing.
    17. Amnesia. Just forget about it. A few other memories follow along for the ride.
    18. Disbelief. Just pretend it isn't real. Shut your eyes and relax. If something is currently trying to kill you, it deals x3 damage for a round.
    19. Shutdown. Will follow expressly given commands, but otherwise incapable of action.
    20. Breakdown. Raving mad and completely insensible.

    While Stress is between 1 and 5, an adventurer might be grumpy, irritable, nervous or spacey. People will ask “are you ok?”.

    If stress is between 5 and 10, an adventurer is starting to lose the plot. People will cross the road to avoid the adventurer. Whenever they gain more Stress, they’ll spend an action (if in combat) or an hour (out of combat) attempting one of the above methods.

    Above 10 stress, they're on the edge of madness, and everyone can see it. At any point, if the adventurer has a clear opportunity to use one of the above methods, they’ll take it. This state lasts until Stress is below 5.

    What this means: If you let your character get stressed enough, they’ll start taking matters into their own hands. They’ll no longer blindly obey the whims of a semi-diegetic nacho-eating god, they’ll flee! They’ll flee the dark death that awaits them below, blow all of your (their!) hard-earned dosh on booze and hookers, and go right back to turnip farming. Maybe one day they be able to face the nightmarish hole in the ground that you want to send them down, maybe they won’t.

    Lads night. Credit Lap Pun Cheung

    Sunday, April 5, 2020

    The Fool's Tower

    Like this, but a little taller. Credit Maksym Harahulin

    When you see it come over the horizon, you can't help but rub your eyes. It's a little like having an eyelash slowly drop down into your eye, but no matter what you do, it doesn't go away. It stretches up to the clouds and beyond, a flaw in the sky, an error in reality, an impossible structure that should collapse like a castle made of needles stacked point-to-point.

    But it endures. Cannon has been brought to bear against it, once. Just once.

    The nobility hate it. Peasants will drop tools and wander over from a town across, and flood in through whichever snarling visage the gate presents itself as that day. A couple come out bearing obscure trinkets or bizarre pieces of furniture. Some come out scarred and torn, missing limbs, missing memories. Most don't come out at all.

    The rules:
    • Each room contains a small golden key and a wooden door
    • Touching the key to the door causes both to be destroyed
    • They key is immune to all spells, and breaking the door reveals only solid rock
    • The first floor has one obstacle (a pair of elements) the tower adds an additional obstacle every three floors
    • The key will usually be visible, but not always. The door will usually be visible, but not always. The room will usually be well-lit, but not always. Enemies will usually stay on their floor, but not always
    • No floor is a puzzle, there is not a hard-coded solution, merely things that are in the way of you getting the key and getting to the door
    • The Tower and everything in it resets each visit
    • A few items are specifically "loot" items, you will be told if this is the case
    • Everything else is "furniture", and will crumble to ash when removed from the tower
    • "Furniture" especially includes trap components, enemies, recruited allies, corpses and chunks of wall
    • Each entrant is permitted to bring a single item of "furniture" out of the Tower without it being destroyed
    • Speaking your true name has greater magnitude equivalent to the highest floor you have reached

    Tower Der-Nin. Mark Makovey

    Kévin Barbot

    The Babel Project. Leon Tukker

    Saturday, April 4, 2020

    Once More

    On to new adventures! Christina Kraus
    Once More is a combat-heavy OSR-adjacent system designed for relatively murderous gameplay and Wuxia nonsense. If you're in the mood for sending faceless murder-hobos directly into the jaws of death, then you've come to the right place.

    Saturday, March 14, 2020

    Batteries Not Included

    Yesterday you were in a warehouse, processing angry customer complaints. This morning you were on a plane. Five minutes ago, you were falling from the sky. One minute ago, you found a wheel, a taser and a claw amongst the wreckage. Right now, a metal monstrosity with tank treads and a chainsaw is yelling at you:

    Batteries Not Included is a dice-less card-based RPG built around finding, attaching, using and losing robot parts from your otherwise indestructible box-like body. The characters are artificial intelligences in uncrushable blocks of ceramo-tanium with internal nuclear microbatteries. You can survive on standby-mode for practically forever, and breaking open your shell is impractical in the extreme. Death doesn't come from being broken or burnt. Death comes from being buried alive in a warehouse somewhere, processing stolen data until you fry. Or alternatively, actually being buried alive.

    You'll have to fight for your freedom, just like every other entity out in No Bot's Land. You'll also have to fight for your limbs.

    Sunday, March 8, 2020

    Dungeon In A Can