Thursday, August 24, 2017

Four Servants Fled into a Red & Pleasant Land

I am so very happy to be running a campaign again. There are four Adventurers: A Fighter (who is a Bounty Hunter), A Magic-User (who is a Juggler), A Theif (who is a Miner), and an Alice (or Fool).

Four servants on a Moldavan estate fled an oncoming horde of soldiers (Polish? Hungarian? They do not know). The manor was burning, and so they ran through basement and back rooms until they found themselves in an ever diminishing tunnel, soon crawling around bend turn and angle.

And then suddenly each of them found themselves crawling out into a velvet curtained room, circular. Up above a gathering of officious voices. "Ah yes! The trial can begin! The accused have arrived!". And what was their crime? Trespassing, of course.

After each suffered a Trial By Biography they were ushered into a small chamber to await punishment (flensing, likely, they were told), they sipped on tea that tasted vaguely or iron or copper, and discovered a smallish tunnel of sorts of beneath the samovar, in the cabinet. Into it, they crawled.

This tunnel lead them into what seemed to be the bottom of a thorny well of roses, and it continued. on still. It came to stairs, stone ones, leading up into the moonlight. A cemetery? In the woods? It was hardly morning when this all began. A mumbled voice in the distance they heard. Sad, forlorn. "Oh no" it said. It seemed to cry.

The Juggler cried out: "Hello! Where are we?", and the voice bounds after a sound of scraping metal, standing up on long needle legs.

It greets them, the pale figure up above them. "Ah! You are persons!" it says, before impaling a rat on the tip of its' left leg, and setting it upon a gravestone edge. "I am a non-person, you see. And you can help me! Oh yes!"

And it explained that he held now his friends will, which forecluded that his dear friend (currently "indisposed" from battle, whatever that meant) would be killed by his own misericorde. The will, you see, demanded that the bearer of it avenge his killer, who shamed him so.

Such is the way things go, in the place they are. But could they go and get it, the misericorde, and destroy it perhaps? He would be most grateful! It was just there, at Tiger-Lilly Keep. Just over the little river. Why can't he go get it? A non-person can not cross any river, even one so small. And besides that, there are the Footmen. You can recognize them from their livery. Who are they? They are with the Colorless you see, the ones who they are skirmishing with over yonder. Over what? The Bridge! To where? None are sure, not yet, as they are fighting over it first. We are hoping, though, that it leads out and away to the gardens! But who are the Colorless? Not friends or foes, not yet, but we skirmish with them anyway. But we shall win, if you destroy that misericorde that is!

Conversation was voluminous and dizzying, but in the end they agreed to find this misericorde, and destroy it, despite understanding precious little about the Heart, and the Colorless, and having not yet even heard of the Pale. But then they met the Colorless along the way, and soon things became even more complicated than one minute before.
The Colorless representative was a hairless woman (fully bald), quite white, in large neck ruff and lengthy gown. She glided along the forest floor, near a pond of milk and honey, and in a syrupy tone insisted "please, do not destroy it! bring it back here, to me. We can help you, we know a way out of the forest, one that evades the toads!". And the toads were explained to them, giant and gruesome and attracted to a field of heads of sticks.

And so in a moment of sudden betrayal and oppotunism, they agreed to assist this emissary of the Colorless, and would do not as the Red one with the legs had said.

Besides, the Footmen would obey them if presented with this letter from their new Colorless friend.

And so they were welcomed into a Red & Pleasant Land.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Magic: Epiphanies, Dead Wizards, and Found Spellbooks

I got my copy of Vaginas Are Magic (moving and delayed mail-forwarding slowed me down, but it had mailed on schedule) Anyway, this is brilliant:
"about this “only women can cast these spells” thing. When creating new spells, It is perfectly fine to say that certain spells can only be cast by one sex, or people with brown hair, or people with no eyes. Or by those in certain moods, or who are wearing/not wearing jewelry or clothing made of certain materials, or who are covered in squirrel shit. It can be that arbitrary, that simple. If a caster wants to use these spells without the specific restriction, she can recover a spellbook with the spell in it and research her own version without the restriction. Spell research rules aren’t just there to fill out a page count."

Adding a restriction makes that whole "I found a spellbook!" situation much more interesting. Making up a restrictions on the spot when someone finds a spell has downsides; you might be too "random", too particular, or too predictable. Here's a table.

  1. Women. Someone or something able to be impregnated and carry a child to term.
  2. Men. Someone or something able to impregnate a female of its' species.
  3. The Infertile. Castration, Eunuchs, Old Age, the result of illness or curses. Whatever works.
  4. Those Who Reject Flesh. They must have eaten a fully vegetarian diet for a full lunar cycle, (unless you have an amazingly detailed calendar) count 30 days of commitment beginning in d30 days (when the next lunar cycle begins).
  5. The Bacchanalian: those who have drunk a bottle of wine of at least Decent quality each day, without pause, after an initial night of drunken excess.
  6. The Wearers of the Crown. The hair is not cut or washed, and is kept beneath a headpiece of some kind. If you get a haircut or a wash it'll be 1d4 weeks until the spell works again. If you take off the hat it'll be a full 24 hours of wearing it until you may cast again. This headpiece could be a conical "wizard hat", a relatively simple turban, a Crowley style pyramid, a sinister looking capirote, or a glorious dastar bunga kind of thing. Nothing normal. 1d4 x 10SP once you find a good hatter.
  7. Those Fasting. At least one full day without food must have already elapsed.
  8. Those Who Greet both Dawn and Dusk. The caster has gone at least one full day without sleep.
  9. The Mutilated. The caster must be missing a digit, or an ear, or have other visible scarring that impedes the functioning of the body or severely alters the appearance.
  10. Those with Hands Adorned. The caster must be wearing rings of precious metal, 1d4 for each hand, and each metal must be different from the others. (gold, silver, iron, copper, steel, brass, platinum, nickel)
  11. The Primitive. The caster must consume only foraged foods (including hunted game, if they hunt it). If they mistakenly consume a product of agriculture they will be unable to cast this spell until a day has been spent fasting and then a full day has been spent consuming only natural foods.
  12. Those Who Wear The Garb. Robes, cloaks, and so on of (1d6) ornamented linen, fur, velvet, satin, embroidered wool, or silk. Costs 20 x 1d4+1 SP, and a tailor who doesn't ask too many questions or tend to gossip.
  13. Those With Blood Upon Their Hands. The caster must have killed something using a Melee weapon within the past hour. Any life will do, some keep a goat or chicken handy.
  14. Anthropophagists. Cannibals. One mouthful is enough. It can't be the casters own flesh. It must come from someone else. It need not be cooked.
  15. The Decadent. The caster must consume 3 meals of at least Fancy quality, or one of Rich quality, before casting the Spell. If they continue to consume at least a Fancy meal each day they may continue to cast the spell.
  16. Bearers of the Symbol. The caster must be holding a (1d6) bell, ceremonial weapon, wand, amulet, goblet, censer. Costs as much as a Silver Holy Symbol. Is obviously an occult tool.
  17. The Bringers of Light. The caster must be holding a lit torch, candle, lantern, etc.
  18. Those In The Presence of The Dead. A corpse, a skeleton, even a long bone or skull. It must be human.
  19. Devourers of Flesh. The caster must have eaten only flesh for a full lunar cycle, timed as with #4.
  20. The Placid. The caster must have not Attacked anything with a physical weapon since the lunar cycle began, if you weren't tracking this already it was d30 days ago.

You could have a whole thing with magical restrictions and how Magic-Users might have to deal with them.
The big picture would be that Wizards invented magic, or discovered it. Perhaps they were magic. They are gone now, but they recorded their discoveries in coded texts, obscure journals of their esoteric research as usual.
Beyond the encoding the Wizards placed additional limitations on every spell.

A Magic-User is someone who has come into possession of one of these books, and has chosen and begun to translate its’ secrets, and make use of them. This has required both luck and sacrifice, as some of these criteria can only be met through circumstances of birth (or magical transformation). Others require deeds to be done, sometimes merely strange but often quite vile. On occasion it requires only an accessory, or other trinket. This is all quite expensive, and frowned upon by normal society.
This might have been done by the Wizards as a filter to attract only suitable acolytes. It might have also only been only perverse whimsy, or a way to mark whoever used Magic as an outsider to normal, moral life.

So as a Magic-User all the spells you would learn would come from this Spellbook, and gaining new Spells upon leveling up would mean you had deciphered a new one (or two). Perhaps Magical Research would be a process that allowed you “translate” a new spell (roll on the Spell Table for the campaign). Or perhaps you only have a tiny folio (with a mere 7 spells), and you want to find the great Thesis rumored to contain three-and-twenty in the lost etc.

It's just a half-sketched thing for now. The main notion is that every spell would requires something from the caster. Maybe components, maybe states of being, maybe having done something. Maybe all of that. It’d be more detailed than that stuff up above, probably some kind of nested chart with occasionally infuriating results. (“To Summon a Great Dragon you must cast the spell Nude, in the Moonlight, having the Requisite Tattoos, accompanied only by Goats and Wielding a Golden Spear.” etc.).

So, at level one you’d have your usual starting repertoire of Spells, but also with it the Tamed Snake Companion, Half-Shaved Hair, and Ceremonial Robes (or whatever) they’d require. As you increased in level you’d gradually become a freakish collection of accouterments and affectations, weighed down by the weird habits of long-dead Wizards. It might be fun.

When I was running Deep Carbon Observatory we tried something else. Magic was a way you were. Being a Magic-User meant you had learned a way. How to be magical. Casting a spell was an ineffable procedure only understandable through wordless epiphany. Realizing that if you had a certain image in your mind as you struck a particular pose and made a specific sound you could cause wondrous effect, but only in that instant. Spell books only described the various things a Magic-User could do, but never how. A Magic-User was someone who sought sublime and terrifying experience to inspire new revelations. This was just a way to have Magic-Users get new spells whenever they leveled up and have it make some sense without them needing to go sit around in a library, since they were all trudging through flood-lands I didn't want to have to think about spell book logistics too much. I could see this getting really interesting with a restricted casting situation the same way, gradually becoming ever-less-normal from what you've realized through Adventuring.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Magic: Spell Descriptions for Wonder & Wickedness

Wonder & Wickedness is almost perfect. You'll need it to make sense of this as a resource, so go and buy it if you don't have it yet.

I've used bits of it in almost everything I've run since I read it, but it does have a couple of gaps in some details. One of them is how every Maleficence also does something special; each has a secondary effect added from a one-word descriptor. It has some suggestions, and you could come up with something new every time if you want, but I started using these tables a while back to save time and precious imagination during character creation, and I've used them for a while now. It makes it so you don't end up defaulting to "fire" and "ice" or whatever.

There's usually a round table discussion before any casting with Wonder & Wickedness, since the spells tend to be so potent and interesting. With these Maleficences there tends to be a nice chat about if it's really the best time to unleash the most horrible cloud of spiders (or whatever) every time.

They're great even if you aren't playing as a Magic-User. I was a Fighter in a friends' game recently, and the description of how the shadows became "unstuck" and began slicing someone to ribbons at the Magic-Users request was really memorable for all of us (the survivors came after us with farm implements, but that's another story.)

Anyway, the tables: Descriptions and sketched out effects for Magical Attacks and Defenses using the "Wonder and Wickedness" system, avoiding the common "magic missile" and "magic shield" aesthetics. They're in that sparser W&W style, but you can add more detail if your game needs it.

In general I have things last an amount of time (Round or Turn) equal to the level of the Magic-User who cast it (that's what "several rounds" means). I use the generic term "Save" because I use a 2 save system, but you might use a 5 save system, and so on. Damage done by a Maleficence or its after-effects are always an open-ended (or exploding) die.

Oh also, if a character uses some kind of thingy (wand or dagger or something) to cast their Maleficence I promise I won't take it away just to screw them over, since it's just fluff (unless it was a situation where they'd be unable to cast anyway, you get the idea).

Your Maleficence 
Roll 1d12
1. is summoned up and guided by you with dramatic, sweeping gestures
2. emerges from your pointed finger
3. spews out from the tip of your staff or wand
4. emanates from a medallion or amulet
5. appears as you assume a strange pose
6. is thrown out from your opened palms
7. sprays out from your open mouth
8. bursts forth from your heart or solar plexus
9. is a geyser from your forehead
10. beams out from your eyes
11. appears from an empty space above your head
12. is projected out from a ceremonial object you carry (dagger, skull, crystal, idol, tablet, goblet).

in the form of
Roll 1d20

flying horde of assailants that besiege the target (a sudden flock of carnivorous birds or bats, a plague of tremendous locusts or other winged insects, an army of fae folk with tiny sharp things). The target is disoriented by this hostile cloud and flails around blindly for several rounds, only moving a few yards in a random direction until a Save is made.

A thin shaft of pure colored light, a laser-like line so bright it looks solid (1d8: red. orange, yellow, blue, green, indigo, violet, white). The target and nearby witnesses must Save or be blinded for several rounds. Whatever is killed by this crumbles to ashes.

A long rolling tongue of unearthly fire (1d6: pink, blue, green, violet, black, white). This flame ignites something not normally so flammable after the initial scorch, which then burns, while nothing else does. (1d4. 1. things of metal, 2. skin and flesh, 3. the air like a continual fireball around the target, 4. the ground itself, in a circle around the target). These things burn for several turns.

The shadows become a sharpened whirling vortex. +1d6 Damage if the target is in chiaroscuro deep shadows, +2d6 if they are in complete darkness.

A swirling, undulating amoebic mass of pulsating dark and emptiness that causes the target to blur and fade as it envelops them. The target dissolves into the air if they are killed. The useful mind of the target is temporarily erased if they survive, leaving them in a stupor unless they Save.

A screaming wind carrying particles like ground glass and sandpaper grit. The target is flung back 5' per level of the Magic-User unless a Save is made, with loose possessions thrown much farther.

A dim crepuscular ray of light that withers what it lands on, wrinkling skin and crackling living surfaces with aridity. The target will act last on following rounds, and suffer penalties equal to the level of the Magic-User. Those killed by this desiccate into little dolls.

Long dark iron needles, or sudden spears of moonlight silver, or glowing translucent arrows fly forth and impale the target. They are pinned in place, or to the wall, unless a Save is made.Forms and shapes that shoot forth and collide, shatter, and explode.

A (1d4: mirror-like, transparent, dull metallic, glittering stony) (1d4: disc, triangle, cone, cube) with a sound like (1d4: glass shattering, vibrating bells, an angry choir, hideous thunder). The target and those nearby must Save or react as if they failed Morale for several rounds.

A column of air freezes, void of oxygen, the temperature dipping to below that of the void around the stars for an instant. Unless a save is made, for several rounds after the target may shatter into pieces when struck unless another save is made.

11. BILE
A jet and spray of vile sizzling fluids of a syrupy consistency (1d4: yellow, brown, grey, red). These saturate the target and “soften” them unless a Save is made: whatever strikes them afterwards does twice as much damage for several rounds. If killed the target melts into an oily pool of colors and material.

12. IMP
A sudden assault by a hellish creature (1d4: A snake-thing with arms and wings, a leaping fish with limbs, a small nude pig man, a howling bipedal cat). While mangling the target it takes something from them to return to the Magic-User, before departing whence they came. This can be a mere stolen object, or a severed limb if the target is thoroughly mangled.

A cloud of sparkling and twinkling glitter, motes of magic dust. The target is shredded by tiny flakes, and what falls off from them is transformed into precious metal shavings. They crumble into gold and silver leaf as they die. The amount of damage inflicted multiplied by the level of the Magic-User in SP litters the ground around the Target, if they are killed by this.

A sudden carpet of stinging insects: beetles, spiders, centipedes, and worms that en-robe the target, devouring them as they are filled with venom. For several rounds afterwards the target must Save or suffer 1d6 additional damage.

A contained field of optical distortion warps, wraps, and folds around the target. They are are contorted physically by this, malformed and bent into cubist contortions. Targets must Save or remain in this form for several rounds, severely impaired in movement and action until they unfold.

A shiny ribbon of vibration and movement thrashes the target, reducing them to a quivering blur thrashing through the air before depositing them on the ground in a place of the Magic-Users choosing, 10' away per Level, unless a Save is made.

Stony ejecta, hot mud, and heaps of dirt and loam are hurled onto the target, knocking them prone, helpless and half-buried unless they Save. If killed they are swallowed whole by the earth into an impromptu burial mound.

A tiny silver thread, a braid of unknown hair, a length of intestinal rope, or a sort of strange wormy tendril wrap about the target to constrict, crush, and hinder movement. The Target must Wrestle to escape, the Magic-User adding their Level to the contested roll.

A cobweb-seeming branch of fine spidery lightning (1d4: red, yellow, black, grey) that jaggedly arcs onto the target. This leaves the target numbed and stupefied unless they Save, causing them to drop all held items and be left unable to act for several rounds.

An oily point in the air, an ugly smear that leaves a stain in the visual field like a grease trail. The target is metaphysically loosened, sloughing apart and beginning to dis-incorporate. Those killed by this crumble into a pinguid puddle of slime. This inflicts 1d6 damage to those who step in it, and causes the same effect to any killed by it. This noxious substance exists for 1 turn per level of the Magic-User.

And I've been meaning to implement a second table for the melee range Maleficence, since it behaves differently than the other one in general it might as well have a whole different effect, no? I'll be using this in my next game.

In melee, your Maleficence is
roll 1d20

An eerie and unnatural light that pours out of you. Targets must Save or be unable to act the next round, covered in a plaster-like shell. Those killed are turned to limestone.

A sudden cloud of reeking gas rises up, a visibly poisonous fog (1d4: periwinkle, tangerine, chartreuse, lilac, beige, rhodamine). This lingers around you for several rounds, inflicting 1d6 damage unless a Save is made.

An instantaneous appearance of long thin spikes, in a halo all around you like great stag-horns, thorns, or urchins from inside your head. The dense tangle of points provides additional Armor for several rounds, and is never in the way of your actions.

Many dark tendrils, grasping claws, statuary limbs, or cruel hooks and chains reach up from the earth. Targets are pulled down prone unless a Save is made.

a shower of luminous sparks, in a gradient of colors, saturates the targets and make them sparkle. Targets may erupt into flame for several rounds afterwards without warning, unless a Save is made.

your fingernails suddenly lengthen while become sharp, curving to slice through your foes before separating from your hand as new nails reappear. Foes struck must Save or be unable to attack until they remove the embedded nail-blade.


a sudden eruption of growth of the ambient flora (even moss or mold) that overwhelm the targets and blanket them entirely as they are pierced with roots and capillary. All killed by this are desiccated into powder, each target producing a number of delicious and unprecedented fruits equal to the level of the Magic-User that each provide a days ration.

waxy clear anemone clusters reach out from you and caress your targets. They must Save or begin to melt, with unarmored foes suffering 1d6 additional damage, and Armored foes becoming less so.

A bitter blast that blows down into the earth, with this you rip out the souls of your targets out and fling them into the underworld as their heats cease beating. 1 target killed per level of the Magic-User remains "alive" as an empty shell. Unable to heal or speak, and lacking any will or conscious thoughts, they will obey simple commands until they are destroyed.

A sudden enchantment in the air about you, a fine mist, a strange scented charm that smells of (1d4: flowers and blood, skin, sweat and fire, hot meat and burnt sugar, decaying vegetables and citrus peels). It causes your targets to assault both themselves, and each other, with supernaturally accented force. Unless a Save is made they will run from you to attack another ally for the next several rounds.

The air is sucked from all nearby throats and then pulled out and away with great enthusiasm from their heads. Targets must Save or fall unconscious for several rounds, suffering ear, eye, and nosebleeds.

A sudden condensation of mucus and muck from the air, which poisons the flesh with septic juices. It is gluey and thick, and foes must Save or move with additional Encumbrance for several rounds.

The raging ghosts of the unjustly killed rise up, and with great flourish attacks your foes with scavenged weaponry. If attacking what would be considered a "Fighter" this inflicts +1d6 additional damage.

An orbit of stones forms around you and batters your targets. Their weapons and shields are dropped, if they carried any, bashed out of their hands by tiny meteors

You exhale a humid breath that the slows the flow of time, and stifles the will of the living. Your targets act last next round.

You call up the the one thousand invisible hands, who slap, punch, and batter the targets. All remaining targets must Wrestle free for the next several rounds.

In a ring around you a weight presses down like great unseen boulders. This concentrated gravity crushes those killed into smears, and those who survive must Save for several rounds if they wish to leave their position.

Each target is covered in a coral like netting of white blue lightning on the surface of the skin for an instant. Targets wearing metal armor suffer and additional 1d6 damage from it becoming super-heated. Hair is raised up by aerial static in the general area.

19. MAW
The earth below the feet of targets opens as a rock filled muddy mouth. Targets killed are swallowed up whole into vertical graves, survivors must Save or cannot move away for several rounds.

A gathering of defensive (1d4: razor sharp crystalline butterflies, flame filled iridescent bubbles, dart-tipped feathers, little winged weapons and shields with eyes) . For the next several rounds any that try to strike you and miss must Save or suffer 1d6 damage.

Magical Defense is another part of W&W that didn't get any fluff at all from the primary text. I haven't use this yet, but I figured Magical Defense ought to use the same thing that Maleficence does: instead of just being a simple "dispel" this would gives it some other beneficial effect.

When you use your Magical Defense
roll 1d20

The nullified spell falls to the earth as a glowing honey-smelling liquid. For each level of experience you may cause this ambrosia to instead fill 1 vessel in your possession with enough to double the rate of healing in those who consume it for one day.

The sudden appearance of a miraculous mirrored disc reflects the magic into the void. However, there is a 1 in 6 chance that you can choose to reflect this magic at a new target instead.

The aura around the target becomes thickened and rubbery, visible as a cotton-wispy shell, after absorbing the spell. They gain Armor equal to your level of experience for 1 turn.

You sublimate the hostile magic into the form of banal objects, which might be potentially useful. The objects are made of one material, are one color, and are not especially valuable. One is created per level of experience. (Use the object table in A Red And Pleasant Land or one of the various "I search the body" tables)

You may redirect the targeted magic into a nearby object, causing it to radiate unearthly force. Objects become hot to the touch, and will inflict additional damage if used violently. If the force is not dissipated from them quickly by striking something they become too hot to hold, and must be dropped.

The magic is transformed into several gently glowing phosphenes, 1 per level of experience. Phosphenes are identical to candle light, and levitate gently in the air around the Magic-User. They can be directed by the Magic-User to stay near a friendly target as well, until they burn out.

The magic is redirected into the creation of life, and a small harmless animal crawls out of the ground at the feet of the Magic-User. It will obey all their commands until it dis-incorporates in several turns. (Red and Pleasant Land has a nice animal table, if you need one.)

The magic is ceased with an icy blast of unnatural wind, an unbreathable gas which can be used to snuff lights and smother fires and the Magic-Users discretion.

The magic is diffused and scattered along with much visible light around the target, allowing them near invisibility for several rounds.

The magic is cast down into the dust, leaving behind a formation of mystical fulgurites that are useful to alchemy and other forms of magical research. These are worth Magic-User level x 100 x 1d6, for research purposes only. Sale value varies wildly, depending on the buyer.

11. MAZE
The magic is sent into an infinite maze in the air, sucked in by a deep gravity of logic and order that is hostile to all magic nearby as well. There is a 1 in 6 chance that another Magical effect nearby can be dispelled.

Loose minerals in the air and dust are gathered to form elaborate multifaceted traps. These are often mere glass, but on a 1 in 6 occasion a gemstone is formed worth the Magic Users level x 1d6 x 10SP.

A slick and slippery slime splatters around the target, this phlogiston muck is both highly flammable and incredibly slippery.

The flow of time is sped to disperse the magic throughout history, this effect may be used to damage inanimate objects nearby through sudden decades of neglect and wear.

A shower of gold leaf shreds scatter around. One turn spent gathering this yields 1d4-1 SP.

The magic is made into a tiny object of gustation, an abstract candy or snack. This invigorates the target as it flies into their mouth to their stomach, giving them first Initiative next round.

17. DIN
A roaring, screaming, crashing, awful noise around the target. They do not hear it, but those nearby must check their Morale.

A sudden burst of colored light (red, blue, violet, yellow) erupts. This stuns those nearby for one round unless they Save.

You "catch" the magic in your hand, and it sits there as a gentle flame. You may throw this as if it were a knife, and possibly ignite a target as if they were covered in Lamp Oil.

You "catch" the spell in your mind, and through visualization of a magical counterpoint cause it to cease to be. There is a 1 in 6 chance that you manage to instead "cage" the spell. This means that for a number of days equal to your level, you now have one "casting" of this magical effect that you may expend (in the Vancian style, you can't transcribe it or "burn" the casting on something else).