22 February 2024

Critical Spells!

Warlocks in Encounter Critical can cast one spell per day per level. This is not the only magic they wield and it is a rather limited amount even on higher levels. That seem to point towards spells being the specialist tools and big guns, something that changes the situation rather than yet another magic blast - that's what the Magical Attack skill is for, after all. The booklet presents a few spells, but here is my expansion and reinterpretation of them into a set of game-changers.

If you're unsure about range, duration or effect, think "more, longer, fancier". Warriors of EC should be riding a tyrannosaurus while wielding a light sabre in one hand and a rocket launcher in the other, so Warlocks should be comparably awesome when casting their spells. At least in my Encounter Critical.
 
Encounter Critical fanart, I think.
  
d20 Warlock Spells
  1. Evil Eye: The warlock curses an enemy (such as making its weapon explode or its eyes rot away) if it fails a Psi Resist roll. One of the warlock's eyes is permanently strange-looking once he learns this spell.
  2. Battle Banner Imperative: The warlock's side will go first in every round of combat and retainers cannot fail morale or defy orders.
  3. Stop: Freeze one creature or object in place, even in mid-air. No saving throw is allowed. The spell lasts until the Warlock casts another spell, or until the victim is attacked – though that first attack always hits.
  4. Double: Create a copy of one creature or object, which will last until the next dawn. When the duration ends, a random one of the twin things disappears.
  5. Demon Master: Gain control of one demon, no save. Must be recast every day.
  6. Possess: The warlock dissolves into smoke and flows into another creature. They can control it completely until it takes damage.
  7. Mimic Special Ability: One special ability of a creature or object can be copied and used as a spell by the warlock. Only one ability can be copied at a time – if this spell is cast again, the warlock loses the older stolen ability.
  8. Phantasmic Projections: Creates completely realistic, albeit intangible, illusions. This includes sounds, smells and animated illusions.
  9. Tesseract: The warlock teleports somewhere they can see. This can be cast in an instant, even to dodge any danger.
  10. Transportal: Two magic circles prepared by the warlock in advance are linked by a portal. The portal lasts until dismissed or until the warlock casts this spell again.
  11. Transmogrify: The warlock can transform himself into any creature from which he owns a trophy.
  12. Walk on Water or Wind: Wears off when the warlock touches the ground.
  13. Ice Sculpt: Form any object or structure out of ice. It lasts until the warlock casts this spell again, even in heat.
  14. Matter to Mist: Dissolves one object into mist and then condenses it into a tiny crystal. When the crystal is broken, mist billows out and the object is reconstituted.
  15. Shape Earth, Wood or Flesh: Material can be slowly moulded into any shape desired.
  16. Phasic Sphere: The warlock activates a previously prepared magic circle, creating a softly glowing but transparent sphere of force. Nothing can pass through the sphere – not creatures, missiles, magic, psionics, phasics, teleportation nor air. It lasts until dismissed, or until the warlock casts this spell again.
  17. God Speech: The warlock can speak with anything.
  18. Darkstorm: Sudden thunderstorm brings bad visibility, strong winds and torrential rain.
  19. Rain of Fire and Brimstone: Flames start raining from the sky, dealing the warlock's magic damage to everyone not under a roof (and to the roof, too).
  20. Warlock Bomb: The warlock conjures an orb that will explode violently (3d20 damage in close range and half that in short range) when shattered. Can be cast with a delayed timer or a special trigger. The explosion can easily breach walls.

10 January 2024

Reaction

This is the reaction table I'm currently using. It works reasonably well. The results should be interpreted liberally.
 

2d6Reaction
2Hostile. Attacks immediately, why? (d4) Desperate/rabid/hungry/ensorcelled.
3-5Aggressive. If the party is surprised, it's an Ambush. Otherwise (d4):
  1. Attacks to drive you away, giving a chance for retreat. Guards something?
  2. Demands bribe/food/items to let you leave. Will only attack if you seem weak, though.
  3. Retreats but stalks you until an opportunity presents itself to attack with advantage.
  4. Tries to capture you if at all possible.
6-8Animals try to avoid you, but intelligent creatures are (d6):
  1. Untrustworthy. Will try to cheat you. May behave friendly at first.
  2. Antagonistic. Mocks and hurls abuse, but will not attack first.
  3. Uninterested. Ignores you unless bothered, tries to get rid of you as quickly as possible.
  4. Unaware. (d4) Distracted/sleeping/in a hurry/just really oblivious.
  5. Afraid. Flees if possible, otherwise at first opportunity. Afraid of something else?
  6. Bored. Wants to chat. Not willing to do anything or go anywhere, though.
9-11Friendly (d4):
  1. Wants to trade items or gossip.
  2. Wants to join you as a mercenary or follower, or wants you to join them as a comrade or servant.
  3. Offers a challenge of (d4) martial might/magical prowess/riddling wits/drinking skills.
  4. Offers food and shelter. (d4) Tipsy/lonely/horny/just really generous.
12Quest!
Intelligent creatures are (d4) in danger/in need of something/lost/sick or injured.
Unintelligent are (d4) in danger/trapped/ensorcelled/sick or injured.

 
If you wish to only make a single roll, you can also use 3d6 instead, though this will make modifiers less relevant and the first and last few entries much less likely to occur.

Friendly, offers food and shelter.
by Bing Image Creator
 

31 December 2023

Wizard as a Strategic Resource

In another installation of ramblings about unplaytested magic systems cribbed from books I read so long ago I only half-remember a few bits, what if spells were a long-term, strategic resource?

In Markus Heitz's The Dwarves series, magi are very powerful. High level D&D wizard powerful, even, which most writers tend to avoid for the understandable reason that it breaks many stories apart. The magi can fly, blow up a building with a single gesture, spam teleportation spells, or heal from anything not instantly lethal. However, all that comes with one big caveat: They have limited reserves of magical energy that can only be refilled at a magical wellspring, of which there are like six in all the kingdoms where the books take place.

What if instead of the tactical refill-on-sleep magic, wizards had a strategic refill-in-town magic?

This approach assumes that resource management is a part of your intended gameplay. It only works well if the dungeon is not easily/quickly accessible from the town, so the party needs to spend another resource (time, food) to refill their magic, otherwise you are only buffing the wizard. But when it works as intended, the five minute adventuring day is gone. The party can no longer start every fight with all spells refreshed by sleeping in a rope-tricked pocket dimension all the time.

Many systems can easily be converted to strategic magic by giving the magic-users more spell slots / mana / MD. Caster level still limits the highest spell slot / the amount of mana a wizard can use in a single spell. This makes wizards more powerful as long as they can regain magic, so make sure that ley lines are not ubiquitous - which brings us to the interesting domain-level considerations that all magic-users must now deal with: Ley lines are a limited, extremely precious resource that everyone wants to control.

Generated with Bing Image Creator:
"sorcerer drawing power from a ley line,
clean old-school lineart for swords and sorcery"

 

All wizard towers are built atop a ley line, capping it and concentrating the energy flow into a specific room, a sanctum, thus limiting who has access to the mana. A wizard's tower is his most prized possession and will be filled to the brim with wards, traps and protective enchantments. A wizard's tower is a fortress to make other wizards flinch. A wizard in his tower is basically unassailable, and not only because he will never run out of spells.

A rare and difficult ritual exists that allows one to link a wizard tower to a ring of power. Who wears such a ring can draw mana through it as if they were always within reach of a ley line. Battling an archmage who has such a ring would thus entail damaging their tower first to disrupt their supply of magic. Stealing such a ring is a big deal and will see the thief hunted down tirelessly, as breaking the bond between the ring and the tower to re-link a new ring would require destroying the tower completely, foundations included.

An easier way to gain some extra mana exists - store it in a gemstone. That's not even a spell - all mages can push mana from themselves into a gem, or draw it back. Thus it is often the job of apprentices to prepare spell gems for their master.

While larger gems can contain more magic power, only flawless gemstones should be made into a spell gem at all. While you definitely can imbue an imperfect gemstone with power, this will sooner or later result in a blast of wild magic.

Spell gems are very expensive and very much sought after. Every wizard wants one, but just as with towers, there are never enough. Even some nobles with no magical talent will hoard them, as the magic held within gives spell gems a strange, unearthly twinkle unseen in any other jewel, plus they can be used to bribe a wizard in a pinch.

Spell gems are usually worn set into a ring (only the most pretentious of wizardling upstarts would call that a "ring of power", everyone knows what a real ring of power is), a circlet or at the tip of one's staff. A master granting such jewelry to an apprentice is seen as one of the highest of praises one can receive.

Most ley lines in the civilized lands have been taken over, either by powerful mages or by the Mage Guild. A solitary sorceress will allow friends and apprentices into her sanctum, but strangers will nigh-definitely be met with refusal (and it's not a good idea to oppose a sorceress in her tower). The Mage Guild offers their ley lines to all members - for a fee. Becoming and staying a member incurs other fees. Therefore a PC wizard with no mentor will have a nice money sink in simply restoring mana.

There are still some free ley lines in places where seizing them would be too much of a hassle - underwater, deep in wilderness or underground, in sacred groves and other holy places of yore. There might also be very weak ley lines that escaped the notice of the Mage Guild either by pure chance, or thanks to some secret sect or cult veiling it from detection. The Mage Guild would pay rather nicely for information about even the weakest ley lines. They have a monopoly to maintain, after all.

Illegal mages have a hard time. Either they are very good at pretending to be law-abiding magic-users, or they belong to a secret sect with their own ley line, or they need an alternative source of mana. Thus there is a blooming black market in spell gems and power smuggling (legal mage selling their mana to illegal mages), while even possessing power-draining spells is a felony.

27 December 2023

Königstein, the King's Stone

I've been to many castles, but during these Christmas holidays, I visited one that really stands out. It would fit right amongst the exaggerated fortresses of many fantasy worlds.

Königstein, the King's Stone.

 

To give you an idea of how imposing the fortress is, the river beneath the fortress lies at about 100 metres above the sea level. From the river banks rises a hill that reaches to around 300 metres above the sea level, which alone gives us some 200 vertical metres (650 ft) of steep, forested slopes, then there are 42 metres (130 ft) of sheer rock and bulwarks, and only then do the multi-storey buildings start. Standing down below, "towering" doesn't even begin to describe it.

The fortress just keeps going on being excessive. It stands atop cliffs of solid rock, but because the builders were anticipating a siege, they needed a secure source of water. Thus they dug a 152 meter (500 ft) deep well through the rock to the acquifer below. The wine cellar used to hold a single barrel with a capacity of nearly 250 000 litres (66 000 gallons) of wine, though it had to be eventually removed due to disrepair. Also half of the fortress is a literal forest, because they could. Well, and because it can provide a massive amount of firewood and building material during a siege.

The only one to ever scale its walls was a chimney sweep who cheated, because he was cheered on rather than shot down.

Notice the many trees atop the bulwark? That's still the fortress proper.

Now imagine standing beneath the cliffs.

 

You can read as much as you like about Königstein on Wikipedia, but here is my re-imagined fantasy version.

 

  1. Paved main road which ends beneath the cliffs and bulwarks.
  2. Soldiers' market. Soldiers have needs too and the small village of shops and businesses along the road provides.
  3. Knitted tower. Holds the controls for dropping the hanging road. Named after a well-liked soldier who kept bringing his knitting to guard duty.
  4. Hanging road. Snaking along the side of the cliff towards the entrance, it is suspended on support beams that can be remotely demolished as a last resort to prevent assault on the gates.
  5. Twin gates. The small yard between the gates is facing several shooting galleries and can be flooded with alchemical gases or liquid flames.
  6. Lookout tower. Holds several looking glasses enchanted to pierce invisibility and illusions.
  7. Old castle. Standing atop the highest peak of the cliffs, it might not boast the modern defensive architecture of the new palace and the bulwarks, but the garrisoned wizards have been layering protective enchantments into its walls for centuries. Currently it houses the treasury and archives.
  8. Prison tower.
  9. New palace. Houses the commander, his secretariat and servants, multiple officers, alchemists and wizards, plus when the occasion arises either members of the royal family, or enemy nobles held for ransom.
    The main entryway goes from the twin gates through a heavily sloped tunnel through solid rock beneath the palace. It includes murderholes, detection enchantments of all kinds, seven prismatic portculli and pipes connected to the cistern, which can suddenly turn the whole tunnel into very deadly rapids.
  10. Church of Light and hospital. One cleric and several acolytes have a permanent residence here, ensuring religious well-being of soldiers as well as serving as healers.
  11. Offices, workshops and an alchemical lab. The open area beyond them has been split into numerous little gardens that let the soldiers enhance their diet with fresh vegetables.
  12. Barracks.
  13. Monster pens. Hippogriffs are used for air support and xorns are used to secure the underground of the fortress from burrowing incursions.
  14. Warehouses and granaries. The fortress should survive more than a year of siege at full effectiveness.
  15. War machine platforms. Ballistas and catapults can be aimed at both the ground and the sky. In addition to standard rocks and bolts, alchemical ammunition such as liquid flames and anti-aerial flak is available.
  16. King's Hooter. A small tavern near a vantage point at the end of the plateau lets the officers unwind. Festivities are often held in the open area by the tavern, too.
  17. Dryad's oak. A massive, ancient tree housing a friendly nature spirit. She tends the fortress grove (green area) and blesses the soldiers' gardens for bountiful harvest if asked nicely.
  18. Well house and cistern. The water is regularly blessed by the priest to prevent poisonings, plagues and infiltration by creatures of darkness.
  19. Observatory. Several commissioned wizards are working here, both maintaining all wards in the fortress and manning the scrying room.


The fortress is warded against teleportation, dimensional travel (which includes pocket dimensions, such as bags of holding) and external scrying. The scrying room is the centre of a surveillance network that has the whole fortress covered with remote vision spells, tripwire alarm wards and other divinations. The bulwarks themselves are warded against siege rituals such as disintegration barrages, earthquakes or phasing.

d4 Hooks

  1. One of the alchemists serving in the fortress was a war criminal back home, granted asylum by the king in exchange for her services. Kidnap her and bring her back home for justice. Quest-giver will not pay for a dead alchemist.
  2. The archives in the old castle hold information that you need for whatever plot reasons. It is also top secret, so good luck getting it the legal way.
  3. There are rumours of a vault somewhere within the King's Stone, a storage for dangerous artifacts and superweapons that the king wants to keep in reserve - biomantic plagues, mind-controlling alchemies, mass summoning contracts. If any weapon is capable of stopping the big bad, it will be locked in here.
  4. There are other rumours, who claim that the vault is actually a maximum security prison for an ancient evil, the crown prince of a neighbouring nation and the good twin brother of the king.