Friday, July 26, 2019

Alternatives to the Vancian magic system

In a previous post, Better spells at level one, I tried to present a few options to make Level 1 Magic Users slightly more powerful or versatile, to make them more usable at the start of the game.

Here, though, I want to review a few alternatives to the traditional Vancian system (prepare spells by slots, followed by cast and forget). It's a common topic among OSR house-rules, but it should be treated with care.
How magic works, in fact, has a profound impact both on the setting (a powerful magic system implies, usually, a society heavily influenced by wizards), and on the game-play (why play a Fighter if the Magic User is tremendously more powerful, even at the first levels?).

The first post is by Diogo Nogueira, and presents a different way to handle the Vancian system, but still remains Vancian... or actually, tries to make the system less DnD-like, and more Vancian-like, in the spirit of the books.
The system is simple enough and requires just a table of incidents that trigger whenever the character tries to memorize too many spells.
I guess I would try to improve the system, if I'd use it, to include a rule on how to cast a spell that the Magic User knows, but has not prepared.

Alternate Vancian Magic System for OSR Games
by Diogo Nogueira
[...] I’ve come up with an alternate Vancian Magic System that makes spellcasting more flexible, leveless (even though you can still use the standard spell list in your game of choice) and insert some risk in the sorcery art (which I think is essential, as we are dealing with unnatural forces).
In the stories I’ve read, magicians, when they were imparting the spell energies in their minds to cast them later, would make increasingly greater effort to put as many spells as they could in their memory. There was not definite limit. Some could impart more, some less, and this could vary. They could risk filling their minds with spells, but if they pushed too hard, they could lose and release all that energy uncontrollably. Of course some of you might see this differently, but that’s what my imagination has captured out of those stories.
Magic-Users can safely prepare a number of spell levels equal to their own character level plus their Intelligence modifier.
A character may attempt to prepare additional spells beyond his level limit, but that is risky. Each additional spell prepare triggers a Saving Throw with a penalty equal to the additional levels of spells prepared beyond the safety level.
Success means the spell is prepared normally and can be cast as if safely prepared. Failure however prevents the spell from being prepared and triggers a backlash. The character than rolls 1d6 and adds the total amount of spells levels prepared beyond his safe limit and consults the table below.
The penalty to the Saving Throws to prepare additional spells beyond the safe limit can be offset by sacrifices as the referee deems fair. A character may burn points of abilities scores to offset these penalties as 1 per 1. 
The Saving Throw penalty resets after a full day of rest. However, if there are still levels of spells prepared beyond the safe limit, that number of levels is immediately applied as penalty to prepare any new spells.

1d6+ Spell Levels --- Backlash
2 --- Forces a Saving Throw to keep the lowest prepared spell still memorized.
3 --- The character suffers a number of points of damage equal to the number of additional spells levels he has attempted to prepare this day.
4 --- The character must make a Saving Throw not to release a offensive spell on himself he has prepared right away.
15 --- The Void drains the life energy of the caster and their allies within 30 ft range to power their spells. Everyone affected suffers a points of damage distributed between their Strength, Dexterity and Constitution for each additional spell level the character tried to prepare.
16+ --- The character accidentally summons an entity from the planes, possessing a number of HD equal to the total number of additional levels of spells he tried to prepare. The entity is determined to devour them and their allies.

The next post is by d4 Caltrops, and really goes further away from the traditional rules.
First of all, in this post the author gets rid of spell lists, which should speed up play (less time spent studying the spells, the effects, the best cominations for using slots to memorize them, etc.).
Spells are replaced by words, by powerful keywords, and effects are negotiated at the table.

Putting the User back in Magic-User
[...] I’ve always been intrigued by eliminating/reducing spell lists (less to look up/remember or record).
The central conceit is that instead of learning spells from a list, Magic-Users learn “words” that are used to create new spells. I believe the old GURPS Magic had a Rune-Based system for noun/verb pairs for on-the-fly casting, and it always looked relatively tricky to judge without a ton of negotiation.
I do enjoy the idea of using the Magic-User’s initial spell outlay to determine the initial words known. The post postulates that new Spell Creation could be handled on a one-per-session basis, I’m inclined to agree, as adjudicating this kind of system on the fly may introduce inconsistent rulings. But spell creation by word combination “on-the-fly” is still somewhat interesting to me. I like the idea of making magic somewhat unpredictable and mysterious.

How would I use them? Well, I’d go ahead and follow the general advice outlined in the inspiring post and grant an initial outlay of two, standard, Vancian spells from the 1st Level Spell List for initial tinkering and combination. Maybe an extra word per point of Intelligence bonus to keep things interesting and encourage system-use from the start. Articles like “of” and “the” and targets like an implied “(self)” should probably be free.

Following the spirit of the magic by keywords, this third article by Martin O presents another interesting alternative, as long as your players enjoy the challenge.
As the previous system, it requires coming up with effects and details on the fly, negotiating between players and GM.
This system is particular in the sense that a spell can be cast only once, but then slowly changed into something else by replacing its letters.
At the same time, the challenge of coming up with something original each time, is definitely going to bring at the table the sense of challenge of magic, and of its infinite possibilities.

The Practitioners of Paronym
This is an insane subclass. Only a masochistic person would play it.
Or maybe someone who's very good at Scrabble and crossword puzzles.
The idea is that you take a magic class: Magic-User, Wizard, Bard, whatever.
You give them access to every single spell of a spell level they could cast.
You only allow them to cast any particular spell only exactly once. For the entire campaign.
You give them to ability to change the effect of a spell by changing the name of the spell...
There are a couple of ways to do this. I think I prefer a point system. Give them a certain number of points per long rest/day. Maybe caster level x 2 or something. For each point they spend they may perform one alteration on a spell.
Each point spent will either add a letter, subtract a letter, or substitute a letter for another. Spaces and removing spaces are free.
For example: Paromancer Bob wants to cast Shocking Grasp, but oh! That's boring. Instead he's going to spend 1 point and cast Shocking Grass. Or perhaps the less-effective sounding Shocking Gasp. Maybe he wants to spend 2 points and cast Shocking Grate, or Shocking Ass.
Yes, this means coming up with effects and damage on the fly. I warned you earlier. 
I think a good way to go about it is this rule of thumb: the more useless the spell sounds like it would be except in this specific scenario, the more powerful the effect is. The more effective the spell sounds like it would be for most scenarios, the less powerful it is.

If I'd ever use this system, I would also like to understand how to deal with changing a letter then NOT using the spell... Can I change another letter another day, and slowly replace them and change the spell into what I need? Or do I NEED to cast a changed spell before I can change it again? (this would make for some silly moments for sure)

In the last post for today, we're looking at a short article by Patrick Mallah, with a simple and effective system. It uses magic points, which is the easiest alternative to introduce some limits to the ability to cast, if you don't use cast and forget.

Escape from Vancian magic
by Patrick Mallah
What do I dislike about Vancian magic?
What do my players dislike about Vancian magic?
The idea I have now is to give wizards Magic Points that they use to cast spells. 
Earning Magic Points by leveling up (this is a rough draft):
Level 1 = +1mp
Level 2 = +1mp
Level 3 = +1mp
Level 4 = +2mp
Wizards add their best bonus between Intelligence and Constitution to their Magic Point total at each level. [...]
Spells also cost an equal amount to cast so a Level 1 spell costs 1 Magic Point to cast. There is no roll and no memorization, if the Magic-User knows the spell then they cast it. Magic Points recover completely after resting/sleeping for 8 hours. [...]
Spellburn: if a wizard "burns" their Constitution they can create an uber-effect with a spell. Burned Con points recover at 1 per week, magical healing doesn't increase the amount healed or reduce the time needed to heal. Maybe a purple lotus flower could recover burnt Con. [...]

Design notes:
- Alternatives to the traditional Vancian system: treat this with care as it impacts both the setting and the game-play (a system too powerful changes the setting into one shaped forcefully by magic, and makes Magic User the only viable, reasonable class to choose)
- Possible tuning includes the option to prepare spell beyond the traditional limit
- This might be handled with a Saving Throw: a fail results in not having the spell prepared, plus some penalties (i.e. from a table of incidents)
- In this case, keep track of what's prepared beyond the limit, so that multiple penalties would stack together
- An alternative system may use for example combinations of keywords: they require a negotiation on the effects, but could lead to interesting, original combinations and effects
- Using keywords and coming up with effects on the fly could be challenging, but there is also the possibility to mutate spells by changing, removing or replacing a single letter at the time 
- Easiest solution to replace cast and forget, is to use magic points
- If you do, use a simple method: start with the cost per spell (usually 1 point per spell level) and then grant points to wizards according to their level (i.e. use a table, or they add their level to the total plus some bonus)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Hirelings: generators and lists

First of all, let's get to the useful tool.
Who wants to generate hirelings "wasting" precious time at the table?

So let's take advantage of this simple, fast and useful hireling generator: it allows you to select even basic options such as 3d6 vs 4d6-drop-lowest for stats, Auto-Equip versus rolling for starting money, minimum HP, and level.
Clicking on the name gives you a printable character sheet.
The only drawbacks:
- A single saving throw (so OK for S&W, less for other OSR games with multiple saves, but these are disposable hirelings... so I guess even with other rulesets a single Save is ok)
- No list of spells for magic users or clerics

Complete Hireling generator.
A hireling generator designed with Swords & Wizardry Complete in mind, but also suitable for other Old School RPGs

Same problem - no spells lists, at this other link. Here there is no Save at all, but I guess for random OSR you can just refer to the default level one table for fighters.
This generator, though, includes a few traits/backstories and an alignment (I didn't test if they make sense when generating a lot of them or if perhaps they're too much over the edge, gonzo, or meaningless).

Fifty Random Hirelings for Your OSR-Style Campaign World

Last generator, from barrowmaze, includes a variable selection for recruiting in a village or in a larger city, and additionl recruits in case you're willing to pay more for a town crier.
It gives a handy list which includes everything (Name, Type, Race, HP, Sex, Weapon, Armor, Alignment, Background, Possessions & Knowledge, Notable Features) except... again, spells.
But you may get a war dog.

This generator is intended for introductory level play using the OE, Basic, or 1E gamesystems and their retroclones.

In any case, with all randomly generated hirelings in need for a spell, we can easily work with this:

Having said that, remember to give a little life to your hirelings... Don't push it too far, but a trait or two, or a line of a backstory, a quirk, a funny habit, a strange fear or weakness, something odd, will make any meaningless set of stats into a person.
If you want, you can start with what I already listed for characters:

If you want a simple table with additional traits, you can use also the simple and handy pdf linked below, on, which uses a roll of all your dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20) to generate a few meaningful traits for a hireling:

If you feel like pushing it a bit further, consider the next two lists, with a list of random followers, adding color to your party.

Who/what has followed the party?
by V. A.
As the party travels, they may pick up a hanger-on or two - perhaps they have gained some notoriety, or some opportunistic individual(s) hope to join for fortune or easy pickings, or just something following you for reasons of its own... Some may be almost helpful. Regardless, they're at least one more mouth to feed... [...]
1. Farm boy/girl with adventuresome aspirations.  50% chance to be carrying a random weapon in disrepair, 20% chance to be wearing poorly fitted and mis-matched armor.
2. Dog(s) 1d4.  25% of some useful training (herding, guard, hunting), 2% chance blink dog, 5% chance Really Good Dog, otherwise just begging cur.
3. Cat.  Of no use whatsoever.  Gloms onto the party member most likely to dislike cats and/or be allergic.
4. Half-wit:  Strong, at least.  Can lift/carry heavy things.  Doesn't complain.  Obsessively happy.  No matter what you tell them your name is, they call you Seymour.
5. A goblin.  Cloyingly sycophantic. 25% chance to have useful info on next subterranean dungeon entered.  33% chance that they'll betray you.

OSR: Table of Camp Followers
Most OSR, D&D-type games have rules for hirelings and mercenaries. This table is for all the people one step lower on the adventuring ladder. Camp followers won't go into the dungeon for  you. They won't fight for you. In fact, they barely work for you at all. They tend to follow soldiers to and from wars. Most armies were outnumbered by their followers. You can recruit them at the edge of wars or in disorderly cities and villages. Sometimes they turn up unannounced.
Each camp follower costs 5cp per day (35 cp per week, 15 sp per month). If you can't or won't pay them, some might leave, some might starve, and some might steal your purse and run into the forest. 
Roll (1d100) Camp Follower
1- Infant - noisy. If this is your only camp follower, you may roll again.
2- Urchin - follows you around and assists with minor tasks. 
3- Brawler Urchin - will fight and bite anyone and anything, including horses, dogs, and other party members.
4- Wild Urchin - doesn't speak, runs around, finds animals and sticks and puts them in your tent.
5- Cunning Urchin - watches and waits. Has a hoard of 1d10sp, a dagger, and a plan.
6- Militant Urchin - plays at being a solider. Marches around, guards things, challenges passersby.
7- Your Child - resembles you. 1d10 years old. Might vary by race. Unless you have a Spouse, the child is illegitimate.
8- Orphan - you knew at least one of the parents. 1d10  years old, thinks of you as an important figure.
9- Blind Man - navigates with a reed, can see ghosts and spells clearly, refuses to admit this. Twitchy.
10- Blind Man - navigates with a stick, swears like a sailor, can hear changes in the weather.

Note that while most hirelings are assumed to be low-level, sometimes you want something more, someone more powerful, who can bring more to the party (and, I guess, more headaches to the players!).
This is a handy list of mid-level hirelings, with different classes.

Strange Mid-Level Hirelings Table
by Cacklecharm
If you want a hireling of a specific class, roll 1d6 for that class in its category. [...] If you want a totally random hireling, roll 1d20. All non-specified stats modifiers are randomly generated.
[1] Haggrath the Giant-Handed – Level 4
Stats- +1 Str, -1 Dex, +2 Con
Average looking man with hands that belong on someone much taller and twice his age. Well known for getting exiled from his home city after a young woman was found strangled to death; he swears he didn't do it.
Haggrath can strangle anything that has to breath through a windpipe; deals 1d8+1 damage per round with his massive, clenching hands. Count his strength as +3 for grip strength.

[2] “Ramsy” the Lionheart – Level 5
Stats- -2 Dex, +2 Con, -2 Wis
Large male buck ram sheep. Talks. Walks on all fours and holds his sword in his mouth. Claims his mother was thrown in a lion's pit for food, but they ended up falling in love instead, hence he has the body of a sheep but the warrior's heart of a lion.
Cannot manipulate tools and doesn't have hands, but can use his mouth similar to a hand and counts his Dexterity as +2 for climbing. Has to wear custom armor, but his fleece also grants +2 AC when fully grown out. If he fails a save vs a fiery spell or breath attack, it will burn up and have to grow back next summer. Has -1 to morale and a bad attitude until he has a squire to groom him. Could serve as a mount for a halfling.

[7] Gottsan Arrowcatcher – Level 5
Stats- +1 Str, +2 Dex, -2 Int
Lean, wiry youth whose features seem to hint at a half orc heritage. Worked with a travelling circus as a juggler and with sleight of hand. Well known for his most famous trick; catching arrows. Isn't very talkative, notoriously bad with money.
He can catch up to one arrow fired at him per free hand per round on a successful save. If he fails the save, the arrow does 1 damage to his hand and delivers any poison it may be coated in. He can also roll a save at -2 to try to catch an arrow shot at an ally if he's adjacent.

[8] Minervii – Level 4
Stats- +1 Dex, +1 Con, +2 Int, -2 Cha
Found abandoned in a swamp as an infant. Very sharp, but of an ugly and unkept appearance. Has gray hair that looks green in the sunlight. Worked as a guide in the bog and sometimes lead her customers to their deaths in quicksand if she thought they'd take advantage or wouldn't pay.
Can boil strands of her hair in a pot to create stale, foul tasting water that is poisonous to drink or if a weapon is dipped in it. A dozen strands makes the drinker have an upset stomach, a few large clippings deal 1d6 poison damage, and shaving all of her head into a pot would deal 3d6 damage.

[13] Salvo – Level 5
Stats- -1 Dex, -1 Con, +1 Int
Mysterious, foreign mage with a lisp. His fingers are each decorated with tattooed rings of symbols in both red and black ink. Doesn't remember how he got the tattoos.
Can expend any spell slot to fire that many 1 damage, screaming, glowing red magic missiles from his fingertips. Doing this more then once per day makes his fingers even more numb and clumsy, -1 to Dex modifier for a day for each barrage past the first.

[14] Berinon “Deathwraps” – Level 6
Stats- -2 Strength, +1 Dex, +2 Int, -1 Wis
Once used a mummy's wrappings to bind up his own injuries while he was bleeding to death. He was cursed with a fragility of the dead but somehow survived. Still carries mummy bandages that he washes and cleans to wrap up his diseased sores and wounds.
Every time this character rolls their HD to determine hit points each level, it is always treated as a roll of 1. He only has 6 + Con modifier HP. Every time he casts a Necromancy spell, or spells aligned with the powers of death, he treats it as thought it was 1 caster level lower to prepare.

Next time, though, I would like to discuss alternative rules and other approaches to the standard, when it comes to hirelings.
It makes sense of course to treat them as characters, or as simpler characters... but is there a way to maintain their usefulness, their color, and make them much lighter in terms of rules?
How can we get the most out of hirelings without too many rules, without too much work?