Categories
Andras, d6, Electrum Pieces and OSR Project

Refining the Arcanist

A note before talking about the Arcanist again. I had planned to do more about mecha in this post, but the combat system isn't testing well. Essentially, my attempt to do mecha combat without minis is confusing. I am not a minis person, but I may need to concede that mecha combat is much easier with them than without them.

Why the shift in focus? It's not really a shift but more of an 'aha!' moment while re-reading my notes for inspiration. At one time I had wanted to convert all the d20 spells into their OpenD6 equivalents. Using the spell creation system in D6 Magic and Vade Mecum Magic seemed simple enough that I thought the project would take a couple weeks.

D&D Magic, though, is quite resistant to being easily categorized in such a way. I know that killershrike.com converted almost all the spells to the Hero System. He seems to have run into the same issue I have when attempting to convert Air Walk (I couldn't convert it either). When you build spells based on effect, it is difficult to separate Air Walk from Levitation though in a prosaic sense, the difference is obvious. Sure, both lift you in the air, but one is like gliding up and down an invisible elevator, while the other is like walking on invisible stairs.

Vancian  Magic  has certain characteristics, most notably, that it "... is no science, [it] is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords."  I also like the description that it is like putting a demon in your head. In attempting to differentiate the Arcanist from a Mage, I thought about how an Arcanist approaches magic.

Primarily, a skill-based mage would approach magic like any other craft. There is a base knowledge that must be attained. There are specialized tools used to ply the craft. New knowledge is built upon the proven knowledge of what came before. The mystery of magic for a skill-based mage comes from exploring what is unknown. Once a spell is known, it is no longer a mystery - it is a ritual that can be reproduced as often as desired.

Does this mean that an Arcanist would never sell his soul to a demon for more power? Absolutely not. Everyone is tempted to take shortcuts. An Arcanist, over time, will be able to craft tremendous magic. After a lifetime of study, his/her power will be quite formidable. But if there is a way to have all that power without the lifetime of study, well... you can see where the demons come into play.

What does this mean in game terms? At its simplest, a points system coupled with a completely different (from D&D) method of magic research. An Arcanist can make potions and wands, but the manner and costs will be very different from a mage. Spell research will also be different in that variations of a similar spell will cost much less for an Arcanist to research. An arcanist may be able to cast a spell more than once, but he/she has a greater chance for failure when casting.

The base skill level to cast a spell at 1st level is 11. Per Andras convention, a roll of 11 or less would indicate the successful casting of a spell. A roll of 12-19 and the spell does not work and the Arcanist loses 1 spell point. On a roll of 20, consult a yet-to-be-created Critical Fumble table.

The base skill is modified by the level of the spell and any other conditions the GM believes is appropriate. 1st level spells add five to the base skill. In other words, a 1st level Arcanist must roll a 16 or less to cast a 1st level spell. After that, spells become much more difficult per the table below:

Spell Level 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th
Adjustment 5 -1 -7 -13 -20 -27 -34

Except for Experience Points, here is the Arcanist Progression Table.

Level Hit Dice (d4) Spell Points Abilities
1 1 6  1st level Spells
2 2 12
3 3 23 2nd level Spells
4 4 40
5 5 56 3rd Level Spells
6 6 83
7 7 110 4th Level Spells
8 8 147
9 9 184 5th Level Spells
10 10 231 Create Spell Stores*
11 10+1 278 6th Level Spells
12 10+2 335
13 10+3 356
14 10+4 387
15 10+5 449 7th Level Spells
16 10+6 485
17 10+7 516
18 10+8 552
19 10+9 558
20 10+10 569

*Spell stores are special magic items specific to Arcanists. Spell stores allow the Arcanist to store spell points in an item. These stored spell points can be used instead of using the Arcanist's spell point reserve. These points will also allow an Arcanist to exceed the maximum spell points usable per day, though an Arcanist can only use one spell store at day. The amount of points that can be stored is equal to the Arcanist Level times five. For example, at 11th level, an Arcanist can store 55 spell points in a spell store.

The points will last until they are used or until the item is destroyed. Breaking the item will not cause damage, but the spell points stored within the object are lost. When an Arcanist drains the last spell point from a spell store, the item disintegrates. Spell stores are not rechargeable.

Tomorrow or Thursday, some example spells for the Arcanist as well as the Spell Creation tables.

Categories
d6 and Electrum Pieces

Azamar for the GM

Click here for Part One of this review.

Scroll to the bottom to read only the final rating and recommendations.

Geography

Starting at page 85, the geography of the world is provided. One unique feature to all the areas described are the Toponymies, or the history of names for a location. It's an interesting addition that adds flavor to a world that has its roots in True Name Magic.

As you read through the Geography, keep your thumb on page 186, the glossary. As you read through the all the areas, certain creatures and materials are discussed that aren't defined until later. For example, Zurn stones are a very valuable commodity for magic, construction, and currency. The first mention occurs in a Character Feature involving magic and several more references are made until Zurn stones are defined near the end of the book.

In a world with six continents, created in part due to a cataclysm in the past, there are numerous locations covered in twenty-nine pages. Read through them once to get a sense of the world and then pick one location for the players to begin play. A given location can cover a lot of ground, so there is a lot of potential to be in one general area for quite a while. Each location has a description of the people, creatures, commerce and a few notables.

Bestiary

After the geography, comes the Beasts and Fiends of Azamar.There are orcs and trolls, but there are also my favorite creature, the Gaunts. Gaunts are believed to be created when a sentient humanoid is mutated by evil forces. Interestingly, they are killed on sight despite this belief.

Azamar has a distinct lack of undead, except for animated skeletons called Sentinels. These powerful creatures have their own powerful abilities, including an anti-magic shell and often employ firearms as weapons. Although there is room to create vampires, zombies and the like, I think that the lack of undead make the sentinels that much more fearsome.

Fiends are equivalent to demons in other fantasy settings. They range in appearance from near-human to mutated to exotic. As stated in the last post, my ratings come from things that I can use now. One of the fiends that I can use now are the Agmai. They are part Lovecraftian horror, part slug, part starfish and all nasty. Anything that has a mouth on top of its head, attacks by crushing or puking up metal-dissolving acid and walks around like a scorpion is a great creature in my book.

Combat and Gear

After the beasts and fiends, comes the rules for combat and movement. The rules are basically group initiative with an ability to leverage initiative with GM approval. In four pages, the rules cover sneak attacks, magical healing, rules for differently sized opponents and more. There is also an optional rule for what is called Flexible Spellcasting. Essentially, Flexible Spellcasting allows a character to spend a character point and name the effect. The GM determines a Difficulty Rating and the player rolls to beat it. A chart provides suggestions for assigning Difficulty Ratings.

I could make a GM screen out of the four pages of combat without shrinking the text. This is a big deal to me as I get older. I have difficulty reading my 27 year old GM screen I made for my B/X games. I wrote in small print to cram everything in and despite a lack of faded ink, its hard to read. Thank goodness for straightforward rules in larger type!

Going into the discussion of gear called props in the book, make your way back to the Glossary on page 186. Most of the gear is mundane, but there are references to materials defined in the glossary. The new materials play two important roles in the game: the new exotic material determine physical properties of certain expensive weapons and magic. Tucked near the end of the gear section, are rules about casting spells without expending a Character Point. Items called Magical Foci are available for sale in many places. Magical Foci do absolutely nothing for character that do not already cast spells. Using a focus, a character can hurl a bolt of magical energy at a target. The range and damage the boly delivers is determined by the type of Foci used and the materials used in its construction. Rings are portable, but are limit the spell range severely, even if the ring is made from very rare materials. Wands are larger and are the standard focus of choice. A staff allows a character to wield great power, but the difficulty in construction rarely allows for them to be made of exotic materials.

Aside from Magical Foci, new flora and fauna are presented. Like other materials, each has a special power. The effects are relatively minor, your mileage may vary. Ground and air vehicles round out the gear section. Yes, there are massive airships on Azamar. One oddity is that vehicles have no stats, not even movement rates. Only a description and cost is provided. This seems like an oversight as the Cinema6 Rules provide stats and guidelines for using vehicles. This appears to be the only omission in an otherwise complete rulebook.

Miscellaneous GM Stuff

A few Gamemaster Characters are provided as allies or adversaries to the Player Characters. Each is presented with a bit of history, their place in Azamar and their stats. These, coupled with the Archtypes at the end of the book, can provide guidance for your players when creating characters. With both of these tools, character creation can be shortened to Pick and Archetype and choose a couple of tweaks. In a sourcebook with so many choices, this allows the GM to manage them without putting up arbitrary restrictions.

The sample adventure is a basic search and rescue, but it provides a great springboard for more adventures. Advice is provided on story arcs that can lead to more adventure. With all the possibilities given, it won't be too hard to tailor the story arcs to taste. As I tend toward gonzo stuff, you may not choose to have your own Azamarspace Crystal Sphere, but you can easily go from here to more urban adventures, swashbuckling sea adventures or more longer journeys to the six corners of Azamar.

Final Notes

COST: 5 Stars out of 5 Stars.
The PDF is $5. That's all. $5 for a complete game, campaign world, and a bunch of free extras. Even if you decide to adapt the material to your own ruleset, it is worth the $5. It is available for purchase at their store. They will be able to accept Credit Cards soon, but PayPal works right now.

CONTENT: 4.5 Stars out of 5 Stars.
There is a lot of content here. At first, it can feel like a lot especially with all the new vocabulary. I create my own languages as a hobby, so it doesn't bother me as much as it bothers some. Make good use of page 186, the Glossary to navigate all the information presented.  As mentioned, vehicles are mentioned, but no statistics are provided. Download the free Cinema6 Rules for guidelines in using them. Another positive is the numerous examples provided for combat, using skills and magic. These are invaluable to understanding the setting.

The OpenD6 community is also provided content for Azamar. New character templates and another mini-adventure are provided in Issue 2 of D6 Magazine.

PRESENTATION: 3.5 Stars out of 5 Stars
Why so low? The primary issue is the complete lack of an index. This wouldn't be an issue except that everything you need to know about magic is scattered throughout the book. Spells are in the front, Magic Foci are in the back. Character Features are in the middle. I will create a handout that puts Magic rules and choices all in one place when I run it. Otherwise, the book is organized very well and one subject lends to another in a way that makes sense.

OVERALL: 4.5 Stars out of 5 Stars
The positives far outweigh the negatives for me. I can deal with a lack of an index because everything is explained well. Once I find what I'm looking for, it is easy to understand and simple to play. There is a lot of content that I can use right now in my own games, but I enjoy the ruleset presented. I look forward to the new worlds promised by Wicked North Games.

Categories
d6 and Electrum Pieces

Azamar Core Rules Review

This is part 1 of the review. It mostly covers the options available to players. Part 2 will be more for the GM.

I have been waiting a long time for products built on the OpenD6 rules. Some time ago, a group of folks got together and formed Wicked North Games. From the beginning, their stated goal was quality products based on the OpenD6 rules. Their efforts led to their own set of base rules called Cinema6 with the promise of many worlds yet to come. The first of these worlds is a high fantasy setting called Azamar.

History

Readers are introduced to a group of friends traveling together. The vignette provides a look into the world of Azamar. It features half of the races, magic, beasts, and much more. Instead of explaining what an RPG is, it demonstrates an introductory story before moving into the world's history.

After providing a sweeping history of the past 5000 years, the reader is directed to information about why Azamar works the way it does. In addition to the history that set the stage, the nature of the realms and magic are explained.

I appreciated that the introduction wasn't the standard "this is an what an rpg is". The world of Azamar is introduced like an example of play. In a couple of pages, the how and why the world works is explained quite well. The rationale of magic is important to the feel and rules of the game. It was explained clearly and concisely. When I get a chance to play this with someone, I will probably print out the how and why section for the players as a mnemonic aid during play.

Rules

The core mechanic is simple, roll a number of six-sided die against a difficulty rating. If you roll the difficulty rating or higher, you are successful.

Players also get Cinema Points to use as a measure of experience, perseverance, and personal growth (quoted from the book). They are used at character creation for purchasing skills or features, during the game to activate a character feature and/or improve rolls and between game sessions to increase abilities, skills and features.

After this comes the list of skills by attribute. The list is comprehensive offering lots of choice to players. The descriptions are pretty straight-forward. I didn't get the sense that a GM would be weighed down by trying to remember what each skill would do. Character wants to use a skill, assign a difficulty rating determine the number of die to use (attribute plus level of skill) and roll for success.

Races

Azamar features eight new races. This is an area where Azamar shines. One of the measurements of a good RPG product for me is whether or not there is inspirational material I can use right now. In a page and a half, each race is described by their Homeland, Main Attribute, Restrictions, Background and Outlook. The background provides just enough information to help a player get into the role of playing one of these races. The Outlook section demonstrates how other races view a specific race. The unique aspect of the Outlook section is that the other races are described in a series of quotations instead of block text. I found this a refreshing way of describing a race's place in a given world.

Characters

The next section details character creation. After the nine steps are listed, the text goes into more detail about the effects of magic, rules for rolling for background and options for starting play as a more experienced character.

After this, we get the meat of the book, lists of character features categorized by features available only at the time of character creation first. After that the categories cover features by types of magic. Character Features include spells, something I didn't pick up on at first. However, I understood later why spells are treated as a feature instead of its own separate entity.

Magic is described as rare and potentially dangerous - the effect is maintained in the rules by requiring a Cinema Point to be spent to activate a spell. This focuses players to use magic only when necessary, a stark contrast to the fire-and-forget spellcasting in other systems.

Gods

The Gods and other powerful spirits are presented as something for all characters. Worship of a particular deity provides one or two benefits activated like a character feature. Worship of a deity does, however, require some behavioral guidelines. In other words, if a character is not faithful and staying on the path, the benefits won't work.

I like this because it provides a "Hail Mary Prayer" for a character that may result in a game action. The benefits aren't game-breaking, but a few of them could keep a character going during critical parts of the game. This isn't just combat abilities, but things like withstanding supernatural amounts of pain, escape through a trans-dimensional gate or inducing temporary madness against a target.

Conclusions

If you like games that provide a lot of choice to a player, Azamar has it. I enjoyed thinking of the myriad types of character that can be created. There are eight interesting races, various forms of magic, numerous skills, even a meaningful benefit to choosing a deity. If that isn't enough for you, there's even a  free mini-campaign and expansion that adds more options.

There are pre-generated characters at the end of the book. For a quick session, a group could use them to get started quickly. It's true that lots of options can make character creation an hours-long chore. If you're concerned about this possibility, create a few archtype characters to serve as models in addition to the pregen characters in the back.

Some folks may be bothered by the long lists. I didn't find them as long as lists in GURPS. It feels like they are about the same length as Savage Worlds, maybe a bit longer. Features cover 23 pages and skills cover 6 pages. The character creation summary and the core mechanic combined cover less than a page. Skills are listed by governing attribute, so a player won't be poring over all six pages to pick up skills. In the same way, magic skills only cover one or two pages by type of magic. The only place where character creation may get bogged down is in the almost 19 pages of features available only at the moment of character creation. Having said that, the mechanical benefit takes up less than one line of text. My only suggestion for improvement would be to provide a page with the name of a feature, cost, restrictions and mechanical effect of each character feature.

All in all, this is a lot of fun to read. For this part of the book (pages 1 - 85), I would give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.