Categories
Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

Found a Useful Font

I would normally post this in my RPG Ideas and Projects collection on Google Plus. Since the announcement of its impending demise, I ported over all the posts from that collection to my site here. I have edited all the 2018 posts to that collection for proper titles, categories, and tagging.

I have to get used to posting here instead of there, so my apologies for the long introduction. I have to stop saying that my next post will be about x and y now that I will post random tidbits here more frequently.

Dotsies is an interesting font based on the premise that handwriting makes letters much larger than they need to be. The result is something you might imagine an AI would invent. What makes it interesting for me is that everything can be typed with one hand.

When I think about the Rune Magic system in my Samoora campaign, this fits with the image of a person manipulating an object on their arm with their free hand. Even better, words typed in this font look like pixelated runes. This makes the keyword nature of the magic system tie into the rune concept. Woot!

Even better, you can design your own version of Dotsies. So, I have designed my own version and I will change the font to match with FontForge.

So I have a font that I can read, but the players cannot. I can glance down at the character's collected runes and know what spells they should be able to generate.

As John Smith used to say, I love it when a plan comes together.

Categories
Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

D&D Magic as Hard Magic

I was skipping around YouTube through various constructed language videos when I found a video about hard magic systems. For those that may not know (like I didn't until I saw the video), classification of magic systems as hard and soft comes from Brandon Sanderson. Hard magic systems tend to have well-defined rules and logical consequences. The video uses alchemy from Full Metal Alchemist to make this point.

The main points of the video state that a hard magic system has four properties in varying degrees:

  1. Predictability
  2. Limitations
  3. Weaknesses
  4. Cost

In some ways, these properties can make a magic system look more like a science in that if I follow the rules, I will get the magic effect I want every time. However, if a magician follows the rules without understanding limitations or cost, the door opens for an unpredictable effect.

I bring this up because I think it is an interesting way to describe the various magic systems in my Samoora Sea setting. Magic is not universal as it is in D&D. Every region has a form of magic, each with its own rules. Part of the idea behind the setting is that characters, through exploration and promotion of inter-region trade, blaze their own path to practicing magic, taking pieces that they learn along the way. A magic-using character will begin in one tradition but learn one or more different tidbits along the way.

In this series, I will talk about the four properties of the following magic systems in Samoora with the primary region in parentheses:

  • Rune Magic (Porta Nile)
  • Blood Thieves (Vinakrah)
  • The Dragon Path (Nagelor)
  • Gate Magic (Helica)
  • Five Salts (Gaerleon)
  • Cult of Hot Iron (Camalanth)
  • Powers of the Emissary (entire region)
  • Divine Magic of the Hedenciad (mainland areas)
  • Paths of the Wolf Clan (everywhere)

The last three are easier to describe as they are more akin to traditional divine magic in D&D. The others vary widely in their connections to traditional D&D style magic.

Before starting with Rune Magic, Let me define magic in Swords & Wizardry (rules as written) using the four properties of a hard magic system. The Samoora Sea setting will be written for S&W making the standard system a good place to start.

Limitations of Arcane Magic

As written in Swords & Wizardry, arcane spells are memorized formulae, gestures, and incantations meticulously recorded in books of magic. This means the first limitation is that spells must be written. All spells come from some wizard writing it down. The second is that spells must be memorized.  It's not that new spells can't be crafted, but that crafting one requires research, experimentation, and a meticulously written recipe.

Furthermore, it is written that a Magic-User can only hold a certain quantity of magical power in mental, memorized reserve to be released later in the form of a spell. In the game, the finite number of spells that can be memorized are measured in spell slots.

Beyond spells are other ways of using magic, such as creating a golem. Like a spell, though, creating a specific type of golem is still a documented process. Although creating a golem requires no memorization, it still requires some rare book or be the product of a magic-user's research.

For the sake of space, I won't go too much into creating various magic items like potions, magic swords, and rings except to say that those items traditionally require research, though rules-as-written say that the creation of such items is up to the referee. One thing that is stated, however, is that there are marvelous magic devices that have no written instructions. Those marvelous devices though are described as lost arts that a magic-user may never be able to reproduce.

Scrolls also have a small set of limitations described like this: with the exception of Protection scrolls, which can be used by any character class, scrolls can only be used by a character class that can cast the appropriate type of spell. Rangers and Thieves are exceptions to this rule at higher levels.

In short, arcane spells are meticulously written recipes. They must be memorized to be used and a wizard is limited in the number of spells he/she/they can memorize. The use of magic beyond spells is still limited to a written recipe. Magic swords, golems, potions, etc, require a set of instructions to be created. Scrolls have further limitations in their use; a scroll can only be used by spellcasters that could normally use the spell without the scroll. There are more limitations that could be listed, like armor usage and lack of healing magic, but these cover the major limitations of arcane magic in S&W.

Limitations of Divine Magic

Although Divine Magic is described differently, it basically works the same way. It is not as limited to a written recipe as a Cleric may be provided spells by visions and revelations from their primary force. The two smaller differences are that Cleric can wear armor while casting spells and the focus of divine spells are more centered around healing wounds, diseases, or mental conditions.

Predictability

This one is short. Basically, any spell, arcane or divine, always works within the limitations listed above. A magic-user memorizes a spell, it will work as described when cast. A cleric meditates for spells, it will work when cast. There is no doubt that the formulae (arcane magic) or gift of a god (divine magic) will work.

The only unpredictability for a spell comes when a creature is immune or resistant to magic. The spell worked, but the only reason it did not work as expected is that the target shrugged it off. Characters resist through the use of a saving throw, creatures may have an immunity to certain types of magic or a limited chance of immunity to all magic.

Weaknesses

It's difficult to find any real weaknesses in magic. If a character has access to it, it works. Using magic doesn't necessarily put the spellcaster at some kind of disadvantage. It's true that there is a limit to the number and power of spells used daily, but there is no problem with hitting that limit. It doesn't cost sanity, health, or even physical scars. Magic is like a battery: once it is out of power, it needs to be recharged. It stinks not to have magic around, but it's simply a matter of time until it can be used again.

Costs

Speaking of time, it is the biggest cost for using magic in S&W. There is a daily cost of time to 'reload' the spells for use. For a new magic recipe, there is a cost in time to research it, though the specifics are left up to the referee. It takes time to gain access to more powerful spells. Humans have more potential to use magic, but the lifespan of a human is limited. Interestingly enough, this cost has worked into the lore of D&D through the idea of liches. A lich finds a way to prolong their life to be able to continue to research magic. Still, the price for transforming into a lich is quite high, it exchanges the cost in time with the cost of isolation.

Next Steps

I'm over 1200 words, so I'll wrap up. I hope to give a similar treatment to all magic systems in my Samoora setting starting with Rune Magic.

Categories
Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

Thinkertoys – Magic in the Samoora Sea

The title comes from a book my Michael McDonald. You can find out more about the book here. I don't reference the book at all, I just like the title.

I am trying to integrate a few ideas from various notebooks lately. What began with a spellcaster that carries around increasing amounts of junk to cast spells has retconned to a new encumbrance system based on stones instead of pounds.

Let me back up a bit. I change my system of choice from time to time. Recently, I have shifted away from The Black Hack and back to Swords & Wizardry. I love the elegance of The Black Hack, but enjoy all the fiddly bits of S&W. I want those fiddly bits to present the way all magic works in my campaign world.

Arcane Magic

In my Samoora Sea campaign, one of the conceits is that arcane magic is regional and much less formalized. To demonstrate that, arcane spellcasting classes are mechanically different by region. Where a character is from is important to what the character can do and how they do it. One tradition of magic is intelligible to a spellcaster in a different tradition.

If a character hails from Porta Nile, they gather bits of damaged arcane items scattered around the island to generate energy to power spells. They record their spells with alien runes. These arcane items are believed to be detritus from the alien crabmen's shining city. This type of magic developed as humans living there cobbled together whatever they could find to defend themselves from the crabmen. These are the spellcasters that triggered the need for a stone based encumbrance system to reduce bookkeeping for these characters.

If a character hails from Gaerleon, they will use energy from the five salts to power their magic. Each salt has a different color and taste sensation (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami/savory). An apprentice mage learns to cast spells based on only one type of salt at a time. As they gain mastery over one type of salt, they learn about a different type of salt. After studying three types of salts, they gain the ability to combine two types of salt for more powerful spells. The Master Salt Mage can use a specific three-salt combination to power wondrous mechanical devices.

In Helica, spellcasters are masters of time, luck, and travel. Ancient gates open doors to other countries, regions, planets, and dimensions. Fueled by the power of these gates and their mysterious energy, they work powerful magicks to build the fledgling Helican empire through trade with other worlds. A handful venture out in search of lost portals.

In Nagelor, those that do not follow the warrior paths of their ancestors become Blood Thieves. A Blood Thief steals a bit of essence from a creature to fuel magic to alter or augment the spellcasters' own body. In their wake, the scourge of cypher beasts rage against all living creatures. Blood Thieves are distinctive due the equipment they use to steal a bit of essence. The large, but silent contraption is worn as a backpack connected to an obsidian bracer by a thin metal tube.

As spellcasters travel throughout the region, they adapt based on what's available. For example, the five salts may not be available in some places, so a salt mage learns to glean power from other items (plants, crabman tech, blood, etc).

Rogues

Rogues exchange their Read Magic ability at 9th level for a Scribe ability that starts at 1st level. A rogue can write down a spell from any form of arcane magic to create a scroll or translate an arcane spell to another spellcasting tradition. For example, a rogue can write down a spell record from a Blood Thief to create a scroll. A rogue can also take a spell from a Porta Nile Runecaster and write it down in the form of a spell recipe that is understandable to a salt mage. At low levels, the chances of success are very low.

This ability parallels the fiction of the world that trade between different countries has only recently been revitalized. As characters progress, they encounter new things and adapt what they can to become more powerful in this world. Scrolls may not be intelligible to the party's spellcaster, making a rogue invaluable.

Divine Magic

Clerics, though, are from an organization called the Hendenciad, the Group of 11. Mechanically, there isn't any difference from a standard S&W Cleric. Again, Clerics are the same, except that spells are broken up by deity instead of schools. The fiction says that a small token/negotiation with a specific deity is required to gain a spell. While playing the game, though, this doesn't need to be played out every time a divine spell is cast.

Divine Magic is based on the story of the creator god, Samoora, and their three types of offspring. Collectively, all Samoora's children are called deities, though each one has a different title. The oldest are gods, the next are titans, and the third are kwemara. The gods and titans created intelligent creatures for the planets Samoora made. Each race claims a god or titan as a patron.

In time, however, the gods and titans killed Samoora and the kwemara ran away to the stars. Each of the three have a different perspective as to how Samoora died. When the kwemara returned, they slaughtered many of the gods and almost all the titans out of vengeance. Before returning to the stars, the three offspring set up the Hendenciad, the group of 11, to watch over the world. In the group of 11 are 7 gods and 4 titans. The kwemara left a mysterious creature named the XO to oversee the gods and titans. The XO does not accept worship like the gods and titans, and so does not grant divine magic spells. No Cleric has determined any token, ritual, or negotiation to win the favor of the XO.

An ancient caste of human Priests call themselves Canavarii, the Clan of the Wolf. They do not build temples, nor do they participate in the religion of the Hendenciad. They claim to be servants of the earth and often appear in numbers during times of great trouble. Their first appearance was marked thousands of years ago when metal-eating beasts threatened civilization. Their second appearance was born from the devastating armies of the Reanimators, horrible wizards that reanimated and reshaped the dead into horrific and fearsome warriors. Their current appearance, however, doesn't appear to be in reaction to any great calamity.

Canavarii are present in every area of the region and are believed to have a presence everywhere in the world. Whenever a new land is discovered, invariably, the Canvarii appear to have been there already. They are respected, trusted, and revered. There has never been (nor will ever be) and evil or former Canavarus.

Other Magic

Emissaries are a race of awakened dolphins that represent the Great Sea God (not a titan) on land. They wear self-contained suits that protect them from risks both environmental and violent. Disconcertingly, they hover on land as if swimming through the air. Their movement is an innate ability of these awakening dolphins and is not powered by their suit. They communicate telepathically, but cannot read minds. Their form of magic is unique and is unlike arcane or divine magic despite their connection to the Hendenciad.

In Nagelor, the Sachima (dragon/tiger descendants) that choose the ancestral path of dragons employ magic centered around expelling magic from the mouth. In addition to various breath weapon magics are spells that begin with an exhalation of mystic energy.

On Pella's Column, spellcasting refugees from the Western Continent lug around heavy spellbooks and devote themselves to endless hours of study to master magic. None of them came here by choice. Priests of alien gods gibber about the island unable to perform any magic save for minor healing spells. Most of them are mad, but harmless. Most of these spellcasters were marooned here after a shipwreck, the remaining ones came by way of a portal or a mishap in planar travel. Those that have not resigned themselves to be marooned in this region have already left the small island in search of a Helican portal that can take them back home.

In Eastern Camalanth, the Cult of Hot Iron melds a zen-like tradition of pistols, ceremonial battles, and ki-fueled martial arts.

My Own Private Greyhawk

Now to switch gears back to systems.

At some point, I can backport all of this into The Black Hack, but it feels easier to start with Swords & Wizardry for now. I worked for a long time to get this working in The Black Hack, but it always seemed like the mechanics got in the way. I started creating my own private Greyhawk in middle school and S&W feels like the version of D&D I played starting in those years and throughout high school.

I call all of this my own private Greyhawk because this will eventually link to my Tanah Con-Rahn (Indonesia) region, The Western Continent (my high school world), and Zyg (homeland of the advanced Naga and Garuda).