Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

The Hewcaster


  1. to strike forcibly with an ax, sword, or other cutting instrument; chop; hack.
  2. to sever (a part) from a whole by means of cutting blows.

In short, a hewcaster severs the essence of a creature or object and uses it to research spells, create potion-like magic items called elixirs and ultimately create hideous creatures that sear the mind. He is part magic-user, part alchemist, and part mad scientist.

Taking Essence and Making Hewstones

Aside from spells, the hewcaster can take the essence of any creature or object. What is essence? Essence is made up of the qualities of a creature or object that make it distinct. For example, the essence of a bear consists, in part, of its Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. It also includes furry skin, claws, sharp teeth eye color, physiological structure and large size. More than that, it includes the need to hibernate in the winter, a taste for salmon (or other fish) and all the memories it has. With enough thought, I'm sure you could come up with more characteristics of a bear not mentioned here.

Now that I've defined what essence is, what does the hewcaster do with it? At first, if the hewcaster is successful in taking the essence of a creature or object, the essence forms into a solid object called a hewstone. A hewstone is a smooth, rectangular-shaped rock that is about one foot long, seven inches wide and two to three inches thick. In this form, the essence can be kept indefinitely.

Back in the laboratory, the hewcaster can study its contents to research new spells, learn more about the type of creature from its essence, or learn about the specific creature's essence. Using the example of a bear mentioned before, the hewcaster could research new spells based on the characteristics of a bear, learn more about bears in general (like what they like to eat, what happens to their when they hibernate, etc), or learn about the specific habits and memories of the specific bear whose essence is trapped in the hewstone.


The new ability of the hewcaster is to create elixirs. Elixirs function like potions in that drinking one will grant the imbiber some magical effect. Elixirs are different from potions in that applying it to a target will do the same thing. This means that it is possible to throw an elixir at a target and use it as a weapon.

Elixirs are made by a hewcaster when he or she employs a catalyst to draw power from a hewstone. Catalysts come in five types. Each catalyst is able to draw different aspects of essence to produce certain effects.

Type of Catalyst Effect
Body Gain the Strength, Dexterity, Constitution or one physical characteristic.
Mind Gain the Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma or memories.
Shape Gain the form
Soul Be transformed into the target
Blood Gain a special ability of the target

Referring to the bear example once again, taking a hewstone with the essence of a bear and applying a Body Catalyst will create an elixir that grants a physical characteristic of a bear. This could be as straightforward as creating an elixir that grants the strength of a bear or as subtle as making an elixir that makes the target fur-covered.

Of course, the effects of an elixir need not be positive. Making an elixir that grants the intelligence of a bear will change the target from its current intelligence to the intelligence of a bear. Doing that to a human (especially a magic-user) will lower the target's intelligence. (Then again, using the same elixir on an animated statue or golem would make it more intelligent.)

One major difference between a spell and an elixir is that a hewcaster can make an elixir in a short amount of time (about 10 minutes) with the right materials. However, the hewcaster can only handle a limited amount of exposure to essences and catalysts before suffering great risks to mind and body. As a hewcaster increases in level, he or she can make more elixirs.

Final Notes about Hewstones

A hewstone can only be used to make an elixir once. Catalysts can be used up to 50 times to make elixirs. A hewstone that has been used to make an elixir can still be used to research spells. It will not, however, be useful in making another elixir. Such an attempt will destroy the hewstone and harm the hewcaster along with most of his or her equipment.

A hewstone with the essence of a magic-user can be used to create an elixir that grants the ability to cast spells generally or cast a specific spell. Any spells cast from these types of elixirs do not count against the allowable spells per day. One way of using an elixir to grant spell casting powers is to allow a thief or fighter to hurl a couple of spells. Another way to use spell casting types of elixirs is to allow a hewcaster to cast 8th and 9th level spells.

Why a Hewcaster is Neutral at Best

The downside of a hewcaster is that the act of taking a creature's essence will change the target into a horrible cypher beast. A cypher beast is a pale, four-legged creature with a huge maw, four clawed limbs and little else. The transformation lasts for only a couple of days.

After Nine Hundred Words, Finally the PDF

Details of the hewcaster class can be found in the hewcaster pdf. I've also attached an open text document for modification here: hewcaster.odt.

Electrum Pieces and Swords & Wizardry

Magic Monday: Using the Turn Undead Table

Below is the thinking behind creating this system and a class to go along with it. Here is the link to the OGL stuff featured the spell casting table based on the Turn Undead mechanic.

I've always been a sucker for alternate abilities for Turn Undead. I absolutely love the Priests of Different Mythoi in the 2e rules. So when I read this post from +Nathan Irving, I left behind yet another spell point system to study and opted for something different.

The main idea is: How can the Turning Undead mechanic be used for spellcasting?

Here's the mechanic for Banishing Undead as it appears in S&W Complete:

When a Cleric attempts to turn undead, the player should roll 2d10 and consult the following table for the result.

  • If the number on the dice is equal to or greater than the number shown on the table, 2d6 creatures of the targeted type are turned and will depart, not returning for 3d6 rounds.
  • If the table indicates “T,” 2d6 undead creatures of the targeted type are automatically turned and will depart for 3d6 rounds.
  • If the table indicates “D,” 2d6 of the undead creatures are automatically destroyed and will crumble to dust.



Looking at the table to be able to hack the mechanic, I converted it into percentages. In other words, I wanted to see the percentage chance of success a Cleric has to turn undead. Knowing the odds helps to make the mechanic work for other things. So, here is exactly the same table redone as percentage chance of success:



Rolling 2d10 for success, there is going to be a big, noticeable curve in success rates. See how the numbers go down quickly for a 4th level Cleric? 100 percent for Undead with a Challenge Level of 1 (Skeletons). 97 percent for Challenge Level 2, but the 85 percent for level 3, only 64 percent for Challenge Level 3, and then a dive to 36 percent for Challenge Level 4.

You get the sense that there's a definitely sweet spot for success, depending on the Cleric's Level.

One other thing to keep in mind is that there is no penalty for an unsuccessful attempt. Sure a 4th level Cleric has only a 1 percent chance to turn an undead creature with a Challenge Level of 8 (typically a Mummy), but you have nothing to lose for the attempt.

Spellcasting works the same way. In the rules as written, there's no chance to cast a spell incorrectly, so casting a spell, as long as you have it in your spell book, has no risk. Fire and forget, as many others have said.

So I took the Turn Undead table and I mapped out the level of the spell caster where the Cleric Level appears. I mapped out the level of the Spell being cast where the Challenge Level appears. The result was pretty shocking:

A 1st Level spellcaster could attempt a 4th level spell. Without a risk to attempt it, there's no reason any self-respecting player wouldn't attempt to hurl an Ice Storm or use Charm Monster. This works in certain campaigns and I'd have fun with it, but I want something closer to the standard Magic-User.

Turn Undead can be used as often as you like. When using it for spellcasting, that would mean at certain levels, a spellcaster could fire off spells at-will without limit, so I wanted to think of ways to limit the number of spell that could be cast. Using a spell point system felt like it was moving away from the original goal of just using the Turn Undead mechanic. I'd be using the Turn Undead mechanic to track whether or not a spell was successfully, but then adding a brand new mechanic to track the number of spells being cast. I determined that this was unacceptable.

I found that with a little tweak to the Turn Undead mechanic, there could be a simple way to accomplish this. First, I made the Turn Undead table into a Roll-Under mechanic. In others words, roll 2d10 and compare the result, rolling equal to or less than the number on the table would mean success. For the curious, here is the Turn Undead table restated with a Roll-Under mechanic. Yes, the math is exactly the same, check here:



Why a roll-under? I could add a +1 to the roll after every attempt. After casting a few spells, it would become impossible to successfully cast a spell. I'll explain this more later.

After converting the Turn Undead mechanic to be a roll-under mechanism, I put the spellcaster level and Spell levels back in as I had before. I have a simple way to manage the number of spells cast, but there's still the problem of that 1st level character launching an Ice Storm. To mitigate that, I'll have to cut off the spell level that can be attempted. So, looking at the Magic-User tables, I cut off higher spell level that could be attempted. In other words, a 2nd level spell could not be attempted until the spellcaster reached 3rd level.

I was happy with the result. Here it is:



Again, why are there numbers larger than 20 for a roll-under system? Because after every attempt, the spell caster adds +1 to the roll. Here's an example:

Mert the Magnificent is a 7th level spell caster. He attempts to cast a 1st level spell. Rolling 2d10 is pointless as he has to roll under a 21. It is an automatic success. Later, however, he wants to cast Magic Missile, another 1st level spell. Since he has cast one spell before, he adds +1 to the roll. It is still automatic, but with the +1, it is possible to roll a 21. Each successive spell attempt adds +1 to the roll.

Now lets look at what happens when he wants to attempt to cast a spell one more time. Since he has already cast two spells, so +2 is added to the roll. Regardless of level, he no longer has automatic success. Here's another thing, the +2 applies to any spell attempted, regardless of level. Casting spells this way makes all attempts more difficult.

With tweaks applied, I was happy with the system. Lower level spellcasters using this system are more powerful early on, but they become much weaker at higher levels. For example, a 20th level Magic-User can hurl a total of 50 spells ranging in level from 1 to 9. At the absolute maximum and with some incredible dice rolling, a 20th level spellcaster using this system can throw 39 spells.

So, I wanted a spell failure table. There has to be a reason to prevent spell casters using this system to avoid hurling spells until the run out. After all, if a spell caster can throw up to eight spells at first level, it doesn't fit well with existing classes. I didn't have time to generate one. I'll add that in a later post.

With consequences for failure in place, the resulting spellcaster is now weaker on average after 4th level. At higher level, the difference is stark. A 20th level spell caster using this system may go quite a long time without casting a 9th level spell because if he cast a few 1st level spells earlier in the day, it becomes too risky to hurl an 8th or 9th level spell. As much as I love how that works, it makes the spell caster much weaker than a standard Magic-User.

So I decided to create a class that uses this system, but also has some "guaranteed spells" to use. I call this class a Sorcerer. Looking at the Magic-User spell table, I basically divided it in half, rounding down.

I'm out of time, but I will say that I am very happy with the result. At 1st level, a Sorcerer doesn't have a guaranteed spell, but he has a chance to cast a 1st level spell. At 3rd level, he doesn't have a guaranteed 2nd level spell he can cast, but he can attempt to cast it using the table above.

Let me know how it works for you.

Electrum Pieces and OSR Project

Making Custom Classes

It's funny the things that come to you when you are working on rules for a specifically NON-D&D game. The KOHE system, which I've written about on Google+. I'm building a spell point system for it because characters do not have levels. Seeing how flexible characters are, I began to think about D20 style class systems again. (Near the end of the post is a link to a system I used to generate classes for a retroclone.) Here's what comes from rumination on custom classes.

I've read it somewhere that the only currency to manage classes in AD&D and older versions of D&D was Experience Points. Building on that premise, Crabaugh wrote a class creation system that allowed the creation of various classes whereby more power equaled more experience points per level.

In the 2e DMG, a similar system was developed, but the rules said upfront that the system couldn't be used to build the standard classes and that the rules were mainly designed for GMs to use for NPCs.

Then came Skills & Options (aka 2.5e).

I am still not a fan of it. However, the system did allow for a simpler way to do customized classes and multiclass characters. For example, even the PHB mentioned Priests of Specific Mythoi with different spell choices and alternatives to Turn Undead. I always created Priests of Specific Mythoi for my campaigns mostly for the alternatives to Turn Undead. At the time, I didn't always like the choices, but they made sense for Clerics of a God of War, etc.

Still, Priests of Specific Mythoi are still not different classes, just variations of the Priest class. What I want in making custom classes, I want something more than variations of a theme and a mixture of two existing classes. Since new class concepts are very difficult to come by, especially in a set of tables, at least let there be several forms of magic, unique abilities that do not currently belong to the standard five classes (thinking 2e) and a way to adapt spells into spell-like abilities. I realize that this is still variations of a theme, but at least it can add a sense of multiple cultures reflecting multiple ways of doing things.

For example, in 2e, the Shaman class had Spirit Magic. Invoking spirits required a ritual, but the spirit allowed for certain abilities and spells. It's not a spellbook and the spells are a mixture of traditional Mage and Priest spells.

Another example, outside 2e, would be a set of abilities centered around ghosts and shadows. I'm thinking more B/X and OD&D here. In the Basic Rules, shadows were explicitly defined as "not" undead. Going back further to Strategic Review #3, Ghosts were defined as "not true undead", either. (Yeah, I know that changed later, but work with me here.) An ability to temporarily grapple incorporeal creatures would be unique in any class-building system I've seen. As stated in an earlier post, this is also a natural segue to the use of psionics.

Some time ago, I wrote a Class_Generator that allows me to correctly generate the standard classes for Basic Fantasy. So, I wondered if I could adapt it to "add-in" these ideas. So far, adding in abilities that are equivalent to Turn Undead is pretty straightforward. Adding in the aforementioned Spirit Magic was pretty easy as well. However, trying to add in a Verb/Noun magic system is more complicated and I'm not quite there yet.

We'll see how progress goes.