The Living Curse

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Erik Tenkar mentioned something in passing that really struck me. It may not be new to you, but the idea that a creature that appears undead is merely cursed is brilliant.

One example I can find in the various Swords & Wizardry books is the Omgoth. They eat like ghouls, look like ghouls, and hang around other ghouls. Yet, they are not undead. It even says in the creature description that Omgoths cannot be turned.

I've used a similar idea for years for lesser undead. Skeletons and zombies are not undead, but merely animated corpses. The abilities and immunities of an animated object are remarkably similar to undead. It may not be effective at higher levels, but to a low-level party, it is really freaky when the Cleric's Big Magic Trick has no effect.

What do you mean I don't roll to turn them, they're skeletons!

I already do not consider shadows and ghosts as undead, so anyone that has played in a game I run will know that. However, the thing that never occurred to me was to have a cursed creature that looks and acts like a vampire, but is not a vampire. They can even take damage from daylight as part of the curse. How about a cursed lich? A powerful magic-user cursed to endlessly research the same spell in the vain hope of reversing the curse. Then there's new creatures like the phasma from the Pathfinder SRD. In many ways, it is a cursed Cleric. Considering that the Cleric's god did not save him/her from the curse, I almost think that releasing the curse is worse.

There used to be a blog at Monstrous Television that mentioned abdead as creature similar to undead, but not affected by Cleric in the same way. I wish that could bring back this post. Essentially, abdead skeletons are intelligent and not able to be turned. I can't remember the rest of the idea except to say that it was great.

Still, there's more to reskinning undead that removing the Cleric's Big Magic Trick. I moved traditional incoporeal undead into a new category of creature. In my games, these ghosts (including specters and shadows) can be battled by psionic characters. Whereas the Cleric takes out the undead and horrible amalgams of bone, sinew, and rot, the Psionicist battles the vengeful spirits of mortals that cannot leave this plane with unfinished business.

That's my two cents on reskinning undead. Have you ever reskinned undead creatures?


The Next Big Project

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I don't know how far I will get on this, but I'm posting about it as a prod to get into the habit of writing instead of thinking.

For that reason alone, there will be no kickstarter. In fact, it will be free.

Seriously, though, the big project is a big book of magic for Swords & Wizardry. The book will include alternate options for magic, classes, spells, rules for spell research as well as magic item creation. Much of the alternate options for magic are already written, so that is not the difficult part. The rules for magic item creation are really straight-forward, but I haven't tested them, ergo, they may not be as straight-forward as I believe they are. The big challenge is finishing the spell building system.

Backing up a bit, here are some things to know about the material in the book:

Brace Yourself: There Will be Houserules

I have changes that range from modifying the odds for learning spells for characters that spend money to allowing scroll creation at 1st level. One example of a house rule is that everyone can use slings. The main reason is to provide a magic-user an alternative to throwing knives. One of the implications of that small house rule is that since many magic-users may use a sling, magic stones for slings become a type of magic item that appears from time to time. Since everyone uses a sling, these stones are quite useful.

Priests of Different Mythoi

This was bound to happen for me. In my head, the priests of Mitra have to be different from the priests of Asura. What would a priest for the God of Magic look like? How does a God of the Harvest send an "adventuring Cleric" into the world?

In 2e, Cleric spells were grouped into spheres which later became domains. Since the document will be OGL, I feel like I need to use the word domains even if I think "Spheres" in my head. Maybe I'm just getting old.

These domains are part of what makes one priest different from another. Another distinction involves alternatives to turn undead. Some variations are as simple as Turn Demons or Turn Orcs. Other variations are based on spell effects like Remove Fear or Protection from Evil 10' Radius. My favorite one at the moment involves the ability to provide healing that does not change the target's hit points. This includes spells like Cure Insanity or Ability Score drain, but not any of the Cure Wounds spells.

New Mechanics

I generally do not like to introduce new mechanics. I prefer to reuse ones that already exist. One favorite is a take on the Turn Undead table - variations of that appear in an alchemist type of class and in the psionicist class.

Yet, with the emphasis system aimed at creating more unusual spells, new mechanics open themselves up to all kinds of options. One of these options is a new type of magic item that allows you to permanently or temporary alter your magic-user's choice of emphases. My favorite is a spell that allows the caster to "borrow" an emphasis from its target.

I also have my own take on a spell point system. There is no subtraction involved. The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention and I needed a system that was faster for my kids.

Wizards' Forms of Magic

The most powerful form of magic for wizards is Eldritch Magic. This is magic as presented in the S&W Complete rules. This means so-called unbalanced spells and spellbooks, spells as semi-living things in the wizard's brain, and all other kinds of Vancian goodness.

The second most-powerful form is Academic Magic. This is what "standardizing" magic looks like. Practitioners can create new spells with a greater degree of certainty, but lose the ability to re-create all the spells used by Eldritch Wizards. For example, an Academic Wizard can create a spell that sends a magic bolt at a target for 1d6 damage. The Academic Wizard, however, will not be able to match the range (240') of the Eldritch Wizard nor the ability to generate multiple bolts per level. For an Academic Wizard to generate a Magic Missile like spell, complete with a level-based effect on the number of missiles created, he or she would generate it as a second or third level spell instead of a first level spell.

The third most-powerful form is Everyday or Common Magic. This includes minor cantrips and illusions. These spells also include simple things like Mending objects, adding a foot to a length of rope, adding a spice to a dish and more. Don't let spells with minor effects fool you, shortening a length a rope can have deadly consequences.

Did You Have to Do Psionics?

Yes I do.

Eldritch and Academic Magics are available only to those that have the gift. Either a person can cast these types of spells or they cannot. For a person that wants to learn magic, but doesn't have the gift, the options are to either become a Cleric or make a deal with a supernatural power (i.e. become a Witch). Psionicists, called Disciples of The Path have found a different way. Clerics denounce disciples as atheists and heretics. Wizards consider them unsophisticated and crude. Witches consider them a hated enemy. Those that choose the Path, however, know that their powers equip them to deal with extraplanar forces malevolent and benign.

Other Things

There will be more spells and a handful of new creatures. As mentioned earlier, there is a spell building system. In addition to various player options, I hope to include many NPCs, including some that do not conform to any set of rules. (Bwa ha ha). There should be a whole slew of new magic items as well as artifacts. My hope is to provide something that may add a bit of spice to everyone's game.

Wish me luck, I'll need it. 🙂


More About Spell Research

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I've written before about my home-brewed Emphasis System that aims to make spells more diverse and less cookie-cutter. In a nutshell, the system provides classes that use spells a small bonus to research new spells. To get the bonus(es) to the successful spell research roll, the character needs to incorporate one or more emphases. An emphasis is a noun, chosen by the player, used to represent a specialty or specific area of magic a character enjoys. So if a character has the emphases of Fire, Entanglement, and Plants, the character would get the largest bonus to spell research by incorporating all three. Using the Web spell as a template, the character names his or her spell the Flaming Tendrils of the Macava. This spells entraps characters for 3 turns in fiery tendrils that emerge from the ground. The GM rules that if the flaming tendrils do damage, the spell will need to be a higher level. If the flames are simply and illusory effect, it can remain a 2nd level spell.

The thing I enjoy about the Emphasis System is that the nouns chosen can cut across classes. Fire works for a Priest, Magic-User, Psionicist, and any other sub-class of these three. Here's a compiled list from posts and other sources so far:

Air, Acid, Alchemy, Alteration, Animal, Artifice, Astral, Blades, Chaos, Charm, Combat, Creation, Conjuration/Summoning, Dimension, Divination, Earth, Enchantment,  Entanglement, Evocation, Fire, Force, Geometry, Guardian, Healing, Ice, Illusion, Law, Metal, Mind, Moon, Necromancy, Numbers, Plant, Protection, Shadow, Song, Sun, Thought, Time, Travelers, Void, Walls, Water, War, Wards, Woods, and Weather.

I had wanted to include emphases for psionicists, but outside of Clairsentience, there isn't much not covered by the list. Thinking in 3.5 terms for types of abilities, an emphasis called Telepathy and ones I've already listed called Mind and Thought  would function about the same. Meta creativity is the same as Creation. Psychometabolism is the same as Alteration. Even Psychoportation would work better as the Travellers emphasis I have listed above.

In one sense, I had hoped that Psionicists would contribute more to the list of emphases. However, seeing the list and realizing that items on the list could apply just as much to psionicists as they could to priests or wizards, I am happy to see the possibilities for all classes.

Sure, the Wards emphasis makes sense with my version of the psionicist. In my version, psionicists fight against incorporeal foes like ghosts and shadows. Having wards against shadows or vampires in gaseous form are quite handy and fit the concept well. What is interesting, though, is applying a War emphasis (think Psychic Warrior) or a Song emphasis (think Bard). For something really different, start a psionicist with either Artifice or Creation emphases. Having a psionicist that builds things is a really interesting concept.

This will be it for the emphasis system for now. I hope to put all this in a PDF for everyone to use or deride in their own game.