The Numbers of All Things – A Thought Expirement

This post may seem to be stream of conscious, but the main point centers around having a reason why a setting works the way it does and why people in the setting have the superstitions that they do. Taking the ideas in this post to the extreme can lead to some extreme associations, so caveat emptor. So here are thoughts about my southeastern Asian setting based on setting up a number system to categorize elements within the game world.

Tanah-Con-Rahn is a reorganization of a setting I began developing for Nevermet Press some time ago. I want to make sure that others that contributed to it feel like I am not stealing their ideas. So for example, there is no City of Spires in Tanah-Con-Rahn, because John Schutt had a killer idea of an perpetually dying god and various city factions trying to find him. All I did was name the place, John added the awesome.

With recent work on a Verb/Noun magic system, I've begun to work out how magic will work in Tanah-Con-Rahn. Based on an earlier post about how nouns are classified in other languages, I plan on offering NPC wizards with some very unique nouns.

Of course, psionics and ghosts play their part as well. The ACKS Psionicist allows for a specialty in dealing with ghosts that fits a niche for specific settings. Mixing southeast Asia and psionics seem to go together like peas and carrots.

Tonight, though, I was going through some math in my mind in an attempt to go to sleep. While pondering various number sequence, I got out of bed and googled the concept in my head. It turns out to be called the digital root. Digital roots can be laid out in a nine by nine grid to produce a Vedic Square. If you fill in the Vedic Square for a specific number, so get some interesting geometric designs that show some kind of symmetry.

Dude, seriously, you're putting me to sleep. What does this have to do with gaming.

The short answer is that the geometric designs with distinct patterns for numbers 1 through 9 provide a visual code for 1st through 9th level spells. I wouldn't use it much in-game as much as between games in an effort to provide small touches of "otherness" to the setting. I know a lot folks like me that will remember the symbols as a way to classify various power levels of spells. It may not be your thing, and that's okay.

Building on these patterns, I can scrawl some rune-looking glyphs to place throughout a dungeon, wizard's tower, etc. Since libraries are a big part of Tanah-Con-Rahn, the nine glyphs can be used to classify non-fiction material. For priests, the glyphs can represent the eight paths of righteousness and the one path of destruction. Since the present noun/verb system allows most spellcasters to access a specific set of nine verbs only, I could assign one glyph to one verb as a way to list the spells. Rainbows have seven colors. If you include white and black, you have nine colors, one glyph for each color. The list of things can go on and on.

By creating these multiple associations, it provides some subtext for a world without having to write six or seven novels of backstory. These nine patterns have meaning throughout the setting and it can mean different things depending on context. It's not all about magic, like the colors of the rainbow example, and it shouldn't be.

None of this is really game crunch, not yet. Here's where some really out there stuff can help create a seemingly random groups of spells. You can make the group my a mathematic principle instead of effect. Players may forever wonder why every school has a create spell, but if they ever want to know, you can send them on a wild goose chase to find the answer. Here's how it works:

The spell creation system works by assigning effects on a scale of 0 to 8. Then rating the duration on the same scale. Then rating the Range. Then rating the Area of Effect/Number of targets on the same scale. Using the numbers, every spell can be a unique four digit number. Take the digital root of the number and classify the spell book accordingly. In the current draft of the spell system, this would put Create Water and Speak with the Dead in the same school of magic.

Astute players will look at the PHB and see that spells with certain difficulties are grouped together, but at first glance it won't be obvious. Spells with a difficulty of 15 and 6 will be in the same school. One school will be only spells with a difficulty of 9.

Many will probably never, ever care about any of this. But for me as the GM, it lets me sound like a wizard or a numerologist or a half-witted "prophet of doom" that sees patterns in everything. It also lets me sound like a sage that seeks to classify all knowledge according to what he/she perceives to be a universal pattern, like Aristotle. It even lets me throw in day-to-day stuff like why common folk find some numbers lucky in certain situations, but bad in others.

In Tanah-Con-Rahn, the number you are born under (digital root of birthdate) are a boon to specific abilities that benefit a character depending on their class. Others may have a bane, thus they are driven to vile magic, pacts with demons or other horrendous things in an effort to escape their destiny. With some effort, I can come up with a sort of nine month zodiac for beneficial animals or totems and another for detrimental animals.

The number you train under for magic can dictate why some wizards cannot wear certain colors. Such a number would be determined by a number from 1 to 9 that you assign to the verbs of the magic system. The first verb a mage learns determines the number they train under. Nine minus that number corresponds to the color that would be the color that they cannot wear.

Anything you can rate from 1 to 9 will work for this system.


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.

More Alternate Cleric Stuff

One of things about using clerics without Spell Lists is that it fits well with Scott Ludwig's Basic D&D Custom Class Template. Since the ACKS custom system is really similar, once I get the Player's Companion, I can make comparisons.

The system uses thirds and halves, so custom classes are easy. 1/3 Cleric gets two categories, 2/3 Cleric gets four, 150% gets 8 categories.

For the Human Template, anyone choosing 200% for Divine gets all 11. I would like to have 12, but even one of my five additional categories is a bit of a stretch.

Looking at the sample Paladin at the link: d6 Hit Dice,  three categories, melee weapons as "Monster" and missile weapons as a Magic-User. I like the idea that not all Paladins are the same.

Will a 1/2 Cleric get a category at half strength? That's up to you. It complicates the formulas used to determine success. Since it's a custom class, though, you can just make a table for success.

If you go the full strength route like me, I simply changed the XP values for Divine. Basically, it matches the Arcane table. This breaks the system for calculating a regular Cleric, but since I allow a spell at 1st level, I use a different chart for Clerics anyway.

One other route could be to have a Piety score. By default it could be Level/3 for non-Clerics and set a Hit Dice limit on using the categories. This means a Paladin with Healing is not healing 2d6 hit points until 6th level and reaches a ceiling of 5d6 at 15th level. The other advantage of going this route is that you don't have to say "no spells at 1st level", the only category that can be used at 1/3 power is healing and that only equates to 1 or 2 hit points.

Still some details to work out. The Paladin still feels too powerful even with my change to the XP Table. (Which is 2125 XP to advance to 2nd level on my adjusted charts instead of 1750 xp on the standard chart.) Also, changing the Divine chart has consequences for non-human clerics.


Here is the conversion of the Turning Formula for ACKS:

1d20 + ( 3 * (level of cleric - hit dice of undead) )
Hit dice of undead is increased by one for every special ability (asterisk next to HD number)

Success is adjusted roll of 10 or better

For example, 1st level cleric turning skeletons:

1d20 + (3 * (1 - 1) ) or roll 1d20 with a 10 or better.

As Keith Davies mentioned in the original G+ post, there's a better way to state it:

d20 + 3*level >= 10 + 3* (undead HD + special)