Sunday, June 30, 2013

Arcane Lore: Echoes & Incantations

"Certain names have the power to echo across the worlds when intoned, and there are always things listening for those names to be spoken... The only thing that tethered the Children of Night to reality was their names, and each time a name was called, that tether pulled a Child closer to wakefulness... Taking the root of a name and changing it, or masking it behind foreign mortal languages enabled a sufficiently cunning priest to draw upon a fraction of a sleeping entity's might without rousing it... The Children sleep fitfully yet, and their dreams are less pleasing to them than once they were."
 -Lucien Soulban & Sven Skoog, Clanbook: Baali
Art by Vince Locke
And so I accidentally deleted this post and must reconstruct it. Or maybe it was eaten by the things that slumber beyond the bounds of time and space? Whatever. Let's see if we can improve on the original.

Traditionally, magic in D&D is a matter of resource management: memorize a selection of spells before the adventure, cast each once per day, and when you get back to town where your spellbooks are safely stored, you can change your memorization. "Once per day." It feels a little like a fairy tale, doesn't it?

But Partholon is a little less fairy tale and a little more weird tale, so I want magic to carry an edge of danger, a sense of temptation and consequence. I also happen to be fond of risk management as a game mechanic. Some brainstorming, some playtesting, and a little help from the Amazing Sam of Difficult Terrain, and we've got a fun twist on Vancian magic that continually offers players interesting choices.

Incantations & Echoes

When a spell's incantation and infra-rational formulae are memorized, that spell can be cast at any time. The first casting each day is as safe as chanting the names of dead-but-dreaming abominations in order to steal a fragment of their powers can be. A daring or desperate mage can "echo" an incantation, casting the same spell a second time, but there is always a price. The more a sleeper's deathly slumber is disturbed, the more exhausting it is to channel its dreams into the waking world, and the more difficult it is to conceal this transfer of power from the things that stalk the shadow-realm.

When a mage echoes a spell, he suffers 1d6 damage. If this damage would reduce him to 0 hp, he rolls on the Echo Table instead. Additionally, if the next chance encounter check is affirmative, there is a 1 in 4 chance that the encounter will be with a Thing From Beyond (see below).

Echo Table
2d6 Result
12 You got lucky, punk Everything is fine... for now.
9-11 Woops, something noticed! Roll again the next time you cast an Echo.
6-8 You arrogant fool! Roll again the next time you cast any spell.
3-5 Bad trip! Out of body experience or total comprehension of infinity. Either way you're catatonic. Save vs Magic each morning to see if you come out of it.
2 Ye gods, no! Devoured by invisible demons, or yanked to a higher plane. Either way you vanish. Roll for resurrection survival: if you pass, most of you comes back.

You may notice that this is frankly just a modified Reaction Roll. I like to get more mileage out of existing resources rather than compounding the number of charts I have to keep track of.

Clerics and Others

Clerics channel their power from the cosmic spheres and the higher planes, and Druids invoke the spirits of the natural world and the twilight realm of faerie, but the mechanics of echoing spells remain unchanged. Other spellcasting classes have not yet appeared in the campaign.

Things From Beyond

This is the perfect time to throw in any wild, weird, and awesome monster that just doesn't have a place in the normal campaign milieu. Sleestaks, xenomorphs, terror dogs, splugorth, mind flayers and beholders: whatever you've always wanted to use without making it a part of the world. If you're using this echoed spell concept in a more d&d-traditional or even a gonzo campaign, there's still plenty of room for eldritch weirdness. Use the Psionic Encounters table from the 1e DMG, make a Realms of Crawling Chaos encounter table, use the stat-block for an invisible stalker and play it like the Predator - this is a chance to go outside whatever your campaign's normal boundaries may be without consequence. Even a silly encounter with flumph philosophers in the middle of a grim & gritty adventure can work out just fine as long as the creatures are clearly manifesting from outside the campaign world.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Legends of Partholon: the Bloodreaper, Ariokk

Art by Steve Argyle
Names & Titles: Ariokk, the Bloodreaper, the Duke of Blades, Prince of the Seven Darks

Symbols & Depiction:  In Tyrhennea, he is depicted with the arms and armor typical of the Delian bronze-age - what the Imperial imagination considers primitive and semi-barbaric. His face is always kept hidden. Vagyars depict him as a savage cloaked in the skins and bones of his kills - beast and man alike.

Prestige: One of the few Chaotic gods in the imperial pantheon, Ariokk revels in bloodshed and brutality. He serves Valkas as a frenzied warrior who balks at nothing, and is regarded as a patron of warfare. Tyrhenneans prefer to keep his worship at something of a distance, but many Vagyars embrace his patronage - especially berserkers.

Veneration: Ariokk's windowless temples bear mosaics depicting the most horrifying scenes of slaughter, murder, and appalling violence of every stripe. Most soldiers disdain this mad god's patronage - at least while they remain at home or in a quiet garrison. In the fog of war, it is common to hear the battlefield prayer, "Blood and souls for Ariokk!" as kill after kill is dedicated in his name.

Any place or object associated with him is held as savage and dangerous. There are rumors that his cult includes certain priests or zealots who sacrifice to him through random murders and worse.

Legends: The poet Grucca frequently depicts Ariokk as a villain, occasionally as a treacherous and untrustworthy ally to the gods and heroes of his tales. Ariokk lends his blessings to anyone who shows strength, courage, or savagery, without regard to his supposed loyalty to Valkas. Grucca even claims that Ariokk is the god most hateful to the Lawgiver.

It is also said that Ariokk was the chief patron of lost Agha-yin. Some variations of the legend tell that he was once a wise sorcerer-god, but that he gradually devolved into madness, perhaps as a result of the growing depravities among his worshippers. In these tales, it was Ariokk who destroyed Agha-yin, smiting its towers and driving its armies to slaughter the populace before sending the entire island-continent to drown beneath the Sedrian Sea.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fighters in Partholon

Art by Storn Cook
It seems that, by and large, the OSR as a whole has embraced the idea that the fighter needs a little something extra - the writeup as it appears in Holmes, B/X, or BECMI is lacking somewhat compared to other classes. There are some hints in Chainmail and the LBBs as to rectifying the imperfection, and some ideas have become so prevalent as to be almost standardized within the OSR. I've got my own ideas. 

The Fighter is already a veteran of several battles before he begins his dungeon-delving career. He may have been a member of a village militia or a city guard, or may have fought in some warlord's campaign. He may come from a lineage of knights or similar warrior-lords charged with safeguarding the realm. Whatever his background, he has left the battlefield behind and turned to crypts and catacombs, hoping that his battle-skills will keep him alive long enough to collect lost treasures.

The fighter is in many ways the easiest class to play.  He doesn't depend greatly on planning and forethought (though he will benefit from both!) and with proper equipment is about as ready as he'll ever be for whatever situations come up. He can adapt to most any situation as needed, but his standard tactic (kill monsters and stay alive) is a smart choice most of the time.

Basic Traits

Guard: When a fighter chooses to fight defensively, he gets the normal +2 bonus to AC, but can also grant an additional +2 AC bonus to a nearby ally. Guard bonuses do not stack, so a given individual can benefit from only a single fighter's protection.

Overkill: The fighter is trained to fight his enemies not as individuals but as a unit. When he deals damage in excess of that needed to slay a foe, he can deliver the excess damage to another foe in reach (so long as that target's AC is no greater than the fighter's attack). He can combine his movement and attack if needed to deliver the overkill.

Martial Skill: The fighter has learned how to get optimal performance out of all manner of weapons. A fighter can:
  • can move and shoot with bow or crossbow
  • use a spear one-handed, or set against a charge for first strike and x2 damage
  • charge with a spear or lance for +2 AP and x2 damage
  • add his Dex bonus to AP and damage when fighting with two weapons
Expert Traits

Hero: +1 to Command and Leadership [that's Number of Retainers and Retainer Morale]

Champion: a further +1 to Command and Leadership

Daunting: Starting at 8th level, when the fighter moves to engage enemies of 4HD or less, he may force them to make a morale check.

Warlord:  By ancient custom, only the most powerful warriors could be recognized as boyars, the warlords who governed and protected the clans. Imperial rule replaced the boyars with barons who grant their position to legal heirs, but with the decay of Imperial authority, the ancient customs are being revived. A fighter who declares himself a Warlord will attract a small army of followers above and beyond the command allotted by his Charisma. If he doesn't want trouble with the local barons or Duke Bellorum, he may seek to pledge fealty or claim a domain in the wilderness beyond Imperial control. If he doesn't mind defying the authorities, he may claim existing settlements as his own, or he and his men can live as brigands and outlaws within Imperial lands.

The Fighter
Level XP HD AP
1 0 1+1 1
Guard, Overkill, Martial Skill
2 2,000 2 2

3 4,000 3 3

4 8,000 4 3
1d8 damage, Hero
5 16,000 5 4

6 32,000 6 5
7 64,000 7 5

8 120,000 8 6
1d10 damage, Daunting
9 240,000 9 7
10 360,000 10 7

... +120,000 +2 hp ...

Saves: +2 Physical