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.

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