Saturday, March 15, 2014

Mages in Partholon

Art by Victoria Frances
Magic-users have always been my favorite fantasy archetype, which probably owes to seeing Willow at an early age.  I like to present the class as more sinister and mysterious than is typical of D&D campaigns these days, and to that end I've tempered the resource-management with an edge of risk-management.    

The Magic-user did not study at some school of wizardry, and she is not to be found behind the counter of a cozy magic shop. She learned her secret lore through a years-long and often lonely apprenticeship, and her mentor may well be the only other mage she has met in her life. When her apprenticeship reached its end, she was sent forth to test her spellcraft in the real world and earn her initiation into the ranks of the Adepts. Delving into buried ruins in search of lost treasure and forgotten artifacts is very possibly the most dangerous way to begin a career, but anyone too timid to face great risk in search of great reward should never have trucked with magic in the first place!

Although there are other techniques and traditions, the default form of spellcraft is Vornish Sorcery, which channels the power of dead-but-dreaming abominations from before the dawn of time to warp reality according to the sorcerer's will. Other traditions will be presented as sub-classes.

The mage is perhaps the most challenging class to play. With forethought and planning, she has potential to overcome almost any obstacle, but if not properly prepared can wind up being frustratingly helpless. This class will perform best with a distinct goal for each delve, and with long-term goals in mind throughout the campaign. To broaden her options, the player should expect to reinvest most of her treasure into arcane projects, and might be wise to hire retainers for bodyguards. Despite all of these challenges, a well-played magic-user can eventually become one of the most powerful and versatile characters in the campaign.

Basic Traits
Neophyte: From levels 1-3, the character is tasked with proving that her apprenticeship is complete. She is independent, succeeding or failing by her own skill, but she is not yet ranked as a full member of her sorcerous tradition. Her mentor, an NPC of at least 6th level, oversees her progress and remains available for consultation and occasional aid.

At the dawn of her career, the mage has a compendium containing the spells known as the "common grimoire" (Gloaming, Protection, Scrivening, and Sense Arcana) as well as one of the signature spells of the Vornish tradition (Charm, Decipher Script, Lock, and Sleep). A talented mage with Int of 9-12 will have learned two of these spells, while a gifted mage with Int of 13+ will have learned three. As she attains each new level, her mentor will teach her an additional spell until 4th level, at which point he shall give her a final spell as a sort of 'graduation present' and initiate her as an Adept.

Arcane Lore: When the mage encounters an artifact or an arcane phenomenon (an "arcanum"), there is a chance she will recognize it, or recall similar arcana that might provide a clue as to what she has encountered. She will need to examine the arcanum in some way - this may be as simple as looking closely at an artifact, or may require some sort of interaction (which may prove hazardous). If she can pass a Saving Roll, she will gain an insight into the arcanum's nature. She might predict one of an artifact's powers, or guess a likely incantation for a magic mirror, or realize why the dungeon corridors keep changing, etc.

Failing this, if the mage has an arcane toolkit with her, she may devote a turn to analyzing the occult resonance of the arcanum. By testing how different herbs and reagents react to the arcanum's presence, she may be able to divine its nature, gaining a second attempt at the roll.

The mage may research in a library (her own or her mentor's) to seek more insights. This is an all-day project, but the roll may enjoy a bonus depending on the library's rating (larger libraries, or libraries stocked with rarer tomes, will tend to yield better results).

Scrivening: During her apprenticeship, a mage relies on the Scrivening spell extensively in order to read arcane glyphs and runes, as well as to transcribe spells into her own compendium. Even when she has not formally memorized the complete formula, enough of the spell can be recalled that she can always cast Scrivening. However, without the complete formula, she cannot completely hide herself from the Things Outside that hunger for the life-force of mages. Casting Scrivening without memorizing it first always counts as Echoing the spell. 

Advanced traits
Adept: The mage can undertake simple arcane projects such as brewing potions and researching spells known to her tradition. (She is not yet able to discover original, unknown spells.) Her mentor remains an ally, but expects his pupil to be truly independent of his expertise. Calling on him for help may require trades of services or treasure, if only as a show of respect.

Arcane Instruments: The mage can imbue her magical essence into a staff and a dagger (called a "virge" and an "athame," respectively). Each arcane instrument is a magical weapon in its creator's hand, and she can sense its direction at any distance. While she carries either instrument, other magic-users can sense her arcane power, giving her a +1 reaction bonus. She can withdraw her essence from either instrument and imbue it into a new one, but the process takes 1d6 days. She can never have more than a single virge and a single athame at any time.

Magister: The mage can now take on advanced arcane projects, such as re-creating artifacts from the lore found in her library, or discovering original, previously-unknown spells. She can also take on an apprentice to assist her in these projects.

The apprentice begins as a 0-level retainer, typically working as a lackey to earn his keep (and to pay the costs of the spells taught to him). Once he has been given the Scrivening spell, he can assist in arcane projects and will earn a half-share of experience from that work. Normally, this would be the apprentice's only source of XP, but if he accompanies the Magister on adventures, he will be likely to advance very quickly indeed! Once he has earned 1,000 xp as an apprentice, he can be initiated to Neophyte status, but it is best to ensure he has more spells than just Scrivening in his compendium!

Presence: The mage now exudes a subtle but palpable aura of power. She gains +1 to Command and Leadership [number of retainers and retainer morale], while her enemies suffer -1 morale. She also enjoys a +1 on reaction rolls, as even her enemies are not eager to provoke her.

Cantrips: So long as she carries her arcane instruments, the mage can create very minor magical effects using the potential of items on or about her person. For example, if she carries a tinderbox, she can light a fire with a snap of her fingers; if she has coins in a pouch, she can drop them from an empty hand. If she has a torch in her backpack, she could carry an open flame in her hand, but the torch would still be consumed as though burned. In general, these cantrips are more showy than useful, and their effects do not extend beyond her person.

Arch-mage: An arch-mage is a sovereign power unto herself. She may build or seize a tower to serve as her seclusium and claim the surrounding lands as her domain. Only the strongest and most confident warlords will dare to dispute her claim; most will leave her to her own affairs, or even send gifts to curry her favor. 

Upon establishing her seclusium, she will attract the attention of several would-be students: 1-12 0-level supplicants and 1-6 journeymages (levels 1-3) seeking superior training.

The Magic-user
Level XP HD AP
Traits I II III IV V
1 0 1 1
Neophyte, Arcane Lore, Scrivening 1 - - - -
2 2,500 +1 hp 1

2 - - - -
3 5,000 2 1

3 1 - - -
4 10,000 +1 hp 2
Adept, Arcane Instruments 4 2 - - -
5 20,000 3 2

4 2 1 - -
6 40,000 +1 hp 3
Magister 4 2 2 - -
7 80,000 4 3
Weapon damage: 1d8 4 3 2 1 -
8 150,000 +1 hp 3
Presence, Cantrips 4 3 3 2 -
9 300,000 5 4

4 3 3 2 1
10 450,000 +1 hp 4
Arch-mage 4 4 3 2 2
... +150,000 +1 hp 5

... ... ... ... ...

Saves: +2 vs Magic