Friday, December 28, 2007

Magic System Revisited

I've made a decision that is logical, but probably isn't going to make many prospective mages happy.

In a multi-element weave, the affinity and skill used in the creation of the weave are those of the lowest-level element in the weave that the character possesses.

There's just not an un-awkward way to word that, so I'll explain by way of example.

Take a simple, two-element weave like an illusion. This requires both Fire and Air.

Elena, looking at her character sheet, sees that she is at an affinity of five in Fire, and four in air. She also sees that her skills for these elements are 13- and 11-, respectively.

She can only pull up to 40 active points, and rolls it at an 11-. Her skill with Fire is not the issue for this weave. Logically, if we test the weakest link in the chain, we can assume that the rest of the chain will hold.

Hold up, I can hear the groans. "Why would anybody have less than exactly equal points in each of the elements?"

Here's the thing. I think, at least with the players I'm considering playing with, that this will encourage more creative use of elemental energies, so as to stay within the characters' strengths.

I'm going to consolidate all of the necessary information into a single document and post it here later on this evening. It's the Holidays, I'm taking things slowly.

Comments in this post are closed. Please post your comments in the first magic system thread.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


The final post about my three non-human races. Well, except the ancient wizards, but they're an entirely separate kettle of fish. Other entirely separate kettles of fish include the creatures of the dark world and the aumani. You know what, just forget I even mentioned it.

Gnomes and dwarves have often been considered to be cousins, especially in D&D mythology. I'm not exactly changing this, but it is going in an entirely different direction than it did before. Gnomes were once very close to the dwarves, living in the hills near the mountains where most dwarves live. The ancient wizards changed them, though.

Not physically. That would be really rather boring, I think. The ancient wizards changed their culture. Gnomes were, for a time, the ultimate fanboys and fangirls of the ancient wizards. They were utterly fascinated by the mastery over magic that the wizards had, and they strove to imitate them.

Unfortunately, the gnomes were not as adept at wielding the mystical forces as the ancient wizards. They were, in a sense, all science and no art. They could imitate the methods of the ancient wizards, but they got much lesser results. They needed something they could control completely, rather than nudge in the direction they wanted.

What they really needed was a focus. This brings me to a D&D trope that I really, really like: gnomes as inventors. The fusing of magic and metal allowed the gnomes to control the magic better, but they would never be without their devices. When the great war struck, the gnomes did not fight on the front line, with the dwarves and the elves, but rather they created great war machines. In addition to their machines, the gnomes kept copious records.

When the war was ended, the gnomes directed their attentions to keeping the knowledge safe in the absence of their heroes, the ancient wizards. They built great cities, entirely out of metal, and then they placed them beneath the sea. A century after the great war, the gnomes retreated from the surface world, and disappeared.

Well, not entirely. The gnomes are still down there, awaiting the return of the ancient wizards. In the meantime, they are protecting the knowledge they have, and they are protecting the great city of the ancients, as well as a couple other significant ancient sites. In a campaign dedicated to investigating the ancient wizards, gnomes will make interesting antagonists, as they are responsible for sinking ships that come within a certain distance of such sights. Tales of these sinkings might kick off a campaign, or a story arc.

All of my races, including this one, are going to be re-visited as I go along, but that's certainly a good start, I think. Next time, we'll get right into human lands and politics, as they will be the default PC race for most campaigns.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Alright, this is another race post. Today, I'm going to be discussing elves, and putting forward my own take on the race. The reason my dwarves changed was, to be honest, because I wanted to turn both elves and dwarves on their heads.

My elves are styled after what I felt was the stereotypical dwarf (not physically, don't worry Legolas lovers, elves are still skinny and pointy-eared). So what was the typical dwarf? A little gruff, isolationist, and basically alcoholic.

Gruff doesn't really sound like the style of the elves, so we'll change that word to "curt". Polite, but to the point. Isolationist, I'm all over that one. Alcoholic? Well, change the beer to mead, and I'm all for it.

Still doesn't give me too much, though, so lets look at a quick D&D (and Tolkien...ian) interpretation of elves, and compare it to some other depictions, and see what we can glean from that.

The D&D and Tolkien elves are long-lived, mystical, serious, and deeper than a 10,000 foot well. The wikipedia article on the subject of Tolkien's elves actually compares them to humans who had not fallen from Eden. That's a tall order, and doesn't really fit our curt, isolationist alcoholics.

Norse mythology paints elves as being relatively similar to humans as well, and is equally glowing in its praise. Elves are semi-divine creatures, with great magical abilities. I don't have a problem with elves being somewhat magical, but I kind of want to leave the deep lore to the gnomes myself, so I'm going to have to look for another angle. (I'm not really doing the norse mythology justice, but this is a gaming blog, so I'm sort of skimming and skipping here)

English elves, on the other hand, resemble much more the nymphs of Greek mythology, sneaky little tricksters who might meddle in the affairs of humans. (well, mine won't meddle in the affairs of humans, being isolationist, but we'll figure something out) They're also shown to be related to fey, which is the aspect I sort of want to base this on.

So, I have the curt, isolationist alcoholics, and I have fey/nature influence, and I have sneaky little tricksters. The first bit will be, well, slightly overhyped. Elves are curt: to outsiders. When they're on their own, they love to party! They are, more often than not, relatively good-natured, as I alluded to in the earlier post about magic. They'll help you out, without telling you, and then help themselves to your booze, and have a party in the woods to celebrate their good deed.

While they are relatively good-natured, they are also very shrewd, and it is extremely difficult to put one over on an elf. The parties are also somewhat of a facade, it must be admitted. They really honestly do enjoy themselves, but there is a deep political game going on in elvish communities. It very rarely comes to battle, but every action is calculated and carefully accounted for.

I'm going to do a little more stealing, this time from C.J. Cherryh's series Foreigner. I am quite fascinated with her first alien species, the atevi, and their system of associations and alliances. I also like their fierce numerology (which is also possibly part of norse mythology, going back to my "making the elves like dwarves" effort), so I'm going to nick both.

You don't ever deal with a single elf. All elves are associated with each other in various, complicated ways, almost all of which have nothing to do with geography (which would confuse humans to no end). Furthermore, numbers are treated very seriously by elves, bad numbers (most evens, like 6 and 10) are avoided and good numbers (odds, especially 3 and 9) are sought.

I think there's something to be done with these political machinations, possibly an entire campaign here, so I'll get on writing up some specifics...later. I'll also do another Fantasy Race Portfolio when I get around to it (possibly tomorrow), and come back and treat elvish religion.

Note: I wrote this early in the morning, so if I have used the word "Elven", I intend it to be "elvish". I'll have to proof this later.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I am dedicating this post to talking about that dour and serious fantasy species.

What makes a dwarf? My examination of this question largely stemmed from this thread over on the Campaign Builders' Guild. D&D likes to make them gruff, short and stocky, isolationist, and many people seem to decide this means Scottish.

Yeah, I don't understand it either. Maybe it's the need for an easy-to-imitate accent.

Dwarves (or dwarfs) in early Norse Mythology weren't even portrayed as being short. Rather they looked human, except for their connection to the stone (For the record, I'm getting all of this from Wikipedia). They had pale skin and dark hair.

Okay, well, I can work with that. Ever since reading the post mentioned above, I've wanted to return dwarves to the stone, and make that the focus of their fluff, rather than being short and bearded.

First off, I'm going to shamelessly steal (well, he did give me permission, I'm 'psychoticbarber' on the forums) the idea that dwarves are cut from the stone, and that life is breathed into them by priests. As mentioned in the thread, this will make dwarven society into a powerful theocracy, as religious leaders literally have the power to stop the dwarves from creating children. Furthermore, dwarves are sexless, and likely the smallest grouping would be not the family but the clan.

Here's my Fantasy Race Portfolio

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Magic System

I'm going to be up-front about this: Much of my magic system is poached from the popular Wheel of Time series by the late Robert Jordan. I won't be giving the same treatment to gender as he does, nor will I be recreating the culture surrounding channeling, but I am stealing the basic idea. Interspersed around Jordan's ideas are my own, so if you get confused because you've read his work, that's why.

Magic is channeled by taking the raw elements themselves and weaving them together in various ways to produce various effects. The elements are the five classical elements: Fire, Earth, Air, Water and Spirit.

Fire also represents light, heat, and power. Earth represents firmness and stability. Air represents change, Water fluidity and receptiveness, and Spirit is sort of a meta-element, thought it also involves animation. Each of the elements also relates to the physical (or metaphysical) aspects of the element, weaving fire can bring light, but it can also create or manipulate fire itself.

These elements can be woven together: Fire to create light, and Air to change (invert, in this case) the light makes invisibility. At some point in the future, I'll be building a list of common weaves as examples.

Though magic is drawn from the world itself, the process has no appreciable effect on the world around the characters. Not even the greatest wizards of the ancient age were able to draw enough elemental power at once to note any negative effects. It should be noted that such experiments were limited in scale, out of fear of possible negative consequences.

It would serve for novice wizards to learn some simple weaves, and simply use them. Adjusting weaves "on the fly" to create unique effects is difficult and dangerous, and could possibly kill the wizard. The lure of power is great, however, and sometimes a wizard cannot prevent him or herself from drawing in too much power at once.

A powerful wizard can shield his opponents: This is not defensive, as it might sound, but rather offensive. A shield of this sort prevents a wizard from taking control of the elements around him. In game terms, this means a sufficiently powerful wizard can shut down his opponents. I strongly recommend that all wizards provide themselves some sort of mundane option, in case this happens. However, as magic is rare, it is reasonably unlikely to happen, at least at first.

Warning: Crunchiness Ahead

This crunchiness is all related to the Hero System. If you're interested in adopting this material to another system, feel free, but this section probably won't help much.

Elemental Affinities
People suited to magic are stronger in some elements than in others. The five classical elements are bought on scales of up to ten, though this cap represents the extreme end of human ability: Most of the greatest wizards did not have an affinity reach that level.

Affinities are bought on an increasing scale, in this way: The first level of affinity costs 1 point. The second costs 2 points, in addition to the first, for a total of three. Each level is bought in this way, so to reach a 10th level affinity in one element costs a total of 55 points (A little simple math shows that full points in all elements costs 275 points: 125 points more than a starting character with full disadvantages gets).

An affinity does not represent training: It represents raw power. Now, as training increases, so does the character's ability to draw more power, but the last few levels of affinity are difficult to attain (Well, the point values aren't actually very high, but the GM should stress balance).

is represented by a skill, which is a standard (3/2) ego-based skill. As with affinities, there exists one with each element. Now things get really crunchy.

Each level of affinity ups the maximum Active Cost of a power channeled by 10 points. So a first level affinity in an element could not produce more than 10 points of active cost of any power. The Real Cost limit is decided by the skill-roll. Each level of affinity (Active Points / 10) used is a -1 on the roll, which is a control-roll, and the number of points the roll is made by increases the real-cost cap by 10 points.

Example, because if you understood that, I'd be impressed.

Rhea has affinity 5 in Fire, and affinity 3 in the other four elements (total cost to character, 39 points). Looking at a single element weave, and at fire, Rhea could channel up to 50 points worth of active cost.

Looking at her skill-roll, she has Ego 18, and the basic skill level, which is 13- (the minus sign after the 13, for those not in the know, means thirteen or less). She spent a few points on her control skill, raising the skill level to a respectable 16-.

If she wants to channel 50 points worth of active cost, this will reduce her skill roll by -5, meaning that she'll succeed on an 11-. That's about as close to a 50/50 shot as the Hero system gets, so this is probably unwise, but we'll do it anyway.

If she rolls a 12 or higher, she fails. It happens. Channeling near your limit is extremely difficult. The character still looses endurance (1 END/5 AP = 10END -- ouch).

If she rolls an 11 or lower, she succeeds. On an 11 exactly, she gets a maximum of 10 points of real cost to play with, which means she'll need a total of -4 in limitations on the power: Probably impossible. BUT, this doesn't mean that the power necessarily fizzles. If stuck for points, the character can reduce the number of Active Points in the final power. Let's say she reduces the Active Points to 20, requiring only a total of -1 in limitations. However, the character actively drew 50 Active Points worth of power, and must pay full END cost for those points. The rest of the points are simply unused.

It gets better, though, as rolling an 8 gives the character 30 points of real cost to play with, and a 7 gives 40 points. So the secret is to balance your affinities with your skills.

Note: A character does not have to channel at his or her limit. In fact, it is recommended that you don't, except in dire circumstances. The less power you channel, the easier it is to make your skill rolls. If the above character had only tried to channel 30 Active Points, she would only have been at a -3 on her skill roll, and would have broken even (no limitations required) on a roll of 10-. Still a little less than 50/50, but magic is hard.

It's okay if you didn't follow. The blog format doesn't do much to help this along, and I'll be formatting this into a google spreadsheet and linking it to the blog. I just didn't want people to think I wasn't working.

Next Time: Who knows? Maybe something about dwarves, or politics. If anybody IS reading, feel free to comment and let me know what you want to see next.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Setting Tone

As the previous post suggests, magic is indeed returning to the world, and it is partially because the ancient wizards have returned. This tone of renaissance is intended to be the tone of the campaign setting itself. Humans are beginning to experience magic again, and with magic comes new ideas, much like the historical renaissance.

To examine why the ancient wizards are returning, we should first examine why they left in the first place. Many thousands of years ago, these ancient wizards discovered a place of power on a small continent to the west of the great continent. They discovered that in this place, the walls between worlds were thin, and it was easier to pass between here. The wizards called this place the Narrows. In fact, this place was so interesting, they built a city here, and with their masteries of magic they protected it, and it was named Kayru, which meant "A place of power".

After a century of study, a great wizard named Brix Lagander discovered a way to make a door. The world she and others found was dark. They entered a dark city that mirrored their own. Lit by a pale moon in the day, and nothing at night, the world gave off a foreboding air, and with good reason. None of the first group of wizards ever returned. Weeks later, a larger party entered the city, and searched for the ruling authority. It was then that they discovered the aumani, or mind-walkers. Shortly thereafter, war broke out between the two ancient societies.

This introduces the second major theme of the setting: the conflict between magic and mental powers. Magic and mental powers do not directly interact; that is to say that magical defenses against magic do not work on mental powers, and vice versa. Also involved in this conflict is the question: Are the ancient wizards and the aumani really so different?

War was very dangerous for the ancient wizards. Though they had learned the secrets of aging, and how to prevent it, the deep magics warped their bodies and made them sterile. They would live until they were killed but bear no children. At this time, there were perhaps twenty thousand of their kind remaining. The aumani were not so limited. Their mental powers allowed them to learn everything another being knew, simply by consuming its brain. Biology changed, but knowledge was rarely lost. Often, a young aumani would be fed the brain of his progenitor, and would assume his identity.

The ancient wizards and the aumani relied on soldiers from other races to do much of their fighting. The ancient wizards were supported in their war by the dwarves and the elves (the gnomes served as chroniclers); the aumani were supported by goblins and trolls.

A few ancient wizards made their names in this war. The brothers Martin and Duncan Pale were renowned for their exploits, Duncan on the front lines as a blade-wizard, and Martin behind the enemy lines as a spy and assassin. Another, Eladrine Darkweather, is known for holding the line at the battle of the forks. Her mastery of defensive magic allowed her soldiers to rest for a full hour in the middle of battle.

Throughout the raging battle, more and more research was being done on the nature of the narrows and the nature of worlds, and the greatest wizard of the age was born when he discovered how a world might be created. Though this art was still in its infancy, he created a very small world, one just large enough to create a citadel within it. Many dwarves laboured for a century on the citadel as the war began to draw to a close. At great cost to themselves, the ancients forced the aumani back into their own world, and sealed the gates. To prevent such a war from erupting in the world again, the remaining thousand and one ancient wizards retreated to the citadel, called the dusk citadel because it was to serve as the bastion between the dark and the light.

The dwarves, elves and gnomes remember this conflict in their histories, but the humans have lost their knowledge of these ancient times. Without the ancient wizards to unite them, the dwarves, elves and gnomes drifted apart, and all drifted away from the humans.

There is one other theme I want to explore in this setting, but it will warrant its own post, at some point.

The Tone of Magic

I'm posting this early because it's extremely important: Mostly because it's really, really different from vanilla D&D, which is the fantasy most people associate with RPG. The post is in-character.

Magic in this world is rare. Extremely rare. There have been perhaps a hundred great wizards in the history of the world. Most magic-users are hedge magicians, those who know enough magic to help the crops grow, and to improve the healing qualities of herbs. Ancient stories tell of a race of wizards, but we have never had a reason to believe they ever existed.

As for the dwarves, the elves, and the gnomes; who knows? They keep to themselves, mostly. Stories of these old races exist, even contemporary sightings and meetings. A young man, four years ago, told me that once he had been trapped in the mountains when a storm hit, and he fell off the edge of the path and was knocked unconscious. He was nursed back to health by a sturdy, stone-grey man: A dwarf, as I have come to know them in my researches. An old woman, after the death of her husband, was unable to farm her fields, but she awoke one morning to find her seeds sown and all her wine missing. She followed a trail into the forest, and found the remains of a wild revel around a campfire. Though I do not know for sure, this sounds to me like the elves.

These sightings and other magical events have been increasing in frequency every year. Perhaps magic is returning to the world. Perhaps the ancient wizards have returned. Perhaps the elves and dwarves are becoming less frightened of our mundane world. I cannot explain it, but I will continue to study it for as long as I live.

--Erich Maartens

Monday, December 10, 2007

Further Indecision

I'm mad! I can't keep my ideas straight.

Sadly, because of the relative lack of freedom while designing in D&D, I've decided to take my setting to the Hero System. This will allow me to create elfs that really are like the fey they should be, and dwarfs that are, well, really really different.

It's a work in progress, but if anybody out there happens to be reading, feel free to comment on any of my posts. It's so lonely out here.

Expect me to pay a little more attention to my setting now that Christmas is approaching and I have a touch of free time.