Thursday, January 26, 2017

Exploring Cantrips: Acid Splash

Description: You fire a small orb of acid at the target. You must succeed on a ranged touch attack to hit your target. The orb deals 1d3 points of acid damage. This acid disappears after 1 round.


The heart of this is the ability to conjure acid. Whether you use it offensively or not, everyone who can cast this now has the ability to apply acid where they will. Today acid is used to create fertilizer, dyes, paints, and explosives. Perhaps the ready availability of acid would accelerate these discoveries? 

Acid could also be used to get rid of unwanted materials: corpses, both of murder victims and natural causes, as well as perhaps misguided attempts to deal with waste disposal, resulting in awful side products that would be worse than the original problem.

It could also be used for 'pickling', where the surface of metals is cleansed of imperfections. A service offered by weapon smiths? Used perhaps to scrub/clean any kind of surface that defies easy washing? 

And of course there's the obvious offensive use, employed by thugs and muggers. I doubt the state would use acid against prisoners or rebels, so it would probably be an underworld kind of thing. 

I'm not coming up with much here. Nothing really world shattering, at any rate. Not until chemistry grew more advanced, allowing for the creation of more complex substances. 


Actually, after further thought, I take this back. The very fact that any intelligent woman could possibly cast a ball of acid into your face if attacked/molested would suddenly change the dynamics on the street. It's like our modern license to carry arms. You never know who might be able to melt off your face. And while the number of women who could do this would be small, and no doubt relegated to the educated and wealthy, it would still give men greater pause in a time and place where abuse was far more common than it is today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Exploring Cantrips: Resistance

Description: You imbue the subject with magical energy that protects it from harm, granting it a +1 resistance bonus on saves.


This would affect will, fortitude, and dexterity saving throws. Which in turn covers all forms of challenges and trials, with everything ranging from resisting diseases and poison to mind control to accidents and magic in general. 

This is potent and while not game changing - it's a +1 after all - it can more than double most average people's chances of falling afoul of something. The kicker, however, lies in its duration: 1 minute. 

What sort of ills can someone expect to befall them within the next minute? People going into dangerous buildings, such as ruins or those that are on fire. People entering sick wards or dealing with very ill patients. People entering courts where their wills might be twisted. 

Then again, there is no limit to how often this can be cast, so if the caster were willing to attend the others, they could renew the charge every minute. So doctors going on their rounds, firemen entering buildings - well, not so much, as there would be too much active danger to the accompanying mage. It could perhaps give sick people a temporary boost, such that going from one bed to the next would be of help. Dangerous sites could have someone placed there for good will... 

The one clear example I'm coming up with is hospitals and the sick. That's a stable environment with a constant problem that could benefit from this spell being cast on a normal basis. The other two saves - will and reflex - are too situational and brief to be of regular public use. 

The other use of course is for adventurers, guards, and criminals, who knowingly enter dangerous situations. Casting this on themselves before breaking into a home or invading a criminal den would be wise. So groups of people who engage in dangerous activities routinely would probably have someone who could temporarily boost their resistances. 

I could also see students paying to have this cast before exams simply for good luck. Judges, to avoid influence? Duelists? 

So, in summary: this cantrip would be of constant use and thus perhaps a presence in hospitals or by doctor's sides, embedded in criminal/law enforcement/adventurer groups, perhaps occasionally used by students going into exams, duelists about to fight, or judges or others going into court who wish to avoid mental manipulation. Finally, fire fighters and construction workers in perilous locations would probably pay to have this cast on them as they go into a dangerous site.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Intelligence Makes the Wizard

Before we can begin looking at how magic would change society, we have to determine how much magic would be available to begin with. The prevalence of magic determines the extent of its impact. Yet how can we begin tackling this question?

As written by Pathfinder, the only limitation on how powerful a wizard can become is:

To learn, prepare, or cast a spell, the wizard must have an Intelligence score equal to at least 10 + the spell level. 
Spell levels range from 1 to 9, so to be able to cast you would need the opportunity to study magic, and an INT of at least 11.

What's the bell curve on intelligence in society? Oh, here's a handy graphic:

Let's apply those percentages to 13th century France. Demographics show that the population was about 13 million by the end of the century. Let's do some very rough sorting. Mortality rates were very high in the medieval world. I think we can say that half the population was below the age of 18. That leaves 6.5 million adults. Since only men could receive an education, we can further narrow that number down to 3.25 million adult men. Let's further say that 2/3rds of these men are serfs or simply the working poor, and we're down to about 1 million potential mages who make up the nobility, the clergy, and the wealthier merchants and traders of the upper middle class.

According to the bell chart, half of those men would be of below average intelligence, so we're working with 500,000. 68% would have an INT of 10 - 11.

Our potential wizards would have to be drawn therefor from a pool of 160,000 men. 70,000 of them would have INT 12 - 13. 10,000 men would have INT 14 - 15. 650 men would have INT 16+.

Our final results:

INT 12 - 13: 70,000 men
INT 14 - 15: 10,000 men
INT 16 - 18: 650 men

These numbers would probably be a little larger as there would be 8,450 INT 16+ individuals in the society as a whole, and that level of intelligence would be noticed and groomed for magic, regardless of gender or class. But overall, we can work with those inexact numbers to get a sense of the ratio of potential wizards to regular people in 13th century France. Would each of these men become a wizard? Hardly. But with magic being so lucrative and powerful, the drive would be there for all men of intelligence to at least learn the rudiments, and the more intelligent the man, the more likely he would be to devote his life to earning power.

What this means is that casters capable of magic up to 3rd level spells would be relatively common, appearing in all cities like most traders do. Casters capable of magics of up to the 5th level would be much rarer, but still readily available to those willing to pay for their services. Wizards capable of casting spells up to the 9th level would be very rare, probably known by name, and reside in positions of power across the land. Their services would only be available to the truly wealthy or those in power.

Of final note: zero level cantrips would be common, as any of the 500,000 INT 10+ men could learn them with a little effort and dedication, becoming in effect a 1st level wizard with no potential to cast 1st level spells. 

New Project

Brandon Sanderson's Third Law of Magic is: expand what you already have before you add something new. He explains:

Often, the best storytelling happens when a thoughtful writer changes one or two things about what we know, then extrapolates purposefully through all of the ramifications of that change. A brilliant magic system for a book is less often one with a thousand different powers and abilities—and is more often a magic system with relatively few powers that the author has considered in depth.
In epic fantasy books, it’s not the number of powers that creates immersive and memorable worldbuilding—it’s not even the powers themselves. It’s how well they are ingrained into the society, culture, ecology, economics, and everyday lives of the people in the stories.

My new project involves a slow examination of how the magic spells available to wizards would change the world they live in. Too often D&D settings are merely a simplified medieval setting, with magic limited to a handful of wizards in their towers and mystical weapons and wondrous objects. Careful thought can extrapolate how even simple spells would change the way this world works, much less more powerful spells such as teleport and magic jar.

I'm going to start with a society based on 13th century France, and then slowly introduce one spell at a time, starting with cantrips and working my way up. As I go, I'll continuously modify my theoretical society, extrapolation and changing it to reflect the cumulative consequence of the spells available to wizards.

Why 13th level France? At that time, France was the largest and most powerful country in Europe. Unlike the disastrous 14th century, the 13th century was a time of growth, invention, and cultural flowering. With a firmly established king, an entrenched system of powerful nobles, a wealthy and extensive clergy along with its downtrodden base of peasants and serfs, France from that time serves as an ideal model to what most DM's inadvertently think of when they imagine a medieval setting.

I'm going to start with some basic questions, and then move to the spells. How prevalent would magic be? Whom would learn magic? What would their limitations be, and what role would these mages play in society?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ravenloft was Rock 'n Roll

What is it about the Ravenloft campaign setting that draws my attention, decades after I was introduced to it? What strange magic fascinates me with the moors and dark forests of Barovia, the glittering waterfalls and unforgiving peaks that circle around the rustic towns where villagers fear the coming of the night? Whether it's forgotten tombs or haunted country lanes, or even the the dread castle of Baron Strahd von Zarovich itself, the setting is replete with locales and ambience that just cannot be beat.

Perhaps it is because there is a strange simplicity to be had there. The old gothic setting is very clear about good and evil: the forces of darkness are vast and powerful and it is not a question of how the good guy will win but whether he shall simply be able to survive the night. There is evil, there is vast amounts of fear and indifference, and then there are a few scattered pockets of good fighting an impossible battle against a foe that cannot be defeated. True heroism, in other words, and true monsters.

Ravenloft harkens back to the old Hammer horror films, where Bela Lugosi intoned how he did not drink wine, where heroines ran in terror through the woods dressed only in white camisoles, where brave doctors and men of science would venture out into the night to face the unspeakable.

This world of good and evil soon gave way to camp mockery, as vampires began to be taken less seriously, which in turn gave way to the vampire of the early '90s where Anne Rice and White Wolf redeemed the vampire by making him post modern--no longer were they monsters, but now they were sexual predators, they were human yet more, scorning crucifixes and garlic and wearing leather jackets and sporting pony tails. Count Dracula was a product of human foolishness, our attempt to understand the real monsters that were modern and feral and seductive in our midst. All the old laws were transgressed, and in that act of transgression, in the ridicule for such ancient beliefs as their not being able to cross running water, we found a new paradigm that compelled our faith in these monsters of the night.

And yet. Despite our modern take, something about Ravenloft calls me back. That old fear, that old traditional take on good and evil. That's why the moors of Barovia will always sing a siren song for me, because 21st century man that I am, something about Ravenloft is truly rock n' roll.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jack Vance is my DM

If you've not read Jack Vance you need to get a copy of his Dying Earth novels ASAP and get reading. The man single handedly inspired Gary Gygax's take on magic in D&D, but further he is so ineffably brilliant, erudite, witty, droll and fantastic that no fan of fantasy can claim to be well read without having put his works under his belt.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have Jack Vance as your DM? The worlds which your PC's would visit, the NPC's that would beguile and befuddle them, infuriate and delight them? There is no greater master of throw-away brilliance. There is nobody who can match him for scintillating dialog. Ah!

Each clerk and ruffian would become a thing of fascination. The couture of the average citizen would become an indication as to social mores and biases, and each new town that the PC's came across would be defined by bizarre yet compelling takes on values and cultural norms. Monsters would be diffident and exceptionally dangerous, and the landscapes would feature endless ridges, dense and dark forests, glorious sunsets and stunning coastlines.

Ah, for Jack Vance at the helm of a game! Not a single NPC would simply say something, but each and every one would aver, simper, growl, proclaim and demure. Women would be recalcitrant, beautiful, sullen, passionate and disillusioned with the world, villains would suffer from the most vainglorious of megalomanias and perturbations of the psyche, and the PC's would find meaning only in the struggle, and never in the reward.

Go read Jack Vance, my friends, and let his voice inspire your campaigns.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Roll a D6

This cracked me up. I'm probably one of the few who prefers this version to the original--and dang, they got some good special effects in there. Looks like a good gaming group too--makes me miss my regular table top game :P

Roll a D6 from Connor Anderson on Vimeo.