Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fifteen Games

There's a thingy going around where bloggers list the fifteen games that have meant the most to them, all in fifteen minutes. In my case, "meant the most" means "played a lot, or had a big impact". Since the goal is do this quickly, there are probably tons of games that belong on a "top 15" list that I've overlooked.

Anyway, here are mine, in no particular order:

1. Rifts
2. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
3. Marvel Super Heroes
4. Earthdawn
5. Cyberpunk 2020
6. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
7. Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game
8. Dragon Warriors
9. The Palladium Role-Playing Game
10. Talisman
11. Final Fantasy Tactics
12. Final Fight
13. Wrestlemania 2000
14. Ultima: Exodus
15. Cadash

I play few of these games today. Practically all of them speak to my gaming heyday in the late 80s to mid-90s. A few are scorned, or regarded as guilty pleasures at best. I think that sums my tastes up pretty well.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gaining Mastery

Is everybody sick of reading about spell mastery yet?

Too bad.

Here's the first draft of my spell mastery house rules. They're a bit clunky, and I'm open to suggestions on how they might be improved. Here goes:

Magic-users can achieve spell mastery. Any spell memorized by a magic-user can be replaced at will by a mastered spell of the same level or lower.

Magic-users who wish to master a spell must first find a mentor. Mentors are hidden mysterious beings - ancient, inhuman, possessed of alien intellects and appetites - that seek to advance their own goals, which most mortals find inscrutable. (None are of lawful or chaotic alignment.) Those that dwell in the material world are invariably found in inhospitable, near-inaccessible locales. Others must be entreatied in the otherworldly realms where they reside, be they nightmarish hells of impossible angles or gauzy opiate dreamlands. Though no two mentors are the same, they are universally temperamental and notoriously difficult to approach, each one first requiring a particular set of cryptic gestures, obscure passwords, outre offerings, etc. before any requests are entertained.

Furthermore, no mentor knows all of the spells in existence. (For example, Three-Headed Oul-Balam grants mastery in spells dealing with visual illusion and invisibility, while Glatth, Eater of Doves gives instruction in spells of travel, movement, and teleportation.) To research the means of finding a mentor capable of teaching mastery in a specific spell requires a significant investment of time and money.

The first time a magic-user attempts to find such a mentor, he must first invest 1500gp per spell level and one week per spell level desired, then roll under or equal to his Intelligence score on 4d6. Subsequent visits to a mentor who the magic-user has previously contacted cost 750gp per spell level, and the Intelligence check is made on 3d6. If the Intelligence check fails, the money and time are lost, and the magic-user must start again. If the Intelligence check is made, the magic-user has successfully contacted the mentor, and the chart below is consulted.

(The money and time represent mystical research of the proper etiquette, the purchase of the required offerings, and either an expedition to whatever inhospitable place the mentor inhabits, or the rituals - magical, drug-induced or otherwise - necessary to visit an otherworldly one. At the Labyrinth Lord's option, the costs in time and money may be waived if the magic-user and his PC companions agree to undertake an adventure in search of a hidden mentor.)

Spell Mastery Attempt Table (2d8) For a particular mentor, each roll below 12 provides a cumulative +1 modifier to future rolls on the table, until the result is 12 or higher. Once a result of 12 or higher is rolled, the modifier is reset.

2-3 What is the meaning of this? PC has offended the mentor somehow. Roll on the Spell Mastery Mishap Table below.

4-5 This should suffice. Mentor teaches PC a new spell of the Labyrinth Lord's choice. New spell is of the level in which mastery was desired, but is not mastered.

6-8 Is this what you seek? Mentor grants mastery in one spell currently known to the PC, but not the one the PC wanted (Labyrinth Lord's choice). If none of the PC's spells are those in which the mentor can teach mastery, see "This should suffice", above.

9-11 What have you done for me lately? Will grant mastery in exchange for a favor from the PC. Roll 1d6: (1-2) valuables (3-4) magic (5-6) mission. (The Labyrinth Lord should make the cost proportionate to the spell's power.) If the PC is unwilling or unable to pay the price, see "Get thee gone" on the Spell Mastery Mishap Table for consequences.

12-14 Very well; I shall show you the way. Mentor grants mastery in one spell of the PC's choosing.

15-16 You have long been a favorite of mine. Mentor grants mastery in two spells of the PC's choosing, and marks the PC physically in some fashion. (The Labyrinth Lord should devise a physical change that relates thematically to the mentor.)

Spell Mastery Mishap Table (2d6)

2 This I command. Mentor places a quest or geas spell on PC (no saving throw). Even if the mission is carried out successfully, mentor will not grant mastery.

3-5 The stars are wrong. Mentor refuses to grant PC audience. PC can try again in 1d8 weeks.

6-8 Get thee gone. Mentor ejects PC from premises and will provide no aid for 2d4 months.

9-11 Darken my door no more. Mentor casts PC out, will never be found by PC again.

12 I must despise you now. Mentor casts bestow curse on PC (no saving throw) and drives the character out, never to be found by PC again.

(These tables are based in part on Jeff Rients' "Suffer Fools Gladly" table in Fight On! #3.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Paths To Mastery

(For those who don't feel like reading this entire post: Yes, I'm still brainstorming my house rules on magic and spell mastery. No, I haven't got anything concrete yet.)

In my previous post, I introduced a concept I call "spell mastery", which allows magic-users to spontaneously cast certain spells. The rule, lifted from 3rd edition D&D and modified, seems workable enough, though it hasn't yet been playtested. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what process characters will have to undertake in order to gain spell masteries, but I do have some ideas.

I thought about awarding a set number of masteries based on the character's experience level, but that feels a bit dull, not to mention that it would mean that literally all magic-users would have mastered at least a few spells. I want spell mastery to feel more impressive than that. (Still, I'll probably give starting characters a mastered spell or two, most likely based on their Intelligence score.)

I also dislike the idea of creating schools or domains of related spells from which a character would have to choose. I thought long and hard about it, and in the end I feel that imposing a classification system on D&D's already reliable and mechanistic way of handling magic is just making the whole thing feel even more like a science (or worse, a technology). I've got no problem with players choosing to master spells that are related thematically, but I'm not going to force them to - if somebody wants their character to master ventriloquism, anti-plant shell, and teleport, I'm not going to object.

So, I'm thinking about making characters seek out a mentor in order to master spells. These mentors wouldn't just be old wizards that charge for magic lessons, though. I'm picturing something more like Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser's mentors, Sheelba of the Eyeless Face and Ningauble of the Seven Eyes: mysterious and inhuman figures whose goals are often inscrutable. Or they could be like the "Spirits, Partly Evil and Partly Good" described in the old demonology tract, The Goetia, who impart specific knowlege and abilities to those who call upon them, but are inherently unruly and untrustworthy (and will often seek to harm an unprepared or arrogant student).

Seeking a mentor would not be a quick or easy task. I could handle such a thing as a full-blown adventure - "Quest for the Cave of the Hidden Master" or what have you - but then I risk making the magic-user and his acquisition of spell masteries the subject of the entire campaign, relegating the poor fighters, thieves, and the rest to the role of bodyguards and henchmen. (There's already an RPG for that: Ars Magica.) My current thinking is that the best way to handle it might be something like the carousing table, to be used in the downtime between adventures, in order to keep one character's spell-questing from distracting from the meat of the campaign. Some kind of formula that lets characters convert earned gold and invested time into a chance at spell mastery, with a nice random mishap chart, I think...