Tag Archives: magic

Mana-Manna

Mana-Manna

Doo-doo-do-do-do…

So, pursuant to a comment on my most recent Arduin article, I decided to check the etymology of ‘mana’. For decades, I thought it had the same roots as ‘manna’, as in, the story of Exodus.

Well, that’ll learn me.

‘Mana’ is a Polynesian word meaning ‘power’ , ‘effectiveness’, and ‘prestige’, with strong overtones of a supernatural source. It has nothing in common, etymologically, with ‘manna’, the food eaten by the Israelites during their 40 year sojourn in the desert, demonstrating that GPS>Pillar of Fire.

Also, this.

Which, by the way, has its origin in an Italian porno movie.

Now you know! And knowing is half the battle! The other half is violence.

 

Arduin Grimoire, Part VIII

Arduin Grimoire, Part VIII

Markets And Magic

(And Witch Hunters, Which Don’t Start With ‘M’)

“Y’know, being a Paladin is cool and all, but I wish there was a class that let me be even more of a douchenozzle to the other players, and justify it by saying ‘I’m just playing my character!'” (Some Gamer, At Some Point In the 1970s)

Well, to be fair, that exact quote was probably never said, because ‘douchenozzle’ is much more modern slang. But if Downton Abbey can use ‘step on it’, I deserve the same leeway.

Charisma 9, Int 12, Can't Detect Traps... Nah, No Point To Be Made Here

Charisma 9, Int 12, Can’t Detect Traps… Nah, No Point To Be Made Here

  • We start off learning that barbarians and witch hunters detest each other and fight on sight. Also, elves and hobbits are never witch hunters, that pesky “Limitations Chart” earlier on notwithstanding. We also learn I like to fool around with the ‘torn page’ settings in SnagIt.
  • The ‘torn page’ cut off the note that they are ‘99% Christian’. One of the many glories of “unofficial” material from the Cambrian Age Of Gaming is that the authors had no real concern about “public image” or being “offensive”. (Something sorely missing in the modern era, where anything deemed to be not going after Acceptable Targets generates howls of digital outrage from the Puritans1.)
  • We see the truly ‘old school’ three-point alignment system in play here, with Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic, no hint of ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in sight.
  • They have a very unusual magic system… in later games, this would have been modeled simply by giving them class abilities gained at various levels, but here, they’re semi-shoehorned into the spellcasting rules. Interestingly, the mana point system enables this nicely. You can give a class a small subset of spells, and the mana to cast them, and that’s that.
  • Capped at 12 intelligence, 15 wisdom (for a clerical-type class?), and nine charisma. Yeah. No axe to grind here, bucko! They get a ‘+5 with Lawful types’… I don’t know if that means ‘Add 5 to their capped number (9), so they max at 14′, or ‘Remember their original rolled number, and add 5 to that’. Almost certainly the former.
  • I am not sure why they are totally unable to detect traps… it seems to be an odd ability that doesn’t really fit with the theme. Besides, only thieves could detect traps, anyway. No one else had rules for doing so, unless you used a variant system where anyone could detect traps via boring the DM to death. (“I tap the walls with my ten foot pole. Also, the floors. Then I carefully burn away the cobwebs near the ceiling with my torch. Then I look at the walls and floors closely to see if there are any tiny holes which could shoot darts or gas. Then…” “For Cthulhu’s sake, man, you’re renting a room at the stables!”)
  • Hating technology more complicated than a crossbow would be a non-limit in most games, but Dave handed out mu-meson blades with gay abandon. (That’ll be discussed if we ever make it to the Runes Of Doom…)
  • The Witch Hunter is the only class in the core book to need two pages!
Hey, These Guys Only Go To 40th Level!

Hey, These Guys Only Go To 40th Level!

  • You will note these guys only go to 40th level.
  • You will also note that, adding support to my thesis that the Grimoire was assembled piecemeal from documents written at various times, that the Witch Hunter uses the “Fighting Capability” rules from the very earliest edition of D&D, something dropped fairly quickly from common play… a holdover from the original Chainmail rules.

BTW, my wife is a distant descendant of Cotton Mather. Yeah, that Cotton Mather. (These days, given the raimant of the televangelists, he’d be Polyester Mather, or something.)


 

Multiversal Trading

We then get to a price list. I won’t be scanning it or going on in great detail, but there’s a few cool things to note.

  • This includes price ranges, not fixed prices. A nice touch.
  • There are ‘poison’ and ‘venom’ antidotes, by level. I have to assume that the simple ‘save or die’ poison rules that were part of D&D until 3.0 were widely replaced by others, because there’s a lot of more complex/less insta-kill poison rules out there.
  • Adamantine grappling hook? 200 gp.
  • Bronze crowbars break 30% of the time; Mithril, 5%.
  • A “dhowrigged galisse” costs 40,000 to 75,000 GP.
  • Doctor John’s Salve, which “heals heavy wounds”, costs 1,000 GP.

 

Magic

Now, in two pages of teeny-tiny type, we have “Magic In Arduin” and “Even More Magic In Arduin”. Seriously, that’s how the text is broken up — not “Basic Rules” and “Advanced Rules”, or “Standard” and “Optional”. But, hey, it works!

It begins: “In fantasy wargaming there has been continual argument about magic and how it is supposed to work.” (Cross out ‘magic’ and write in ‘everything’ and you’ll be just as correct.) It then notes that the rules presented here are “a based(sic) from which to work”, and that magic is “limited only by the reader’s imagination” (and how much Chinese food he bought the DM.)

It always takes an hour to memorize all the spells of a given level, so if you can memorize 6 spells of that level, you spend 10 minutes per spell. This also means that if you know a lot of spell levels… and in Arduin, they go up to 11… actually, up to 30(!), you could easily spend most of the day memorizing.

Scrolls can only be used every other turn, due to the time needed to take them out, read them, etc. It ought to be noted here that while standard D&D rounds at the time were a minute long(!), Arduin used the six second round, which became standard with D&D 3.0. once more, well ahead of their time.

Also, if the mage is disturbed, his concentration will be broken, which could cause a backfire. There’s a lot of underlines in this text.

Also, in ALL CAPS IN THE ORIGINAL, is THIS NOTE:

MAGIC SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED IN CLOSE COMBAT SITUATIONS WITHOUT HEAVY PERCENTAGES OF CHANCE THAT EVEN FRIENDS WILL BE HIT. (All underlines also in original.)

The exact “heavy percentages of chance”, of course, are left up to the DM to decide. I begin with 100%, -10% for each potsticker or egg roll tossed my way.

Then there’s this. I’m too lazy to type it in, so, here you go.

Underlined Words Are IMPORTANT!

Underlined Words Are IMPORTANT!

It might seem, to a modern reader, that keeping track of which spells a magic-user cast on which orc over the span of many games would be tedious. Let me assure you, however, that no orc ever survived a single encounter, so there was no need to worry that you might run into that same orc again. Within the bounds of one combat, however, the “save always/fail always” rule offers some interesting possibilities, forcing a magic user to not simply spam the same spell over and over — or perhaps encouraging this, if the target failed. It adds an interesting tactical touch… and, for the umpteenth time, I note this mechanic appears, in a modified form, in many spells and special abilities in modern D&D, esp. fear effects, where, once you make your save, you can’t be affected again by the same effect for a 24 hour period. It’s not a universal rule, but it’s a common modifier. Hargrave’s design instincts were very solid, even if the execution evinced an excess of enthusiasm over editing. (And my check from the American Alliteration Association is on its way! Ka-ching!)

The same rule applies to detecting magic — if you fail, you can’t try again for another level. (And in the modern age, Knowledge checks likewise need a level to try again… ).

Wands, amulets, rings, etc., require conscious and conspicuous action to activate. Rings, in particular, must be turned — pity if the fighter is wearing his ring of flight under his armored gauntlet, the text notes with the sinister and sadistic glee only someone who has endured too much behind the screen can muster. This activity will be noticed and enemies will take appropriate action.

You have to have your magical goodies where your hot little hands can get them at an instant’s notice.” And if you don’t? Well, that’s where the “PHUMBLE PHACTOR” (sic) kicks in! The “P&P” (no, I don’t know what the “&” is for, maybe to avoid the childish giggles that would invariably emerge if the DM said “Roll your PP!”) is a chance — 50%, -2% per level, +/-5% for each point of Dex over 12 or less than 9, of grabbing the wrong end of your wand (that’s not a euphemism), selecting the wrong scroll, etc. (Me, I’d mandate this roll only if the caster was in a particularly stressful situation, or was partially blind, or otherwise not operating at presumably normal efficiency. Other DMs might be much less forgiving, usually with good reason.)

Next up, we have yet another piece of “design prescience” — the invention of, in effect, Touch AC!

“Another area that is seldom explored in fantasy gaming is what constitutes a “hit” when the weapon you’ve lobbed only has to touch it to work?”

For example, if you’re using a stasis compacted green slime grenade… yes, I said “stasis compacted green slime grenade”, it’s right there in the example… yeah, that is totally awesome, isn’t it?… you get a +4 bonus to attack, while, if using a cattle prod (yes, cattle prod), you only get a +2, since you must still close and attack. Makes sense to me!

Throwing things, like a shrinking potion, you add +6, but you then roll to see what percentage of it hit your target… and what percentage hit your friends. Oops.

Finally… at the very end of the magic rules… we get to the “manna” rules, around which, it is noted, “some controversy has… revolved”. You multiply intelligence by level, then divide by 4 if Int is 8 or less, by 3 if it Int is 9-12, and by two if it’s 13 or greater. This is generated per 12 hours of rest, and it’s noted that if you run out of manna before you run out of spells memorized, those memorized spells are “just empty words”. You can also choose to underpower spells — spending 2.5 points to cast a 5 point spells casts at ‘half power’, which seems like a great opportunity for cunning players to find spells that don’t lend themselves to being ‘halved’… and cunning DMs to find a way to make the bastards pay for thinking they can outsmart him. (“Well, I only need to be invisible for a few rounds, I’ll just cast it at one-third power so it only lasts as long as I need.” “OK, you turn one-third invisible. Your torso is missing, but the rest of you can be plainly seen.”)

Dave ends the section with:

“There are many more subjects I could cover, but this supplement is meant to get all you gamers to see that the sky is the limit and that no single person, publisher, or organization can have all the answers.”

Damn straight!

1)“One who cannot sleep at night for fear someone, somewhere, is enjoying themselves.”

 

Ten-Fold Pouch

The Ever Shifting Pouch

In what may be a record since I gave up on daily updates several years ago, three entries in one month — and it’s only the ninth! Continuing the Blog Carnival theme of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, I present yet another magic item of utility to those whose activities are more “daggers and duplicity” than “dungeons and dragons”. Hmm. I really like that. “Daggers & Duplicity”. Might even try to use it as a project title someday. Or something. Wait, where was I?

I had an idea… it was something about a bag… look, it’s 6:10 AM and I’ve only had four hours sleep, give me a frakkin’ break here… bag… bag… right!

Bags of holding, handy haversacks, and the like are really great. But as anyone who has had to enter any government building or airport since 9/11 knows, we have a great deal of useless security theater. Also, they’re going to check your bags. Absolute monarchies overseen by paranoid tyrants with unlimited authority and no respect for human rights might not be quite as bad as the DHS, but they’re still pretty nasty, and if your “bag” is large enough to hold a few dozen mercenaries, they’re going to be just a tad suspicious.

Thus, the ten-fold pouch.

EDIT: Weight notes added.

Aura moderate conjuration; CL 9th

Slot —; Price 3000 gp (possibly more; see below); Weight see below

Unlike many similar items, such as a bag of holding, the ever-shifting pouch holds exactly as much as one would expect — typically, either a belt pouch or a small sack. Taking items out and putting them back in evinces no unusual properties or behavior.

Speaking the correct command phrase, however, reveals the true nature of the ever-shifting pouch. It is actually ten pouches, dimensionally folded together. Thus, the command word has two parts: The first activates the magic, the second determines which of the ten becomes “active”. Each one is normal in every way. If one is damaged, ripped, or torn, the others are unaffected, though at least 90% of the “active” pouch must remain in a single clump in order to access the others. If it’s torn in half or otherwise dismembered, the magic is shattered, and the other nine are dumped into the Astral Plane, which can lead to serendipitous discoveries by travelers in that strange realm.

If placed into another extradimensional space, the pouch cannot be shifted or cycled; whichever one was active at the time remains active.

Speaking the command phrase is a free action. The pouch can only shift once per round, however, and removing items from it follows normal rules for such things.

Each of the ten pouches can be of a unique design or style. Generally, the capacity of each is about 1/2 a cubic foot and up to 15lbs of material can be stored. Variations of up to 20% larger or smaller per pouch are not unknown. This adds a secondary utility to the item: Aiding in disguise. Dress as a wealthy merchant, speak the appropriate command phrase, and the pouch shifts to one made of finely tooled leather, decorated with well-made fake gems. (For real gems, add their cost to the cost of the ten-fold pouch.) Dress as a mercenary, and the pouch may be worn and stained with interesting bodily fluids. The descriptions of each of the ten should be specified by the GM or by the maker of the pouch; they are fixed at the time of creation, as ten actual pouches must be used to form the item. For those with no concern for such niceties, simply assume they’re all equally nondescript.

The weight of the pouch is equal to that of the heaviest of the set, regardless of which is active. This is perceived by the wearer and calculated into their encumbrance, but a third party inspecting the bag will notice only the weight of the visual contents.

Construction Requirements

Craft Wondrous Item, secret chest; Cost 1,250 gp (plus the cost of 10 pouches, usually 1 gp each, unless special materials or fine workmanship is involved.)

Dagger Of Silent Slaying

The RPG Blog Carnival for November has a theme of “Gunpowder, Treason, and Plots”. This is my second item inspired by the theme; the first is here.

You know how it is. You’re skulking through dark passageways to commit an assassination, and some annoying guard walks by. You try to kill him, but it takes four rounds, and meanwhile, he’s screaming his fool head off (before you cut it off, that is). This dagger removes that problem. Removing the guard is up to you.

Only those who have studied both the art of magic and the art of shivving someone in the giblets can craft one of these blades. Priests of assassin gods, actual assassins, and bards of a particularly larcenous nature are the usual makers.

Addendum: This should be considered a +1 dagger; the cost assumes the enchantment is about equal to another +1.

Dagger Of Silent Slaying

Aura faint abjuration CL 5th; Weight 1 lb.; Price 8,302 gp

Description

This +1 dagger typically has a slim, slightly curved blade, and a hilt of ebony and jade. (However, many variations exist, and this is sometimes found as a different weapon type, though it is always a one-handed, light, melee weapon.) It makes no noise when drawn from its sheathe, when dropped, or even when struck against an object. On one occasion, this odd feature caused a target to believe the dagger was a silent image, and to laugh at how he’d seen through the wielder’s bluff, right up until the dagger slit his throat.

Anyone carrying the dagger on their person (but not in any kind of extradimensional space) gains a +2 circumstance bonus to Steath checks vs. hearing. However, the real utility of the dagger comes when it is used to inflict precision damage (such as sneak attack) on a target. The target cannot speak above a gargling whisper for 1d4 rounds, +1 round per die of precision damage. Each additional attack that deals precision damage while the target is silenced increases this by 1 round. “The more you stab, the more they shut up”, as the saying goes.

Anyone afflicted by this effect who casts a spell with a verbal component must make a caster level check at a DC of 15+Spell Level to do so. Language-dependent spells, and any spells with the [Sonic] descriptor, are ineffective: While they can be cast, they will simply not function, and the spell is lost. (Before deciding to attempt such a spell, the caster should get an automatic Knowledge (Arcana) or Spellcraft check (DC 13) as a free action if they are trained in either skill. If they succeed, they know not to waste their time. If they’re not trained in either, too bad. No free check. Any caster who doesn’t pump their relevant skills deserves to die.)

Construction Requirements: Craft Magic Arms and Armor; silence; must be able to do at least 1d6 precision damage. Cost 4,302

Shield of Fearsome Mien

Shield Of Fearsome Mien

Ah, thank you, Mr. Gygax, for the massive expansion to my vocabulary.

It is not entirely known who first crafted the shield of fearsome mien. There are references to items of this nature dating back a few hundred years, at least, but all of them tend to reference it in such a way as to imply the intended audience would be at least familiar with them, indicating the origin was much earlier. In any event, many of them have been made, as they find favor with those warriors who enjoy discomfiting their foes, which is most of them.

Aura faint necromancy; CL 5th; Weight —; Price 8,000 gp

shield of fearsome mien is always a +2 shield, though it may be a buckler, a kite shield, or any other form. Generally, the surface is smooth and featureless, with a tracing of runes and symbols along the outer edge. It is always cool to the touch, regardless of the local weather, though this provides no particular bonus against fire or heat.

The power of a shield of fearsome mien is activated when the wielder either confirms a critical or strikes a lethal blow with a melee weapon. The image of this grisly scene is then captured by the shield and continuously plays across it, from a variety of angles and distances, over and over. This continues for the next 24 hours (the ‘clock’ resets each time a critical or killing blow is struck). When the shield is ‘active’, any enemy who enters a square that the shieldbearer threatens must make a DC 15 Will save or become shaken for 1d4 rounds. (This is a mind-effecting, emotion, fear, effect.) Anyone making the save is immune to the shield’s effects for one day, unless another critical or deadly blow is struck; then such immunity is lost.Likewise, once the shaken effect expires on an individual, they cannot be affected a second time that day.

Only the person who struck the blow which empowered the shield can benefit from the shield’s magic; if it is wielded in battle by another, the ‘charge’ is lost until that wielder also makes an appropriate attack.

Craft Magic Arms And Armor, cause fear; Cost 4,000 gp

Igilvar’s Fang

Igilvar’s Fang

Aura moderate necromancy CL 8th; Weight 1 lb.; Price 12,000 gp

Igilvar’s Fang (many imitations of the original have been made, but they are called “Igilvar’s Fang” in honor of the originator), is usually a thin, long-bladed, dagger, with a hilt of ebony banded with golden wire, and a wide guard. At the pommel is a white pearl. Igilvar was an infamous cleric of dark powers, who first made this blade for an unknown comrade who accompanied him on many quests in service to his bleak master.

It is a +2 dagger, which makes it useful in and of itself, but it has another power. When used to do precision damage, if it does at least 10 points, against any creature which has a poison attack (including poison breath or gaze weapons), it will magically replicate the poison and store this enchanted venom within itself. This changes the white pearl at the pommel to blood-red, indicating that the dagger is “charged”. It will hold this charge until the user drains the dagger (a free action). This is most often done just after a successful attack with the blade, but it can be done at any time to “empty” the weapon and prepare it to absorb a different kind of poison.

The poison stored in the dagger is exactly identical to the poison extracted, including Save DCs, effects, etc. The target is affected exactly as if it had been successfully poisoned by the original poison source.

The discharged poison vaporizes instantly on contact with air; to be effective, the blade must be plunged into something. Obviously, this is usually an enemy creature, but it could be a tankard of ale or a haunch of meat. At least half the blade’s length must be submerged for the poison to work. Poisoned food or drink will remain so for 1d4+1 rounds; after that, the poison will dissolve. As creature venoms rarely evolve to be used in assassinations, detecting such a poison in food is easy, a DC 10 Perception check. Making such a check means only a trivial amount of the poison was imbibed, granting a +4 on any saves.

Igilvar’s Fang can only charge itself when used in actual combat against a non-helpless enemy. The blade will not absorb poison from a container, a dead foe, or a willing target. How does it know? A wizard did it! (OK, a cleric, technically. Bite me, pedant.)

Some 10% of Igilvar’s Fangs will not match the description above, but they will always be daggers, and always contain some gem or decoration that changes color dramatically when the weapon is “charged”.

CONSTRUCTION REQUIREMENTS

Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Poison. Cost 6,000 gp

Designer’s Notes

The price is an approximation; I didn’t think the ability was quite worth kicking it up to the cost of a +3 weapon, but it’s better than a +2 weapon, so I split the difference.

There’s some great plot potential here. Igilvar’s Fang will hold a “charge” indefinitely. If there is some creature with unique venom around, usually paired, thematically, with a creature that can only be killed by said unique venom, then, the owner of the Fang might go on a hunt for the first creature. Alternatively, if the first creature is extinct, a rumor might exist of a rogue or assassin or the like who owned a Fang, or even the fang, and was entombed with it… and wouldn’t you know, in that rogue’s last battle, he fought the now-extinct creature and maybe, just maybe, got the venom from it before he croaked. Road trip! (With grave robbing. Actually, come to think of it, aren’t most D&D adventures basically road trips with grave robbing?)

A Spell For All Time: Acidic Mouth

A Spell For All Time: Acidic Mouth

Dungeons And Dragons Original  Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons  First Edition Dungeons And Dragons Third  Edition Dungeons & Dragons Fourth  Edition

Prior Articles In This Series

Inspired by some guy who was ranting on RPG.net about something. Look, I can’t be expected to remember trivial details like “who said it” and “what was the context”. Anyway…

This is the third in a series of articles showing how the same spell concept can iterate across generations. The first two were created by randomly rolling terms from a sourcebook. This one was, as noted above, inspired by RPG.net. I suppose I could do a whole bunch of those… “Induce Nerdrage”, “Unbias Moderator (Enchantment, Mind Affecting, Yeah Good Luck With That)”, “Greater Topic Drift”, “Celestial Banhammer”… uhm… wait, where was I again?

(Yes, it’s another iteration of Lizard going off an unrelated rant that has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and then pretending he’s talking out loud, not sitting at a keyboard using an editor, which means, he could just edit out stuff he knows is stupid and irrelevant, but he doesn’t, because he thinks it’s funny to pretend he is just writing this into a live feed and so can’t go back and correct things, which he self-evidently can, because he just fixed three typos. This is Overused Internet “Humor” Cliche #781.)

So. Acidic Magic Mouth.Don’t look for some kind of meta-reference in the name; the poster was talking about the limitations of the D&D magic system (basically, he wants Mage: The Ascension, and there’s nothing wrong with M:TA that 10,000 screaming White Wolf fanboys haven’t already written about at great length, but it’s not D&D), and he said something like “What if I want a magic mouth that spits acid?”, which struck me as pretty darn cool. So, here it is, dude whose name I’ve forgotten. In four versions.

Dungeons and Dragons, Original  Edition

Original D&D (“Brown/White Box” + Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry)

(As published in The Dragon’s Review Of Dungeon Strategy, Issue 21, “The Magical Mouths Of Mourdlane The Magical”)

Third Level

Mourdlane’s Acidic Mouth: This spell functions exactly as does magic mouth (Greyhawk, p. 22), and the magic-user must have that spell inscribed in their book to be able to learn this one. In addition to the normal functions of the mouth, this one can spit a gout of acid doing 4-24 points of damage to all creatures within 10′ of the mouth. It can do this either on a specific condition (“When a man in armor approaches”), or if a word is not spoken within 1 round of it delivering its message (often, this is a riddle or “What’s the password?”). It can be made permanent by using permanent spell, otherwise, it acts as a normal magic mouth.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,  First Edition

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition

(As published in “Unearthed Arcana II”)

Acidic Mouth (Alteration/Conjuration)
Level: 4

Components: V, S, M

Range: Special

Casting Time: 2 segments

Duration: Special

Saving Throw: 1/2

Area of Effect: One object

In most ways, this spell is identical to magic mouth (Player’s Handbook), in regards to the limitations placed on the number of words spoken, how far the mouth can detect beings, what sort of information it can glean about those beings, and so forth. Indeed, this spell is presented in most magic-user’s books as supplemental to the aforementioned dweomer, and so that spell is required to be scribed in the same book as this in order for the caster to properly memorize it.

Acidic Mouth differs in that a second condition, pursuant to all the same limitations as the first, may be placed upon it, and if this second condition is met, the mouth disgorges a spew of caustic acid, striking all in a 20′ cone in front of it and doing 4d6 points of damage (save vs. magic for 1/2 damage). The second condition may be dependent upon a response or reaction to what the mouth says, or it may be triggered without the mouth speaking. Any conditional response must occur within one round of the speech.

The material component for this spell is a bit of honeycomb and a fresh lemon.

Note To Dungeon Masters: Be strict about the time limits of response. A stopwatch or egg timer can be a useful adjunct to this spell. The acid will burst within one round, so those asked a riddle must respond quickly, without undue chatter and consultation among the group. This can be a useful lesson for those sorts of players who dawdle and dilly-dally over the smallest thing. Also note that their screams of anguish as the caustic fluids eat into their skin may attract wandering monsters.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition

There was no version of this spell in AD&D 2e, as Lorraine Williams felt it lent itself to vomit jokes, which might offend someone, somewhere, somehow.

Dungeons & Dragons Third  Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, Revised

(As published in “Arcanum Obscurum”, 2007)

Magic Mouth, Mourdlane’s Acidic

School:  Illusion (Glamer)/Conjuration

Level: Assassin 3, Bard 3, Wizard/Sorcerer 3

Casting Time: One standard action

Components: V, S, M (a comb of honey and a fresh lemon)

Range: Close (25 ft.+5 ft./2 levels)

Target: One creature or object

Duration: Permanent until discharged.

Saving Throw: Will negates (object), also Reflex half (see below)

Spell Resistance: Yes (object), No (acid, see below)

This spell is a variant that builds upon magic mouth (q.v.), and if this spell is prepared (or known to a spontaneous caster), they can choose to cast it as a simple magic mouth, as well. All of the normal rules for determining what may trigger the mouth, as described in the base spell, apply. However, there is a secondary trigger that can be added which, if tripped, will cause the mouth to shoot forth a burst of acid doing 6d6 damage, in a 30 foot cone, originating from the mouth’s square. This trigger may be “Fails to hear a specific word after delivering its message”, which is usually a riddle of some sort. However, it is often the case that the need to speak a word or take an action, such as making a particular sign with one’s hands, is not specified by the mouth; those who are “supposed” to be in the area will simply know what to do. The maximum delay between finishing the message and making a response is three rounds; at this point, the mouth will make the attack. Note that the trigger does not have to relate to the message at all; an acidic mouth can be set to speak its message if “any dwarf approaches within 20 feet” and to shoot acid if “any orc or goblin approaches within 10 feet”, for example.

A spellcraft check (DC 18) can determine if a given magic mouth is of the standard or acidic variety. A use magic device check (DC 25) can cause the mouth to perceive the trigger for spitting acid is either passed or failed, depending on the skill user’s choice.

This spell may be made permanent with a permanency spell.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth  Edition

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

As published in Arcane Heroes, 2014

Acidic Mouth

The mouth set into the stone chuckles as the wrong password is given, then spews forth a great wave of acid at the unfortunate adventurers!

Level: 3

Component Cost: 50 gp

Category: Warding

Market Price: 125 gp

Time: 5 minutes, see below.

Key Skill: Arcana

Duration: Until discharged

This ritual must be performed within one hour of performing a Magic Mouth ritual, and on the same object or surface. When completed, the caster can choose a second condition which will, if met, cause the mouth to make an attack (see below for the exact parameters). The second condition may be set to trigger after the mouth has spoken, up to a maximum of three rounds later — this is often done to cause the mouth to ask a riddle, and it will spit acid “if the riddle is not answered correctly”. However, any otherwise legal condition is permissible, including spitting acid without speaking the message, if the two conditions do not overlap.

Arcana Roll Attack
<=8 None. The ritual fails. All components are lost. Really, this should never happen. What kind of schmuck doesn’t have at least a +9 Arcana if they’re casting a ritual in the first place, huh? I mean, you get 5 for training, plus your Intelligence bonus, + 1/2 level, right?
9-12 Close Blast 2, +5 vs. Reflex, 2d6 Acid, Ongoing 2 acid (save ends)
13-20 Close Blast 3, +6 vs. Reflex, 3d6 Acid, Ongoing 3 acid (save ends)
21+ Close Blast 3, +7 vs. Reflex, 3d8 Acid, Ongoing 5 acid (save ends)

 

 

 

On a miss, the acid does half damage and no ongoing. The DM should note the attack roll and damage of any such mouth placed as a trap.

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Necromican, Level 8 And 9

Featuring Benign Boots

Necromican

Necromican

Wow. I just checked and realized the last post in this series was written almost a year ago. Fortunately, that wasn’t the last time this site was updated, though it seems that way at times. I’ll try to do better after GenCon. My imaginary audience needs real articles, damn it!

Should I keep y’all in suspense, or should I just jump, right now, to the single best part of this section, and perhaps of the entire book, the illustration for the Benign Boots? Well, unfortunately, I apparently already posted the illustration long before I got here. Also the two articles I mentioned being in progress over a year ago are still in progress. Wow. My laziness astonishes even me.

Ah well, here it is again.

Benign Boots by Erol Otus

Lorraine Williams Still Would Not Have Approved

For those just wandering in from some random link, this article is part of a series looking at the wonderful (that should be read, by the way, without sarcasm or irony, because it is wonderful, in every way, full of wonders) classic old-school, and highly unofficial, supplement, “The Necromican” (note spelling, compare to Lovecraft), produced by Fantasy Art Enterprises in 1979. This was one of two such books they produced, which is a deep pity, as they could have gone on to all manner of greatness. The other was the even more astounding and wondrous Booty And The Beasts.

(You can see the first part of the Necromican review here , the second part here, the third part here, the fourth part here, and the fifth part here.)

Variable Shape Fireball

One of the classic problems with “Let’s pretend” games that don’t come with volumes of rules that resemble calculus textbooks crossed with Sports Illustrated’s Chainmail Swimsuit Issue is the constant arguing and fighting. (“Bang bang! I got you!” “Nuh uh, you couldn’t see me!” “Could too!” “Could not!”). In modern games, these kinds of childish disagreements are resolved objectively using cover and concealment rules. (“Hah! I shot the orc!” “No way, you couldn’t see him!” “Could to!” “Oh yeah? Look. The rules say to draw an imaginary line for any three of four corners which bisects the center of the figure…” “Nuh uh, those rules have been errata’d. You draw a line from the center of one square to the center of the other and if it passes through fewer squares than the average of your Wisdom and BAB you can roll 1d4 and count off counter-clockwise (clockwise in Australia) until you…”)

Yeah. Anyway, back in Ye Olden Dayse, one of the biggest sources of Creative and Imaginative Immersive Roleplaying Not Rollplaying was “Arguing over whether or not the stupid magic-user blasted you with his fireball.” This spell in the Necromican settles that, by allowing the M-U to specify any imaginable shape for his fireball… well, fireblob, really, I guess… so long as it remained contiguous, with the specific and explicitly noted purpose of excluding the MU’s friends, which , I feel obliged to note, did not necessarily mean “all members of his party”. (This particular distinction would one day be reborn with D&D 4e and discussions over who counted as an “ally”. Actually, come to think of it, it still shows up in Pathfinder, as I often need to decide if a particularly dubious NPC counts as an “ally” for purposes of buff spells.)

Monster Analyzer

This spell creates a 10 foot long spiked club and shoves it straight up the monster’s… wait… no, I’ve seen too many movies with ‘clever’ titles. This spell analyzes the monster, revealing hit points, AC, immunities, and so on. Again, it’s interesting that we see an example of the repeated pattern of spells substituting for missing non-spell mechanics, in this case, some means to measure character knowledge of monsters.  (We had two ways to do it. One, the player memorized the Monster Manual, and/or learned by having various characters die, then, through a sort of Akashic memory, having his next character know what killed his previous character, and, two, the DM ruthlessly snarling at you if you showed knowledge your character didn’t have. I don’t remember ever being told to “roll an intelligence check” to determine if my character knew something.) Anyway, this spell might make a lot of sense, but not as an eighth level spell. Even in munchkin games, you did not have high level memorizations to waste on a spell like this. First or second level, sure. It was probably eighth level because “Try to hit the players with a monster they don’t know everything about” was a big part of the meta-game, which was a lot more competitive back then.

Unrequested Ethereal Ejection

This sounds like something you tell your doctor about in strict confidence, and hope he gives you the pills himself rather than making you bring a prescription to your pharmacist. Casting the spell requires the somatic component “Honest, honey, that’s never happened to me before.” Sigh. Well, actually, it sends the target to the ethereal plane, which means it should be called Unrequested Ethereal Insertion, which I’m pretty sure is a Class-D felony that carries a minimum 5 year penalty. The spell gleefully notes that “none of the victim’s accouterments accompany him, so the target appears on the ethereal plane quite naked.”

Benign Boots

You’ve seen the picture, now read about the spell! This spell creates magic boots around your feet. When you die, the boots transport themselves and the corpse onto the astral plane and then run at triple speed to a predesignated place of safety. I’m not sure how much good this would do if you’ve been disintegrated or had your legs sliced off, but that’s what DMs are for, to make these kinds of judgments without needing mounds of tedious special-case rules, and then listen to the players whine about them. I suspect the main use for this spell was to get your body away from your fellow adventurers before they looted your corpse.

Level 9

Gaze Of Cthulhu

This spell gives you the face of Cthulhu, so, everyone around you passes out with fear and wakes up gibbering. (Save for stun.) It’s not 100% clear if the “wakes up gibbering” is permanent, but it’s strongly implied. Notable mostly for the fact that this book was published two years before Call of Cthulhu really brought Lovecraft’s work front-and-center in the RPG world, and a year before TSR’s Deities and Demigods, which is what introduced most of us ignorant young savages to the Elder Gods. In other words, the Lovecraft references in this and B&TB shows they were ahead of the curve.

Hope

Sadly, there is not a corresponding spell called “Change”. Anyway, this spell is “like the wishes granted by genies”, except, instead of saying “I wish…” you say “I hope…”, and there’s a 50% chance of the spell working. Which might be kind of cool, except that, by the time this book came out, the “Wish” spell, which was also 9th level, had been part of D&D lore for years, appearing in Greyhawk in 1976.  There’s no modifiers to the spell that make it superior to Wish, except that Wish will incapacitate you for 2-8 days and this will only do so for 1 day. (So, really, you could play the odds and cast the same Hope every day until you got it. On average, you’ll have less downtime.)

Desolation

This spell kills all non-magical plant life in a one-mile area. The description notes “…this spell would not kill ents, but would destroy the forest they were living in.” Yeah. Yeah. How’d that work out for Saruman? Why not just call this spell “Summon pissed-off trees”?

Perilous Parasite

This is basically a “drain stats” spell, with the nice special effect of creating a parasite inside the victim’s skull and the text notes that said parasite is only detectible by cutting open the victim’s head and looking inside. I’ll take the stat drain, thank you.

Superb Submersible

Ixitxachitl

Ixx-ticks-ack-ittil?

This spell creates a small, magically powered, submarine with a depth ceiling (depth floor?) of 360′ and a duration of four hours, which leads me to wonder how many DMs gleefully sat there while the players dithered and dilly-dallied and counted out their copper pieces before announcing “Spell’s over, you’re 360 feet underwater, and look, here come some Ixit… Ixitch… Ixchitz…. Evil Manta Ray People!”

These guys. Right here.  Or, better yet, any of the horrid undersea things from Booty And The Beasts.

Demon Summoning A

This spell summons one of four demons, statted out in the book. The spell lasts 24 hours, and the demon will vanish at the end of said time, whether it completes the task or not. The demon is obliged to try to complete the task, though, not just hang around and wait for the clock to run out. Anyway, what make this spell interesting is that the type of demon you get is random, and the tasks each can perform are not identical. In other words, you might want a demon to do some particular deed, then get one which can’t do it. So, basically, this spell is for people who want to summon a demon and then decide what to accomplish with it. I guess it might make sense to have a list of tasks, at least one of which is suited to each demon you might summon. Oh, one of the demons, the imaginatively named Dark Demon, requires you to sacrifice the soul of a close friend when it is summoned. So, never summon without your buddy! (Also, have a large supply of ‘close friends’. The problem is, as I see it, that the demon requires genuine sacrifice — you really have to like the guy. So this means finding a lot of people you genuinely care about, and somehow managing to keep genuinely caring about them while knowing they’re all potential demon fodder.)

And Onwards

Now, you might think that with ninth level spells done, we’re done, but oh no! This was the late 1970s, an era when everything went up to Eleven…or in the case of the Necromican, up to Twelve. (Twelth level spells, that is!)

Magical Descriptions

Magical Descriptions

So, in my post on magic, or somewhere else, who can keep track of this anymore, I sure can’t, I posited that there should be good guidelines and idea pools to help DMs describe magical items in ways that made them flavorful and memorable from a fluff perspective, regardless of the mechanics. It thus then occurred to me that I could provide such a service myself.

First, let’s discuss the kinds of things a DM should think about, before delving into a catalog of mental kickstarters. The below material doesn’t contain specific mechanics, but describes mechanics conceptually, so a DM can translate them to their game system of choice with ease.

Basic Concepts

So, you’ve got a +1 sword. Now what? Please note, the below questions and guidelines can apply to all items, not just weapons and armor, though they’re less applicable to disposable one-shot items like scrolls and potions, though not wholly so.

Who Made It?: I don’t mean the name of the smith or wizard (or do I? Yes, I certainly might), but the culture. In an age before mass production, all items show some signs of cultural origin, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If it’s made by a particular nation, it may contain the symbol of that nation, or the choices of decoration may reflect the animals, gods, plants, and so on of that nation. Remember that non-humans aren’t monocultures; while you can get away with saying “It’s forged in the elvish style”, it’s much cooler to day, “It’s forged in the style of the Grey Elves of the Western Woods, as you can tell by the use of the silver ash leaf as a decorative motif.” Except for items from lost, forgotten, etc, cultures, it should generally be an easy check on an appropriate History or Knowledge skill, or a freebie to someone with the appropriate background.

When Was It Made?: This ties slightly into the above — cultures have eras and periods, and there are usually signs of when an item was made, based on the style of art, the craftsmanship, materials used, and so on. Symbols rise and fall in prominence over time, and craftsmen learn new techniques, or forget old ones. The purity of an alloy, or the width of a hilt, can all give clues to the age of an item. Generally speaking, it is a trope that older items are more powerful. While sometimes illogical (would you rather have an ENIAC or an iPad?), it can make sense in the weird context of D&D-style games. For a sword to survive in a usable form for thousands of years in a dank dungeon, it’s probably got some potent enchantments on it. Furthermore, a newly-made +5 holy dancing vorpal flaming dragonbane sword is probably still in the hands of the person it was made for, not lost twenty levels underground. For a very powerful item to be lying around waiting for someone to claim it, it needs to have been lost so long ago most people have given up looking for it. Less powerful items, more easily replaced, are more easily abandoned when they’re still new.

What’s It Made Of?: Leaving aside explicitly magical materials, the composition of an item can be interesting. Is it made of crude, impure, metal, or highly tempered and refined steel? What kind of wood is the bow made of? Is the leather on the grip made of dragonhide or human skin or good ol’ cow? Is it made of multiple substances, perhaps woven together in an unusual way? Again, culture is likely a key here, but this is also a good chance to show how an item is unusual:”The markings and runes are all very clearly of the Dwarves of Brasshammer’s Forge, but they’re known for their work with steel and adamantine. This shield is made of crude bog-iron, or so it seems.” Alchemy, Appraisal, or any kind of military or weapons knowledge skills are used here, and identifying common materials is likely to be an easy check, but rare materials — or realizing a common material should be uncommon for an item of this type — can be moderate or hard. Scrolls can be on papyrus, on refined paper (for higher tech cultures), on rough cloth, on segmented folding metal or slats of wood, or on vellum made from all sorts of creatures.  Potion bottles might be glass, or metal, or clay, or varnished wood, or stoppered drinking horns. Ivory and bone can come from dragons, demons, liches, or sheep.

What Does It Look Like?: Well, duh, it’s a sword! (Shield, chain shirt, wand, ring). This question sort of relates back to the others, but go further. Is the ring made of twisted and interlocked braids? Does the sword have writing on the blade, and on both sides, or one side?  What does the writing say? What language is it in? Is the blade straight or scalloped? What condition is the armor in — shining and clean, or battered? Are the decorative bits, or does the item reek of pure functionality? Has it been dyed or colored in any way? Are there small details — if the grip of a wand contains a carved ivory skull, does the skull have tiny sapphires for eyes… or perhaps the skull has horns, or fangs.

How Does It Feel?: This is a good time to consider the kind of magic the item has, and how it might manifest. Is the armor unusually light or flexible? Does it seem to instantly fit the wearer? Does it itch, or radiate warmth, or is it always cold? Is the sword so well balanced it almost seems to move on its own? Does it vibrate a little when it’s held? Does the wand twitch a bit when you first grip it, seeking a target? Do you find you always nick yourself on the blade when you draw the weapon, now matter how careful you are, and does the blood sink into the very metal of the sword?

Is It A Thing Of Legend?:Most items were made for a reason. You don’t make magic swords — not even boring +1 swords — to keep them in stock in case someone comes in wanting to buy one. Perhaps a powerful ruler commissioned a dozen such blades for his elite guard, all identical, but finding one of the King’s Own Twelve is still a noteworthy achievement. This doesn’t mean every blade is fabled in song and story. Most of the time, the backstory is relatively trivial — a wand carved by a wizard for a favored apprentice, a ring made by a runesmith to be a gift to a loyal adviser, and so on. Knowing this history is often simply a fun thing, but it can be useful, especially if anyone involved, or their descendents, are still around and even marginally interested. It can open some doors… or attract some enemies.

Oddments And Oddities: Magic is a chaotic force, even under the most carefully controlled conditions. Some believe the chaos is innate; others, that the chaos represents a lack of knowledge about all the factors which might be involved. In any event, most items have some slight quirks to them. An axe forged by dwarfs might cause its wielder to curse in dwarfish, no matter what language he is trying to swear in. The wielder of a wand of fireballs might find he can’t abide any meat that is not seared to nearly the point of charcoal. Armor may clang resoundingly when it is struck, or it might bleed black oil whenever the wearer is critically hit. The design on a ring might shift to show the phases of the moon, or the gem on a magic staff becomes the birthstone of whatever wizard is holding it. A cloak woven with a pattern of roses might give off the small of roses… or it might occasionally produce, from nowhere, a few petals, which simply drop off.

The Inevitable Caveats

It’s best to have only one to three interesting aspects for any item; don’t go whole-hog, especially if the item isn’t the centerpiece of a campaign or intended to be the signature item of a character.

Descriptive and fluff text should have effectively no mechanical impact, except under extraordinary circumstances. Don’t make players suffer if their items are cool (for example, penalizing them on stealth if their items emit quiet sounds or odd smells), and, likewise, don’t let them try to turn a bit of colorful description into a way to snag an unearned bonus or modifier.

The Magic Of Magic

The Magic Of Magic

Once again, this a is reply to, and expansion of, some of the WOTC articles on 5e. Here’s the original article, and here’s my (two) original replies, and after this, we’ll get even more ways to say the same thing using slightly different words.

First off, let’s put a stake through the heart of the myth that magic items used to be “rare” or “mysterious”. Everyone had all the rulebooks and memorized them, as far back as the game existed. To the extent there was every any mystery, it was always for new players who hadn’t yet memorized the rules, and trying to reclaim that feeling is like trying to get back your virginity. Ain’t gonna happen. As for rare… two words: Monty Haul.

If you decide that you won’t build in the assumption that players will gain magic items, then, you basically break the game’s math, because they WILL gain them, in great profusion. If you scale monsters and difficulty levels on the assumption most players won’t have magic items, that’s like designing a video game on the assumption most players won’t go to hint sites or read guidebooks. It’s just not how things work, or how things EVER worked, and I’m really worried that people caught up in this nostalgia kick are apparently doing no research as to how games ACTUALLY PLAYED back in the 1970s and 1980s, and how most of the design decisions being rejected were the direct consequence of fixing actual old school play, not rose-colored fantasies of a playstyle that never was.

That said, having backstory and myth and cool minor powers attached to magic items is something any competent DM does all the time; it’s nice if this is mentioned in the rules and guidelines provided, but it’s hardly the sort of thing we’ve all been waiting on the rules to “let” us do. It’s baseline DMing, it’s what we do by instinct. Also, and this is important, it’s done for our own pleasure, as players either a)ignore such fluff, or, b)obsess insanely over it, warping the entire campaign over some off-hand bit of color, because somehow it’s got stuck in their minds that this is the key to EVERYTHING and the DM wouldn’t have put it there if they weren’t meant to pursue it at all costs.

Second reply:

Just to elaborate, here’s the reality of actual play:
DM:”You see an odd suit of armor. It is formed of battered dark iron, inset with many pieces of stone, all in tones of greys and blacks, such as smoky dark quartz and obsidian mosaics that form primitive, but intricate, patterns. There are signs that the suit has seen much battle,  as it is dented and scraped, although clearly still sturdy and wearable. The helmet for the suit is hammered into the shape of a bull’s head, and…”

Player: “Right, gorgon armor. +2, immune to petrification, yadda yadda. Page 125 in the DMG. Does anyone wear plate? Oh, and if he’s handing this out, it means we’re going to be facing medusae or basilisks or something, everyone make sure you’ve got Scrolls Of Protection From Petrification at the ready. Oh, I guess, technically, I should roll to know that… roll…. 24 on my arcane knowledge check, there, that’s done, what’s the next item we looted? It better be a +2 sword, I’ve been carrying this +1 piece of crap for three levels now. Cheapass DM!”

THAT’S the reality of play, from 1974 to 2012, and beyond, and nothing in the rules can change it.

Now, let me go on a bit…

Consider the following:

“The blade, known in lore as Restgiver, is a greatsword in form, the general style and artistry reflective of the Theatian culture which forged. The hilt is of bone, reputed to be of a lich, and carved with patterns of skulls deformed in seeming terror. The blade itself is of metal so pale as to seem almost white. Histories tell that it was forged from the fragments of blades taken from such beings as liches, death knights, and skeleton warriors, and it was tempered in both holy water and in the ectoplasm of ghosts bound to the forge where it was made. Its innate magics make it lighter, sharper, and faster than even the finest mundane blade, making it a fit prize for any warrior, but it shows its purpose when it confronts the undead, as it is designed to give them rest. When wielded against any once-living being still animated by foul magics, it is even deadlier than a normal blade of its ilk would be, and it cuts and bites into the faintest wisp of a ghost or a phantom as if they were made of solid flesh. While it has no true soul or spirit animating it, those who wield it report that they feel some sense of warmth or joy when the prospect of returning the dead to their grave is mentioned in its presence.”

And

“Greatsword +2 bane (undead), ghost touch”.

They’re both the same thing.

The rules exist to give you the tools to make the latter. Adding the former is up to you; the rules can’t give you that.

(Oh, and I just posted most of that back on WOTC’s boards anyway; so it goes. It’s not like anyone’s paying for this site.)