Thursday, February 23, 2017

Spell Alignments, Spell Lists, and Raising the Dead

I talked a bit about magic in Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles last year, but I only briefly mentioned the concept of spell alignments.  Basically, all spells belong to an alignment category that matches the character alignments: Law, Neutral, and Chaos.  Mages gain access to Neutral spells and either Law or Chaos spells, which is chosen at character creation.

I originally had paladins with their own spell list, but as I got further into writing the magic chapter, it become pretty obvious that just giving paladins access to all of the Law spells was pretty close to what I was already giving them and was much, much simpler.

Why Spell Alignments?

Spell alignments are largely a design byproduct of removing divine magic from the game world.  The gods are gone, so there’s no divine magic to be had.  This meant the cleric went away as well (I never liked the cleric as a default divine spell caster anyway), but I wanted a lot of the spells that clerics have access to in S&W to still be available.  My first draft combined the magic-user and cleric spell lists and gave access to all of it to the Mage, which was just flat out ugly.

I spent a lot time milling over ideas on how to limit the spells the Mage had access to without breaking it back out into two classes that would otherwise be very similar.  Ultimately, I decided to split it into three groups – one universal and two that the player had to choose from.  Associating them with the game’s 3 alignments was a perfect fit for both the mechanical tone of the categories and the lore of the game world.

Making the Spell Lists

Organizing the spells into the categories was mostly pretty easy.  A lot of spells were just plain obvious as to where they belonged.  I had decided on 6 spells of each alignment for each spell level, and I was determined.  Some spells had to be cut, and I added new spells to fill in where there were gaps.  There are also spells that I had to make hard decisions on where they went.  The best example being Raise Dead.

I originally added Raise Dead to the Law alignment very quickly.  I clearly wanted “good-guy” priests to be able to help PCs out with resurrections.  But… raising someone from the dead clearly disrupts the natural order of things.  A creature lives, it dies, and goes to the afterlife.  It doesn’t come back.  So, isn’t raising the dead much more a domain of Chaos?

I still see it belonging in both places.  I think the solution is to introduce a new spell.  Raise Dead stays as a Law spell, and can be used to coax powerful beings in the afterlife to allow the spirit of the target to return.  Mages who have chosen Chaos spells can get access to a new spell, Dark Pact, which allows them to make bargains with the forces of Chaos to rip the soul out of the afterlife and revive the target.

Dark Pact

Spell Level: Chaos 5 (or Magic-User 5 for other OSR games)
Cast Time: 1 hour
Range: Special
Duration: Instantaneous

Much like Raise Dead, Dark Pact allows the caster to raise a corpse from the dead, provided it has not been dead for longer than 5 days.  After finishing the casting of this spell, the caster communes with a powerful being of Chaos, such as a demon or powerful undead creature.  In exchange for some kind of service or offering, the being rips the target’s soul from the afterlife and returns it to their body, bringing the target back to life.  The target’s body must still be intact for this spell to succeed, though the body need not be present during the casting.

Which being is contacted, and what the creature asks for in exchange for bringing the target back to life is up to the Referee.  Demons have been known to bargain for allegiances, favors, items of magical power, and for the caster’s soul.  They’ve also been known to leave their mark on the body of the target, and sometimes the caster.

The Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles Fantasy Roleplaying Game is currently in open playtest and is available as a free download with no login or registration required.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What is Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles, and how does it differ from Swords and Wizardry?

Over this past weekend, I started the open playtest of the RPG I’ve been working on, titled Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles.  I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about what this game is and how it differs from Swords and Wizardry and other OSR games.

What is Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles?

In short, Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles is an OSR game that represents how I want to play.  I took the Swords and Wizardry rules and hacked out the pieces that don’t work for me, and replaced them with my own versions.  I added a skill system, because I like skill systems.  I’m not a fan of skill systems where the player drives the choice of mechanics to use for a situation, and I try my best to address that in the rules.

A secondary objective is that the game better fits my campaign world that I’ve been publishing adventures for over the last couple years.  I plan to continue to publish adventures set in this world, and they will continue to be fully Swords and Wizardry compatible.  Looking at it from this angle, Heroes of the Sundered Chronicles is a variant ruleset of Swords and Wizardry that is designed specifically with playing these adventures in mind.

Where does it differ from Swords and Wizardry?

  • HotSC has a default setting – Acteos.  There are references to this setting throughout the book, such as which races are available and how magical travel works in the setting, but the bulk of the setting details has been segregated into its own chapter near the end of the book.  I have plans to use these rules for games set in other worlds myself, so I didn’t want the setting to be so heavily implied that it felt mandatory.
  • Attributes are a little more meaningful than in Swords and Wizardry, but less so than in Third Edition.  Attribute bonuses are a little more standardized, and go up to +3.
  • HotSC presents a different list of races in the core rulebook.  Humans and dwarves are present, but elves get an entry in the monster chapter.  Players can also pick Kavarli, which are sort of half-giant like stone-kin, the monstrous Liontaurs (which are exactly what they sound like), the feline Rashka, or the Sylvans, which are kind of like wild-elves with antlers.
  • There are no racial restrictions on level.  Humans get a couple of racial traits to compensate.
  • Four classes are presented – The Fighter, the Mage, the Paladin, and the Thief.  Each class has a specialization to pick from, which allows for a small amount of customization.
  • A skill system has been added.  Thieves get a couple extra skills at first level, but otherwise everyone has the same progression.  The system has an emphasis on the Referee calling for skill rolls, deciding which skill is applicable and which attribute modifies it depending on the description of a player’s actions.
  • The equipment lists have been bolstered with a few more options.
  • Due to the increase in the size of Dexterity bonuses to AC, Dexterity bonuses only stack with armor up to a maximum of -6 [+6] (plate mail allows for no Dexterity bonus).  Any magical bonuses or shield bonuses apply afterward.
  • Combat uses a simpler format.  Group initiative is rolled, the group with initiative goes first, resolving all effects to completion (including spell casting), and then the party that lost initiative goes.  This is how I’ve always played.
  • Magic is broken down into alignments.  Mages can cast Neutral spells and either Law or Chaos spells (a choice that has nothing to do with the character's alignment).  Paladins cast Law spells only.  There is only one master spell list, instead of a different list for each class.  6 spells per alignment are presented for each spell level (18 spells per spell level, 5 spell levels).
  • Mages have access to lesser magic, which are weaker spells that can be cast an unlimited amount of times per day without preparation.
  • Mages can swap out a prepared spell to create healing or destruction effects.  They can do one or the other, chosen at character creation.  As such, there are no healing spells on the spell list, and the few damage spells are weaker and have a secondary effect.  For example, Flame Strike deals 6d6 damage (where a 5th level spell converted into an area damage effect would deal 10d6) but also blinds targets that fail a saving throw.

There’s definitely other changes than I’ve listed here, but these are the big ones that are in the current playtest release.  The current release covers all the player chapters, and is a free download (no login or registration required) if you’re interested.