Saturday, November 24, 2012

Spheres of the Stalwart Hare

First, many thanks to Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor for awarding me with the Best Newbie Blogger award. Also, welcome to those patrons he has sent my way, that they might be reading this here blog. Welcome. I hope you enjoy your stay. Anyway, onto the post...

A while ago (maybe three years back?) I decided that I was going to write my own game. I put in many hours on this Frankensteinian monstrosity of a system, trying to blend together parts from Warhammer Fantasy RPG, Talislanta, D&D and its various clones, and other bits and parts of my design and others'. I worked on it sort of obsessively-compulsively for about a month or two and then never played with it again.

It recently occurred to me that there are some parts in there that might be worth rescuing. One of these is what I called (somewhat anal-retentively) a Magical Focus Object, or MFO. Here's my original text:

At any point after 1st level, a magic user may create a Magical Focus Object (MFO). It does not matter what object is used, but the process is relatively expensive, and final step (casting) will consume (and destroy) the materials used whether or not it succeeds.

To create a focus object, a magic user will require an object with which to endow the power of focus object (e.g., a staff, wand, etc.), and materials costing 100 sp x Caster Experience Level squared. Thus, a sixth level magic user would need to spend 100sp x 6 squared = 360 gp for their MFO, a very expensive undertaking.[Note: I'm using a silver standard for all costs.]

It is also very useful. The MFO doubles the effective mana pool for the spell caster, who may "charge" the MFO with raw mana, with prepared (e.g., "memorized") spells, or some combination of the two. Raw mana may be used to as part of the caster's mana pool for casting purposes. Prepared spells can be cast instantaneously, with only a single word or gesture, ignoring casting times.

The biggest drawback to the MFO is that it does not rise in level with its owner. Thus, a 2nd level MFO will only ever be 2nd level. This is offset by the fact that the caster may own (and carry) more than one MFO. However, each additional MFO creates the possibility for spell backlash, due to resonance with other MFOs. If the caster rolls a "Mishap" result on a casting roll, there is a possibility that any additional MFOs carried will explode, discharging its magical energy all at once. The spellcaster will take damage as if attacked with a Magic Missile spell of level equivalent to the exploding MFO.

If a casting mishap occurs where additional MFOs are carried, roll 1d6 for every additional MFO carried.
On a roll of "1" that MFO explodes; on a roll of "2" that MFO is destroyed without harming the caster; on any roll above 2, nothing else happens.

Caster takes level of exploding MFO times 1d6 in damage, with no possibility of saving throw. For example, a 4th level MFO would cause 4d6 damage.

Now, that's one bad MFO!

While I never used this in play, I still kind of like the idea for a magic item of this kind for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Let's call them (as my title says) Spheres of the Stalwart Hare. And, yes, I'm thinking of this guy:

And I'm also thinking about how the SoTSH/MFO could be incorporated with DCC's Spellburn rule. The idea here is that the Wizard, as a class, may have options regarding spellburnt that are not already in the rules. One of these might be that he or she could store some of his or her vital essence in a magical object of some kind, to be drawn upon in times of great need. Here are a few properties that such an object should have to really plumb the depths of Appendix N flavor:

It should provide both great boons and great banes.

Great Boons

It really needs to be helpful, especially in a pinch, like when you're going up against a powerful enemy and/or your party is low on hit points and/or resources. If such a device could store the equivalent of 4 to 10 points of spellburn energy, it would be an immense boon to performing late-game feats of mystical daring-do. The stored energy in such a device should be enough to provide enough goodness to balance out the potential badness of having one of these little beauties fail to function as advertised.

Great Banes

Oh, I love those dogs!

Noooooo... Think about it more like "chaos explosion":

If one of those things goes off, it's very, very Bad News. 

My original idea was that an exploding MFO does the equivalent of 1d6 per "level" of object. The more energy it can store the more it has to release. However, what if we made that more subject to the chaotic nature of magical forces, and added a multiplier (or exponent?), say 1d3. So it would release 1d3 times the number of points "stored" in it. How many points could potentially be stored would depend on either (a) the power of the object, (b) the power of the user, or (c) both of those. I like Option C. So the potential energy of this object might include the following factors:

a. The power of the object--This could be represented as storage capacity. A level 3 MFO, for example could store up to its level squared in energy (spell casting points), or 9 points. 
b. The power of the user--This might even be seen as the user's ability to constrain the energy properly. So maybe a Will save to avert danger? Or maybe forcing the user to "channel" what we could call "negative energy," which would act as spellburning for Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution (or their equivalents for other games).
c. Both of these--Make it an opposed action of some kind, maybe by having the object trying to release all of its energy and the wizard trying to contain it. 
  • So, the MFO "explodes" for 9 points of energy, or, alternately, 3 to the 1d3 power, if you want to get nasty (because, CHAOS!). 
  • The Wizard rolls a Will save. Let's say he makes the save, which (channeling D&D here) reduces damage to half. Let's call it 5 points with rounding up. So the wizard must deal with 5 points of negative energy.
  • Maybe in rolling his save, he beats it by 3 points. Perhaps this could reduce it further by the number of points above the save threshold. Three in this case. 
  • This would leave a total of 2 points to deal with. The wizard takes 2 points from some combination of Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, as per the DCC spellburn rules. Alternately, you could include Luck as one of these, or instead of these.

Other Ideas

You'll notice that the preceding only ever affects the Wizard with the magical energy. What if an exploding MFO affected others as well. Here are some variations on what could happen.

The sphere of effect is 1 yard per point of magical energy. Or square of the number of points in feet or yards? Within that sphere, some or all of the following could occur:

Damage in d3, d4, d6, or d8 (probably d6). We could do what I did originally and call it 1d6 per level of object. We could also do a straight point-for-point swap, and have it do 1 point damage per point of energy. This is easy, but not very chaotic. 

Corruption could also be a part of this. Have the affected PCs make a Fortitude or Will save. The result could be all or nothing or scaled. So if you fail you take it all. If you fail you take the number by which you failed.There's a lot of ways potentially that you could work this in to have the PC growing a third eye or set of nose tentacles. Lots of fun!

Anti-Magic Effects might be nice. Make it so that any caster affected must roll spell checks at a penalty until the penalty is dissipated by passage of time, or, better yet, but being used up. So, you have to cast spells in order to shed the penalty to spellcasting. All at once, or not? Not sure about that. I'd lean toward flexibility and increasing the number of choices for the player.

A Fun Table of Additional Fantastic Effects--While tables are fun, they tend to slow things down a bit. I think I'd prefer to use such a table only in the most dire of situations, like maybe when the save roll is a critical failure (however determined). Then something magical/insane happens in addition to the other stuff, in ways that fuck with the very substance of reality itself, at least for a while. So, rains of scorpions; pink, glowing fog; etc. Maybe we could even turn the MFO into a patron of some kind, endow it with a spirit even? That would lead to all kinds of fun, don't you think?

So, to sum up, like the idea of introducing this sort of thing into the DCC world. Spheres of the Stalwart Hare would be immense fun. For me, the payoff is to raise the stakes a bit, both in terms both of danger and reward. The effects should be powerful enough to be worth it, and dangerous enough to be fearful. It make magic use a bit less random by smoothing out some of the erraticness of casting, by allow the user to massage the roll a bit and, importantly, to avoid immediate debilitation from spellburn. So, it should also blend well with the existing rules for spellburning. 

What else would be good?