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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Deciphering Maps and Scrolls

Continuing with adapting the 2d6 reaction roll table to thief skills, I thought I’d move on to deciphering treasure maps and magic scrolls. Unlike removing traps and picking locks, this is definitely not a mundane skill and shouldn’t be trainable. Thieves do not normally get the ability to decipher treasure maps until 3rd level, according to Greyhawk, although I’ve considered delaying it until 4th level. They can’t read magic scrolls until the 10th level.

Although most people consider this to be a Read Languages ability, I specifically limit it to deciphering things like treasure maps. Thieves don’t learn any extra languages without study. They pick up important words like “gold” and “pit trap” in multiple languages, as well as the rudiments of multiple scripts, enough to figure out important details in maps, inscriptions, and possibly other writings, without necessarily knowing everything that’s said.

Other characters, in contrast, either know the language (and can read the entire document) or don’t know it, in which case they get no chance to decipher the text. If you feel it’s reasonable, a character who knows a related language can roll on the table as well, probably shifting all results one step worse. They will not be able to decipher magic scrolls, in any case.

2d6 Result Description
2 Very Bad magic scroll backfires, important info on treasure map missed/misread
3-5 Bad unable to decipher map or scroll
6-8 Average treasure map read successfully (but not magic scrolls)
9+ Good treasure map or magic scroll read successfully

Using the table’s results for magic scrolls should be pretty straightforward. Treasure maps, inscriptions, and the like might be a little trickier, depending on how you create treasure maps. My assumption is that a treasure map tells you how to find a start of a route to a treasure, how to stay on that route, and what traps are along the way, as well as any known guardians and a clue, at the very least, as to what the treasure contains. A Very Bad result, then, would still allow you to find the route and follow it, but would not mention a trap, or misrepresent a guardian (reading the word “wraith” as “goblin”, for example.

Deciphering maps and scrolls is harder than other thief skills. Thieves only add one-fifth their level to the roll (round down.) Again, a natural result of 2 is always treated as a failure. “Low-level maps” is not really a thing, although if you felt like defining a language’s difficulty as higher than normal, you could adapt the concept to this table as well.

A scribe class (something I’ve toyed with before) would add half their scribe level to the roll, instead of one-fifth. It’s more in keeping with a scribe’s primary talents.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Lockpicking Reaction Roll

Here’s another 2d6 Results table for a thief skill, in this case for lockpicking. Thieves add half their level to the roll, but a natural roll of 2 always fails. You might want to be generous and say that a thief only jams a lock on a modified roll of 2 when picking a low-level lock, but still breaks the lockpick. Low-level means that the lock’s complexity or difficulty level is lower than the thief’s level. I define a lock’s level as 0 for a typical door lock in a town, or equal to the dungeon level, unless otherwise specified. A merchant, for example, will probably have a higher-level lock to protect valuables.

2d6 Result Description
2 Very Bad lockpick breaks, jamming lock
3-5 Bad lockpick breaks, but may try again, if you have another pick
6-8 Average unlock low-level lock
9+ Good unlock any lock
(12) Very Good (non-thief unlocks lock)

Treat unjamming a jammed lock as a separate lockpick attempt. In other words, with the right tools, the thief can remove the broken lockpick, clearing the lock, and allowing further lockpicking attempts.

If the thief has no professional tools, they can improvise, shifting all results one step worse (unlocking low-level locks on 9+, other locks on a 12.) Thieves do not ignore “jam” results on a natural 2 when using improvised tools.

Non-thieves, if you allow them to pick locks, also shift all results one step worse. Non-thieves cannot quickly improvise tools. Instead, they must try to make a tool, then use that as an improvised tool. This will slow things down quite a bit, compared to thieves.

You can follow the same rules described for non-thieves removing traps: treat effective level as zero unless trained, in which case use years of experience, and the maximum roll possible equals the character’s Dexterity. Non-thieves never get a level bonus to the roll, even if they have mundane training.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Traps Reaction Roll

There was a discussion about thieves on the OD&D forums recently, during which someone brought up the topic of using the 2d6 Reaction Results Table for resolving thief skills. I don’t think that’s a great idea when you are only looking for a binary, yes-no result. But a couple of the thief skills could benefit from having 3-5 possible outcomes, instead of just yes-no. And I whipped up some quick tables, which I will preserve here.

First up: a Remove Traps table with four (and a half) possible results.

2d6 Result Description
2 Very Bad trap triggered
3-5 Bad trap not removed, not triggered
6-8 Average low-level trap removed
9+ Good trap removed
(12) Very Good (non-thief removes trap)

So, about a third of the time, any trap can be removed. If the trap is low-level, it can be removed more than half the time. Low-level is defined however you want. For me, a trap’s level is equal to the dungeon level, unless otherwise specified. You could also use trap damage as a guide (4d6 damage = 4th level trap.) If the thief’s level is higher than the trap level, the trap is considered low-level and easier to disarm.

If the trap is not disarmed, most of the time it is still primed. On a Very Bad result, the trap is triggered and the thief takes damage. It’s up to you whether the thief gets a saving throw or not. I think I’d skip a saving throw unless the thief has prepared or otherwise takes action to reduce or prevent damage. Example: Thief suspects a fire trap and pours water over head and clothing before trying to disarm the trap.

Thieves get a bonus to the roll equal to half their level, but a natural result of 2 always triggers the trap. Optionally, non-thieves can try to disable traps as well. Shift all results one step worse, and treat the non-thief’s character level as zero if they have no training. So, no traps are considered “low-level” for untrained characters. Furthermore, rolls are capped by Dexterity.

Every year of mundane training in traps is treated as the character’s effective level when compared to the level of the trap. A character with five years of experience in mundane trap removal can remove 4th level traps or below as if they were low-level traps (9+ on 2d6, for non-thieves.) Mundane training does not give a bonus to the roll, as a thief gets.


  • Fighter, untrained, Dex 11: Can’t remove any traps.
  • Fighter, untrained, Dex 12+: Can remove traps on a roll of 12.
  • Fighter, trained, 2 years experience, Dex 11: Can remove 1st level traps only (on roll of 9+).
  • Fighter, trained, 2 years experience, Dex 12+: Can remove 1st level traps on roll of 9+, other traps on roll of 12.
  • Fighter, trained, 5 years experience, Dex 12+: Can remove 1st to 4th level traps on roll of 9+, 5th level and higher traps on roll of 12.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

On the Fly Spell Research

Carrying on from the starting spells post: I’ve repurposed two columns from the Intelligence table in Greyhawk: Minimum # per Level as the base number of starting spells known, and Maximum # per Level as an optional cap on the number of starting spells (but not on total spells known.

That leaves one column unused: % Chance to Know any Given Spell. This column strikes me as unusable as written, for a couple reasons:

  • Too harsh. Players may have their hearts set on getting Fireball, for example, and their hopes can be dashed with a single die roll, no chance to try again.
  • Too complicated. I don’t want to roll for every single spell, even if I put off the roll until the spell is encountered.
  • Too much book-keeping. I’d need to photocopy at least one copy of the spell list to mark off which spells have been checked, and keep those sheets in my records. I’d rather not.

But rather than using this as a harsh limitation, I could use it as an empowerment. Let magic-users have a chance to decipher a spell reasonably quickly, without the need for research.

I already use Read Magic as a research shortcut, allowing M-Us to learn a new spell from a scroll or spellbook immediately after casting Read Magic. Otherwise, they have to use the spell research rules to learn the spell, which is going to take 1 week per spell level, minimum. But I could give M-Us one chance per spell discovered to figure it out just by studying the actual document for a few hours.

I don’t think I’d use percentile dice, myself. I’d rather just use a d20 vs. Int roll. Success means the M-U learns that spell. Failure means either weeks of standard research, or casting Read Magic if they know it.

I haven’t decided exactly how long this should take, but I’m thinking at least 2 hours per spell level, double that for Int 3-4, half that for Int 17-18. That guarantees that it’s still not the thing you’d usually risk in a dungeon, but it’s still useful for skipping a lot of downtime.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Spells Known

I’ve written before about a technique for assigning starting spells for a new magic-user character, based around the fact that the spell lists in Men & Magic and Greyhawk (and even in the AD&D Player’s Handbook) are numbered.

  1. Roll 1d8 (or 1d12, if using Greyhawk) and look up that number on the list of first level spells.
  2. The basic list of starting spells for that character is that spell and the next five spells, in order, six spells total.
  3. Roll another 3d8 (or 3d12) and consult the list three times. If you roll a spell again, drop it from the base list. If you roll a new spell, add it. The character thus starts with 3 to 9 spells.

Here is a recent modification of that process that makes some use of the Greyhawk Intelligence table (Spells Knowable.) You only need the “Minimum #” column on the table, although you can optionally use the “Maximum #” column, too (and I have some ideas about the “% Chance” column, too, but I’ll save that for later.)

Instead of the first 1d8 roll determining six base spells, use the minimum number indicated by intelligent. So, for M-Us of Int 15 and 16, the steps above remain the same: 1 die for 6 base spells, 3 dice for +/- 3 spells.

For an M-U of average intelligence (10-12,) the base list of starting spells is only 4 spells. For Int 3, only 2 spells. For Int 18, 8 spells.

The number of dice to roll for the spells to drop or add from the base starting spell list is half the minimum number of spells. So, 1d8 (or 1d12) for Int 3-9, 2d8 for Int 10-14, 3d8 for Int 15-17, and 4d8 for Int 18. You can optionally cap the total number of starting spells based on the maximum number column, but I personally would ignore it, and I would definitely not use it for spells found or learned afterwards.

Another option, which I think I will use, is to roll for random spells learned from the 2nd level and higher spell lists, when those spells become available. These would be spells mastered during training and research to level up. Not sure whether to use the exact same random range, or maybe halving the minimum number, so that the character acquires fewer spells later on. I think it’s a wise idea to halve it, so that players are kept hungry and given a reason to keep searching the dungeons for new spells. Under this rule, 3rd level Int 3 M-Us would get 1-2 new spells of 2nd level, Int 10 M-Us would get 1-4 new spells. and Int 18 M-Us would get 1-8 new spells. They would always get at least 1 new spell, the same way that starting characters should always get at least 1 starting spell.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Tenth, Fifth, Half, Whole

I’ve got a vague inkling of an idea I’d like to muse about.

You may have noticed that, in the Highlander Mage post, I wrote that these magic-users gain the ability to cast 1st level spells for free (more or less) when they reach Level 8. Or, to put it another way, that the spell level they can cast for free is 1/8th their character level. But I’m thinking the number should be 1/10th, because it makes it very easy to eliminate dividing by some number and instead just dropping the last digit of the character’s level to get the spell level. 10th level wizards can cast 1st level spells for free, 20th level wizards can cast 2nd level spells for free.

But also, I’m still thinking about very simple class customization schemes. It’s better to use just a handful of easy to remember numbers, for example 1, 2, 5, and 10, and the equivalent fractions.

The Max Spell level of pure spell-casting classes is 1/2 their character level. So, too, is their hit dice. Their high-level abilities like enchanting kick in at level 10.

Compare that to a combat class (Fighter.) Their hit dice are equal to their level, and they get no spells… but if we wanted to broaden spell casting ability, we could say that their Max Spell level is 1/10th their level and must be trained at great expense, so that Fighters couldn’t even cast a single spell until 5th level, if you are rounding to the nearest whole number.

Any extraordinary ability could be generalized to fit that pattern. A Thief class (slightly revamped) would have hit dice equal to half their level, and a bonus to Thief skill rolls equal to half their level. If a non-thief character wanted to learn Thief skills, they would require special training and the bonus would be equal to 1/10th their level. Of course, under this scheme, it might make more sense for non-combat classes to likewise have reduced combat ability equal to 1/10th their level. Not quite as extreme as in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for example, but not what most old school players are used to.

The 1/5th modifier would kick in for mixed class concepts, where the class has more than one special ability. A magical thief class would have 1/2 hit dice, 1/5th max spell level, and a thief bonus of 1/5th level. The 1/5th modifier would also be used for customization of magical schools, which is an idea I’m still mulling over.

To summarize:
* hit dice are on a 1:1 basis for mundane classes (Fighters)
* non-mundane classes (spell-casters and extraordinary talents) have half hit dice
* magic or talent level is half level
* having two extraordinary talents or spell-casting ability drops modifier to 1/5th class level for each
* any out-of-class ability can be learned with a 1/10th class level modifier
* high-level abilities appear at 10th level and have a modifier of 1/10th class level, where appropriate

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Highlander Mage

Sorry about the huge gap in posts, but I have some non-D&D projects that eat up a lot of my creative energy. I have, however, been thinking about a couple things, one related to the materialistic spell points system, or rather to a comment from davfergus about spell-casters using high-level magic-users as a power source. He’s primarily describing something that sounds vampiric, but he made a side comment comparing this to Highlander, and I thought that might be a more interesting idea.

Under an optional rule, high-level magic-users can cast spells of 1/4 their Max Spell Level (1/8th their character level) without using mana resources. For convenience, we’ll call these Highlander Mages. Any M-U of 8th level or higher is a Highlander Mage and can cast 1st level spells without using mana, as long as they have at least 1 spell ball; they actually do “use up” the spell ball, but use so little arcane essence from the ball to cast low-level spells that it’s not noticeable. Wizards of 16th level and higher can cast 2nd level spells indefinitely, and those of the amazing level of 24 can cast endless 3rd level spells.

Unscrupulous spell-casters called Mageslayers can get a temporary boost to their spell-casting abilities by ritually beheading a Highlander Mage. The boost is only temporary: 1 day for every character level of the Mageslayer, so low-level Mageslayers get little benefit. But during this brief boost, the Mageslayer can cast low-level spells as if they were the same level as their victim.

The downside, which might not seem like a downside at first, is that there is a chance that a Mageslayer will actually increase in level at the end of the boost. Roll 1d6: if the result is less than or equal to the effective “free spells level”, the Mageslayer gains 1 character level.

Example: A 5th level Mageslayer beheads an 8th-level mage and is able to cast 1st level spells for free for 5 days. At the end of the 5 days, A d6 roll of 1 means that the Mageslayer is now 6th level. Whether the Mageslayer’s experience points increase as well depends on how the GM interprets XP. I use a house rule for level drain where XP are never subtracted, only levels, and drained levels can be recovered quickly, so for me, it makes sense not to add XP for a level boost, either.

So, Mageslayers who regularly kill Highlander Mages will probably reach 8th level earlier than usual and become Highlander Mages themselves, suddenly becoming a target. Mageslayers are thus rare, since they tend to wipe each other out, just like the immortals in Highlander.

In fact, the cultural setup helps explain the age-old question “Why haven’t wizards taken over the world?” There are perhaps many low-level magic-users, because beheading M-Us of levels 1 through 7 is useless. Mageslayers are rare, not just because of social pressures and threat of punishment, but because mageslaying is a dangerous game: they have to hunt victims who are more powerful than they are, and high-level Mageslayers tend to kill each other off. Highlander Mages in general are very rare, either because they are a temptation to Mageslayers or under suspicion as Mageslayers themselves. The few that do exist are paranoid recluses.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Damaged or Depleted Spell Resources

The materialistic spell points system is practically becoming its own series of posts. Here are some useful tables for running magic that relies on “mana balls” to power spells.

Since spell balls or mana balls are physical resources, they can potentially be damaged by the environment. Any magician caught on fire who fails a save should roll 1d6: on a 5+, the pouch or container that the mana balls are stored in also catches fire, and the magician must take action to avoid losing supplies. (This roll can be skipped if, for example, only the magician’s back is exposed to flame, but the pouch of mana balls is located on the front side of the magician’s belt.) Being dunked in water or other liquids can ruin, dilute, or taint mana balls. (A waterproof container can improve the odds, perhaps requiring the same 1d6 check.) In either case, the GM makes a 2d6 reaction roll, keeping the result a secret.

2d6 Roll Environmental Reaction
2 Ruined, May be recoverable
3-5 Tainted or Diluted (Spell Failure Check)
6-8 Diluted Effect (Spell Failure Check)
9-11 No Damage to Resource
12+ Boosted Effect (except when wet)

Ruined mana balls are unusable, while Diluted are only sometimes unusable, requiring a spell failure check. Tainted mana balls also require a spell failure check, but such spells never fail completely, they instead have unexpected side effects. Boosted effects double the duration or hit dice affected, but not the number of targets or area of effect; the magician must still pass a spell failure check, but if the spell “fails”, it means the boosted effects have expired and the mana balls return to normal. Water or dampness does not boost effects.

(I, personally, would treat smoke/fire damage, water damage, and other liquid damage in different ways. Smoke/fire can ruin or taint mana balls, but not dilute their strength. Water can ruin or dilute, but not taint or boost. Other liquids can do all three.)

In a comment on another post, I brought up the idea of depleting arcane resources in an area. To save on the cost of manufacturing mana balls, magicians can opt to gather resources themselves, scouring the countryside for rare herb, enchanted springs, or arcanely-tainted minerals. However, these resources may be depleted by overharvesting. The next time a magician searches for ingredients in an area that has recently been harvested, look up the 3d6 vs. Int result on the following table:

3d6 Roll Arcane Harvest Result
3 Last Harvest, no further resources
4-5 Exhausted temporarily
6-8 Depleted, Int halved on future checks
9-12 No change in resource availability
13-15 +2 on resources found, no other change
16-17 Depleted resources restored
18+ Exhausted resources restored

Note that the 3d6 result is being used in two ways:

  • roll > Int means no resources found
  • roll is crossreferenced with table for effects on future rolls

If a magician with Int 12 rolls a 13, the magician doesn’t find any resources. If a magician with Int 16 rolls a 13, the magician finds +2 gp worth of materials.

The GM keeps track of the resource level (normal, depleted, exhausted, or permanently exhausted.) The player isn’t informed of the current state, but can probably figure out if an area is depleted if they only sporadically recover ingredients from the area. If they never recover resources, but know they have rolled under half their Int, then the area might be temporarily exhausted or permanently exhausted, and won’t be sure of which, unless they do some research with the aid of a sage.

Depleted areas, as mentioned, halve their Int for finding resources. This means that even 18 Int magicians may only find resources 37.5 % of the time. On a future roll of 16+, the area recovers and resources are available again. If a Depleted area gets a second Depleted result, it becomes Exhausted.

Exhausted areas won’t return any resources at all, but may recover on future checks. Last Harvest, however, means that the area is so depleted, it won’t recover for decades or centuries without the aid of powerful intervention (like a wish.) Two Exhausted results does not mean the area is permanently exhausted, though. Only a Last Harvest result will do that.

If desired, this table can also be used when exploring a new area, with the first result indicating the general availability of arcane resources in that area. I prefer to assume, though, that depleted and exhausted areas are actually quite rare and wouldn’t require checking the table on the first roll for a new area.

As suggested previously, I see resource depletion not as a punishment or failsafe against player cleverness, but as a goad to adventure. It gives players a possible explanation for why their characters travel and adventure, instead of just camping out and harvesting one area repeatedly.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Non-Materialistic Elves

As I develop this magic system based on materialistic spell points, I’m liking it more and more and want to use it… but there’s a problem I’m beginning to notice. When I first suggested it, I was thinking I would keep “normal” magic as-is, but use the alternate system for elven magic, to help make elves more distinctive. But as I thought about it more, especially after writing about the physical nature of the power source for magic, I began to feel like the relationship should be reversed.

Even though I was using “materialistic” in the literal sense of having a material form, it’s feeling more like a very materialistic system in the philosophical sense: rejecting metaphysical or spiritual matters, focusing on the practical and physical, even tending to be oriented towards commerce. That doesn’t sound like elves to me at all. I’ve always seen elves as being good at magic because they are inherently magical. They ultimately can’t be as powerful as might human wizards, but magic comes easier to them because they are born with a sense of the magical forces in the world.

So maybe I should swap the two magic systems.

Human spellcasters are sharply divided into the spiritual clerics, who draw power from divine forces and have a more limited range in what they can do, and materialistic magicians, who study how to distill mana into a physical form and use it to power a wide range of spells.

Elves, on the other hand, are in between. They have a “materialistic spiritualism” view of the world and can prepare (memorize) spells to cast when needed, without the need for arcane fuel. But they don’t have the freedom of human magicians, who can cast any spell they know as long as they have mana balls as fuel. They must prepare specific spells beforehand.

I’m thinking, though, that elves learn spells from spellbooks, but don’t need to use spellbooks to memorize spells for casting. If they study their spellbooks, they automatically memorize the spells they select, but if they just meditate for a number of hours equal to their highest spell level, they can memorize the spells on a successful 3d6 vs. Int roll (half effective Int in stressful or suboptimal circumstances.) On a failed result, their retention is poor and a spell check must be made every time they cast a spell, to see if it was successfully memorized.

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