Minions

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Originally Posted March 2009

I’m not terribly pleased with the minion rules for D&D 4e. For those who haven’t looked at the minion rules in the new edition, they’re basically normal enemies except they’re taken out whenever they suffer 1 or more HP of damage (except from attacks that deal damage on a miss, to keep AoEs from automatically clearing all the minions). While binary minions certainly simplify GM bookkeeping, they do so at a cost of player dissatisfaction. Players can very quickly tell that they’re dealing with minions, and often these fights quickly become a matter of figuring out which attacks do the lowest amount of damage to the most monsters in order to clear the board for the real fight. Plus, players that use up a good attack, or just a good damage roll, on what turns out to have been a minion can feel cheated that they accomplished precisely as much as the guy that nicked one with a dagger.

However, before 4e came out, I found some of its concepts to be really useful for minion fights. Specifically, the change from a binary Active/Taken Out to a trinary Healthy/Bloodied/Taken Out could mean a lot for minions while still using default rules from the system. That is, it’s not necessary to make minions Alive/Dead when you can include a bloodied state as well for less total attacks. I experimented with a hybrid system of this in a 3.5 game, and it worked very well: GM bookkeeping was kept to a minimum (tracking unhurt vs. bloodied minions), while player attacks mattered.

This minion system can be expressed as:

  • Minions have a damage threshold number.
  • Damage equal to or greater than the threshold takes out the minion.
  • Damage less than the threshold bloodies the minion. If the minion is already bloodied, it is taken out instead of being bloodied again.
  • Damage far less than the threshold can be ignored if it wouldn’t reasonably affect any character. A bunch of these types of attacks might eventually take the minion out.

Essentially, I would record a low level minion as something like 15/3. Any character that does 15 or more damage takes it out immediately. Any character that does 3-14 points of damage bloodies it, and will take it out with another such attack. 1-2 points of damage can be safely ignored unless the minion is taking lots of such tiny bits of damage (and then an ad hoc ruling should be made as to when it’s enough).

The secret of this system is that it’s basically how easy monsters play under the default system, just requires much less bookkeeping. For monsters that any member of the party can expect to one-shot, they aren’t likely to survive more than a couple of hits unless damage rolls are very low. This way, you don’t record exact numbers for non-total hits. Was it taken out in one hit? No? Then it will probably be taken out by the next one. Big damage characters see some point to bringing out the big damage, but the GM’s job remains easy.

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Burnt Offerings, Part 11

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Haggor is once again first into the room, and sees the demon-tainted cleric standing atop a pedestal, waiting, her claw-scarred belly hideous in the torchlight. As he charges across the room, half-visible undead shadows detach from the biers that make up this burial chamber. Two make contact, and he feels his mighty strength being sucked away. The party piles in behind, and Balekh cannot make much sense of the situation, but can manifest the power of his god to drive back the creatures. All three flee to the rear of the room and cower against the wall, seemingly trapped within their burial chamber. Nualia slaps off a wrestling hold from the weakened Haggor, so he makes use of an ability he’d heretofore considered somewhat gauche and deals a stunning blow to her head. With a single, stunned target to focus on, Taeva and Veshenga very quickly fell the warrior-cleric with a series of swords and arrows. With the shadows still turned against the wall, it is a simple matter for the two women to use their backup magical weapons to disperse the incorporeal undead.

The party retreats back to the office to heal and examine the battle’s loot, but realizes that they’ve only explored likely a third of the bottom complex. While they plan their further exploration, they look over Nualia’s notes and journals, finding out her history and mad plans. Perhaps most importantly, they learn that the demon trapped within the dungeon is known as Malfeshnekor, a Barghest. As they sleep and recover, Balekh is subjected to more dark dreams, and Taeva feels the eyes of something terrible constantly upon her.

Before venturing past the illusory wall of coins, which Taeva eventually figures out how to open, the party decides to clear the hidden passage behind the shadows’ burial crypt. Descending into water-logged stairways, they find the remnants of an ancient treasury, with strange faded carvings on the walls. The centerpiece of the half-flooded room is a massive golden helmet, seemingly sized for a giant. Haggor immediately goes for this piece of treasure, and manages to wake the giant hermit crab that uses it as a home. Finding himself once again the grapplee rather than the grappler, Haggor and the beast wrestle for dominance. Balekh fires off a scroll to enlarge the monk, and suddenly the fight is much more even. As half-orc and crab jockey for leverage, Veshenga and Taeva slice at the crab’s shell and underbelly. Very quickly, the dual-wielding rogue cuts the creature into so much seafood, and the party is able to gather up the remaining treasure in the treasury and head back to the office to recuperate for another evening.

Finally, the group decides to confront the demonic presence at the heart of the dungeon, fully aware that it might be far out of their league. Two rooms in the sector of the dungeon behind the wall of coins reveal some of the history of what this complex was once used for: a looping hologram of an ancient Thassilonian informing the denizens of their impending demise for the glory of the empire, and a room full of torture implements and a warped skeleton. Within the latter, they find a key to the final room, where, no doubt, the ancient barghest waits.

The seemingly empty room, lit by scores of everburning candles and a magical pit of flame, quickly bursts into the frenzied presence of a massive demon wolf. With a brutal series of bites and claws, it smashes Haggor, unconscious, to the ground. Knowing it is only weak to magic, Veshenga begins firing the elf-bane arrows taken from the bugbear, earlier, into the creature. Taeva moves around and attempts to destroy it with her tiny, returning dagger. Balekh keeps healing the monk, only to watch him put down again and again.

However, the party was prepared, and the room leaves the barghest little space to maneuver. Though the heroes are gravely wounded, the fight is over within less than a minute. They cast the demon’s form into the mystical fire, loot the room, then pack up their belongings to finally return to Sandpoint.

AFTERMATH

Within a week, about a half dozen of the remaining goblins of Thistletop and allied tribes mount a courageous raid to free Gogmurt the goblin druid. They are slaughtered to a man. The druid is publicly executed two days later.

On hearing of Nualia’s demise, Tsuto begins obsessively creating a mural on his cell wall with what charcoal and paint he can talk the guards into giving him. It’s a heartstoppingly beautiful sketch of himself and Nualia embracing in the fires of hell. He commits suicide as soon as the art is complete. In a small, private ceremony, Ameiko has his body consecrated, cremated, and scattered to the sea; Balekh is asked to help officiate the burial.

After much digging, Sheriff Hemlock eventually discovers that the mercenary, Orik Vancaskerkin, is wanted for murder in Riddleport. He’s happily sent off to face justice there on a crisp Autumn morning.

A week or two later, the Sheriff gathers the party up with a bunch of guards to go to Thistletop, cave in the entrances to the dungeon, burn down the fort, and cut the rope bridge behind them. Since that time, the number of goblin raids on travelers have decreased dramatically, even for the cold seasons, as if the goblins are no longer nearly as well organized.

Writing and Solving an RPG Mystery

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Originally posted February 2009

Last year I found a good thread on writing mysteries for RPGs. The advice was for games that follow a model more typical of crime shows (investigators find crime, make theories, test them, make new theories if wrong) than of the typical RPG model (investigators find clues, follow them to next scene, find more clues, etc.). Below are my summarized notes on the thread, rephrased and expanded a bit with my own thoughts.

-uctions

  • Deduction: Given a known case and a rule related to the case, the result of the case can be determined. (Given that unknown beans are from a bag, and that all beans in that bag are white, the unknown beans must be white.) This is the strongest type of investigation, but requires most of the information before reaching a solution.
  • Induction: Given a known case and the result of the case, the case’s rule can be determined. (Given that these beans were taken from the bag and all of these beans are white, all beans in the bag must be white.) This is the second strongest type of investigation, because reaching a solution generally allows the solution to be further tested.
  • Abduction: Given a result of a case and a rule applicable to the case, the case itself can be determined. (Given that these beans are white and all beans in that bag are white, these beans must be from that bag.) This is the weakest type of investigation, because it proves nothing, merely suggests a solution that can be tested in other ways. However, since investigations will often start with a result (the evidence of the crime) and rules (forensic sciences) but will not initially include the case (the method and motive of the crime), abduction is the standard investigation method.

In order to strengthen abduction you can turn to deduction, induction, or comparison:

  • Deduction: If the abduced case is true, using other rules what other result must be true? (If the beans are from this bag, given that there are a standard number of beans in a bag, the bag must be missing this number of beans.)
  • Induction: If the abduced case is true, using other results what other rules must be true? (If the beans are from this bag, and the bag currently contains a certain number of beans, these beans plus the beans in the bag must equal the original number of beans in the bag.)
  • Comparison: If the abduced case is true, no other adduced case can adequately explain all the results. (Given that these beans are white and all beans in that bag are white, are there any other bags of white beans from which these beans could have originated?)

Given all the facts (clues) of the result, what case might have been true to exactly produce all those facts?

Mystery case blocks/stages:

  • Stage 1, The Scene of the Crime: Characters investigate the result, finding all details however trivial. (Designer must place all essential clues to describe the result and ensure they are discovered.)
  • Stage 2, Abduction: Characters discuss, adducing a small number of cases that would explain the result and depend on certain or likely rules. (Designer encourages them to find as many solutions as possible and grade them on how well they make the known fact predictable, and encourages them to find the simplest hypothesis.)
  • Stage 3, Investigation: Characters investigate possible violations of the adduced cases, eliminating rules that turn out to be unsupported by additional evidence, and looking for additional, non-obvious clues that would support a particular case. (This is the major part of the game, and lots of new evidence will be uncovered, some of it superfluous. At the end of the block, the characters should be very close to a correct case.)
  • Stage 4, the Case: Characters rebuild the remaining cases until they can eliminate all but one, repeating the third block until only a single, watertight case remains. (Designer should make it hard to get to block 5 with an incorrect case, instead funneling the characters back into block 3 if there are still holes. In murder cases, killing a suspect or another murder in a way that gives a suspect an alibi is the usual method for breaking an incorrect case.)
  • Stage 5, the Plan: Characters develop a plan of action that will confront the culprit of the final case in a way that proves the case and produces a climactic scene.
  • Stage 6, the Climax: Characters deal with the fallout of the fifth block, possibly using previously determined information to fight or track a culprit that has fled after the revelation of block 5.

Episodic blocks:

  • Teaser: Introductory material and first beat of the discovery
  • Act 1: Block 1, likely ending on a hard-won clue
  • Act 2: Blocks 2 through 4, likely ending on the revelation of the case
  • Act 3: Block 5, likely ending on the villain raising the stakes
  • Act 4: Block 6, final confrontation with the villain/climax and denouement

Four or five major beats per act.

Inventing the Case:

Step 1: Straight Story

Who – Who did it and who was hurt?
What – What was the crime?
When – When was it carried out?
Where – Where was it carried out?
Why – Why was it carried out?
How – How was it carried out?

What, Where, and the second Who should be immediately obvious, with the When following shortly unless concealing the time is important (and a range of times should still be apparent). The How should become evident during the intial investigation. The first Who and the Why are identified by the investigators.

Step 2: Messiness

What clues were left behind as a result of the crime not being perfect? Advanced: were there any coincidences that covered up clues?

Step 3: Bystanders

Who was connected to the victim and can provide information relevant to the crime? Who gains and who loses and who knows about it? Does he have enemies or people that feel strongly about the crime?

Step 4: The Result

What is the exact timetable of events? Who was there and who was nearby? What basic clues were left, and how are they to be found? These are essentially points that the police will likely find with a few hours, if they take an interest.

Every NPC that is connected to the victim or location but not involved in the crime should have a routine or an alibi that eventually eliminates him or her as a suspect. Any actions the criminal took to distract the NPC should become obvious as a deviation from the NPC’s intended routine.

Step 5: The Difficulty

Why can’t the case simply be left up to the police to solve?

Step 6: The PCs

How do the PCs get involved? If they’re called in, who calls them and why? If the person that called them in has a theory as to what happened, it’s probably wrong.

Rule of 7:

No more than seven new named NPCs, important clues, or major ideas. Seven key concepts total is even better.

Edit (7/2010): Rob Donoghue has some excellent advice on different types of murder mysteries that syncs nicely with the information above.

Burnt Offerings, Part 10

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The Secret to Boss Fights is Alcohol for the GM

The night passes in tense silence. Balekh receives strange nightmares of a demonic wolf taunting him. On Veshenga’s watch, she swears she sees another black hound flying overhead, but misses it with an arrow. They wake, expend spells to make sure everyone is in top fighting form, and descend into a dungeon that is probably already on alert. One last impasse with the captive mercenary results in them having no information other than that their adversary is certainly making plans to deal with them.

Taeva descends the final stairs, and finds no traps on the door, but does note the utter darkness beyond. Rather than make the opening door a beacon of their presence, they hide the continual flame torches and have Haggor use his darkvision to scout the room. It is of middling size, full of alcoves and fallen statues, and leads to a hallway… the door open and inviting. Haggor sees no immediate threat, and begins to explore the room. This is when the trap is sprung.

From hiding behind the fallen statue in the far alcove, the last of the Yeth hounds charges across the room and deals a vicious blow to Haggor’s backside. Veshenga unleashes arrows with little effect, and Haggor has trouble hurting it. As the party rushes forward, the hound makes an odd choice: it tries to back away, as if to flee down the hallway, though it is barely scratched. Not sure whether the trap is stopping it or following it, Haggor manages to grab ahold and pin the spectral dog. Just then, visible only at the extreme edge of gnomish and half-elven eyesight, a beautiful woman wielding a bastard sword with a deformed claw begins chanting. The rest is silence as a sphere of magic settles upon the room.

Balekh, knowing the sound of a Silence spell when it is cast, rushes from the stairway and drags Veshenga back, so that he can enchant her bow to penetrate the Outsider’s skin. By now, however, Haggor’s furious wrestling has made archery against the hound a dangerous proposition. Instead, she launches an arrow at the infernal cleric at the end of the hall. The woman negligently heals the wound with an insulting flick of the wrist. Balekh heals Haggor of the worst of the hound’s original bite, then charges after the rival cleric while Taeva moves into position with her silver comb to help.

As Balekh charges down the hall, there is a sickening sinking of the floor shortly matched by the feeling of his gut as he instantly understands the tactical position of the fight. In the light of the torch he has brought with him, he can clearly see the Nualia’s mad eyes laughing at the trap he has sprung… and then turn to anger as he manages to throw himself free before twin portculli descend to pin in the space where he should have been standing. As the statues to either side begin to slash at the space where he once stood, he closes the door behind him and focuses on the Yeth hound.

While Haggor fights to hang on to the twisting ball of demonic fur in an oddly silent tableau, Taeva begins carving the bent and twisted comb through the arteries of its neck. Veshenga switches from her bow to the sword that she recovered from the Lamashtu-twisted goblin and used to kill the quasit… with a final stab it flares into fury, consummating its mystical hatred of all things demonic. The hound falls into a heap on the floor, and the party silently motions to proceed down the hall.

Kicking open the door, the party sees no sign of the cleric, but do see the trap silently resetting itself. Haggor easily bounds over the pressure plate and rushes to the end of the hall, where he spots the cleric hiding around the corner. Now that he can hear, he understands the constant stream of mad vitriol coming from her mouth in praise of Lamashtu. Now bearing the bastard sword in her unwarped hand, and obviously glowing with divine protections, she lashes out at the imposing monk, dealing a terrible blow before rushing away back across the new room as the rest of the party carefully leaps down the hall.

This new room is some kind of ancient temple… to usury? A seeming mountain of coins fills the eastern wall, but Taeva quickly discovers that it is an illusion. An office of some kind is behind, but nothing of immediate use is apparent in it. With still no better option than to see how Nualia’s trap unfolds, the party follows her into the obviously ajar set of double doors on the far side of the room.

Dresden Files Homebrew: Racial Perks

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Originally posted January 2009

This one is perhaps the most Dresden-specific. I had previously provided Fate-specific pricing for these traits, but the relative value of each trait will vary from system to system, so price as you will.

Wizard

Not a race per se, a wizard is anyone who possesses a natural facility with magic, expressed as a Power trait (called Wizardry, here).

Wizards can purchase the full range of occult skills and advantages and use them to cast magic. The higher the character’s Wizardry rating, the more likely he or she is to inadvertently destroy nearby technology in a stressful moment. As a general rule of thumb, the character has a hard time using any technology developed more recently than a decade per level of wizardry with any safety at all. Many wizards play it safe and assume that anything newer than the 1920s will explode at the worst moment.

If the system has a specific expendable trait linked to Wizardry (e.g., Quintessence), it refills to after every night’s sleep and can be recovered during periods of strong emotion.

Knight

This race is intended for characters such as Knights of the Cross, but also can be used for very talented, dedicated secular individuals such as Murphy.

A knight is a mortal imbued with the ability to direct purpose or faith to nobler ends. The most well known knights are the Knights of the Cross, but any mortal with the ability to direct faith to occult ends can be considered a knight. The character buys the powers below a la carte as advantages. Abuse of the power for selfish ends can make it fail or can result in losing it altogether.

  • Dedication/Called to Serve – The character has a Faith/Purpose trait that can be used to power other knightly abilities or for any other standard uses of Faith in the setting. Price this trait at whatever is reasonable for the rules set.
  • At Peace with the World/All God’s Creatures – Any natural animal (that isn’t being supernaturally controlled) will never attack the character unless the animal feels seriously threatened. The character’s Purpose/Faith trait can be used as a skill to convince friendly animals to take actions slightly beyond their normal capabilities or intelligence.
  • Instincts/Right Place – The character can spend a point of Purpose/Faith to get an impression of where he or she needs to go next to achieve a defined goal. If the scene stops focusing on the character, he or she can spend the aspect point to re-enter another scene when needed.
  • Intent/Right Time – The character can spend a point of Purpose/Faith to get an impression of when a particular event will occur or to show up in time for something that it seems improbable that the character could make.
  • Determination/Shield of Faith – The character can spend a point of Purpose/Faith to add his ranks in that trait to his armor rating for one attack, after the attack has been rolled.
  • Iron Will/Higher Authority – The character adds his or her Purpose/Faith rating to rolls to resist all attempts to influence his or her mind or soul supernaturally. The power rating can even be rolled against powers that wouldn’t normally allow resistance. This ability does not prevent the character from being manipulated by mortal means.

The Purpose/Faith pool refills to full after every downtime and can be recovered when a test of the character’s purpose or faith is passed. In addition to the powers above, points can be spent on any roll that is directly related to a mission that the purpose or faith made unavoidable.

Finally, the trait can be rolled when channeled through a symbol of the character’s beliefs to drive off or harm supernatural creatures that are weak to such faith.

White Court Vampire

White court vampires are mortals that, from birth, form a symbiotic relationship with a non-sentient Nevernever entity typically referred to as the Hunger. They need to drain the psychic energy from other subjects via strong emotions, and court families break by their preferred emotion (the Raithes use lust, the Malvora prefer fear, etc.). Their skin and blood is pale.

All members of the race have an expendable trait called Hunger. When spending points of Hunger, their eyes turn white and they radiate cold. Despite these unnatural occurrences, White Court vampires are not harmed by the sun, are not harmed by faith anywhere near the levels of other vampires (though powerful manifestations can still harm them), and they have a soul. Conversely, their dependency on creating and feeding on impure emotions leaves them vulnerable to pure love. They have no ability to use occult powers to influence the thoughts of someone in love (though amplified beauty may be enough to have some effect) and cannot feed on such an individual without burning themselves (It is unclear in the books whether this is specific to the Raithes’ use of lust, and whether the Malvora might have a similar weakness to courage).

White Court vampires treat the system’s attractiveness advantage as two points higher than it is naturally. By spending Hunger, this rating can be made temporarily even higher on a one for one basis. The character can dominate a target with this unearthly beauty: if the character focuses on a particular subject, the target must make a contested roll of an appropriate resistance trait against the character’s current appearance rating to take any offensive action or to resist the character’s sexual advances.

The two points of extra attractiveness plus any gained from Hunger expenditures can even be used to seduce targets that wouldn’t normally be attracted to the character. However, a character seduced in this way will often feel violated; it is often more expedient to seduce the target via mundane means.

Again, Malvora vampires may be able to become more terrifying rather than attractive. It is unclear from the current books.

The character can exert minor mind control upon subjects that he or she has fed upon recently or often and can generally get a good idea of the location of a subject that has been fed upon repeatedly (this connection works both ways). When dealing with the vampire, reduce the subject’s resistance trait by the number of times the character has fed upon him or her (to a minimum of 0). The character rolls Hunger to make mental commands (these are almost always audible and in close proximity, not psychic or at range).

The Hunger is recovered by feeding on the emotions of a seduced or otherwise dominated subject. The character must have physical contact, and must advance to intimate contact to take more than a single point from a target. The vampire can generally take a number of points from a target equal to that target’s willpower-related trait before he or she becomes brain damaged, insane, or dead. If the character ever runs out of Hunger points and is not able to feed immediately, he or she quickly becomes irritable and will go insane or lose control of the hunger if the emptiness persists long enough.

In addition to amplified appearance, the vampire can spend Hunger points for bonus or extra success on any physical or social roll. He or she can also spend a point of Hunger to heal a wound of their choice (only once per turn).

Without spending Hunger, White Court vampires heal at the speed of a human multiplied by their Hunger level.

Werewolf

Werewolves are mortals that use a specialized magic spell to transform into the form of a wolf. Foregoing standard thaumaturgic techniques, they internalize the spell until they can shift back and forth with little effort. Though they take the form of a wolf, werewolves gain none of the instincts that go with the body. This means they do not risk being trapped in a feral state, and can use their full human intelligence, but they must learn the form from scratch.

Werewolves use an expendable trait called Instinct. This trait is restored to full after a good night’s rest, but cannot be increased in any other common way. Roll a simple test of Instinct to change forms; the roll total subtracted from 10 is the number of seconds it takes to change forms.

Instinct points can be spent on any physical roll when in wolf form, and on sense-based rolls.

In wolf form, a werewolf is assumed to have second tier weapons and armor (equivalent to short sword damage and leather armor), and can smell and hear better than a human as well as moving somewhat faster. Werewolves using pack tactics and taking advantage of a large target can gain additional bonuses in combat.

Werewolves do not heal any faster than a normal human does.

Lycanthrope

A lycanthrope is a human that is a natural channel for a spirit of bestial rage. From birth, they are very much like animals in human bodies with human intellect. They are stronger and faster than humans and heal quickly.

Lycanthropes use Instinct, much like werewolves. This trait is restored to full after a good night’s rest, but cannot be increased in any other common way. Roll a simple test of Instinct to cow other lycanthropes and natural predators, or to scare away prey. Instinct points can be spent on any physical roll and on sense-based rolls. They can also spend a point of Instinct to heal a wound of their choice (only once per turn). Without spending aspect, lycanthropes heal at the speed of a human multiplied by their Insticnt level.

A lycanthrope has no natural weapons, but does have senses somewhat greater than a human.

The GM can offer a lycanthrope player refreshed Instinct for succumbing to violent urges when in an emotional state.

Changeling

Changeling are children born to one mortal and one fae parent. Typically, they have a normal mortal childhood and awaken their fae natures at puberty. The fae side calls stronger and stronger over the years, and ultimately the changeling must decide whether to become a full mortal or a full fae. Until that choice is made, the changeling is beholden to the same court and chain of command as his or her fae parent.

Changelings use an expendable trait called Wyld. This trait is restored to full after a good night’s rest and can be recovered when spending time in Faerie.

Pick a single archetypal quality such as great strength, beauty, or ability with machines and crafts. Wyld points can be spent on any roll related to this archetype. Additionally, a point can be spent to invoke a special effect related to this archetype that isn’t normally possible with related skills (such as crashing through a wall, entrancing someone with beauty, or making a
seemingly impossible device).

Unless it is part of their archetype, changelings do not heal any faster than a normal human does.

Burnt Offerings, Part 9

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Once the party has recovered from the terrible sight, they head further into the residential section. Taeva is in the lead, and opens a door to find the bugbear’s original living space. Just as she’s about to turn, the door behind is pulled open, revealing a heavily armored warrior who tags her with a bastard sword then retreats back into his room. What follows is perhaps the most threat a single individual has posed to the party, as the roguish man trades quips with the party while laying about with the sword and dodging’s Haggor’s attempts to grapple. He seems to think that this is all a job, but refuses to cut a deal for his life until he’s obviously overmatched. However, as he’s trying to surrender, Balekh goes ahead and shocks him into unconsciousness. As they’re looting his body and restraining him, Taeva has to be prevented from spitefully cutting off his hair.

After finding nothing much of interest in the rest of the residences, the group drags the unconscious mercenary back towards the central chapel. They find a prison room that has been abandoned, and stash him in once of the cells. Convinced that the only remaining room is the chapel, they prepare themselves and then kick open the door. Haggor, in the lead, looks around at an obviously in-use temple to Lamashtu, but sees no immediate threats. Just as he lets his guard down for a moment, spectral, demonic hounds race from the shadows of the ceiling and charge him, each tearing off a chunk of his important vital bits. Balekh recognizes them as yeth hounds: extraplanar servants of demons with, amongst other qualities, a thick hide only easily pierced by silver. Haggor becomes painfully aware of this fact as his mighty swings do relatively little to the beasts.

Haggor, his blood pooling at his feet, grabs hold of one hound while the rest of the party gangs up on the other. Fortunately, Veshenga is able to make a couple of lucky precise shots at parts of its anatomy, leaving it easy for Balekh and Taeva to finish off. Unfortunately, the other beast is harder to put down: spinning in a desperate flurry of green half-orc skin and screaming spectral fur, Haggor is keeping the hound from attacking but making it hard to line up a killing shot. It is all he can do to turn it into Veshenga and Taeva’s sword blows, and little of their hits seem to be getting through its hide. Balekh gradually wounds it with a low level wand of magic missiles they found earlier on the wizard, but it seems that any moment it could break free, mortally wound the monk, and be loose on the rest of the party.

Fortunately, the group remembers that the wand wasn’t the only item they took from the wizard; a large silver comb isn’t a very effective weapon, but a scratch from silver is more useful at this point than a solid blow from a longsword. Veshenga takes a swipe, then passes the tool to the gnome to make sneak attacks at its exposed belly. Very quickly, the creature is dispatched.

The party stares at the ruined comb that possibly just saved their lives, takes stock of their current resources, and realizes that they are in no shape to risk fighting whatever the wailing guardian dogs might have called from the lower level. They leg it to the main stairs and set up a defensive perimeter in the upper courtyard, hoping that they’ll be able to rest and recover before dealing with whatever waits in the lower level of the dungeon.

Dresden Files Homebrew: Magic

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Originally posted January 2009

This is the second in the Dresden Files homebrew posts, with guidelines on how to do Dresden-style magic with the disconnect between Evocation and Thaumaturgy.

Evocation

Evocation places power before control.

To evoke an effect, roll the character’s magic power statistic (e.g., Arete in Mage, Sorcery in Buffy, etc.). The result on the roll is the Power of the effect. Before rolling, the player can choose to roll as if with a lower score, to hopefully wind up with a less powerful effect (if only minor power is needed).

Next, roll the character’s magic control statistic (e.g., Spheres in Mage, Occult in Buffy, etc.). Add any bonus from Foci. The result on the roll is the Control of the effect.

If the Control total is equal to or greater than the Power total, the effect is a complete success. For attacks, treat the Control total as the attack roll (and can be dodged or resisted), and the Power total as the damage. If the player got more Control than Power, the difference can also be used to achieve special effects (such as multiple targets, subtlety, etc.).

If the Power total is greater than the Control total, the effect is not perfectly controlled. For attacks, the Control is still used as the attack success (and can be dodged or resisted), and the Power total is still used as the damage. However, for each level the Power exceeds the Control, the GM is encouraged to apply a special, detrimental effect to the casting (destroys the environment, is especially noisy, etc.).

Inability to speak or gesture each impose a -1 to the Control roll.

For example:

Harry is trying to incinerate a vampire with his blasting rod. He rolls his Power statistic and gets a total Power of 7. He then rolls his Control statistic (with the blasting rod modifier) for a Control total of 5.

The vampire rolls 6 for its dodge, and dodges the clumsy blast. Meanwhile, the
unfocused effect is loudly burning down a nearby building. If Harry had rolled a 7 on his Control, he would have succeeded in burning the vampire and driving it back, and would have even had a spare level of control to keep the blast quiet.

Thaumaturgy

Thaumaturgy places control before power.

Thaumaturgic effects range in rating from 1-13 (or whatever the theoretical upper maximum roll is for the game system in use, without extended successes). The roll on the related control statistic (e.g., spheres, occult, etc.) indicates how powerful of an effect can actually be generated from the spell. (e.g., if the player rolls a 5 on the control statistic, only up to a rank 5 thaumaturgic effect can be created at this time).

The character then proceeds to roll the power statistic (e.g., arete, sorcery, etc.) to catalyze the ritual; this is usually done in a magic circle with each roll taking about a minute. (Some effects, like enchanting items, take longer than this.)

The GM creates a required success total based on the rating and complexity of the ritual. Once the final success needed is gained, the intended effect occurs. Wide-ranging, complex effects have more success per level than narrow ones.

Ratings:

(These ratings are based on a starting character being able to get a roll as good as 9, with an average of 5, and for masters to have no problem getting a 13. If your system has a smaller range of success, the chart below should be collapsed appropriately. If you collapse this chart, you should increase the successes for each level of scope.)

  • 1 – Very minor parlor trick: locate a target nearby with a good sympathetic link
  • 3 – Noticeable effect: locate a target within a mile with a good link or nearby with a tenuous link, send a calling to someone with a great link
  • 5 – Full effect: locate a target within the city with a good link or within a mile with a tenuous link, impede a minor being with a good link (power 1-2), summon and bind a minor being with a true name link
  • 7 – Significant effect: locate a target within the city with a tenuous link, impede a powerful being with a good link (power 3-4), harm someone with a good link, summon and bind a powerful being with a true name link
  • 9 – Major effect: impede a very powerful being with a good link (power 5-6), kill someone with a good link, summon and bind a very powerful being with a true name
  • 11 – Amazing effect: impede an amazingly powerful being with a good link (power 7+), kill someone with a tenuous link, summon and bind an amazingly powerful being with a true name
  • 13 – Epic effect: impede or summon a legendary being, kill an unknown target, bring ruin or a major curse on someone, rewind time, and all the other fun stuff the Laws of Magic prevent

Successes per Rating (Scope):

Multiply the scope ratings below by the difficulty rating of the effect to generate the total number of successes required (e.g., a Minor complexity Noticeable effect requires 3 successes).

  • 1 – Minor: A single target, a three-foot radius, and/or a few minutes duration
  • 2 – Moderate: A couple of targets, a ten-foot radius, and/or 15-minute duration
  • 3 – Significant: A few targets, an acre, and/or an hour’s duration
  • 4 – Major: A dozen targets, a city block, and/or until sunrise
  • 5 – Extreme: A hundred targets, a square mile, and/or a few days duration
  • 6 – Epic: A thousand targets, a dozen square miles, and/or a life’s duration
  • 7 – Apocalyptic: A city and/or as long as a bloodline persists

If this system makes it too common for players to pull of very complex, wide-ranging thaumaturgy, there are several ways to make it harder:

  • A: Add the complexity to the difficulty rating
  • B: Punish failure harshly with magical backfire
  • C: Punish success harshly due to probably breaking the laws of the Council
  • D: Increase the time per roll by some factor for each step up the complexity chart
  • E: Any combination of the above

Belief and Failure:

It is often said that it’s impossible to work magic that the wizard doesn’t believe in; and that he or she must be truly passionate to pull off a major spell. This is because the power to work magic comes from a wizard’s internal life energy which is replenished when in the throes of strong emotions (which, inevitably, color the magic they’re replenishing).

A wizard that begins a thaumaturgic effect with a rating higher than his Power statistic rating must spend a point of the default magical expendable (e.g., quintessence, health, etc.) every roll, for no other benefit than rolling.

Each time the caster fails to spend a point, he or she takes a cumulative-1 penalty to the rest of the rolls for the casting. During the casting, the wizard can regain expendable points at the same rate, as long as he or she feels a strong emotion that is appropriate to the spell being cast. Otherwise, the wizard must find an alternate source of energy, such as a storm.

Concert Effects:

Up to 13 individuals can help with a thaumaturgic effect. One of these is the primary caster and the rest are assistants. The assistants can spend expendable points, on a one for one basis, to negate any penalty the caster has for a single roll. For example, if the caster is currently at -1 because he failed to spend an point, an assistant could spend one to negate that penalty. Next turn, the caster will be up to a -2 penalty if he cannot spend points, so his assistants will have to spend two points to counter the penalty.

For example:

Harry is trying to locate a missing child, and has some of the kid’s hair for a good link. However, it’s a good bet that the kid is miles across the city. This is a level 5 effect, and Harry easily beats that number on his control skill roll. He has a power score of 5, which means he does not have to spend points for every roll. He figures he might need more than an hour to track the kid, so settles on a scope of 4 (the area of the search isn’t important for a directed search).

Harry needs 20 successes (Rating 5 times Scope 4).

His first roll is a a total of 6. He marks 6 successes. His next three rolls are a total of 3 each time. He now has 15 successes. His fifth roll is another total of 6, so he marks off the last successes, which completes the casting. He spent five rolls and, thus, five minutes on the casting.

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