Rogues: Making a Villainous Character

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This is an exercise I put together for coming up with a street-level supervillain PC, on par with the Gotham rogues for power level. After outputting the character summaries, you can then use those as a guide for building the character in your system of choice.

Character Creation

  • What is your gimmick/theme? Start thinking about your brand as a villain, and how it will inform your skill choices below.
  • Skills:
    • What is your primary skillset? Suggestions include: Intellectual/Scientist, Ninja/Martial Artist, Brute/Wrestler, Thief/Catburglar, Con Artist/Actor, Daredevil/Provocateur, Ex-Police/Lawyer, Soldier/Mercenary, Industrialist/Mobster.
    • Pick two narrowly defined skills from within your primary skillset (e.g., a particular academia, science, weapon, style, type of criminal skill, role, etc.). Write them down for later.
    • What is your “power”? This can be either a low-level meta power or a particular physical or mental competency that is a maximum or slightly-beyond-human norm. If the latter, it should be directly relevant to your primary skillset (e.g., Acrobat works for Ninja, Thief, or Daredevil but not for Intellectual or Brute).
    • What is your hobby? This should be something useful that you devote a lot of time to, but not directly relevant to your primary skillset.
    • What is your primary social interaction method? Examples include charming, sexy, scary, witty, psychiatrist, threatening, cool, terse, etc.
  • Take the six skills you defined above (skillset, sub-skill 1, sub-skill 2, power, hobby, and social) and rank them from best to worst. If your sub-skills are worse than your skillset, they represent particular weaknesses in your technique, and if they’re higher, they’re areas in which you excel. Your second-lowest skill will be something that you’re barely trained in, and your lowest skill will be something in which you’re amusingly incompetent.
  • Why are you stuck in a life of crime instead of using your skills for honest work? This is often a mental illness (like most of Batman’s rogues), but could be something else you can use that would keep you from going straight without a huge reason.
  • What’s your main weakness that the “heroes” have used to defeat you in the past? This can be the same reason you’re stuck in a life of crime.
  • Optional, but could have story perks: Pick an established DC character that you have a personal connection to (e.g., villain you used to hench for and know how to use their gadgets, hero you have some level of foil-rivalry with such that your relationship is frenemies, etc.).
  • Come up with a name (real and costumed) and a rough description of your costume.
  • Rank the following criminal motivations for how they matter to you personally, from most important to least:
    • Wealth: Just in it for the life of luxury
    • Competence: Reputation for accomplishing what was intended
    • Fear: Reputation for causing death and pain
    • Notoriety: Reputation among civilians for being a villain
    • Honor: Reputation for keeping one’s word and avoiding universal taboos (like harming children)
    • Respect: Reputation among other criminals/villains

Example Rogues

Thomas West

A local threat that peaked a few decades ago, the Dieselpunk was all about vehicle-based mayhem. A tatted-up rocker with a penchant for leather and goggles, most of his crimes involved elaborate cars and trains that he’d built himself into essentially tanks (but do NOT call him Thomas the Tank Engine, he hates that). It was unclear at the time why such a competent individual didn’t leverage his skills as a mechanic or driver for legitimate means, but he admits that it was mostly being brought up by criminals and having too-deeply embraced the anarcho-socialist mentality of his preferred music scene. Unfortunately, basing all your crimes on large vehicles that need roads or tracks makes it easy for more mobile crimefighters to head you off (especially in Terminus rush hour), so the Dieselpunk was successful less often than hoped, and spent a lot of years in jail.

After his last long stint in the pen, he finally did what most aging anarchists do and embraced wealth and the respect of his peers, going more or less legit. He wound up inheriting a gentrifying old train depot from former local villain King Plow, and opened the Terminus West nightclub and concert venue. He still affects a cleaned-up punk vibe and keeps painfully thin, so despite going gray he maintains an aura of cool that serves him well as a rock venue owner. The complex also has an unadvertised underground lounge that admits local criminals, and features numerous escape tunnels in case of crimefighter raids. This serves as one of the primary networking spots for local rogues, and the only real drawback is that Mr. West (“Call me Tommy”) will often show off the latest jams he’s been working on (he always was more enthusiastic than competent as a musician). He’s generally willing to give advice and help on mechanical engineering to the good tippers at his lounge.

Skills: Driving, Mechanic (Power), Vehicle Daredevil, Cool, Piloting, Music
Aspirations: Wealth, Respect, Notoriety, Competence, Honor, Fear

Companion Cube

Terminus villains have an answer to the Bat-family’s Oracle in the mysterious hacker Companion Cube. Believed to be a protege of the Calculator, the almost-certainly-a-she presents to her clients as simply an icon of a cube with a heart on it taken from a relatively-recent video game and a digitally-masked voice. Excellent in most computer-based disciplines (though with a slight problem managing to pilot drones effectively when she “comes along” on a job), she especially excels at handling security systems (and keeping an eye out for incoming crimefighters). Most of the local rogues with any kind of computer expertise assume she must be a low-level technopath to accomplish some of the things she manages. She clearly wants to make her social persona a terse, no-nonsense type, but she frequently gets excited or too-comfortable with her clients and talks way too much. This is how everyone found out about her deep investment in cosplay, and there’s a running game at the Terminus West lounge to try to figure out which of the heavily-costumed groupies is Companion Cube in her latest disguise. She has a sideline producing costumes for many of the city’s villains (and possibly some of the heroes).

She seems to largely be turned to a life of crime out of disgust at trying to live the straight life. Many suspect that she must have hit the glass ceiling for female programmers, and bounced off of it hard and angrily. However, since she mostly oversees jobs for the cred, trying to be a L33T H4X0R, her biggest weakness is that she’s probably still holding on to her day job, and isn’t available a lot of the time. Crimefighters with money have managed to sideline her in the past by various attempts to investigate local technology firms, which gets her to slow down her nighttime activities for a while to not look suspicious.

Skills: Security, Hacker, Cosplay, Drones, Technopath, Terse
Aspirations: Respect, Competence, Honor, Wealth, Fear, Notoriety

Trailblazer

Perhaps the quirkiest rogue in Terminus is Frank Torres, the Trailblazer. A fairly-powerful meta with super-strength and invulnerability, he isn’t particularly fast or agile, and is too heavy to be easily transported by most consumer vehicles. So he is an avowed pedestrian and explorer, and has an unparalleled on-the-ground understanding of Terminus’ map (he’s an enthusiastic geocacher). The mountain of a man doesn’t bother with a costume very often, because he’s over seven-feet tall and thick enough to compensate for the square-cube law, so he doesn’t exactly blend, but he sometimes goes with an ironic British explorer motif complete with pith helmet, khakis, and mustache (he can grow an excellent mustache). Surprisingly quick-witted for those that expect your typical dumb brute, he unfortunately isn’t that great of a hand-to-hand fighter and is absolutely terrible at situational awareness (most rogues want their brutes to pay attention to where the crimefighters are, and not accidentally take out load-bearing walls).

The quirkiness of Trailblazer is that he’s not really a criminal. He will sometimes sign onto jobs to get a paycheck (the man has to eat a ridiculous number of calories), but his real claim to crime is that his pet peeve is people that cut off pedestrian access. He has hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage from stomping cars blocking crosswalks and construction vehicles that park on the sidewalk, because he’s walking here. Because of the magnitude of his powers, there aren’t many crimefighters in town that can do much about one of his sprees, and they’re largely at a loss about what to try. He mostly goes to jail when Superman happens to be in town anyway.

Skills: Unstoppable, Geocaching, Brute, Witty, Fighting, Situational Awareness
Aspirations: Notoriety, Wealth, Honor, Fear, Competence, Respect

Rogues: What Villains Want

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I watched the new Harley Quinn cartoon at about the same time recently that I finally got around to reading the now-venerable Cat Tales fanfic. Meanwhile, I am Pagliacci is an excellent ongoing fanfic that started up recently. All of that got me thinking about why there aren’t more games that focus on the villain side of things, rather than the heroes.

One of my assertions about gaming is that Superheroes and Horror are the hardest genres to run, by virtue of their protagonists generally being entirely reactive. The classic mode of tabletop games is the self-directed D&D adventuring party, and even modern module-based fantasy games generally give the PCs a lot of control over the timing of what they attempt. Running a dungeon is much more akin to committing a crime than foiling one. Similarly, Shadowrun, from a mile-high perspective, is a very similar play cadence to D&D, concerned with getting into the stronghold and acquiring the rewards from the most defended central point.

Meanwhile, games with PCs that are superheroes tend to have a much harder time not making everything a total railroad. Batman is on Joker’s timetable, most of the time. So why not just play Joker?

This post is mostly my brainstorming on the kinds of rewards and jobs that villainous PCs can pursue. With enough time and production value, the GM could make up essentially quest cards with various crime opportunities that are are upcoming, and allow research to plan the job and find out more of the particulars.

Villains Want

  • Wealth: Cash money
  • Leverage: Information or resources that can be used to extract things from others (usually through blackmail)
  • Favors: Pending payback for undertakings previously done on behalf of others
  • Brand: Success at forwarding a personal theme
  • Competence: Reputation for accomplishing what was intended
  • Fear: Reputation for causing death and pain
  • Notoriety: Reputation among civilians for being a villain
  • Honor: Reputation for keeping one’s word and avoiding universal taboos (like harming children)
  • Respect: Reputation among other criminals/villains

Potential Crimes/Undertakings Have

  • Payoff: Value of the score itself (Wealth, Leverage, or resources that can be used for a further undertaking)
  • Danger: Base danger to the villain on attempting it (from on-site defenders)
  • Emergency: Speed of response from law enforcement/super heroes
  • Collateral: Risk of harm to bystanders or unrelated infrastructure (potential loss of Honor, but increase of Fear)
  • Branding: Being on theme for one or more villains

Example Undertakings

  • Rob a bank/museum (night): High Payoff, usually moderate Danger, potentially reduced Emergency depending on how it’s handled, low Collateral
  • Rob a bank/museum (daylight): As night, except higher Emergency and very high Collateral; increased chance of gaining Notoriety and potentially lowered security measures (because things aren’t locked up for the night)
  • Rob a secure facility: Usually high Payoff and Danger, variable Emergency depending on whether the facility is legit and calls for help, usually low Collateral
  • Rob a vehicle in transit: High Payoff and often lower difficulty and Danger than robbing a building, potentially high Collateral and Emergency depending on where the vehicle is attacked
  • Rob a party: High Payoff (often easier to rob socialites wearing jewelry than hit safes), usually low Danger depending on the party, but very high chance of Collateral and Emergency in most cases
  • Break out another criminal: Low Payoff except in Favors, high Danger and Emergency, usually low Collateral; good way to increase Respect
  • Extortion: Variable Payoff depending on the target, usually low Danger but high Emergency (or vice versa if it’s the kind of person that won’t go to the law), low Collateral but good way to increase Fear
  • Kidnapping: High Payoff but extremely high Emergency and Collateral; this can go very wrong if all the variables aren’t accounted for
  • Hostages (People): This differs from Kidnapping in that the hostages are usually taken in a particular location; extremely high Emergency and Collateral, and this is rarely successful except as a delaying tactic for some other plan, as people don’t like to pay for this; can be a way to increase Honor or Fear
  • Hostages (Infrastructure): This usually involves using explosives or similar to threaten to destroy an important inanimate object/structure; often safer than taking people as hostages, as governments will often pay for this, oddly; Collateral may be lower depending on what’s rigged to blow
  • Destroy Infrastructure: Sometimes the plan is simply to destroy infrastructure for some other ongoing purpose; there’s usually no immediate Payoff (unless as part of some kind of real estate or stock shorting scheme in which case this is probably Insider Trading), high Collateral and Emergency, and various reputations can increase drastically
  • Trafficking: Gain ownership in the distribution tree for illegal goods (drugs, weapons, prostitutes, etc.); this is usually a high recurring Payoff but involves a lot of Danger to set up (or a series of other undertakings) and an ongoing chance of Emergency as the law and heroes try to break up the business
  • Smuggling: High Payoff, low Danger, variable Emergency, low Collateral; unless the smuggling is very high profile, this is often a pretty safe crime to do to build money, but doesn’t involve a lot of reputation increases because of that
  • Suborn Institution: Use blackmail, mind control, disguise, etc. to control a person or otherwise infiltrate an organization; this can have a very high Payoff, and other things are highly variable based on what’s being suborned and what methods are used
  • Assassination: Potentially high Payoff if contracted, and usually commensurately high Danger and Emergency but low Collateral in most cases; good chance of raising different reputations depending on the target
  • Insider Trading: Do a crime that will inflate the value of something already possessed; high Payoff and variable other risks depending on what’s being done
  • Crusade: Do something that only has value in forwarding a personal agenda; high Branding but low Payoff, with variable amounts of other risks

Savage Worlds Rules Summary

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I put this together for my players in the Scion game. It’s a summary of the rules for the 2019 Explorer’s Edition update of the Savage Worlds rules.

Basics

Skill checks:

  • To make a check, roll the skill die plus a wild die (usually d6) and keep the highest result. Both dice explode (“Ace”).
  • If you do not have a skill, you roll a d4 plus the wild die and subtract 2 from the highest result.
  • The difficulty is 4 unless noted otherwise.
  • Every +4 on the margin of success is a Raise and has a special effect (e.g., rolling an 8 against the standard difficulty is one Raise and rolling a 12 is two).

The basic attributes define soft caps for skills but are not added to skill rolls. Instead, attributes are used for:

  • Agility is used to resist physical Tests.
  • Smarts is used to resist Taunt and generate Power ranges.
  • Spirit is used to resist Intimidate and remove Shaken.
  • Strength defines encumbrance and adds to melee damage rolls.
  • Vigor controls Toughness and is used to recover from Incapacitation (and Wounds with a Benny).
  • Pace determines movement speed.
  • Parry is the target number of melee attacks against you when you are armed.
  • Toughness is the difficulty of a damage roll against you (it usually includes armor as well).

Bennies:

  • A Benny is the game’s equivalent of a drama/hero/fate point.
  • Most players start each session with three and can be awarded more for story goals and whenever any PC draws a Joker in combat.
  • You can spend a Benny to:
    • Reroll of any trait test (reroll all dice) that isn’t a critical failure. You can spend multiple and keep the best result. You can also spend Bennies to reroll damage rolls.
    • Recover more quickly from Shaken or to try to soak Wounds.
    • Draw a new action card after everyone has drawn (i.e., after you’ve seen when you’ll go).
    • Immediately regain 5 Power Points.
    • Narratively edit the story.

Combat

  • Rounds are six seconds.
  • Initiative is “rolled” every round by drawing from a deck of cards and acting in order Ace to Deuce. If you draw a Joker you can go at any time, and also gain +2 to all trait and damage rolls for your action.
  • You can perform multiple actions in a round (you get a free move on top of your action). These actions must be different things or at least involve different wielded weapons (e.g., you can’t attack twice with the same weapon). You take a -2 to all actions for each extra action you perform.
  • Attacks:
    • Melee: Roll Fighting vs. a difficulty of the target’s Parry.
    • Ranged: Roll Shooting or Throwing (at a -2 penalty for each extra range increment beyond short) against difficulty 4 (may be further modified by cover, concealment, or attacking armed targets point blank).
  • Damage:
    • Every Raise on the attack roll adds +1d6 damage.
    • You don’t roll a wild die for damage, but the dice do Ace.
    • All damage dice are added together.
    • The damage total is compared to the target’s Toughness/Armor total.
    • If the roll is a success, the target is Shaken. If the target was already Shaken, he takes a Wound. Each Raise also deals a Wound.
  • Shaken and Wounds:
    • Shaken characters can only take free actions (such as moving) and attempt to remove Shaken.
    • On your turn, you must make a Spirit roll to remove Shaken. You may spend a Benny at any time to remove Shaken.
    • When you are about to receive one or more Wounds, you can spend a Benny to attempt to Soak the damage. Roll Vigor: each success and Raise reduces the Wounds taken by 1.
    • Wounds apply penalties to Pace and all trait tests (-1 for each Wound).
    • A character with four Wounds is Incapacitated and must roll Vigor to avoid dying.

Situational Rules

  • Aim: Take a round aiming (no movement either) to get +2 to next round’s ranged attack (or ignore up to 4 points of penalties from range, cover, called shot, scale, or speed).
  • AoE: Any AoE attack rolls one attack roll but separate damage against all affected.
  • Bound and Entangled: Entangled characters are unable to move and Distracted. Bound characters are also Vulnerable. See page 98 for rules on breaking free.
  • Breaking Things: Items have a Hardness rating. Damage must equal or exceed the Hardness to break that item with an attack. You can use these rules to break shields and cover.
  • Called Shot: Get around Armor by taking a penalty to hit unarmored locations (Limb -2, Hands/Head -4, Armor joint -6) or similarly hit a small target. Head shots deal +4 damage. Hand shots count as a Disarm.
  • Cover and Obstacles: If target is covered, attack rolls suffer -2 (light), -4 (medium), -6 (heavy), or -8 (near total). Your attacks might punch through certain types of Cover as if they were armor.
  • Defend: A defense as your action (no multi-actions) increases Parry by +4. You can move but not run.
  • Disarm: Make a called shot at -2 or -4. The defender must beat the damage with a Strength test if it hits the item. If the defender is hit instead, he must roll Strength at -2 or -4 plus Wound penalties if the attack shakes or wounds him.
  • Distracted and Vulnerable: Both states last until the end of your next turn. Distracted makes you take a -2 penalty to all trait rolls. Vulnerable grants opponents +2 to attack you.
  • Drop, The: If you are unaware of an opponent, she gets +4 to attack and damage against you for one action (this does not stack with Vulnerable). If you are Shaken or worse, make a Vigor roll (-2 if hit in the head) or drop unconscious.
  • Evasion: Some slow attacks may be evaded if you succeed at an Agility roll (with a -2 penalty).
  • Fatigue: Certain effects apply Fatigue rather than damage. You become Fatigued, then Exhausted, then Incapacitated. Each level of Fatigue applies -1 to all trait rolls.
  • Finishing Move: You can automatically kill a helpless target with a lethal weapon as an action.
  • Firing Into Melee: Use the innocent bystander rules.
  • Ganging Up: Each ally adjacent to and attacking a target past the first gives +1 to all allies for the attack. Each adjacent ally of the target cancels a point of this bonus.
  • Grappling: Make an Athletics roll against the target’s Athletics to Entangle the target (Bound on a Raise). See page 101 for additional rules.
  • Illumination: Attack rolls suffer -2 in dim light, -4 in darkness (and targets can’t be attacked more than 10” away), and -6 in pitch darkness/target is invisible.
  • Improvised Weapons: Take -2 to attack rolls, and deal Str+d4 for light objects, +d6 for medium, and +d8 for heavy.
  • Innocent Bystanders: If you miss with a ranged attack and roll 1s on both dice, you hit a random victim adjacent to or otherwise in the line of fire of the original target. Shotguns and automatic weapons may have an easier time hitting bystanders (see page 102).
  • Nonlethal Damage: You can do nonlethal damage with fists or blunt melee weapons (-1 to attack for edged melee weapons using the flat). A target Incapacitated by nonlethal damage is knocked out for 1d6 hours instead of being in danger of dying.
  • Prone: Gain medium cover against ranged attacks from 3” or further away, but -2 Parry and Fighting rolls in melee. Standing uses 2” of movement.
  • Push: Make an opposed Strength or Athletics test. On a success, push the target 1”, or 2” on a Raise. Running, Shields, and Size affect this (see page 104).
  • Ranged Weapons in Melee: You cannot use long guns in melee. The TN is the target’s Parry instead of the normal 4. If you try to attack a non-adjacent target while opponents are threatening you in melee, you immediately become Vulnerable.
  • Recoil: Automatic weapons can impose a -2 penalty when taking multiple shots.
  • Reloading: Arrows and sling stones can be reloaded once per turn as a free action. Bolts, clips, magazines, or single bullets require an action to reload. Some specific weapons reload even more slowly. You must roll Agility (at a -2 penalty) to reload successfully when running.
  • Shotguns: Shotguns are weird. See page 105 for shotgun attack rules.
  • Size and Scale: It’s easier to hit proportionately larger targets and harder to hit proportionately smaller ones. Creatures have scale from -6 to +6 (humans are 0). See page 106.
  • Stunned: If you are stunned by a power or stun weapon, you’re Distracted, Prone, can’t move or take actions, don’t count towards Gang Up, and are subject to the Drop. Make a Vigor roll at the start of your turn to remove Stunned (but you become Distracted and Vulnerable without a Raise).
  • Support: Make a relevant skill roll to assist. Add +1 to the target’s roll for a success, or +2 for a Raise. Support bonuses are usually limited to +4.
  • Suppressive Fire: See page 107.
  • Surprise: Ambushers are automatically on Hold (can go whenever they want in the first round), but draw cards to check for Jokers. Roll Notice to be dealt in on the first round. Otherwise, you can’t act the first round of combat.
  • Test: Roll Athletics or Fighting opposed by Agility, Taunt opposed by Smarts, or Intimidate opposed by Spirit. On a success, the target is your choice of Distracted or Vulnerable. On a Raise, the target is also Shaken (or other situational effects, like being tripped prone). Modifiers may apply, and repetitive tests may have less effect over time.
  • Touch Attack: Simply attempting to touch the target (e.g., for a Power) adds +2 to your Fighting.
  • Two Weapons: Without edges, a second melee weapon adds +1 to your Fighting rolls against opponents with one or fewer weapons and no shield (does not help against creatures with natural weapons).
  • Unarmed Defender: If you aren’t armed, melee attackers gain +2 to their Fighting rolls to hit you.
  • Wild Attack: Add +2 to your attack and damage for the action, but you become Vulnerable.
  • Withdraw from Melee: All non-Shaken enemies get a free attack (but you could Defend).

Savage Scion, Part 3

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Purviews

Legendary characters often develop one or more Purviews as their legends grow. Each Purview grants a Boon and permissions for one or more Powers. Additionally, using Legend for narrative effect is more powerful when you have a Purview thematically linked to what you are attempting.

You may have up to your Legend total in Purviews. However, Purviews are unlocked based on your deeds, and it’s possible that your Legend will grow larger than your number of Purviews. If you have more Legend than Purviews, you may spend the excess to purchase generic boons (Birthrights) from your Pantheon (Creatures, Followers, Guides, and Relics).

Universal Purviews

Artistry

  • Boon: You can place a message into your art. Anyone you intend to understand it, upon experiencing the art, gets the message, transcending language barriers.
  • Power Permissions: Illusion, Light/Darkness, Sound/Silence

Beasts

  • Boon: Natural animals will never harm you if you do not attack them, unless compelled by someone with equal or greater Legend than your own. Imbue one Legend into an animal to speak with it.
  • Power Permissions: Beast Friend, Darksight, Shape Change

Beauty

  • Boon: You may imbue a point of Legend to alter a target’s beauty up or down one position in the scale: Impossibly Ugly, Ugly (Major) hindrance, Ugly (Minor) hindrance, Normal beauty, Attractive edge, Very Attractive edge, Impossibly Attractive. You can alter your own appearance in this way. Targets at either end of the scale will inspire violence in almost anyone that sees them undisguised (either from disgust or possessiveness). This change persists until the Legend is no longer imbued. You may spend Legend to make the change permanent.
  • Power Permissions: Blind, Confusion, Disguise

Chaos

  • Boon: You are never harmed by area effects or disasters that don’t target you specifically. You’re ignored by explosions and burst fire, overlooked by reigns of terror, never suffer accidents or acts of nature if there’s any chance you’ll go unscathed, and don’t even get wet in the rain.
  • Power Permissions: Confusion, Deflection, Havoc

Darkness

  • Boon: You can watch the dreams of any target that you can see. Imbue a point of Legend to craft a dream for someone you know well enough to provide a unique description. You can pass a message in this dream, and attempt to use social skills to persuade or terrify the target.
  • Power Permissions: Darksight, Light/Darkness, Slumber

Death

  • Boon: You can see and communicate with the dead and undead (even if normally unintelligent or incomprehensible) and you can perceive entrances to the underworld. Unless you attack them, the dead and undead will never attack you unless specifically compelled by their master.
  • Power Permissions: Banish, Divination, Zombie

Deception

  • Boon: All Notice or other investigation rolls against you (to track you, tell if you’re lying, penetrate your disguises, etc.) must get a Raise to be truly successful. A normal success imparts whatever false information you want your pursuers to know.
  • Power Permissions: Illusion, Invisibility, Mind Wipe

Earth

  • Boon: When you are standing on the ground (including the bottom floor of a building), you gain +2 armor and cannot be forcibly moved from your position by anyone with Legend equal to or lower than yours.
  • Power Permissions: Barrier, Burrow, Elemental Manipulation (Earth only)

Epic Agility

  • Boon: You may run indefinitely outside of combat (as if you had infinite Vigor). You may imbue a point of Legend to add +2 to all your rolls in any kind of Chase.
  • Power Permissions: Bolt (physical thrown object), Sloth/Speed, Wall Walker

Epic Strength

  • Boon: Triple your encumbrance limits and add +4 to all results when Breaking Things, Grappling, and Pushing. Imbue a point of Legend into yourself to ignore limits that would cause you to automatically fail when exerting your strength against larger targets.
  • Power Permissions: Burst (physical smash), Havoc (cone only), Smite

Epic Vigor

  • Boon: You are immune to poison and disease unless inflicted from a source with a higher Legend than your own. You can spend a point of Momentum as a Bennie to recover from Shaken and for Soak Rolls.
  • Power Permissions: Environmental Protection, Protection, Relief

Fertility

  • Boon: Imbue one or more points of Legend into a piece of land or a family (points based on size and whether its is supernatural) to bless or blight its fertility. If blessed, the plants and beasts on the land/members of the family resist disease and poisons (gaining +2 to tests, if required), never have complications with producing offspring, and grow hale and healthy. If blighted, nothing can grow on the land/the family members all become infertile. This lasts while the Legend is imbued, or for a century if the points are spent. A blessing can reverse a blight and vice versa.
  • Power Permissions: Entangle, Healing, Relief

Fire

  • Boon: You (and your worn/held possessions) are immune to fire damage, can breathe through smoke inhalation, and are not inconvenienced by temperature extremes (even in the hottest or coldest parts of the world).
  • Power Permissions: Blast, Damage Field, Elemental Manipulation (Fire only)

Forge

  • Boon: Imbue one or more points of Legend into an item you have crafted to make it a relic (power based on number of points imbued). Spend the points to make the relic permanent. Imbue a point of Legend for a duration of a crafting project to make that item one step better than normal items of its kind (and you may carry this imbued point directly into the item once it is completed to make in a relic, as described above).
  • Power Permissions: Barrier, Protection, Smite

Fortune

  • Boon: You can detect the fate bindings of anyone you interact with (and recognize the other half of connected bindings if you later meet them). Imbue one Legend to pull on one of your fate bindings or a binding of another who stays within close proximity of you. If the binding is another character, that character will be drawn to your proximity as quickly as is possible to have it seem coincidental. If that binding is a situation that the subject is known for, that situation will happen again as soon as it seems like a reasonable coincidence.
  • Power Permissions: Boost/Lower Trait, Deflection, Divination

Frost

  • Boon: You never suffer movement complications from walking over water in any state (you have perfect purchase on ice, and can flash-freeze water and even clouds long enough to support you). Imbue a point of Legend into an encounter to move the Reaction one step toward Neutral (cooling both hatred and love). While this point is imbued, the situation can be further modified toward Neutral, but not toward either extreme end.
  • Power Permissions: Bolt (ice), Environmental Protection, Sloth/Speed

Health

  • Boon: When you successfully heal a subject, gain Momentum. You are immune to poison and disease.
  • Power Permissions: Healing, Relief, Resurrection

Journeys

  • Boon: You always know exact directions, and the direction and distance toward the closest mythic landmark. While at a mythic landmark, you learn the direction and distance to the nearest three other such landmarks, and can mark one as your new heading. You can sense nearby gates and Axis Mundi and where they go. Imbue a point of Legend into a journey and you, your companions, and your vehicle ignore minor terrain difficulties and gain +2 to overcome significant obstacles while you maintain the imbuement (or until you complete the journey).
  • Power Permissions: Banish, Sloth/Speed, Teleport

Moon

  • Boon: You can automatically sense when a subject in your immediate proximity is a shapeshifter, and imbue one Legend and engage in a contested Spirit challenge to force it to change into the form you desire. When you are under the sky, gain a +1 to all rolls if the moon is more full than a crescent and +2 to all rolls if it is within two days of being full.
  • Power Permissions: Disguise, Invisibility, Light/Darkness

Order

  • Boon: You can automatically tell whether an action you consider or witness would be legal or illegal based on the laws of the location where you are. Mortal law enforcement officers are physically incapable of taking action against you if you have broken no laws, even if they are corrupt or misguided (imbue a point of Legend to have this protection extend to an ally you know is in danger from the law). If you imbue one point of Legend into a criminal, conversely, mortal law enforcement gains +2 to all rolls involving bringing that target to justice (from investigation, to pursuit, to the courtroom).
  • Power Permissions: Banish, Boost/Lower Trait, Mind Reading

Passion

  • Boon: Imbue a point of Legend into a subject you can see (or to whom you have a sympathetic connection) to create a strong emotion of your choice in that subject (you can also define the object of the emotion). The target can try to act rationally, but gains a -2 to all rolls that are not in line with fulfilling the emotion. This requires additional imbued Legend equal to the target’s Legend total for legendary targets. Spend a point of Legend to transform a long-lasting emotion (e.g., love or hate), if consummated, into a permanent, natural feeling.
  • Power Permissions: Empathy, Relief, Warrior’s Gift

Prosperity

  • Boon: Anyone you bribe/gift with an appropriate offering automatically starts one step of Reaction better disposed to you. Imbue a point of Legend into an object to make it extremely attractive to all potential owners: it will sell or auction for slightly more than the highest possible amount anyone would expect based on its appraised qualities.
  • Power Permissions: Boost/Lower Trait, Divination, Object Reading

Sky

  • Boon: You have perfect knowledge of the nearby weather for at least a day in advance, and never suffer any kind of complications from weather. Imbue one Legend to make your voice carry like thunder.
  • Power Permissions: Bolt (lightning), Elemental Manipulation (Air only), Fly

Stars

  • Boon: You can see by starlight as if it were bright sunlight. Imbue a point of Legend into a subject of which you are aware (you know them, have a good description, or they are the subject of a prophecy of which you’re aware). Designate that you want them to come to you, or to a location of your choice. Signs and portents will lead them unerringly toward the point you have chosen, and you can always tell whether they’ve begun their journey and how far along the trip they are.
  • Power Permissions: Divination, Farsight, Teleport

Sun

  • Boon: You can choose to glow with the light of the sun, dispelling darkness and damaging those harmed by such energy. Imbue Legend to overcome even mythically-powered darkness. Opponents that need to see have +2 difficulty to all attacks against you while you glow with the sun’s light. Imbue one Legend (whether or not you are glowing) to inspire all that can see you with hope: they automatically ignore mortal negative emotions, and gain +4 to resist supernatural effects that create these emotions (e.g., Fear).
  • Power Permissions: Blind, Mind Reading, Resurrection

War

  • Boon: Roll a second Wild Die for your Battle and Morale rolls when you lead a mass combat. Imbue one or more points of Legend to grant an equivalent number of Force Tokens to a mass combat you can see (must add to your side if you are participating, but you can choose either side if you are only observing). These points remain imbued until the battle is decided.
  • Power Permissions: Mind Link, Summon Ally, Warrior’s Gift

Water

  • Boon: Water acts as you desire within your close proximity: it will miss you if you do not want to be splashed/rained on, stays calm or moves out of the way when you need it to, and can push you at your full movement speed in a boat or when swimming. Imbue one Legend to calm or roil all the water within around a hundred yards of you (and you can selectively help allies and hinder foes you can see).
  • Power Permissions: Elemental Manipulation (Water only), Environmental Protection, Healing

Wild

  • Boon: When in the wilderness, you ignore plant-based travel difficulties, hazards, and obstacles. You gain +2 to Survival and Stealth rolls in the wilderness. Imbue a point of Legend into an area to enhance the wild nature of all mortals within: they take a -2 penalty to rolls involving reason and technology (including using firearms) but gain a +2 to Athletics, Fighting, Intimidation, Survival, and rolls to recover from Shaken.
  • Power Permissions: Beast Friend, Damage Field (thorns or pests), Entangle

Pantheon Purviews

Aesir (Wyrd)

  • Boon: You gain one Momentum whenever you encounter narrative difficulties that mirror your fate, or willingly take an action that advances your doom. Imbue one Legend into a subject for whom you can perform a seidr reading to bring fate to bear as a blessing or a curse. As a blessing, the subject gains +2 to rolls that advance the fate you’ve outlined. As a curse, the subject takes a -2 penalty to rolls that attempt to resist the fate you’ve outlined.
  • Power Permissions: Arcane Protection, Detect/Conceal Arcana, Divination

Netjer (Heku)

  • Boon: If you know a target’s true name, roll an additional Wild Die for all attempts to investigate or otherwise gain information about that target, as well as to Power uses upon the target. For mortals, the true name is usually the full given name, but may be much more obscure and require work to uncover for Legendary beings or mortals who understand the occult.
  • Power Permissions: Drain Power Points, Resurrection, Zombie

Teotl (Nextlahualli)

  • Boon: You gain a point of Momentum whenever you complete a Sacrifice to regain Legend, whenever you take a Wound, and whenever you deal a Wound to a target with a slashing weapon. Any session in which you have made a Sacrifice to regain Legend, you also do not need to eat, drink, or breathe for the remainder of the session.
  • Power Permissions: Drain Power Points, Fear, Zombie

Theoi (Metamorphosis)

  • Boon: Trivial characters automatically fail to see through any of your Power-based or mundane disguises, and all other characters suffer a -2 penalty to penetrate either type of disguise. Your Disguise Power can alter you to a different humanoid (or near-humanoid) species. The Range of Shape Change changes to Smarts for you (instead of Self). You can imbue a point of Legend into a use of the Disguise, Growth/Shrink, or Shape Change to make the Duration last while you keep the point imbued. If the subject is deserving, spend a point of Legend to make the change permanent.
  • Power Permissions: Disguise, Growth/Shrink, Shape Change

Tuatha (Geasa)

  • Boon: You can willingly take on one or more geasa, and gain Momentum every time a geis inconveniences you to follow. If you break a geis, it ends and all your Legend is spent (ending any you have imbued). Mortals that break a geis instead will soon be thrust into a deadly situation by fate. Spend one Legend (plus one for every point of the target’s Legend) to lay a geis upon another character.
  • Power Permissions: Divination, Puppet, Warrior’s Gift

Other Pantheons

Deva (Yoga), Kami (Yaoyorozu-No-Kamigami), Loa and Orisha (Cheval/Gun), Manitou (Dodaem), and Shen (Tianming): TBD

Generic Boons (Birthrights)

Creatures, Followers, and Guides

For one Boon, you may take the Followers or Sidekick Legendary Edge.

As a follower, this will represent mortal heroic companions, likely either drawn from devotees of your pantheon or who you have personally inspired due to your actions or the mythic role you represent.

As a creature, you obtain one or more mythic beasts of similar power level to the appropriate type of follower. These beasts will often have powers that you can’t get from mortal followers, but will be harder to fully deploy in mortal society or even to communicate with the way you could with humans.

As a guide, the creature or individual is typically significantly more powerful than the standard options, but sees its role as giving you guidance rather than direct aid. It is usually available, but will only step in with more than advice when you are in grave danger. It can provide valuable advice and training when you are planning your actions or trying to learn a new trait. Guides are an excellent way to justify developing Purviews not possessed by your divine parent (and, in fact, the Guide boon my be replaced by the Purview once its job is done).

Relics

Relics are typically built as Arcane Devices as per page 153. Unlike normal Arcane Devices, they use the wielder’s Focus skill to activate, and the wielder’s traits for any other derived details (such as Smarts for range). Also unlike normal devices, they have a refreshing pool of Power Points. Relics typically have 10 Power Points per boon invested in them, and recharge to full at sunrise each day (unless some other cycle time is more appropriate to the item). Relics typically will not have more than one power they can manifest per boon invested in them.

Relics, particularly powerful ones, are often tagged with a Purview. Like Guides, if you gain mastery of the Relic you can take its Purview as one of your own (and might even replace the boon spent for the Relic to buy the Purview, discarding the Relic as no longer necessary for you).

Relics may also have fantasy-style enhancements as described here and here. This will typically lower the available Power Points for its powers.

Savage Scion, Part 2

2 Comments

Legend, Callings, Purviews, and Powers

Scions and other mythic individuals develop a Legend rating as their deeds and renown grow. Legend is unlocked independently from character Advances through story rewards.

All individuals with a Legend rating have up to three Callings, which represent particular aspects of the character’s mythic personality. Each Calling grants a few thematic knacks, as well as permission to buy related Powers.

Legendary individuals of Hero or greater status develop Purviews, which indicate their portfolio of divine associations. Each Purview grants innate boons, as well as permission to buy other related Powers.

All individuals with an Arcane Background, including Scions, can take Powers from the Savage Worlds roleplaying game (starting on page 147). For Scions, the available powers for purchase are based on Callings and Purviews. All characters with Arcane Background (Gifted) start with a single such Power, and may take the New Powers edge to add more from the available options.

Legend

Legend is rated from 0-12. All characters with a Legend rating are also Wild Cards, and roll a wild die for tests.

  • 0: Some characters have no Legend yet, but are Wild Cards with the capacity to grow stronger. They use a d6 wild die.
  • 1-4: At this rating, the character is considered a Hero, and uses a d6 wild die. Heroes may live longer lives, but will die normally to violence and eventually expire to age if they have not become Demigods.
  • 5-8: After gaining this level of Legend, the character is a Demigod, no longer ages, and is extremely difficult to kill for good. Demigods use a d8 wild die.
  • 9-12: Successful Demigods may eventually become full Gods. Gods use a d10 wild die.

Levels of Legend can be imbued into effects, becoming temporarily unavailable. Some Purview boons and most immortal knacks require Legend to be imbued in this way, and any Legendary character may imbue Legend on an ad hoc basis to overwhelm the mortal world with mythic logic (i.e., narrative editing to cause something awesome to happen).

Particularly potent use of Legend may cause the point to be spent, rather than imbued, requiring the character to accept fatebindings or make sacrifices to free up the point of Legend.

For every Legend rating, the character gains a Legendary title based on the keywords within that character’s Callings. A character’s uses of Legend are more potent when drawing upon a title. See Scion: Hero for a list of keywords for each Calling.

Callings

Each Calling grants the listed knacks, as well as grants permission to buy the listed Powers. Each Calling also lists Edges that are recommended for characters with that Calling.

Creator

  • Heroic Knack: You may jury rig items in combat, creating impossible contraptions and repairs that would normally take hours or days and an entire workshop. The created item lasts one round, plus one for each raise.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue a point of Legend to perceive and communicate via wireless signals for one scene. Imbue one or more Legend points to halve the time a creative project should take (quarter for 2, eighth for 3, and so on).
  • Power Permissions: Arcane Protection, Barrier, Detect/Conceal Arcana, Illusion
  • Suggested Edges: Brawny, Filthy Rich, Trademark Weapon, Artificer, McGyver, Mr. Fix It, Scavenger

Guardian

  • Heroic Knack: When you stand guard over a person, place, or thing, you do not need to eat or sleep while your vigil persists (the target must remain within your sight and/or immediate reach). You cannot be surprised by threats upon the target of your vigil. You may spend Momentum to force attacks against the subject of your vigil to target you instead.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue a point of Legend into the subject of your vigil. So long as you leave that point imbued, you may spend Momentum to instantly appear at that subject’s side when it is threatened (and this resumes your vigil). If you use a Power to protect yourself, that Power automatically extends to the subject of your imbued subject when you are maintaining a vigil.
  • Power Permissions: Arcane Protection, Deflection, Environmental Protection, Protection
  • Suggested Edges: Arcane Resistance, Brave, Quick, Block, Hard to Kill, Iron Jaw, Nerves of Steel, Hold the Line!, Concentration, Bolster, Common Bond, Danger Sense

Healer

  • Heroic Knack: Your Healing skill rolls take one minute instead of ten, and the Golden Hour is extended to two hours when you’re healing a subject (either with the skill or with the Power). You may make a Healing skill roll to remove the Shaken condition from an ally you can touch.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue a point of Legend to revive a deceased target that died within the last three minutes (you must then attempt to repair the injuries that killed the target). When you recover from an illness or poison, imbue a point of Legend to generate a cure/antidote from your blood.
  • Power Permissions: Boost/Lower Trait, Empathy, Healing, Relief
  • Suggested Edges: Fast Healer, Extraction, Soul Drain, Bolster, Common Bond, Reliable, Healer

Hunter

  • Heroic Knack: Spend a point of Momentum to designate a target as your quarry. You may only have one quarry at a time. You gain +2 to all rolls to track, chase, and sneak up on your target. If you miss your target with an attack, generate an additional point of Momentum.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue one or more points of Legend to bind your quarry. While you maintain that target as a quarry (and keep the Legend imbued), the target cannot escape you without imbuing a greater number of points of Legend into the escape. You gain an innate sense of the quarry’s direction from you and fate conspires to provide you with clues to pursue (even across dimensions).
  • Power Permissions: Darksight, Entangle, Farsight, Fear
  • Suggested Edges: Fleet-Footed, Dead Shot, Giant Killer, Killer Instinct, Assassin, Woodsman

Judge

  • Heroic Knack: Spend a point of Momentum to designate an individual or a room (or similar limited area) as your case. You may only have one case at a time. You gain +2 to all Smarts-based skills and tests to gather information about the case or resist being manipulated/tricked by the case.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue a point of Legend to bind an oath or a sentence. While you maintain that imbued Legend, the subjects gain +1 to all rolls directly related to trying to fulfill the oath/sentence, but suffer a level of Fatigue for deliberately violating it.
  • Power Permissions: Banish, Detect/Conceal Arcana, Dispel, Empathy
  • Suggested Edges: Alertness, Calculating, Command, Investigator

Leader

  • Heroic Knack: Spend a point of Momentum to gain the attention of everyone within line of sight when you enter a room or when a crisis happens. You may immediately make a Battle, Intimidation, or Persuasion roll to get the crowd to do what you want. Treat this as a Persuasion roll against the Reaction table, with the reaction range varying based on the situation (e.g., when a titan beast attacks a room, Hostile is total panic while Helpful is everyone staying calm and organizing to fight it). Unlike a normal reaction roll, you can apply more than two raises to the result.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue a point of Legend into a named follower or an entire group that you’ve made Helpful with your heroic knack. While that point is imbued, all subjects that can see you automatically succeed at any challenges that you succeed at which affect the entire group (e.g., resisting fear/toxins/environmental effects, sneaking, overcoming an obstacle, etc.). This does not apply to attacks.
  • Power Permissions: Boost/Lower Trait, Fear, Puppet, Speak Language
  • Suggested Edges: Brave, Charismatic, Fame, all Leadership edges, Bolster, Work the Room

Liminal

  • Heroic Knack: Spend a point of Momentum to shroud yourself in privacy for a scene and gain the following benefits: Most people* will assume you’re an unimportant bystander until you take a hostile or dramatic action, and not pay attention to you. Mundane means cannot be used to surveil you (e.g., recordings fail, circumstances interfere with bugs and lip-reading, etc.). Anyone who didn’t interact with you can barely remember or describe you, and those that did have +2 difficulty to investigate or track you from the scene. * Guards may be an exception, as is anyone in a space where only a specific list of known people are supposed to have access.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue a point of Legend to skip the intervening space for one round’s movement (i.e., teleport up to your speed to a location you can see or could otherwise reach by running with one move). If you recover the imbued Legend before the end of the scene, you cannot use this knack again or spend Momentum until the end of the scene.
  • Power Permissions: Darksight, Disguise, Environmental Protection, Speak Language
  • Suggested Edges: Fleet-Footed, Quick, Dodge, Extraction, Free Runner, Ace, Danger Sense

Lover

  • Heroic Knack: As long as you are not taking hostile actions, enemies must spend Momentum to attack you instead of one of your allies in the scene (but may include you in group attacks). You are not limited to only two shifts on the Reaction chart when making Persuasion rolls. When you touch an individual, spend a point of Momentum to learn which other character in the scene (if any) they love the most and/or are most attracted to.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue a point of Legend into an individual or a crowd. While that Legend is imbued, you become an object of adoration for the target or group. All of your qualities to which the subjects are attracted are magnified and all of your flaws are ignored. Targets of equal or lower Legend have +4 difficulty to Notice anything about you you don’t want them to, and you gain +2 to Performance, Persuasion, and Taunt rolls against the target. If you imbue a crowd, all rolls must target the entire group to receive the bonus.
  • Power Permissions: Beast Friend, Empathy, Mind Reading, Puppet
  • Suggested Edges: Attractive, Charismatic, Fame, Fervor, Inspire, all Social edges

Sage

  • Heroic Knack: Your Research rolls take 1/10 the time they would take anyone else without this knack. You may spend a point of Momentum to activate an eidetic memory for one round: you burn the scene into your mind (including up to a few seconds on either side of the expenditure, to fully remember a short but complex phrase or pattern), or can perfectly memorize a page or two of information you’ve only glanced at. You will subsequently be able to fully recall any details.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue one or more points of Legend into a language or code. While the Legend is imbued, you speak the language flawlessly as if you were a native, or may effortlessly break the code (unless it was created by a Sage with more Legend than the number of points you imbued). Conversely, you may imbue one Legend for a week of effort to create a code or language that may only be comprehended by those you teach (or Sages able to imbue as much Legend as your Legend total).
  • Power Permissions: Detect/Conceal Arcana, Divination, Object Reading, Speak Language
  • Suggested Edges: Calculating, Level Headed, Tactician, Concentration, Jack-of-all-Trades, Scholar

Trickster

  • Heroic Knack: Opponents raise all difficulties to trick you, lie to you, or steal from you by +2. When you are caught in a trick, lie, or theft, you may spend a point of Momentum to confuse, distract, or redirect the discovery. Make a Performance roll: success gives you a round to escape, and each raise gives you an additional round of head start. If the situation makes it plausible to pass the blame to someone else, you may get off scott free if your patsy looks guilty enough.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue a point of Legend into a simulacrum of yourself that can act independently on your agenda while the point of Legend is imbued. Each of you knows what the other knows, and the doppelganger can use all your traits (you are functionally in multiple places at once). All your difficulties for Smarts skills and tests are increased by +2 for each doppelganger you have active (it’s hard to split your attention effectively). Your doppleganger instantly turns to smoke if it is Shaken or takes a Wound. Spend a point of Legend the first time you are Shaken or take a Wound in a scene to retroactively reveal that you were a doppelganger, and you are actually safe somewhere outside of the scene (works best if you seem to die in an explosion).
  • Power Permissions: Blind, Confusion, Detect/Conceal Arcana, Disguise
  • Suggested Edges: Charismatic, Extraction, Hard to Kill, Acrobat, Thief, Humiliate, Retort, Streetwise

Warrior

  • Heroic Knack: You may spend one hour of workout, meditation, or practice to reallocate any or all the Combat edges you’ve chosen and spend them to buy different Combat edges. You must still meet all Requirements for the edges you pick. If desired, you may leave edges unspent after a workout, and then spend a point of Momentum to instantly fill one of those gaps, even if it is not your turn.
  • Immortal Knack: Imbue one or more points of Legend into a battle. Raise your Parry and Toughness by the number of points imbued for the duration of the battle. This also has mythic ramifications: the more points spent, the more epic the fight becomes, and the more attention it may draw from other powers.
  • Power Permissions: Deflection, Sloth/Speed, Smite, Warrior’s Gift
  • Suggested Edges: Ambidextrous, Berserk, Brawny, Brute, all Combat edges, Soldier, Champion

Savage Scion, Part 1

1 Comment

After nine sessions of running Scion 2e, my group decided that we weren’t happy with the system. In particular, the Storyteller/Storypath d10 dice pool system becomes much more swingy when dice must roll 8-10 to succeed and all 10s explode. While in principle this results in an average of three dice to one success, in practice it’s very common to see players with only a few dice get more successes than players with many dice.

From the GM’s side, this exacerbated an issue with the floatiness of antagonist design: eventually I just got in the habit of grabbing some dice to represent a monster, because in the time they’d be on camera, the differences in size of their dice pools made virtually no perceivable difference. A creature with a 4-5 die attack might wind up being a bigger threat than one with 8-10, just due to dice luck.

So I converted the system to Savage Worlds.

I also used the process to simplify some of the powers systems (both because Savage Worlds would rather your powers weren’t too fiddly, and also because I was having a hard time keeping them all in my head at once). This conversion does assume you have access to the Scion books, since I’m only referencing setting details as they’re necessary to attach to rules; context will likely be missing if you don’t have it from Scion.

I’ve only run a couple of sessions in the system so far, so I can’t really speak to whether it’s significantly better, but I have high hopes.

Setting Rules

As per the rules starting on page 136, Scion uses the following setting rules:

  • Fanatics: Minions may automatically take a hit for a Wild Card, when appropriate.
  • Heroes Never Die: Wild Cards aren’t in danger of dying from critical failures when incapacitated, or from Bleeding Out.
  • More Skill Points: Character gain more skill points to buy more modern skills.
  • Multiple Languages: All PCs have the Linguist edge which grants additional bonus Language skills (starting at d6) equal to half the character’s Smarts die.
  • Unarmored Hero: If a Wild Card is not wearing any armor, that character gains +2 to Soak rolls.

Momentum

Momentum is a shared group resource that represents the tides of fortune for the party. The group starts each session with one point of Momentum per member of the group, and the pool cannot exceed two points per member of the group (e.g., it ranges from 0-10 for a five-member party).

Momentum can be spent in the following ways:

  • Certain Knacks and Boons require Momentum to activate.
  • Spend a point of Momentum to draw an additional Initiative card at the beginning of the round (keep the best card rather than acting twice); unlike Bennies, you must spend Momentum before seeing the card or cards you drew.
  • Spend three points of Momentum to recharge one of your spent Bennies.
  • Spend one or more points of Momentum for minor narrative editing about how the tide of action turns in the party’s favor.

All Momentum expenditures must be with the agreement of the whole party.

You can regain Momentum in the following ways:

  • Whenever the GM spends Momentum for hostile NPCs, the party gains an equivalent amount of Momentum (and the GM cannot spend Momentum when the party’s pool is at maximum).
  • Certain Knacks and Boons specify ways that Momentum can be restored.
  • Whenever a PC fails a roll, the party gains a point of Momentum.
  • The GM may choose to award one or more points of Momentum as consolation for abrupt narrative shifts that are not in the party’s favor.

Character Creation

Before undergoing standard character creation, scion characters pick Origin, Role, and Pantheon to gain additional traits. These bonus traits count as nine Advances for the purpose of determining Rank (i.e., all scion PCs start as Veterans), which can allow additional Edge choices during normal character generation. The attribute increase for Novice and Seasoned ranks are considered spent.

After choosing these traits, undergo normal character creation. Remember that you need to set attributes equal or greater than the linked skills or they cost double.

After finishing normal character creation, pick Callings and powers as described later.

Scion Paths

Origin

Gain the Rich background edge (you may later take the Poverty hindrance if you do not want to be wealthy) and consider where your high standard of living comes from. Additionally, increase the Attribute listed with your origin (in italics) by +1 step, and gain two skill points to spend on the listed skills for your origin.

  • Adventurer: Vigor; Athletics, Piloting, Shooting, Survival
  • Chosen: Spirit; Focus, Occult, Research, Stealth
  • Created: Vigor; Focus, Occult, Performance, Persuasion
  • Life of Privilege: Smarts; Academics, Performance, Persuasion, Taunt
  • Military Brat: Strength; Battle, Common Knowledge, Science, Shooting
  • Potemkin World: Smarts; Boating, Notice, Occult, Survival
  • Street Rat: Agility; Gambling, Stealth, Taunt, Thievery
  • Suburbia: Spirit; Common Knowledge, Driving, Electronics, Performance
  • Survivalist: Vigor; Repair, Riding, Stealth, Survival
  • Terra Incognita: Agility; Athletics, Occult, Riding, Survival
  • War-Torn: Strength; Fighting, Intimidation, Notice, Survival

Role

Gain the Connections social edge and define the connections. Additionally gain four skill points to spend on the listed skills for your role.

  • Charismatic Leader: Academics, Battle, Performance, Persuasion
  • Combat Specialist: Athletics, Fighting, Repair, Shooting
  • Con Artist: Notice, Performance, Persuasion, Thievery
  • Detective: Hacking, Notice, Research, Shooting
  • Medical Practitioner: Common Knowledge, Driving, Healing, Science
  • Pilot: Boating, Driving, Notice, Piloting
  • Sneak: Gambling, Hacking, Stealth, Thievery
  • Technology Expert: Common Knowledge, Electronics, Repair, Science

Pantheon

Gain the Arcane Background (Gifted) edge (this adds the Focus (Spirit) skill to your available skills, grants a single starting power, and gives you 15 power points). Additionally, increase the Attribute listed with your pantheon (in italics) by +1 step, and gain two skill points to spend on the listed skills for your pantheon.

  • Aesir: Strength; Gambling, Occult, Performance, Taunt
  • Deva: Agility; Hacking, Research, Repair, Survival
  • Kami: Agility; Boating, Electronics, Focus, Piloting
  • Manitou: Spirit; Battle, Healing, Intimidation, Riding
  • Netjer: Smarts; Academics, Focus, Research, Thievery
  • Orisha: Spirit; Healing, Intimidation, Science, Thievery
  • Shen: Smarts; Academics, Battle, Driving, Gambling
  • Teotl: Vigor; Fighting, Intimidation, Piloting, Taunt
  • Theoi: Vigor; Academics, Boating, Fighting, Healing
  • Tuatha: Strength; Fighting, Intimidation, Riding, Taunt

Basic Creation

Summary

This is a summary of the basic character creation. Also see page 55 of the book for these steps:

  1. Your race is Human. This allows you to choose an additional edge.
  2. You may choose up to four points of Hindrances (Major are worth 2, Minor are worth 1). You may use these points to gain additional attributes, edges, or skill points (2 for an attribute or edge, 1 for a skill increase).
  3. Each Attribute (Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength, Vigor) starts at d4. Spend 5 points to increase Attributes by one step each (in addition to upgrades from your paths and hindrance choices). You cannot raise an Attribute above d12 (4 points spent).
  4. Your Athletics, Common Knowledge, Notice, Persuasion, and Stealth Skills all start at d4. All other Skills start at no value. Skills have a governing attribute (see below), and cost double to raise over that attribute. Use your path skill points to raise the linked Skills, then spend 15 more skill points (per setting rule). It costs 1 skill point to buy a Skill at d4, and then one for each step up from d4. Like attributes, Skills cannot exceed d12.
  5. Derived Statistics: Set your Pace to 6” unless changed by edges or hindrances. Set your Parry to 2 + half your Fighting skill die (e.g., +2 for d4). Set your Toughness to 2 + half your Vigor attribute die, and it may also increase when wearing armor.
  6. Don’t forget to buy Edges with your Human bonus and remaining Hindrance points.

Skill List

  • Academics (Smarts): Knowledge of liberal arts, social sciences, literature, history, etc.
  • *Athletics (Agility): Overall athletic coordination and ability. Climbing, jumping, balancing, wrestling, skiing, swimming, throwing, or catching.
  • Battle (Smarts): Strategy, tactics, and understanding military operations. A key skill in Mass Battles.
  • Boating (Agility): Ability to sail or pilot a boat, ship, or other watercraft.
  • *Common Knowledge (Smarts): General knowledge of a character’s world.
  • Driving (Agility): The ability to control, steer, and operate ground vehicles.
  • Electronics (Smarts): The use of electronic devices and systems.
  • Faith (Spirit): The arcane skill for Arcane Background (Miracles).
  • Fighting (Agility): Skill in armed and unarmed combat.
  • Focus (Spirit): The arcane skill for Arcane Background (Gifted).
  • Gambling (Smarts): Skill and familiarity with games of chance.
  • Hacking (Smarts): Coding, programming, and breaking into computer systems.
  • Healing (Smarts): The ability to treat and heal Wounds and diseases, and decipher forensic evidence.
  • Intimidation (Spirit): A character’s ability to threaten others into doing what she wants.
  • **Language (Smarts): Knowledge and fluency in a particular language.
  • *Notice (Smarts): General awareness and perception.
  • Occult (Smarts): Knowledge of supernatural events, creatures, history, and ways.
  • Performance (Spirit): Singing, dancing, acting, or other forms of public expression.
  • *Persuasion (Spirit): The ability to convince others to do what you want.
  • Piloting (Agility): Skill with maneuvering vehicles that operate in three dimensions, such as airplanes, helicopters, spaceships, etc.
  • Psionics (Smarts): The arcane skill for Arcane Background (Psionics).
  • Repair (Smarts): The ability to fix mechanical and electrical gadgets.
  • Research (Smarts): Finding written information from various sources.
  • Riding (Agility): A character’s skill in mounting, controlling, and riding a tamed beast.
  • Science (Smarts): Knowledge of scientific fields such as biology, chemistry, geology, engineering, etc.
  • Shooting (Agility): Precision with any type of ranged weapon.
  • Spellcasting (Smarts): The arcane skill for Arcane Background (Magic).
  • *Stealth (Agility): The ability to sneak and hide.
  • Survival (Smarts): How to find food, water, or shelter, and tracking.
  • Taunt (Smarts): Insulting or belittling another. Almost always done as a Test (page 108).
  • Thievery (Agility): Sleight of hand, pickpocketing, lockpicking, and other typically shady feats.
  • Weird Science (Smarts): The arcane skill for Arcane Background (Weird Science).

* These skills start at d4

** Language skills are purchased individually for each language known (but you get bonus languages at d6 equal to half your Smarts die to start, per the setting rule).

D&D 5e: Fear and Horror Checks

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Clearly what the world needs is another fear/horror system for D&D. This one popped into my head thinking about Ravenloft.

In general, my current thinking on fear systems in games is that being afraid should be a penalty to action as an incentive to flee, but should not take away control of the PC and force particular actions. The Frightened condition in 5e, while a useful shorthand that I’ve used for this system, may be a little too far on the forcing action side since it prevents approaching the source of fear, but I think it’s workable with the attached horror subsystem.

Fear

Certain terrifying creatures (and some scary/horrifying situations) inspire Fear by being encountered. Upon seeing (or otherwise becoming aware of) the creature/source, all encountering characters must make a Fear save. The DC is equal to 10 + the creature’s CR (for games where fear is a very real difficulty) or half that total (for games where fear is more of an occasional issue). Non-creature situations should have an equivalent scale.

A Fear save is made as the player’s choice of an Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma saving throw based on chosen tactic:

  • Denial (Intelligence): You rationalize or compartmentalize the worst aspects of the creature, using sheer brainpower to imagine the threat as something less terrifying. This tactic is the best choice (of several bad choices) for truly unnatural creatures (like aberrations) and horrors from beyond, and grants advantage in those situations.
  • Perspective (Wisdom): You think of how big the world is and how, in the grand scheme of things, the creature is just another thing to encounter, no different than any other threat. This tactic is the best choice for supernatural (but not unnatural) creatures (like fiends, fey, and undead) and divine situations, and grants advantage in those situations. (If your world’s cosmology suggests that undead aren’t created by the divine for some reason, they may fall better under Denial).
  • Courage (Charisma): You just decide that fear is not an option, and muscle through based on sheer force of will. This tactic is the best choice for natural creatures (like monstrosities and dragons) that are just scary due to their ability to inflict serious pain, as well as more natural sources of horror (such as grisly murders), and grants advantage in those situations.

If the Fear save is failed, the character suffers the Frightened condition toward the trigger until the creature is killed, a point of Horror is accepted (see below), or the situation is escaped and everyone has a chance to cool off (which may require a short rest, at the GM’s option).

Characters may take a point of Horror as a free action to override the Frightened condition (taking long term mental trauma to overcome short term inability to act). By taking a point of Horror, the character is not subject to making additional Fear saves against the trigger or the same type of creature until the next sunset.

Characters can choose any tactic for the situation (but may not truly know whether it’s natural, supernatural, or unnatural before rolling), but likely use their highest save as their preferred tactic.

Horror

Characters gain Horror by overcoming Frightened (as described above) and by suffering a Horror trigger.

Common Horror triggers are:

  • Domination (Intelligence, Wisdom): For the strongest minds, losing control of one’s own mental processes is the most horrifying situation. Whenever you suffer the Charmed condition or are otherwise unable to act on your own volition due to mental compulsions, take a point of Horror.
  • Mutation (Charisma, Constitution): For those possessed of great beauty and health, horrors of the body can strike deepest. Whenever you suffer the Poisoned condition for a minute or longer, a disease for a week or longer, or are subjected to unwelcome polymorph or other shapeshifting effects, take a point of Horror. (Only one point of Horror for one poison or disease, even if it is ongoing for quite some time.)
  • Restraint (Dexterity, Strength): For those used to relying on their strength and mobility, being trapped is a profound phobia. Whenever you suffer the Paralyzed, Petrified, or Restrained condition (with nothing you can do through your own physical means to try to free yourself), take a point of Horror.

GMs may choose to define other phobias as additional Horror triggers. At the GM’s option, players may choose to remove a point of Horror by taking a new permanent Horror trigger. It is up to the GM whether all PCs start with one Horror trigger, or only gain them in play (which will usually require failing enough Fear saves to start needing to remove Horror points). It’s also up to the GM whether mental therapy in downtime can remove triggers.

For the most basic way to implement this system, Horror points are equivalent to levels of Exhaustion (and stack with them). At the GM’s option, a separate Horror track that works similar to Exhaustion may be created.

Pumpkinheads

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Some legends explain that the tradition of lighting a Jack-O’-Lantern on All Hallow’s Eve to ward off ghosts is an imperfect understanding of the spawn of Eochai. These amoral beings can be called up by those willing and able to bargain with the titans, and placed to keep ghosts and other spirits away… or trapped. They are most commonly deployed on Halloween when the walls between the living and the dead are thinnest. Unfortunately, they are not particularly selective guardians, and may attack any that they see as a threat to their duty. In particular, their service to the titans frequently sees them at odds with servants of the gods, who may need access to the spirits that they are warding.

Pumpkinheads!

Savage Worlds Stats

All Pumpkinheads have the following abilities:

  • Viny Body, Soft Head: Pumpkinheads are created with enhanced Toughness and natural armor. Treat damage as +4 for attacks to the body with slashing weapons, or Called Shot attacks to the head (with any weapon). Treat damage as +8 for attacks to the head with a blunt melee weapon (or other large-scale blunt weapon, like a thrown brick). Called shots to the head are only -2 to the attack (normally -4), because they are such a prominent feature of the Pumpkinhead.
  • Fire Resistance: Pumpkinheads take -4 damage from fire (or add +4 to resist fire-related Hazards or Powers).
  • Fire Spit: Make a Focus roll as a ranged attack (8”) that does 2d6 damage. The Pumpkinhead can do this 5 times per night. +4 to attack against spirits.
  • Construct: Pumpkinheads are effectively magical constructs. They add +2 to recover from Shaken, ignore 1 point of wound penalties, and don’t need to eat, breathe, suffer toxins, etc.
  • Spirit Ward: Ghosts and other spirits must succeed at a contested Spirit test to approach within melee reach of a Pumpkinhead, and at the beginning of each turn to remain this close.
  • Banishing Touch: Pumpkinheads have +4 to melee attacks against ghosts and spirits, and banish them upon incapacitation.
  • Quiescent Form: Pumpkinheads can withdraw their bodies into their heads and appear as normal jack-o’-lanterns. Close inspection reveals that the light from within them is not a candle, but a naturally occuring flame source. All attacks against them are treated as called shots in this form. Their Spirit Ward remains active while in this form, and they are often left as barriers against spirits. They can resume their full, mobile form as a free action on their turn, quickly sprouting vines into a humanoid body.

Normal Pumpkinhead

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Athletics d6, Fighting d6, Focus d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4
Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 10 (2)
Edges:
Gear: Natural armor (+2), claws (Str+d4)
Special Abilities: As all Pumpkinheads

Large Pumpkinhead

Size 4 (+1 Wound and reach, Scale 2)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d8, Strength d12+1, Vigor d8
Skills: Athletics d8, Fighting d8, Focus d6, Notice d6, Stealth d4
Pace: 8; Parry: 7; Toughness: 16 (3)
Edges: Block (Reduce Gang Up by 1)
Gear: Natural armor (+3), long claws (Str+d6)
Special Abilities: As all Pumpkinheads

Eochai (Huge Pumpkinhead, Wild Card)

Size 8 (+2 Wounds and reach, Scale 4)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d10, Strength d12+6, Vigor d10
Skills: Athletics d8, Fighting d10, Focus d8, Notice d8, Stealth d4
Pace: 10; Parry: 9; Toughness: 22 (4)
Edges: Improved Block (reduce Gang Up by 2), Sweep (attack all targets in reach at -2, including allies)
Gear: Natural armor (+4), giant claws (Str+d8)
Special Abilities: As all Pumpkinheads, plus:

  • Inconvenient Protrusions: Attackers may climb Eochai, and when attached to his back, he can only reach them by attempting to scrape them off on obstacles. If they can reach his head, he can attack them with claws at a -4 penalty.
  • Fiery Breath: 3d6 damage Breath Weapon. Spirits incapacitated by this attack are banished.

D&D 5e Stats

 

Design Notes

These were developed for my Scion game. They’re heavily inspired by the Fir Bolg from City of Heroes.

In the photo, the medium sized minis are an old set of I think Reaper minis that don’t seem to be available anymore. The larger minis are combined from these Thingiverse treant and jack-o-lantern files and 3D printed:

Dresden’s Hogwarts: Politics

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(Another bit of worldbuilding to go with last week. If I’ve done the math right on my blog vs. story scheduling, everyone’s finally at Hogwarts and starting school after an eventful summer. What a great time for you to start reading.)

Imagine that soccer is the best-kept secret in the world. Some children display an inexplicable facility kicking balls, and then, by their 11th birthday, they’re tracked down and informed by FIFA that they are soccer players. They can either train in the sport, or forget that it even exists. FIFA runs elite training schools for those truly serious about it, but it’s also possible to go to smaller camps, or simply apprentice to an adult soccer player. When you become an adult yourself, you may do whatever you want with your life, but, when you’re playing soccer, you’re beholden to FIFA’s rules. Rules made by administrators in the organization, who almost entirely came from the elite schools. Most soccer players have day jobs, and use their athletic prowess to give them a bit of a leg up in life. The truly professional players and administrators exist in their own high-stakes world.

Okay, sue me, it’s a tortured metaphor because the world only has one thing that’s like magic, and that’s magic.

The best estimates I can find suggest there are 60 thousand magically talented folks in Britain, or around one for every 1,000 muggles. This isn’t a hard rule or anything, just the current demographics. Before modern medicine, the ratio was probably significantly higher for wizards, who’ve long had the magical health care necessary to live well into their second century. It probably also helps to be able to use magic to get access to food and shelter and to avoid having to die in international wars. Though wizards often had violent, secret wars of their own.

Hogwarts takes 40 students a year. Fewer than one in ten British wizards attended the school. But if you look at Ministry bureaucrats, aurors, healers at St. Mungos, and the wealthiest individuals, it seems like everyone you meet has been there. And that’s after you realize the muggleborns that make up a small but meaningful fraction of Hogwarts students aren’t represented. What I’m saying is that the core of British wizarding society is an old-wizard’s club far worse than even America’s obsession with an ivy-league education. Virtually every position of power is held in the vice grip of a conspiracy of purebloods who went to Hogwarts.

What about the other fifty-something-thousand magical individuals in the country? If you work in a big enough muggle company, you probably have at least one in your office. Does it seem like Renaissance festival folks take it way too seriously? They’re over-represented there. Carnies, artists, musicians, psychics, and other jobs where you can get away with being eccentric also feature far more magicals than one in a thousand.

Most of them aren’t very well-trained. For the vast majority, the Ministry’s satisfied if you can do enough basic spells to convince them you’re not going to do accidental magic in an emotional moment, and that you understand the world of consequences they’ll bring down on you if you break the Statute of Secrecy.

But keep in mind that well-trained is relative. Hogwarts teaches students to levitate things, start fires, make precise cuts and repairs, unlock doors, and transfigure inanimate objects in their first year. Even figuring out a handful of minor spells is a huge advantage in the muggle world. The honest go into crafting or service professions where they can do way more work than a muggle can (because muggle tools have to follow the laws of physics). The dishonest can easily become master criminals. And the Ministry doesn’t pay too much attention to crime against muggles if it wasn’t obviously caused by magic.

Ironically, the wizards that are struggling the most financially are often the purebloods raised so completely in the Hogwarts pipeline that they can’t figure out how to make a go of it in the muggle world, but who are also near the bottom of the hierarchy when it comes to cushy Ministry jobs. I love the Weasleys to death, but they baffle me.

The other irony of wizarding life is, the more powerful your magic, the harder it is to truly fit into the muggle world. Magic violates all the laws of science, and that also means that strongly magical objects, areas, and individuals cause problems with technology. Physics and chemistry develop inconsistencies in a strong magical field.

At Hogwarts and other sites of power, this field is so strong that even synthetic materials break down. Part of the reason they’ve stuck with quills is that plastic pens slowly melt into goo (though that’s no excuse to not at least use fountain pens). The process is slow enough that the muggle kids outgrowing their tennis shoes and elastic underwear probably don’t notice that much how they start to sag, but don’t bring your beloved polyester-blend t-shirts and expect them to be more than rags in a year or two.

I’ve also heard that, near the strongest fields, items that rely on precision machining start to have problems. Magic makes materials flex very slightly on a molecular level, and the more precise your machine, even if it doesn’t use electricity, the more likely it is to have problems. For example, modern guns don’t work consistently at Hogwarts, because the barrels and mechanisms are so precise, any flex at all can cause them to jam. Wizards, who still exist in a primarily hand-made materials economy, never even notice.

Electricity is a bigger problem. Changes to chemistry are slow, but changes to physics are fast. Casting a spell causes havoc in nearby sensitive electronics, and powerful enough wizards can interfere with delicate electronics simply by standing near them. Most of my pop culture knowledge of films comes from sitting safely in a theater where the projection equipment is far away, because I’ve killed every TV I’ve ever tried to watch for longer than an hour or two. That’s another reason for magicals to go into non-office jobs, particularly as they become more reliant on technology: even a weak wizard will quickly kill any computer by sitting at a desk right in front of it for eight hours a day.

What you’re left with is a three-layered society.

In the center is a strange core of pureblood-centric elites who almost entirely eschew muggle society for various reasons, not least of which is that their eccentricities and effect on technology make them inherently dangerous to the Statue of Secrecy. They “govern” the other layers insofar as they have a chokehold on power and are generally better educated in magic, so can win in a conflict even against superior numbers.

The next layer are strong but were either not trained to the same level or were, but were muggleborns who couldn’t fit into the core society. They are smeared in a gradient between non-elite jobs in wizarding society and jobs in muggle society where one can avoid technology and get away with being unusual.

Finally, the weakest and worst-trained almost entirely live in the muggle world, indistinguishable from muggles with an obscure hobby or religion. With even a few magical talents, they tend to be successful beyond what their station in life would otherwise suggest, and mostly just ignore the magical government until they can’t avoid it.

Honestly, when there’s not a dark wizard throwing around spells that only the best-trained have any hope of protecting themselves against, the current standard of living in muggle society means that the people that purebloods most look down on probably have it way better than those with superior magic.

Dresden’s Hogwarts: Magic

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Part of the reason for my months-long hiatus from blogging was that I finally read enough Harry Potter fanfic that I went from “I could do this” to “I have to do this.” If you’d like to see more of my writing, on a more regular basis, the first book of a Dresden Files/Harry Potter crossover is now getting posted twice a week on fanfiction.net. Dresden winds up going to Hogwarts after his mentor’s death, instead of a farm in the Ozarks. Shenanigans ensue.

The interesting thing about crossover fanfic is using one work’s worldbuilding to shore up the other’s, and this is potentially useful for designing games as well. My goal for the series was to make as much of the magic style from Dresden Files be true as possible without explicitly contradicting the worldbuilding in Harry Potter. Since the worldbuilding in Harry Potter is diaphanous enough to ride an elephant through in a lot of places, this had the interesting result of shoring up the whole into what feels to me like a much more reasonable structure. So this could probably be a good way to round out a setting you’re running a game in, if the supporting fiction is too thin: find a somewhat compatible property and use it for inspiration to round out your world.

Interestingly, in creating a hybrid magic system, I also came across a potential way to wrap my head around how the traditions work together with incompatible paradigms in Mage: the Ascension.

Without further ado…

This is the summary of how magic works as Justin taught it to me and I explained it to the kids who came to my enchanting tutorials. Hogwarts doesn’t explain most of this unless you take arithmancy, and even then, some of the theory is lost in the practice.

Magic is, quite simply, imposing your wishes on reality. Those with access to the gift can want something impossible to happen badly enough that it happens. When a wizard is young, this “accidental magic” is the only way he knows to enact his gift. When a wizard is old and powerful, he can, likewise, merely think magic into being. In the middle, wizards are taught complicated practices to organize this into spells that they’ll eventually try to abandon. The difference between the untrained child and the ancient master is control over these wishes. Accidental magic doesn’t do exactly what you expect to happen when you want it, but a master can create magic, when needed, every single time.

The first question you need to ask to understand how the process of magical training works is: why are most spells in Latin?

The reason is because it keeps the magic separated from your speech. If magic spells were in English (or whatever modern language you speak), you’d risk accidentally casting them in normal conversation. The pathways of your brain that control the instinct to create the magic get trained by the wording of the spell. Hogwarts professors probably don’t work hard enough to get kids out of the habit of referring to spells by their incantation rather than their English name. One day, some kid is going to talk about the fire-making charm as “incendio” and accidentally set a friend of fire.

As I understand it, every culture with magic similarly uses a language that’s not frequently used for conversation as their language of incantations. The Romans used ancient Greek, Aramaic, or Etruscan. Non-Western wizards use outdated forms of their own local languages.

Of course, you can’t just say the Latin word for something and consider that a spell. The use of a meaningful word in Latin is useful, but that’s because even if you don’t really speak it, it does have a meaning that you can latch onto. “Incendio” is a word that more or less means “I set on fire.” You could probably make the magic work with a different series of sounds, but it would be harder to remember.

The most important thing is that “incendio” is four syllables, and arithmantically adds up to a 5-4-4-6 structure (i is the 9th letter plus n is the 14th, which adds up to 23 which combines down to 5). There’s no way I could effectively summarize the exact practicals of how that number adding works or why 5-4-4-6 is a similar numerical array to related spells. You’re either just going to have to take my word for it or commit to five years of arithmancy class. Essentially, any word that was close enough to a 5-4-4-6 cadence could be used as the incantation for the fire-making spell. Why are some incantations really bad Latin? Because the more correct Latin didn’t fit the arithmancy.

There’s a ton of math in figuring out an incantation, and that’s just half of a spell. The other half comes in using your focus.

At the simplest level, the foci that I use for my magic (staff, blasting rod, etc.) are limited to particular types of spell. Spells that create or change motion are fundamentally similar in their arithmancy, so I was able to fit a bunch of them into my staff, and I have to differentiate between them by the different incantations. Also, turning the staff into different types of gestures improves the spell (but I can get a weaker version by just holding it and yelling). I’ve embedded a spell matrix into the staff, which is a three-dimensional (some say a four-dimensional) shape that also defines its parameters. The arithmancy of the incantation hooks into the arithmancy of the matrix to basically create a momentary bubble of possibility for the wizard’s thoughts to fill with the magic.

It’s all extremely technical, which is why any Hogwarts student that skips arithmancy and ancient runes has pretty much no idea how it works. They’re training engineers, not scientists. Most wizards never need to know how their tools work.

A wand is the most complicated piece of technology that wizards have come up with. If my staff is an abacus, a wand is a mainframe computer. Both can help you add numbers, but the computer can do so much more but is so much harder to understand. In a tiny, concealable form factor, wandmakers create a focus that can allow you to perform any spell, theoretically up to the maximum possible power possible.

The first drawback is the finesse issue. For whatever reason, I and a lot of other wizards have a really hard time using wands. It’s some combination of conceptual and down to sheer manual dexterity (I have really long arms and that messes up the precise spell gestures). There are probably a ton of great wizards who leave wand-focused schools thinking they’re bad at it, because they just can’t figure out the only technology those schools teach.

The second drawback is compatibility. While every focus has some degree of resonance with the aura of its user, wands are 100% locked into it. I picked the materials for my staff because they worked for me, but it’s still extremely effective in any wizard’s hands. A wand that’s a poor match, however, may barely work at all.

It comes down to the secret technology of how they fit all those spell matrices into one focus. My suspicion is that the wand bonds to the wizard to basically turn his whole body into a completion of the matrix. A poorly-matched wand means all your matrices are malformed before you even start casting.

The third drawback is the gestures. Most of the matrix for a spell is in my staff so I can get away with just pointing. But a wand has to fit every possible spell in, which means it can only carry the most common arithmantic elements of all spells, and algorithms for transforming wand motion into the rest of the spell matrix. Why do you have to swish-and-flick to levitate something with a wand when I just have to gesture with my staff? That precise motion is finishing the matrix for the spell, which I’ve already fully encoded into my staff. Wand users have to get very good at training their muscle memory.

Ultimately, advanced users tend to start getting into magic without words or foci. Without the words, you have to create the spell in your head without the mnemonic aid triggering your brain. Without the focus, you have to fully visualize the matrix. Without either, you’re basically relying on your imagination to fully generate an extremely complex mental construct with no aids other than your own brainpower. You quickly find that using words and tools to train your unconscious mind to do the heavy lifting makes a big difference.

And, when it comes down to it, all of this is training your brain. Arithmantic correspondences and spell matrixes aren’t real. Non-Western traditions use completely different methods of structuring their magic. Western wizards use the structures they do because they’ve been codified and imbued with meaning, so it’s something your brain can latch onto. I’ve heard some people suggest that part of it is also a “universal unconscious” thing: if enough people with the power to make their wishes reality think that the letter A is equal to 1, then that becomes true. I’ll leave that up to the Department of Mysteries to weigh in on. All I know is that every bit of it is a mental construct.

You are a wizard. Your thoughts and desires can make impossible things happen. Every bit of magical praxis you’ve been taught is simply about making it easier to do what you want and harder to have accidents. It all comes down to: if you wish hard enough, you can change the world. Magic is just a set of tools to help you make the best wishes you can.

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