Vastlands Houserules – Magic

Every game I run always experiences some “drift”. What do players want to do? What sort of activities do they want to focus on? Or ignore?

A book of magic? – some picture on the internet…

Given the location (Dolmenwood) and how we made the characters (Beyond the Wall) – magic has a particular feel in this game – a mysterious power that is generally capricious, but can be studied and controlled. Even in the first sessions of Winter’s Daughter magic felt different to other games.

But we had 2 of our players devoting themselves to the study of magic – Prue (an apprentice witch) and Solvang (self-taught from a stolen book of rituals). Both players wanted to explore “dangerous magics” and the whole theme of “getting in over your head” was something players felt was important. The classic D&D vancian system felt very very wrong for this.

So we have adopted (mostly) the system from Wonders&Wickedness by Necropraxis. (published by Lost Pages)

Magic Use
– Magic-users wake up with 1 mana per day per level. (3rd level gets 3 mana after sleeping)
– All spells cost 1 mana to cast (from memory or from a grimoire).
– Can cast any spell you know or can read once per day
– Maleficence: spend 1 mana to cast 2d6 damage blast (6’s explode – roll again and add)
– Defense: spend 1 mana to “deflect” a spell being cast (spell does something other than intent)
– Catastrophes: magical backlash – caused by overcasting, interruption, misunderstanding, etc

This lets me use basically any OSR-y spells from all the various books I have. It also allows magicians to cast massively over-levelled spells if they somehow get a hold of them (but maybe risk catastrophe!) And as you can see, there is no daily spell-memorization, spell slots, etc. If you know it, you can cast it.

I have (sorta) kept spell levels as a measure of the complexity of a spell. (int check at penalty of spell level to “understand”) and the difficulty of spell research. Now, I love spell research – basically it allows me to have 2 entries for spells – either I seed the spell in the game (as a teacher who knows specific spells, or grimoires) or the player gets to try to invent their own spell (usually in response to an ingame challenge)

That invention is a fun space to play with, so I turned to the Chthonic Codex (an awesome setting by Lost Pages) This is a replacement for the normal “magical research” (spell level x(1000gp, 2 weeks) – get a spell)

Magic Research (downtime activity)
– Design: (spell level)* days to determine spell effects (or ask GM for a spell – +1 on rolls)
– Feasibility: 1 week and (spell level x 100 coin)** to test 2-in-6 chance to get exact spell effects (ie, the mechanics)
– Development: 1 week and (spell level x 100 coin) to test 2-in-6 . Accrue (spell level) successes to complete spell.
*(spell level is the “required” level to cast the spell)
**(substitute “coin” for your main coinage… Gp/Sp etc)

The research test (2-in-6) is modified by the following
– spell level (-1 if higher than character should cast)
– equipment (well supplied or prepared research area +1, bad conditions -1)
– intelligence (<15 +1, >8 -1)
– help (another character’s success allows the researcher a re-rolled failure)

This lets a player choose – either say “I want a spell to get through doors” and let me give them a fun spell (a knock spell? A temporary hole? A shaped charge spell?) or they can tell me better what they want (I want a way of magically unlocking sealed doors). As an aside – I would probably count having a grimoire as help for all rolls – so it makes it easier to learn the spell yourself (basically reverse engineering a spell)

There is some more stuff in Chthonic Codex about magical schools, crafting magical objects, “mana storage” – but nothing like that has come up so far. Already we’ve had some fun spells (bury curses in a severed digit, magical defense via blood-runes, and a necromancer’s disrupt undead animation) and I’m very much looking forward to more!

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