Friday, 27 December 2019

Magic Resistance and Anti-Magic Fields: Can They Be Not Shit?

A common feature of mid- to high-level D&D content is "magic resistance" or "anti-magic fields" that put artificial limitations on the power of magic-users. Presumably this emerged as a patch to counter the dominance of magic-users in the late game. However, these elements are usually presented in a very dull and arbitrary fashion, with no explanation beyond "the monster is immune to spells" or "spells can't be cast in this area". We can do better.

'Cancel', Mathias Kollros

Magic resistance (e.g. immunity to offensive spells)
By "magic resistance" I mean a monster that has immunity to offensive spells cast on it. This immunity might be permanent, it might trigger a certain percentage of the time (most high-level AD&D monsters have this), or it might have a limited number of charges per day. Often it will be more interesting to make spellcasting more complicated rather than nix it altogether.

- Spell is absorbed into a necklace of seven gems. When all gems are full, spells can be cast freely.
- Spell turns into words hovering in the air; whoever reads the words out loud first gets to cast the spell
- spell shatters into magical shards. Crack the shards and huff their magic gas to recharge your spell power
- spell is absorbed by a bonsai tree and becomes tiny fruit
- spell passes through a tiny wormhole and emerges in a harmless location nearby
- spell is slowed to the pace of a glacier - if left alone it will finish casting in about 1000 years
- spell becomes a small creature that serves the spell's target
- spell is absorbed into the pages of a floating book. The book contains every spell that has ever been cast on the target (!!)
- spell is trapped in a bubble and floats to the ceiling. Pop the bubble (AC15) to release the spell

'Counterspell', Hannibal King

Anti-magic fields
Let's face it, a blanket "no spells allowed" field is pretty bullshit, so most of these examples are more about adding complications. Hopefully this will be fun and won't turn the game into "everything revolves around the wizard even more than before because we have to help him jump through hoops to cast his spells".

- white mist that turns solid in contact with spells (an effect similar to oobleck)
- all magic-users are followed by an annoying, unkillable imp who swallows all their spells. But the imps aren't that fast so if you run off then you can lose them for a bit.
- area is lit by anti-magic lanterns. Spells can still be cast in areas where the lanterns' light is occluded
- area is full of explosive harmonic crystals. Cast one spell and the entire place blows up
- an empty copy of the dungeon exists directly below it. Any spell cast in the dungeon affects the copy, and vice versa
- through the ceiling you can see huge ethereal shark-things swimming through solid rock. Casting a spell is like throwing chum in the water
- a demonic bureaucrat at the dungeon's entrance takes custody of your spells. You can free one spell at a time by offering a blood sacrifice

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Carcosa: Random Community Generator

Dogon dancers

One of the biggest gaps in Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa setting is the lack of cultural or social details about the people of the world. There is basically nothing there except a vague sense that they are "savage" and "degraded", plus a weird assertion that their culture resembles "pre-Columbian Mesoamerica" which doesn't really make any sense (hint: in the year before Columbus arrived in the Americas, Tenochtitlan was the largest city in the world.)

Here's a set of tables to generate Carcosan communities that are a bit more interesting and textured, while maintaining the themes of desperation and brutality.

  1. Semi-nomadic dinosaur herders
  2. Fungal forest slash and burn farmers
  3. Bandits, raid other villages or extort them for tribute
  4. Make sacrifices to eldritch god in exchange for food
  5. Nomadic hunter-gatherers
  6. Semi-nomadic, raid ruins for ancient technology, tinker with it and trade it
  7. Slave hunters and traders
  8. Lake fishers; have specialised knowledge that allows them to safely prepare the mutated lakelife

Dwelling place
  1. Cave complex
  2. Walled town
  3. Abandoned snake men ruin
  4. Mud huts
  5. Wood huts on stilts
  6. Inside an ossified dinosaur carcass

Cultural quirks*
  1. Widow sacrifice - when a woman is widowed she calls on her sons to strangle her; when a man is widowed he calls on his daughters to prepare a poison meal
  2. Obsession with feasting - the leader who gives the best feast is given prominence
  3. Men and women strictly segregated except during annual courting season
  4. Corpses' brains must be eaten by their relatives or their soul cannot pass on
  5. 'Unclean' tasks are relegated to a servile underclass
  6. Polygamy: men take many wives or women take many husbands. The surplus unmarried population are disposed of through 1. long pilgrimages with low chance of survival 2. Castration 3. Ritual murder
  7. Sub-economy revolving around brass rods. Brass rods can be used to pay important social costs, such as bride-price (to 'buy' a bride from her family) or blood-price (to pay compensation for murder). They cannot be exchanged for other goods.
  8. Believe themselves to be haunted by the ghosts of everything they have ever eaten. Perform banishing rituals before each meal, with the ritual growing more elaborate as one grows older.

Religious beliefs
  1. Worship Azathoth; a nihilistic religion that embraces the pointlessness of existence
  2. Worship the snake men and await their resurrection
  3. Worship Nyarlathotep. He rewards the strong and devious, punishes the weak and honest
  4. Worship a derelict robot, interpreting its error messages as scripture
  5. Worship animist spirit
  6. Worship a minor god that dwells in a noxious pit

  1. Council of elders
  2. Powerful sorcerer, rules through constant threat of summoning an eldritch god that will devour everyone
  3. Warrior-chief and retinue
  4. Priestly caste interprets the wishes of 1. a holy child 2. a sacred book 3. the sun and moon
  5. Caste of bigender shamans
  6. Society is egalitarian, decisions reached by consensus

  1. Naked except for string belts
  2. Embroidered robes and niqabs
  3. Dinosaur leather and dino-feather headdresses
  4. Filthy rags
  5. Furs and skull helmets
  6. Loincloths and iridescent tattoos

*Many of these are taken from real hunter-gatherer societies. I recommend Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber and The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond as sources for inventing nuanced hunter-gatherer societies.

'Imperial Lancer', Viktor Titov

'Dopesmoker', Arik Roper

Star Wars: Rogue One

Yanomamo man

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Spells for Carcosa, or, The Fungi From Yuggoth

The Last of Us

Spells are alien lifeforms native to the jale moon Yuggoth. They exist alternately as memetic information and fungal growths. Spells are not intelligent, but they have evolved a symbiotic relationship with intelligent beings.

In its memetic form, a spell can be encoded as writing, numbers, images, musical tones or many other formats. When an intelligent creature memorises the spell, it grows as a fungus inside their brain.
At the host's command, the spell is ejected from their brain through the nasal cavity and becomes pure magical energy. The actual effects of the spell are, in biological terms, its spores. By proving itself useful to its host, the spell ensures that it will be copied again and again.

Dedicated magic-users undergo training to increase their spellcasting capacity - literally creating cavities in their brains for the fungus to take root.

A O Spare

- The first time you try to memorise a particular spell, make a Will/Wisdom save. On a success, your brain is incompatible with the spell and you will never be able to learn it.
- You cannot memorise multiple copies of the same spell. Either you have it or you don't. After you cast a spell, you can't memorise it again until the next day.
- Once you have memorised a spell, you can only get rid of it by casting it. 
- When you eat the brain of another magic-user, their memorised spells will be transferred to you. Any spells they recently cast (within the last 10 minutes or so) have a 50% chance of being transferred as well.
- Spells cannot be written in cipher or otherwise concealed by translation. A spell is always a spell no matter what form it has been transcribed into.

Spell Slots
- All PCs begin with spell slots = 0. Gain spell slots through whatever system of character advancement you are using.
- Anyone can memorise any number of spells, regardless of their spell slots.
- When you cast a spell, if the number of spells in your brain exceeds your spell slots, you must roll on the Spell Misfire Table. Roll one die for each spell that exceeds your spell slots, and take the highest die.

Spell Misfire (d10)
1. Spell is cast successfully.
2. Spell works only for a moment, or is at half strength.
3. Spell refuses to come out. Choke on spores for 1 round, but the spell stays in your brain.
4. Spell fuses with another spell in your brain, creating a new hybrid spell which is cast immediately.
5. Spell is not cast, but instead copied into the brains of everyone else in the area.
6. Spell fails and is lost.
7. You give birth through your forehead to a child, half-spell and half-human. Has the same hit dice as you and abilities based on the spell's effects. Roll reaction to see how it regards you.
8. Spell succeeds, but comes out through your face. Take 1d10 damage and permanent facial scarring.
9. Spell possesses your body permanently, while your spirit becomes a spell.
10. Your head explodes as the spell is cast with incredible potency.

Review: Bone Marshes

This is a review based on a read-through, not a playtest. Bone Marshes is a 45-page sandbox setting for Knave. It focuses on a salt-ma...