Donnerstag, 12. März 2015

Chthonic Codex: Spellcasting Minutiae

While the magic system in Chthonic Codex is much along the lines of classic D&D retroclones (i.e. it's not a radical rebuilding such as Wonder & Wickedness), it still has a couple nice additions to typical Vancian Magic that aren't often covered. Three things in particular are the rules for Spell Research, Dispensation, and the Eos Elegy, and I want to talk about them in this post.

Spell Research

"The Sorceress" by John William Waterhouse (1913)
Chthonic Codex captures the entirety of spell research in one page, a third of which is dedicated to an example. The process is broken down into three phases (Design; Feasibility, which is optional; Development), with associated durations, cost and 5MORE rolls.

The process is depicted as a very academic endeavor, taking months (or years for spells of the highest levels), but it covers expenses for required support material (some of which might be re-used), support by aides, and seems eminently fair for a setting that is basically Academic Antics at Subterranean Sorcery Schools.

A nice twist is that the player can decide to research a spell of a certain level, but allow the referee to pick the spell in question; this cessation of creative control is awarded with heightened chances for (eventual) success. The rules for aides are another justification to keep Apprentices around (beyond the fact that they keep the house clean, can be sent to the Hypogea to collect weird stuff, and so on), and give a nice second chance on failed research. If you skip the optional feasibility phase, you might be in for a surprise at the end of the development, but thus are the vagaries of tight budgets in research ...


Dispensation is such a simple idea to make magic users something other than just rule-breaking solution generators. The one-line description of dispensation is "the spell can be cast without spending mana if the catch is satisfied" hit me as so profoundly easy that I wonder why I haven't seen this in games before.

Example dispensations are sleeping close by a magic item to discern it's magical effects via dreams, or to take more damage than usual for a spell that requires the magic user to spill some blood to activate it. So finally, there are rituals that make magic happen, and there are good reasons for the players to do that since mana is rare.
"Hamatsa shaman2" by Edward S. Curtis 

Eos Elegy

The Eos Elegy is the setting description of paying mana upkeep for long lasting spells (because you get mana back at dawn, and a lot of spells have a duration of "until next dawn"). This makes the upkeep of magical spells inherently ritualistic and, well, magical. Especially if you draw the mana for upkeep from mana vessels and use talismans to allow casting a spell multiple times a day. 

My inner eye immediately conjures the image of a magic user sitting before his collection of vessels and talismans, peering at the sundial mechanism a fellow Artificer built for them, waiting for the right time to pay upkeep to the magic they want to keep going ...


What these three things do, in essence (and I haven't written about essence corruption yet, because that's yet another great thing that requires more thought), is to give the spellcraft in Chthonic Codex a certain topicality that makes it special beyond a new rewrite of the classic set of D&Dish spells. It expands the model without invalidating it, and it allows us to understand why magic users act the way they do (i.e., have apprentices, go through certain antics to save on mana, go through other antics to keep spells running). It's a perfect example of the illusion that fluff and crunch can easily be separated.

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