26 March 2016

A Basic Approach to ... Casting Times & Material Spell Components 2 (of 3)

Magic-users and Elves aren't the only characters in the game who cast spells, of course, Clerics get important spell abilities when they reach 2nd level of experience. Somewhat unlike the former casters, the Cleric's spells are critical to the success of the entire party, healing and protecting the Cleric's allies when things get tough.

Since the rules are not totally clear, many players interpret them to suggest that Clerics get to choose their spells on the fly, not needing to memorize them daily like MUs do. I personally don't like this. Like the Elf, the Cleric gets spells and pretty respectable combat prowess, so why further punish the player who picks a MU by only applying the "Vancian" rule to them? Given that thought, I require Clerics to pick their spells daily just like their MU compatriots, with the caveat that, as in later versions of d20 D&D, they can swap out a prepared spell for a healing spell of equal or lesser level on the fly, provided they succeed on a wisdom check (equal or less than their WIS on a d20 roll) at the time of casting.

But, you might point out, the previous post in this series was all about getting around Vancian spellcasting! Right, and Clerics get similar options.

Clerics* who cast their spells on the fly without daily prayer and preparation suffer the same penalties to their initiative as MUs do; -1 to individual initiative per spell level of the desired spell.

Like MUs, the player may choose to use material components to remove the initiative penalty, in the exact same way as MUs. The only real difference is that in addition to the optional spell component, the Cleric must always have their holy symbol during spellcasting, or the spell fails. Of course, a lenient DM may take mercy on the Cleric whose symbol is lost or destroyed through no fault of their own, allowing them to perform a WIS check, with a +2 penalty to the roll, to cast spells without their symbol, as long as an effort is being made to replace it ASAP.

The power of Gygax compels you!

The required components for each spell are similar in nature to their MU spell counterparts, but the Cleric player who wants to swap out for non-standard components should take their particular deities dogma into account. While a god of nature and peace would be fine with a bundle of fresh herbs being used to invoke a Cure Light Wounds spell, for example, a savage god of war might prefer the heart of a freshly killed enemy. DM discretion rules the day, as usual, in regard to work works and what does not.

Here are my suggested components for the official Basic Rules 1st level cleric spells, to get your creative juices flowing:

1a Cure Light Wounds - 1 vial of holy water (considered to contain the divine essence of the patron god)
1b Cause Light Wounds - small chunk of metal, wood or stone from a broken weapon (to invoke the now inert damaging potential or bloodlust of that weapon)
2a Detect Evil - the preserved eye of an animal considered in the Cleric's culture to be friendly or "good", like a domestic breed of dog, songbird, sheep, etc (most cultures acknowledge the enhanced senses of animals)
2b Detect Good - as for Detect Evil, but from a bad or evil animal, like a snake, rat or pirahna (same as Detect Evil)
3 Detect Magic - the preserved eye of a cat, raven or crow (these animals have a strong symbolic connection to wizards and witches)
4a Light - a live or preserved firefly (a creature thought to be sent by the gods to guide their faithful in the darkness)
4b Darkness - a preserved wing (or freshly harvested one) of a bat (bats are known to "see" and fly straight in the darkness, after all)
5 Protection from Evil - 1 vial of holy water (to invoke the essence of the god for divine protection)
6 Purify Food and Water - A handful of salt (often used to preserve food, salt is thought by Clerics to have divine properties that drive off rot and decay)
7a Remove Fear - a small children's doll (to recapture soothing memories of home and security)
7b Cause Fear - the preserved head of a snake or other nasty small animal (the fact that most sane folk fear and avoid snakes leads Clerics to believe the gods mark those creatures with a fearsome aura to warn us of their danger)
8 Resist Cold - a chunk of coal or sulphur, unburnt (to invoke the latent flame spirits thought to live within)

I suggest giving Cleric players a lot of flexibility in choosing alternate materials to substitute, as long as the player is making some creative effort to play out the faith of her PC. While some MU types, though not so much Elves, consider magic to be a rather exact science, Clerics view divine magic as the malleable will of their patron god, infinitely adaptable to intent and circumstance.

With these notes and the guidelines from the MU article before them, you should be able to freely add these options to all the spellcasters in your game without too much difficulty or bogging down of play, all that is really required is a bit of creativity and some minor bookkeeping by the players.

*Clerics, in the context of this article, include Druids and Shamans, and any other variant classes (such as an OD&D paladin, perhaps) with similar divine or spiritual magical abilities.

About the only thing left to consider are the classic tools of the trade employed by spellcasters of both arcane and divine backgrounds; wands, staves, prayer beads, incense burners, etc. That will be the focus of the 3rd and final installment of this series, so I'll see you guys next time!

25 March 2016

A Basic Approach to ... Casting Times & Material Spell Components 1 (of 3)

I've been playing D&D for about 15 years now, and I've always preferred to use the BECMI rule set, but now and then in reading stuff from other editions and other games, I find bits and pieces that I want to adapt to my campaign. That's what these "A Basic Approach to" articles will be about, adapting rules options from AD&D and the newer "d20" system editions of D&D to use in a Classic D&D game.

One part of playing a spellcaster in AD&D, either 1st or 2nd edition, that I've always found fun is the use of material components for casting a spell. For those unfamiliar with the idea, it basically means that most spells require a little bit of some physical material that is used to harness and focus the magic required to cast the spell. The components are usually figuratively or metaphorically (and often somewhat humorously) connected to the spell being casting, so the Identify spell to determine the nature of a magic item requires a pearl (pearls of wisdom), and a fireball needs a pinch of bat droppings (as anyone who's had bats in their attic knows, the stuff is highly flammable when it dries out). I tinkered with different ways to use the idea in a Basic game without overly complicating things, and here's what I've settled on. We'll start with Magic-Users and similar classes today, and get back to actual material components in a minute, first we need to talk about casting times for spells, another AD&D mechanic I borrow to balance the use of components.

Spell Casting Times:
Usually in Classic D&D, when a spellcaster wants to cast a spell she has memorized, the player just announces that intent and when their turn comes up in initiative, the spell is cast and takes affect.

This optional system does not change that at all, spells memorized for the day according to the rules are cast normally, and 'go off' right when they are cast on the caster's initiative segment.

However, to give the players of spellcasters a little more flexibility in choosing spells for the day, the DM may allow the use of casting times, whereby the player may choose any spell known to the caster as long as they have an unspent spell 'slot' of that level available for the day. In this case, where spells are chosen on the fly instead of selected and prepared in the morning, an initiative penalty of -1 per spell level of the desired spell, to reflect the additional time required to recall and cast the spell, which was only briefly reviewed that morning. If standard group initiative for the party is used, the penalty applies only to the caster, not her allies.

Example: Luna wants to cast a lightning bolt against her enemies this round. The DM rolls initiative for the monsters on a d6, as normal, resulting in a 4. The party rolls a 5 for their group initiative, but Luna is casting an unmemorized 3rd level spell, so she gets a penalty of -3 to her individual initiative, so while the party wins initiative and goes first on a 5, Luna goes on 2, after the monsters.
Since the DM is probably choosing the spells for NPC casters on the fly anyway, this procedure is not used for NPC or monster casters. It is intended solely as a cheat for the players who don't want to be restrained by picking their daily spells before the day begins.

Material Spell Components
Now, what if you want the flexibility of casting on the fly, but don't want to suffer those nasty initiative penalties, which essentially guarantee that higher level magic users casting 5th or 6th level spells will always lose initiative? That's where material components (MCs) come in.

An MC is a small bit of material that serves two purposes in spellcasting. First of all, the metaphorical relation to the nature of the spell being cast helps jog the caster's memory and focus his thoughts on channeling the spell. Second, because of that same figurative relationship to the spell's intended effect, the presence of the material substance helps the caster more quickly gather and focus the magical energy to power the spell.

If the Magic-User* possesses the required material component and uses it to empower the spell, the spell's casting time is negated, allowing the spell to go off on the caster's unmodified initiative segment. The component is 'spent' in the process, and though it may still physically remain in the caster's hand, it is forever drained of its innate magical potency and is unusable as a future material component.

For now I'm only going to suggest specific MCs for the standard 1st level spells in the Basic rules, to give you an idea of the possibilities to guide you in assigning MCs for other spells.

SPELL - SUGGESTED COMPONENT (Metaphorical Meaning)
1. Charm Person - A 4 to 6 inch piece of olive tree branch (symbolic of peace or friendship)
2. Detect Magic - An owl's Feather (symbolic of wisdom and insight)
3. Floating disk - A marble sized chunk of Lodestone or Magnetized Metal (symbolic of the property of magnets to repel other magnets with the same charge), allowing one to 'float' above the other if carefully positioned)4. Hold Portal - A large nail or small spike forged of iron or steel (symbolic of literally spiking a door shut)
5. Light - The intact body (dead or alive) of a firefly (repesentative of the ability to create light)
6. Magic Missile - An arrowhead previously used in battle (representative of the arrow's potential to strike and wound)
7. Protection from Evil - A miniature carved copy of the holy symbol of a lawful or goodly god (symbolic of a god's power to protect his followers)
8. Read Languages - A lense from a monocle or spectacles (symbolic of aiding the ability to read)
9. Read Magic - A scrap of parchment, vellum or paper once part of a spell scroll or spellbook page (representative of magical writing)
10. Shield - A scrap piece of metal from a suit of armor (representative of armor's protective qualities)
11. Sleep - a scrap of cloth from a child's blanket (representative of peaceful 'babylike' sleep)
12. Ventriloquism - A 2 or 3 inch diameter carved or sewn dolls head (representative of a ventriloquists dummy)

MCs for 1st level spells should generally cost no more than 1gp, and if the PC is unable or unwilling to forage for them in the field, can be purchased in most general stores or apothecaries in towns or cities, or from fellow magic-users, though these folks may insist on barter or trade instead of coin.

As the level of the spells increase, the DM is free to limit availability of components to reflect the rarity of more potent substances and items, and the average price/value of the MC will go up, generally as follows:

Spell Level - Suggested Average Price/Value
1 - 1gp
2 - 5gp
3 - 10gp 
4 - 25gp
5 - 50gp
6 - 100gp
7 - 200gp
8 - 350gp
9 - 500gp

Improvising Spell Components

Sometimes a specific component may be unavailable, or a creative player may suggest an alternative component from items they find or have on hand. I'm all for this as long as there is a bit of thought and creativity behind the suggestion. A PC could suggest using a stirge's beak instead of an arrowhead for the Magic Missile spell, or a handful of phosphorescent moss instead of the firefly for a Light spell, for example. You should always reward imagination and creative problem solving in the game, so this kind of thing is perfectly fine. I simply require the Magic-User succeed on a simple INT ability check (a roll of equal or less than their INT score on a d20) when casting the spell with the alternate component for it to operate as intended. If the ability check fails, the spell still works, but the normal initiative penalty described above applies. 

as used in this article, include the Elf class and Wicca/Wokani class option for non-standard 'monster' classes. Other classes with similar spell casting ability may qualify as well with the DMs approval.
That's about it for Magic-Users. There's another option involving using wands, staves or other magical paraphernalia in lieu of components, but that will be covered in part three of this material. First we need to look at the MC options for Clerics and Druids, so stay tuned for part 2!

23 March 2016

Minor Magics of Mystara 1

After a while, the limited lists of magic items in the BECMI rulebooks can get a little boring, and I often end up creating new things to amuse the players. I've found that when you're giving out mysterious, unique things, they usually don't have to be super powerful to catch the interest of the PCs, and minor magics can be just as fun and interesting as relics and artifacts, without the risk of unbalancing a campaign.

So this will be the first in a series of articles featuring some new magic items of low to medium power to spice up the treasures found by PCs in a Mystara game.

Kala Chalk
Now and then, traders returning from the mysterious Honor Island, in the island Kingdom of Ierendi, tell tales of the strange and wondrous magics known to the reclusive magic users there. Less often, those traders have a trinket or two from those mages for the curious buyer with coin to spare.

Kala Chalk is one such item that turns up in the markets of port towns from the Shires to Alphatia once in a while, or in the pocket or pack of some rare traveler. Crafted from a slightly oily powder made from stones found on Mt. Kala on Honor Island, the magic users there (and the opportunistic merchant trying to sell the unique item) claim that it harnesses the power of the volcano in order to protect a person from all enemies!

As any seasoned adventurer in the Known World can attest, "all enemies" can be quite a subjective idea, and those who know the mages of Honor Island will understand that the actual power of the chalk is not what the average folk of the mainland might expect. You see, the folk of Honor Island are notoriously chaotic, and given to mingling and working with creatures considered monsters elsewhere...

Kala Chalk appears to be a 3 or 4 inch stick of 1/2 chalk with a reddish tint and a slightly greasy feel to it. Its power is invoked by drawing a circle on the ground, which then protects those within the circle from aggression by lawful creatures. Those protected gain a bonus of +2 to their AC and Saving Throws against attacks by such creatures, and lawful creatures who enter the circle suffer 1 point of damage each round that they remain within. Creatures forced into the circle against their will gain a saving throw vs. death magic to avoid the damage. The protection granted by the chalk circle lasts for 1d6+3 rounds, or until dispelled.

One stick of Kala Chalk is enough to draw a circle or circles to protect 8 creatures, either all at once or in multiple smaller groups.

Archer's Salve
This thick oily substance is said to be created by elusive elven clerics of the immortal Mealiden in Alfheim, to aid that nation's archers in hunting and battle. It is never sold to non-elves, but turns up once in a while in neighboring nations and can be used by any creature normally allowed to use a bow (but it grants no bonus to crossbow bolts.)

The salve is used by rubbing it into the shaft and fletching of a normal arrow, a process that takes 1d2 rounds to properly complete. Once coated, that arrow is imbued with a bonus of +1 to hit, until used successfully (it can be used again if it misses a target but is retrieved). The arrow also qualifies to hit creatures normally immune to non-magical or non-silver weapons. If not used successfully before the dawn of the next day, the salve's magic fades.

Avrine's New Moon Makeup
Avrine Nimblefoot was Hin "thief" known throughout the lands of Karameikos and the Shires for her daring and good-natured spirit. Hin storytellers who extol her adventures often quip that she was the greatest sneak of all the ages, and when she wanted to remain hidden, even the eyes of the Immortals couldn't spy upon her.

What most Hin don't know, or choose not to mention when telling their tales, is that Avrine had a small but potent arsenal of enchanted items to aid in her exploits. One such go to items in her career was a unique type of stage make up, the recipe for which was developed by the diminutive adventurer herself, with the aid of some forgotten Glantrian alchemist*. Thieves and roguish Hin have since copied the formula for Avrine's make up, and it's not all that uncommon in the realms of Karameikos, Ierendi and the Shires to this day.

Each jar of Avrine's New Moon Makeup contains 1d3 applications, which must be applied over the user's entire face to activate. The sticky, slightly sweet smelling goo is utter black, and once applied it bestows a dark, shadowy countenance to the wearer's entire body. When worn by a Halfling, the makeup raises the chance of hiding outdoors to 20% and hiding indoors to 1-3 on a d6 check. Human thieves (and other, nonstandard classes with similar abilities) may use the makeup, with a lessened effect, gaining a bonus of +5% to their Hide in Shadows checks.

New Moon Makeup is spoiled by exposure to bright light, losing it's magic as soon as the wearer is exposed to sunlight or magical light such as a Light spell.

*Oddly enough, in stories about her, the names of Avrine's collaborators and conspirators are always "forgotten".

Note: In my games, the mundane buying and selling of magical items is extremely rare, but for those who want them, here are the suggested retail values of each of the items featured here:

Kala Chalk, 1 stick: 500gp (The seller will usually be very vague about the specific nature of the item's magic and will emphasize the rarity and difficulty of obtaining the chalk, which is more of a factor in the price than the actual effectiveness of the item.
Archer's Salve, 1 vial: 100gp (75gp to an elf buying from an NPC elf) 
Avrine's New Moon Makeup: 300gp (on the black market only, the stuff is illegal in most civilized places)