Sunday, January 31, 2021

5 Experimental Magic-User Templates

Here are 5 templates for the Magic-User class to make them just a bit more interesting, especially at lower levels. Unless stated otherwise, Hit Dice, Saving Throws, Attack Bonus (THAC0), Weapons, Armor, and XP progression remain as per any standard old-school Magic-User class.

The one common sacrifice for choosing a template over the standard Magic-User is...(because otherwise, why would anyone just be a Magic-User?)

  • You use the Magic-User spell progression but only half as fast, gaining spells at levels 1,3,5,7,9,11,13,etc.

Seer -- You have the sight; you see things. Every night, you dream of what may or may not come to pass. Your mind is a cloud of possibilities; you can affect the fortunes of many...

  • Visions -- Every morning you receive a number of visions equal to 1d4 + wisdom bonus. Roll this many d20 and record the results. You may replace (after the fact) any d20 rolled by anyone that day with one of your vision rolls. In games where skills are rolled on a d6 (or for secret door type rolls), you may roll any number of d6 instead of d20s. You may also spend one of your vision rolls to reverse the numbers of a percentile roll. Unused visions fade away like old dreams by the end of the day. You receive one extra vision at levels 4, 8, and 12.
  • Fortunes -- You may sacrifice one of your daily visions and let someone else roll one in the form of a fortune. The recipient of the fortune can apply that fortune roll just like a vision roll but it can only apply to themselves, i.e., their own skill/attack/saving-throw roll or the roll of someone trying to harm them. A fortune can also be spent to reverse the numbers of a percentile roll.
    • Example of a fortune -- During morning preparations, the party fighter notices that the seer keeps staring at him. "What?" he asks. The seer wanders over and whispers something in his ear (or maybe he throws some bones or flips a few cards.) The fighter's eyes widen as he receives a cryptic message that will make more sense at a later time. He nods as he gives the seer an odd look. Later, in a fight against an ogre, the fighter zigs when he could've zagged, avoiding what might have been a fatal blow.

Witch -- You cohort with the Devil, or so they say. Either way, your eye is evil and your body bares a forbidden mark. You most certainly practice the dark arts, but sometimes you dabble in the light.

  • You can cast both Magic-User and Cleric spells.
  • Evil Eye -- If you have not yet acted this round, you can immediately give someone or something the Evil Eye, thus placing a hex on whatever roll they are about to make. The target of this hex suffers extra-disadvantage on that roll (rolling three dice and taking the worst result.) Using the Evil Eye uses up your action for this round. A Witch can use the Evil Eye a number of times per day equal to 1d4 + her charisma bonus
  • Cauldron -- You can prepare, as potions, any spell you know with cure or remove in the title, along with sleep and charm, and any other spells your DM agrees to. You do not need to lug around a large cast-iron cauldron to do this, a small, portable leather one (2 GP) will do.

Alchemist -- You've discovered that the secrets of magic can be distilled from substances in the physical world. Potions, vapors, ointments, powders, and oils are your game, but your work isn't necessarily, an exact science.

  • You can cast both Magic-User and Cleric spells.
  • Alchemical Spells -- Any of your daily spells can be prepared as, or later converted to, elixirs, potions, oils, ointments, vapors, etc.,(use your imagination) that anyone can use. These alchemical spells lose their potency after one day if not used. Converting an already prepared spell takes 1 turn per 2 levels of the spell.
    • Examples -- Drinking a fireball elixir might result in someone spitting said fireball from their mouth. After drinking a charm person elixir you may only need to breath softly in someone's face. A web elixir might expand when the vial is shattered on the floor. Alchemical sleep might result from the vapors released from an small uncorked jar. Remove fear could require sniffing some sort of powder. Locate object would be a bead of rolling mercury. Spider climb might be an oil rubbed on your hands.
    • Volatility -- Alchemical Spells are unstable and have a chance of exploding or corroding equal to the spell's level in 20 (d20 rolled by the user.) If the solution proves volatile, the spell fails and the user must save vs. poison to avoid taking 1d3 points of damage per spell level. Alchemists can safely use their own Alchemical Spells and if using one created by another alchemist, they have advantage on the saving throw.
  • A portable Alchemy Kit is required to make alchemical spells. The initial kit usually comes in the form of briefcase-sized box, costs 75 GP and can produce 12 levels of alchemical spells. There-after, the equipment (vials and such) needed to produce 10 levels of alchemical spells is 30 GP.

Necromancer -- Pariah doesn't even begin to cover it. Nobody likes you. You smell of death because you play with death. You are cold and dark and morbid and consumed with secrets from beyond the grave. 

  • Necroscope -- By cutting open and sifting through the innards of a corpse, you can glean it's secrets. This morbid, trance-like process takes as long as one turn per hit die of the corpse and often results in quite a mess. Once a corpse has been torn apart by this ritual, you can never glean secrets from that spirit again. Anyone watching (who isn't a necromancer) must save vs. death or violently retch for 1d4 rounds and also suffers disadvantage on their next saving throw vs. death in whatever form that takes. A Necroscope ritual can be used for the following:
    • Cause of Death -- Use this ritual to discern exactly how and when someone or something died. This isn't so much a conversation, as it is, a reliving of the experience. 
    • Spells From Beyond -- You can use Necroscope to speak with dead Magic-Users, directly from their corpse (as above) or by sleeping on their grave, to gain a bonus spell that is potentially far more powerful than any spell you can ordinarily cast. Make a 2d6 charisma-based reaction roll as you discourse with the dead. If you roll 8+, you can choose any magic-user spell of any level the deceased wizard had access to. If you roll 3-7, the spirit gives you nothing. If you roll snake-eyes (natural double 1's) the spirit blasts you violently from their "rest" and you must save vs. death or suffer 1d4 points of necrotic backlash damage and cannot cast any spells for 1d4 days. You can only have one of these spells in your mind at a time, can cast it only once, and it fades from your memory if not cast within 1d4 + intelligence bonus days.
    • Other Classes -- Communicating with a dead Fighter gives you a "to-hit" bonus equal to 1/2 their level (and the ability to use any weapon.) From a Cleric you gain turn undead equal to 1/2 their level or a Cleric Spell From Beyond -- see above. And from a Thief you gain thieving abilities at 1/2 their level. All levels are rounded up with a minimum level of one. Gaining these abilities requires a reaction roll of 8+ (double 1's have the same backlash as above.) These abilities stay with you for 1d4 + intelligence bonus days. You can only have one classes' abilities at a time and none if you currently have a Spell From Beyond.
  • Skeleton Minions -- While others pay for hirelings, you raise yours from the grave. You need access to a long-dead corpse (graveyards are great) and 1 hit point of blood. The blood must be spilled onto the corpse (or grave) and a ritual performed that takes 1 turn to complete. Finally, you must successfully save vs. death, after which one skeleton will claw itself out of the grave and serve you until destroyed (use standard skeleton stats.) If your saving throw fails by 5 or less, the skeleton rises but will not serve you and may even attack. If your saving throw fails by more than 5, then the ritual fails completely. A Necromancer can have a number of skeleton minions at any time equal to their 1/2 their level (rounded up) plus their charisma bonus
  • Graveyards -- A typical graveyard will yield up to 2d6 raiseable skeletons (assume they come with rusted armor and weapon.) There is also a 13% chance (rolled by the Necromancer) that any particular graveyard is the resting place of some sort of adventurer. Roll 1d12 to determine the adventurer's level and 1d4 to determine the class: 1. Cleric, 2. Fighter, 3. Magic-User, 4. Thief.

Warlock -- You're a mysterious one, a haunted loner who makes his living by sword and spell. Your spells function more like powers, bestowed to you by a distant patron whose pawn you undoubtedly are. 

  • You may use weapons and armor like a Fighter, but still attack as a Magic-User.
  • Your spells must be determined randomly, as it is up to your patron what powers you possess.
  • Invoke Patron -- You can call upon your patron for assistance giving you one of the following boons:
    • Advantage on attack rolls for 1d4+1 rounds.
    • Cast a spell that you have already expended.
    • Cast a spell that you do not know, but of a level that you have access to.
  • Invoke Patron functions with a usage die, starting at d6. When you invoke your patron, roll your usage die, on a 3+ your boon is granted. On a 2 your boon is granted, but the usage die now becomes one die lower. On a 1, your boon is ignored, and your usage die becomes one die lower. If you roll a 1 or 2 on a d4 usage die, your patron ignores you for the rest of that day.  At 5th level, your usage die becomes a d8, and at 10th level it becomes a d10. Your usage die resets to the maximum die every day. You can invoke your patron and take action in the same round.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

D&D Assassins: Best And Worst Mechanics

Is there a reluctance in D&D games to give Assassins the ability to kill? Consider this... 

  • A 1st level Magic-User can slay at will with the spell Sleep -- which offers no saving throw and shuts down multiple foes of 4 hit dice or less. Considering that probably 90+% of all creatures in your fantasy world are 4 hit dice or less, your 1st level magic-user is stunningly powerful. Granted, they can only do this once/day until they gain more levels and/or scrolls.

Let's take a look at different versions of D&D to see how they handle an Assassin's ability to assassinate as well as other abilities like disguise and poison.

In no particular order or importance...

AD&D 1st Edition

  •  A back-stab doing up to quintuple damage depending on your level. That option is for both assassins and thieves and serves as an argument against even having a separate assassin class. In most versions of D&D on this list, not counting 3.5, the back-stab (sneak attack) is merely double damage.)
  • The assassination table (found in the DM's Guide, pg. 75) assumes you have delivered to your DM a detailed plan of your assassination attempt. Probably includes infiltration and disguise rolls. You have a base 50% chance of straight up killing your foe, depending on your level cross-referenced with theirs. If this fails, regular weapon damage is rolled, which might kill in and of itself, and also may require a save vs. poison if you are employing such tactics.
  • As mentioned above, any option you choose can also employ the use of poison as a back-up, but the Player's Handbook discourages PCs using poison as it can be abused and there is mention of a check to see if you nick yourself, but it's unclear what that check is (just dawning on me now, is this a poison save? -- if so that's cool, but assassins should get some kind of bonus.)
  • Also, the poison rules are overly concerned with people spotting the poison on your blade, not something I was ever concerned with.
  • Disguise success is automatic with a increasing chance of being caught per day. 
  • Assassins don't start getting thief skills until 3rd level.
  • The Player's Handbook has a table displaying what you should be paid for your dirty deeds. This is cool. 
  • Verdict: Not bad, but it's largely a flavor class. The 1st level thief is more capable.

D&D 3.5
  • Dungeon Master's Guide, pg. 180 (I consider the 3.5 DM's Guide second only to the much beloved 1st Edition DM's Guide in it's overall usefulness.) Here, the Assassin is a Prestige Class requiring 4 ranks in disguise, and 8 ranks in both hide & move silently
  • The best Assassin drawing I've ever seen in a D&D book (art by Wayne Reynolds.)
  • Mechanics, the death attack -- here you have to make a sneak attack after studying your target for 3 rounds. If it hits, they must save vs. Fort DC:10 + your level + your Intelligence bonus or die instantly or (your choice) be paralyzed for 1d6 + your level rounds. If they make their save, you still do sneak attack damage. I love it all except for the 3 rounds of study. Nobody wants to voluntarily sit out the game for 3 rounds.
  • This version of the Assassin can cast spells.
  • Poison Use -- can use poison without poisoning themselves. Not really that exciting as anyone can use poison with only a 5% chance of poisoning themselves -- lame. And all variations of D&D lack good (or any) black market rules for locating things like poison. However, the Assassin does gain an increasing resistance to poison (bonus to save) as he levels up, so this is good as it displays tangible knowledge of the subject.
  • Verdict: Good, except for the 3 rounds of study thing.

Pathfinder 1st Edition
  • Very similar to the 3.5 Assassin. No spells though, but has variations on the death attack as you gain levels.
  • Verdict: I prefer the 3.5 version.

D&D 5th Edition
  • A sub-class of the Rogue starting at 3rd level.
  • Assassinate -- You have advantage vs. someone who hasn't taken their turn and any attack is a critical hit if your foe is surprised. High level assassins can do a lot of sneak attack damage vs. surprised targets.
  • Your 9th & 13th level abilities are lame as hell, campaign-based, infiltration and imposter abilities. Talk about empty levels.
  • Death Strike at 17th level(!) surprised targets must save or take double the damage inflicted. Could be a massive amount of damage.
  • Verdict: Disappointing. Yes, they can do a shit-ton of damage when they (finally) reach 17th level, but all of the mid-level abilities just focus on disguise type stuff, and poison isn't even mentioned. Everything is measured in damage. This is the Walt Disney Assassin. 

Labyrinth Lord (Advanced)
  • Streamlines the percentage chance from AD&D 1st Edition. Here you don't have to turn in an elaborate plan to your DM, you simply attempt the (modified by levels) percentile roll after a successful back-stab.
  • Disguise rules like in AD&D1st Edition.
  • Can use poison of course, and again like 1st Edition.
  • Verdict: Pretty good streamlined assassinations.

Swords & Wizardry
  • No rules for assassination other than the suggestion to add damage equal to your level to any successful back-stab. This is because S&W is based on the Original Rules which apparently only had "off-screen" assassination mechanics for NPC assassins.
  • Verdict: Disappointing. But, a few simple hacks...

Old School Essentials
  • Assassination -- you must succeed on a back-stab attack, victim then saves vs. death with a penalty based on the assassin's level. Any human/demi-humans can be killed and monstrous humanoids up to 4 hit dice.
  • Usual disguise stuff and victim's of the Assassin's poison (if they use it) suffer -2 to the save.
  • Verdict: Very clean, one of the best. I would add -- a poison save bonus, treat disguise like a thief skill, a few spells. 

Castles & Crusades
  • Death Attack is similar to the one from D&D 3.5 in that it requires 3 rounds of study, a sneak attack, and a save (constitution save.)
  • Has an interesting ability called case target (wisdom check) which allows you to discern things like hit dice and hidden weapons or abilities, but it's all at the CK's (DM) discretion and it takes 1d3 x 10 minutes. This tilts toward being a flavor ability because it takes so much in-game time to do and depends a lot on discretion. I would change it to -- 1 secret discerned per round spent casing, so it can be beneficial right there in combat.
  • Has the usual uninspiring disguise and poison stuff.
  • Verdict: Okay. C&C classes have a lot of flavor abilities that I wish had more of an immediate mechanical impact. Still a nice game. Just tinker a bit.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
  • Assassination requires a successful back-stab as per the usual back-stab type rules, must be hidden, +4 "to-hit", etc. Then a second d20 is rolled according to a chart cross-referencing levels. If this second roll succeeds, the target then saves vs. death (no save is allowed if the "kill" roll was a 19 or 20).
  • The usual poison and disguise stuff, except here disguise has a 1 in 6 chance and the disguise spell is referenced.
  • Verdict: Okay, maybe one too many rolls. Should a death save be required after two rolls? Does sleep offer a save? -- No. Compromise -- Drop the second roll, keep the death save.

Basic Fantasy
  • Assassinate -- Make a successful sneak-attack, victim saves vs. death. DM's discretion -- Victims 2 or more levels lower than you might be denied a save and no penalty for higher level victims -- wow!
  • Can also waylay (knockout) someone using the Assassinate ability.
  • No disguise mentioned, but they can make a dose of contact poison for 500 GP and this has a percentage chance of success like other thief abilities. Pretty cool, comes with a warning not to abuse this.
  • Verdict: Not bad, pretty straight forward. Maybe the most generous one here.

HackMaster (5th Edition)
  • Ok, for an old-school D&D clone, this game is crunchy. 1/3 of your hit points equals your Threshold of Pain (ToP). If you take more damage than your ToP, you need to roll under 1/2 your constitution or collapse, writhing in pain. 1st level Assassins deduct 1 from their target's ToP, and 1 more every two levels thereafter making it easier for them to drop you. If the damage is 5 or more higher than it needs to be, you're not only dropped, but dropped silently. 10 or more than it needs to be, and you fall flat out unconscious allowing for a Coup de Grace in just 2 seconds, where as other classes take 10 seconds. Got that?
  • Poison is not mentioned and disguise is a skill anyone can take (I think.)
  • Verdict: I think it works for this game as there are a lot of realistic aspects to this combat system. But damn, crunchy.

In summation and what would my perfect Assassin look like?
  • My two favorites from the list above are from vastly different versions of D&D -- Old School Essentials and D&D 3.5 (I've always liked the 3.5 Assassin.) 
  • I would like to see poison utilized more. Not just in using poison, but finding it in the black market or cultivating it from the wild. 
  • Disguise should be treated just like a thief skill with instantaneous, on-the-spot results. Example -- the party slays some cultists or orcs or something roughly humanoid. The Assassin gathers up it's equipment and wanders into the next room containing more cultists/orcs, roll your disguise to see if it works. If it does, you gather some intel or pick some pockets. If it doesn't, it's much like failing a stealth check. When you distill it down, disguise is just stealth out in the open.
  • Clean assassination rules. Successful sneak attack, then level-based save.
  • Daggers are iconic assassination weapons and should be more integral to the class. Perhaps limit sneak attack (back-stab) to daggers only. This creates a decent risk. But in doing this, I would make them equal to, or close to, fighters in combat ability, while still limiting armor to leather.
  • Magic use is optional for me, but makes sense. Assassins would definitely dabble in the dark arts to gain an edge.
  • Visually, I like the mysterious, cloaked figure, dodging in and out of shadows, poisoned dagger in hand, striking to kill whenever he can.
  • And here's a final thought -- you could link the death attack directly to poison. If they're out of poison, they can't make a death attack. This promotes the need to find and/or cultivate poison (which should be hard & expensive.) Start counting your doses. With this method, a back-stab isn't required (but you would still have that ability.) And perhaps a poison would only last so long on your blade, so once you apply it, time is of the essence. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Imagine Rifts: Psi-Stalker

Imagine, you're not considered a full human, but a mutant, something of a second class citizen. You're not welcome at the table...and you don't mind. Fuck the table.

Imagine, you never have to eat or drink, but what sustains you is the potential psychic energy and magical strength of those with beyond human capabilities. You can smell them and the smell is good.

Imagine, the thrill of the hunt for such a thing. You live for it. You lust for it. It requires but a drop of blood and every ounce of your will...not to kill.

Imagine, you are but one of many, born of the tribe, the wilderness your home, solitude your temple.

Imagine, you are a Psi-Stalker.

Rifts is cool.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Bursting Into 2021!

The Burster. 

Fire-Starter meets Johnny Storm.

One of the more powerful psychics on Rifts Earth. 

As unpredictable as wildfire. 

If their blood boils, yours will too. 

Welcome to 2021.

Three Hearts And Three Lions

One of the inspirations for D&D as listed in Appendix N. Poul Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions , 1953/1961. You have:  a paladin ...