Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Godbound: A Game of Divine Heroes for OSR is now out!

And it looks beautiful. This was the first Kickstarter project I backed, and am very glad for it.

I take it quite a few of you are familiar with Kevin Crawford's work. His latest project brings to mind Exalted vibes, set in a world where mortals waged war against the heavens and looted their celestial engines for power and the creation of artificial soldiers known as made Gods. Of course, fooling around with the building blocks of creation is rarely a good idea, and this has caused all sorts of crazy stuff to happen.

Angels have taken over Hell, sending all mortal souls they can claim for punishment at rebelling against them. Extradimensional gateways known as Night Roads open up in the middle of mortal settlements, causing all manner of monsters to spill forth. Mortal tyrants, titanic beasts, fell sorcerers, and more ravage the lands, and the PCs possess a special spark of the Words of Creation to perform superhuman feats.

Godbound is interesting in the fact that it's not a class-based system. A Godbound's set of powers are determined by access to Words, timeless concepts and ideals which can grant great powers in that domain of influence. One with the Word of Might may be able to lift and drag building-sized objects and jump leagues into the air, whereas one with the Word of Deception might create illusions and see through mortal lies and trickery.

Like Crawford's previous works, it has enough different elements to set it apart from most retroclones on the market, but maintains many core elements (Armor Class, Hit Dice, etc) that conversion shouldn't be too tough a process. However, the power level in Godbound is significantly higher than most OSR games, so many adventures will take quite a bit of tweaking to accommodate Word-wielding PCs. Best of all, Godbound has a free version playable right out of the box! The Deluxe version has 50+ pages of additional content and more artwork.

Surprisingly, the game is relatively rules-lite for a superpowered game. Although that's to be expected with an OSR book, it's a welcome element nonetheless. I can see Godbound's rules being adaptable for several other settings, such as the upper echelons of power in Forgotten Realms with the gods warring in the Time of Troubles or old Netheril, or the philosophical conflicts and planar paradigms of Planescape.

Here are the links below:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Magic School Campaigns: Young Minds Review

Cover Art by Laurel Shelley-Reuss

Spoiler Warning: This will discuss several encounters and characters from the aforementioned product, so if your gaming group is adventuring in the city of Mordenheim or your GM indicated that he may run this book, then look no further!

I had an inquisitive eye on this adventure ever since it came out last month, but didn't get the time to read it until very recently. Its publisher has a reputation for making rather clever and unique adventures in addition to more typical fair, such as a training academy for adventurers and players new to Pathfinder, a fairy-tale adventure series based off of the tales of Snow White.

Young Minds is the third of a series set in the weird city of Mordenheim, where the ecology of fantasy monsters and magic are integrated into society's structures. It is a city where gargoyles deliver the mail and people's addresses are painted on the rooftops, where ooze-handlers send their slimy charges down streets to dissolve trash and detritus, and tax collectors need to hire experienced adventurers to take their cut from ornery mages and monsters well-capable of driving away unprepared soldiers (a plot point of the first adventure B17: Death & Taxes).

For the adventure itself, it is a mystery-focused plot, where a ravenous intellect devourer murdered one of the teachers at the prestigious university Leverinac University. To prevent panic from spreading, the Dean hires the PCs to investigate. But as intellect devourers are known for their ability to hijack other people's bodies and masquerade as normal folk, the adventurers-for-hire must go undercover as prospective students via shapeshifting magic rings at the start of a new school year.

The adventure has its fair share of social encounters, with some combat encounters to mix things up a bit. It has a lot of the charm and feel of a modern high school but with a fantasy twist. In one encounter, PCs participate in a dodge ball game against a team of giants with magic size-changing projectiles so as to give the smaller races an even footing. In another, they'll have the opportunity to join either the honor society or troublemaker's clique, and thus tasked with stealing or protecting an important book used for initiation ceremonies depending on their faction choice. Beyond that, the three primary suspects of the body-hijacker are all capable in their own right against a team of mid-level adventurers, from an ettin dodgeball coach to an arrogant prefect with a badge capable of animating the omnipresent suits of armor lining the school's halls.

Successfully endearing themselves to certain NPCs during the various encounters (especially the 2 factions) make a visible difference in the final encounter when the intellect devourer's nest of eggs hatch beneath one of the frat houses. PCs with a good track record can better rally the students and cooperate with allies to fight them off, or end up as a bloodbath if the party hasn't had a lucky streak.

My only real complaints with the adventure are its briefness and the two major factions. We only see the bare basics of Leverinac and its students and staff, but I suppose that makes sense for a quick adventure. There are seeds for further ideas in some of the write-ups of minor NPCs, but aside from there's not a lot of further adventure hooks for a school full of monsters, mages, and stranger inhabitants. My other complaint is that a large portion of the adventure is predicated on the PCs joining either the honor society or troublemaker's, who although both are in charge of the major Houses of the school, is no guarantee that the PCs are going to pick a side so soon at risk of alienating about half the student body.

Aside from these minor shortcomings, Young Minds is a fun little title which makes for a nice change of pace from dungeon-delvings so common to the genre.

Young Minds can be purchased from DriveThruRPG/RPGNow.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Larius Firetongue's School of Sorcery Excerpt: Cantrips

Artist Unknown

A common trope in fantasy worlds is the idea of a wizard who can use minor magic at will. Barring rituals and high-end supernatural techniques, the creation of a simple illusion, telekinesis of a small object, and the like is something a wizard can do without expounding any significant effort. The standard Vancian system of magic as a precious resource a 1st-level apprentice can only do once per day does not lend itself to what many people think of when it comes to a magic school setting. It precludes fun scenarios like pranksters setting off minor illusions while running away from prefects, classmates using their magic to do competitive games with multiple tries, and similar things which can only be simulated by piling additional levels onto characters.

Albeit originally presented in 3rd Edition D&D in the form of Reserve feats, at-will spells became standardized in further games such as 4th Edition, Pathfinder, and now 5th Edition. Swords & Wizardry as-is does not have at-will spells (at least not in the hands of anyone but monsters), so I got around to thinking of how to transport them to an OSR framework.

Although a few are converted from other D&D Editions and clones, I made sure that they didn't invalidate already existing 1st-level spells: in Pathfinder/5th Edition the light spell is a cantrip, but in Swords & Wizardry it is a 1st-level spell. In the case of new spells, I made sure to have their effects be interesting magical gimmicks which would not unbalance the game due to indefinite use. Spellbolt works no differently than a mundane ranged weapon, but is inferior to magic missile because it has an inferior range, does not auto-hit, and the caster cannot generate multiple "bolts" for attacking in the same round.

Cantrips: Cantrips are a special type of spell mastered by dabblers and apprentices before moving on to true magic.  They require such a trifling amount of power that they can be effectively cast all day long without the spellcaster running out of magical energy (although physical exhaustion may set in far earlier!).

Any class with access to spells per day is capable of learning cantrips.  They follow the rules of typical spells, except that once prepared they never run out and can be cast an infinite number of times.  However, a spellcaster must still perform the regular rites of their class (spellbook study, prayer, etc) every day to switch them out in favor of new ones, and they can only prepare a limited amount per day.  Some cantrips can be prepared twice as though they were two different spells, granting greater effects in exchange for less versatility.

Spellcasters can prepare 2 cantrips at 1st level, three at 4th level, and 4 at 7th level.  Magic-users and classes which utilize a spellbook begin play with 2 cantrips in their spellbook.

Range: 30 feet
Duration: 1 round

This cantrip creates a burst of bright light equivalent to torchlight for a split-second.  If conjured in an enemy’s face, the target must make a saving throw or suffer a -1 penalty on all attack rolls for 1 round.  This cantrip can be prepared twice to create overwhelming sensations of any of the four other common senses instead, being potentially able to effect blind and sightless creatures.

Note: This cantrip’s use as a light source is inferior to the light spell in that its duration is too brief to allow for detailed study.

Ghost Sound
Range: 30 feet
Duration: 1 round

This spell creates illusory sounds of the caster’s choice within the range, although they cannot be any louder than a roaring lion or power saw (114 decibels).  Evidence which proves the sound’s false nature allows the victim a saving throw to disbelieve at the Referee’s discretion.

Mage Hand
Range: 30 feet
Duration: Until concentration ceases

This spell allows the caster to remotely lift and move a single object weighing up to 5 pounds within the range of the spell.  If the spellcaster concentrates on the cantrip, they can move any such object up to 15 feet per round in any direction.  Preparing this cantrip twice allows this telekinetic force to be precise enough to perform delicate tasks  such as lock-picking and surgery.

Manifest Shield/Weapon
Range: Personal
Duration: Until Dispelled

This spell causes a shield or weapon made of transparent energy to materialize in the caster’s hand, using the game statistics as said object.  The equipment must be something the caster is proficient with and be aware of its existence.  Should a spellcaster wish to use this cantrip to manifest two weapons in each hand or a shield and a weapon, they must prepare this cantrip twice.  Two-handed weapons count as one cantrip for these purposes.

Range: 10 feet
Duration: Instantaneous

This cantrip makes minor repairs to objects of up to 5 cubic feet in size.  It is capable of removing minor levels of rust, straightening out bends, fusing cracks and splits back together on small objects, and the like.  It is up to the Referee’s discretion on the extent of the repairs, but as a guideline it can equal the effort of 10 minutes worth of work by a trained artisan with proper tools or restore 1d4 hit points worth of damage.

Repeated castings on the same equipment or piece of material have no further effect until at least 24 hours have passed.

Range: 100 feet
Duration: 1 turn (10 minutes)

This spell allows the caster to whisper long-range messages to a single target within the spell’s range and line of sight.  You cannot carry a two-way conversation unless the subject also has this cantrip prepared.  This cantrip can be prepared twice to affect as many targets within the spell range as the spellcaster wishes.

Parlor Tricks
Range: 10 feet
Duration: 1 hour

Upon casting, this cantrip allows the caster to perform minor harmless tricks.  These can be all sorts of miscellaneous magical effects, but are severely limited in what they can do. Here are some guidelines:

Illusions are transparent and obviously unreal, and can only be 1 cubic foot in size or less.

Only 1 pound of material can be moved, cleaned, soiled, recolored, or have its temperature mildly changed.

Created objects can only weigh up to 1 pound and are too fragile and of poor quality to be used as proper tools or be passed off as the real thing.

The effects of this cantrip, be it creation, illusions, or alterations only last for 1 hour.

Range: 30 feet
Duration: Instantaneous

The spellcaster’s finger or held implement (holy symbol, wand, etc) fizzles with energy which can be used as a ranged weapon against a target within 30 feet.  It deals 1d6 points of damage, and its visual effects can be versatile (screaming skulls, acidic balls, etc) but do not deal any special type of damage and once chosen this form is always the same.  If the spellcaster wishes to manifest different kinds of visual effects with every casting, they can prepare this cantrip twice.