When a Skill is Justified, Superpower Skills, and Torture in ORWA

Torture Toy

Mechanically defined skills should be kept to just those things which are beyond the capabilities of your average adventurer. Anybody can climb, or balance, or jump. It’s pretty easy to adjudicate the difference between something that can be done given a reasonable level of competence, and something can’t.

Furthermore, mechanically defined skills should never replace actual play. If a situation can be resolved by having the player describe their actions, and having the referee describe the way the environment reacts, then that’s how the situation should be resolved. Replacing the actual play of the game with rolling a die is a stupid thing to do.

Finally, mechanically defined skills should have some reasonable likelihood of being used. The average adventurer cannot play the cello, nor can the act of attempting to play the cello be resolved through play. Despite that, my game doesn’t include a ‘cello’ skill, because I don’t think it’s worth my time to write a skill that none of my players will use. But if someone, for some reason, decided they wanted to become a cello player, I would totally write a cello skill for them.

Well, someone in my game has decided they want to play the cello.

Not, like, for real. That was a metaphor. The actual thing my player wants is for me to create a Torture skill. Apparently, Umquat the 14 year old girl just really needs to be better at hurting people.

“But wait!” I hear you say. “Torture is neither beyond the capabilities of your average adventurer, nor is it impossible to resolve through actual play!” And you are correct. In fact, because I tend to turn my players into psychopaths, I’ve already had to make a ruling on torture in my game.

If the players have a helpless opponent, they can damage them with a weapon. Unlike in combat, where damage must be rolled randomly, players who are torturing someone may choose a number within their weapon’s damage range. The victim must make a morale check, with a penalty of 1 for every 3 points of damage the players deal.

If their morale check succeeds, they resist the torture, and refuse to give up the information the players are asking for. If the check fails, they break under the pressure and start talking. If the questions probe too closely to information that is particularly sensitive, the victim may clam up and need to be tortured further.

Notably, I do not allow the players to know how many hit points their victim has. So each torture attempt is a gamble. The more damage they do, the more likely their victim will break. But that’s not helpful if the victim also dies.

It’s a functional system, for something I came up with on the spot while running a game. But one of my players wants to get better at it. They want to improve as a torturer, and who am I to deny a player who wants to engage with the game in some way? And yet, as mentioned above, torture fails two of my tests for when it is appropriate to make a skill. How can I engage with my player, but also maintain the integrity of my ruleset?

Make torture a superpower.

This is something I touched on with “How I Use the Skills I Hate.” At the time, I was in a situation where I was obligated to use skills which failed one or more of my 3 rules. This left me with a few options.

One, I could remove the skills from the game. I didn’t want to do that, because players tend to get understandably frustrated when you take away their cookies. Two, I could run a game which didn’t meet my own standards for player agency. Which…no. Running a game is too much of a time investment. I’m not going to do something I can’t be proud of. Which left me with only one choice: rewrite bad skills to be good skills.

I did this by turning some of them into what I’m now calling Superpower Skills. Skills which do not model anything within the realm of possible human ability. The Search skill, for example, does not measure the player’s ability to search their environment. It literally determines what exists within that environment.

My players recently found a confusing device while they were raiding a magical laboratory. They couldn’t figure out how it worked, so they decided to look for some kind of journal describing its function. My notes didn’t indicate that any such journal existed, but their roll succeeded, so they found a journal and figured out what to do with the device. Of course, I still retain my ability to say “Yes you find that,” or “No, that’s not here.” This variation of search is just a handy way of resolving everything in between.

Since stumbling onto them, Superpower skills have become my new favorite thing. They allow me to create these totally gonzo resolution mechanics for all the things my players want to do. I can make a successful check powerful, but I don’t have to worry about it upending my game because there’s only a base 1-in-6 chance of success. That chance can be improved by raising your skill level, but players have a very limited number of skill points. If they’re putting them into one thing, then they’re not putting them into something else. It all more or less balances out.

You might worry that there’s danger in this thinking leading to Pathfinder style choice bloat, and that’s valid. But I think there’s an essential difference here. In a bloated game, the designer presents the players with an overabundance of choice from the get-go. I’m talking about responding to player desires within your own game. I will probably not include a torture skill in future games that I run, because the players in those games have not asked for one yet. I’ll just present them with a standard array of choices, and let them show me what crazy stuff they want to do.

So without any further blathering, here’s how I wrote the Torture skill for my player:

Torture is used to extract information which an NPC might not normally be able to offer you (similar to how the search skill is used to find things in an environment which may or may not be there) It can also be used to restrain a character’s lethal force, allowing them to merely wound when they would have otherwise killed.

If a character delivers a finishing blow to an enemy, they may attempt a torture roll to leave that foe barely alive. If successful, their foe is automatically considered helpless. In this, and any other situation where a foe is considered helpless, a successful torture skill can be used to extract the answer to one question, assuming there is any kind of possible chance the victim knows that information. (If the referee determines that it’s not possible for this character to know the information the player wants, the player may ask a different question instead.)

A failed torture check, (in either instance), causes the victim to die.

I want to note that this skill does not necessarily replace my previous ruling. Because of the high chance of death, it’s actually much safer to just torture someone the old fashioned way. That method also has the possibility to give you more information, since once an attempt is successful, the victim will talk until they are asked about something particularly sensitive. The torture skill, on the other hand, allows you to extract only a single piece of information per check; but it allows you to extract information the victim may never have offered otherwise.

Magic Words: Laboratories

A Wizard's LaboratoryI love the Magic Word system. It is my finest contribution to the gaming world: elegantly simple caster magic that encourages creativity, and removes the need for cumbersome spell lists. I don’t know if anyone aside from me is actually using it, but I just can’t imagine going back to running spells any other way. Magic Words feels so natural to me at this point.

Another thing that I love are crazy magical laboratories filled with curios, oddments, and the inexpiable paraphernalia of the magician’s craft. Furthermore, the way LotFP handles magic laboratories is one of the best changes Raggi made to the base B/X formula. It’s simple, it’s elegant…and Magic Words broke it.

For those unfamiliar, I’ll summarize. In LotFP, magic labs are measured by monetary value. So if you find a tome of magic theory worth 100sp, and you put it in your lab, then it adds 100sp to your lab. Labs are required for “Magical Activity,” and the value of the lab is a major factor in determining how difficult such activity is.

But I don’t really use scrolls, and I don’t allow players to transcribe spells. Potions are produced using the Alchemy skill. I’ve rewritten how wands work. I’ve also rewritten how staves work. And, of course, creating new spells is trivial, since that’s kinda the whole goshdang point of using Magic Words in the first place. That list encompasses the whole of what RAW LotFP calls “Magical Activity.” So, as I said, I’ve broken LotFP’s magic labs in basically every way.

Which means that the Magic Words system needs its own method for using magic labs, drawing on the core concept of LotFP’s system.

Magical Libraries and Laboratories for Magic Words

A magician’s laboratory is where they store objects for study. Tomes of forbidden knowledge, mystical objects of unknowable purpose, the corpses of demons ready for dissection; such things can provide insight into new realities as yet unknown.

Laboratories are ranked according to their value, which is measured in two ways. First there is Total Value, which measures everything in the lab taken together. Second, there is Unused Value, which measures the the objects which the magic user can still learn from.

For storage, every 500 silver pieces worth of lab value requires 10′ of square space to store. Objects that are appropriate for a magical lab must be discovered through play. If sold, lab items are worth 1/2 their value on the open market.

Unused Value can be spent in place of the time normally required to craft a new spell. It costs 500 sp of unused magical laboratory value to combine words into a new spell, which the referee will present at the next session as usual. Though, if the Magic User decides to go on a spending spree and produce a dozen new spells in a single session, the referee is well within their rights to say they’ll deliver the new spells in installments. A player expecting more than two or three new spells a week is being excessive.

This is a useful change for two reasons. First, my intent was for the player to be able to make a new spell pretty much every game session. But in practice, my players often end In Media Res three, four, or even five times in a row. I can’t reasonably allow the Magic User to craft a new spell while they’re in the middle of a combat, and as a result, Magic Users get frustrated. They wind up with ever-lengthening queues of spells they’re waiting to craft. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it can reach a point of excess. Hopefully, this will alleviate that.

Second, this will allow higher level magic users to spend a little more time pursuing goals other than crafting new spells. Stuff like training skills, or casting longer ritual spells. They can diversify their interests a little bit without feeling like they’re wasting time that would be better spent on their wizard duties.

Once unused value is spent it’s subtracted from the unused value. However, it remains in the Total Value.

The Total Value of a magic user’s lab is a measure of cosmic prestige. Magicians hoard the mystic oddments they discover, show them off to their friends, and brag about them to their enemies. The acquisition and display of magical novelties is the primary social lubricant of the wizardly caste.

A wizard who is high level, but lacks a princely collection of curios, will be looked down upon. They’re like a wealthy merchant without a noble pedigree. A creature to be dismissed in public, and only dealt with in dark rooms where no one can see your shame. On the inverse, a wizard of low level with an excessive wealth of curios is likely to be robbed and murdered in a trounce.

And wizards are not the only folks who take notice of fine collections of magica obscura. There are things which move beside us. Things for whom most of us are beneath notice. But a fine magical collection may draw their attention for a time. Players should track the Total Value of their labs according to the Specialist’s experience table. Each time their lab “levels up,” it has drawn the attention of a thing beyond the experience of mortal things. Roll 1d20 to determine what creature is drawn forth from the dark beyond:

  1. Sandestine – Incorporeal creatures of impossible swiftness. Only their faint outlines are visible to humans, and they do not require any sustenance or sleep, though they do feel boredom acutely. Sandestines are keen observers, highly valued as spies or sentries.

    Some insignificant bauble from the laboratory has caught their eye, and seems infinitely important to them. In exchange for 1d6 money worth of the lab’s Total Value, the Sandestine will bind itself to perform a single task for the magic user. Sandestines are notably poor negotiators, so the blank check of “a single task,” may be abused by clever magic users. Though there is nothing quite so unreliable as a bored Sandestine.

     

  2. Ajuaba – A creature of spheres, lights, and wafting silks. It has come to the wizard because it has a problem it believes the wizard can help with. The Ajuaba knows too much. It knows everything there is to know in the cosmos, so long as that thing is not a closely protected secret. The excess of knowledge weighs heavily upon the creature’s mind. It will plead of the Wizard: ask it a question. Once it has shared what it knows, it can finally forget, and its burdens will be slightly eased.

    If the wizard offers to take yet more knowledge off the Ajuaba’s brain, it will melodramatically respond that it could never place such a burden on anyone. The small relief the Wizard offered was all it could ask of anyone. It is adamant on this point, believing that each tiny bit of knowledge is painful to bear, and that any demonstration to the contrary is merely bravado.

  3. Carcabat – A slimy thing, which sees through a galaxy of lights that orbit its body. They are the fishermen of the unseen ether of the cosmos. The wizardly crafting of wands appears like clumsy child’s play to them. With exasperated patience, they will offer to show how the deed ought to be done.

    Standing behind the wizard, they will offer instructions that make no sense, while guiding the wizard’s hands through rituals too complex to remember. The wizard may immediately create a new wand using only a single hit point, and they may roll on the table 3 times, selecting which of the 3 they roll they would like to keep.

  4. Elapera – A narrow thing, which somehow gives the impression of an imperiously perfect posture, without having any recognizable anatomy. Its initial interest in the laboratory will quickly turn to scorn once it notices the drab state of the magic user’s spells.  It will ask the magic user to show it their favorite spell. When they do, they will declare the thing to be entirely inadequate, and insist that the magic user do the work over again under their guidance. For the cost of 1,500 unused lab value (which remains in total lab value, as normal), the magic user may re-create a spell they have already created. The new version of the spell will be significantly improved over the original, in a manner determined by the referee. Upon completion, the Elapera will declare the work “almost adequate,” and congratulate the magic user on rising above the simplistic capabilities of their species, if only in the smallest degree.

  5. Panciu – A thought creature which travels the cosmos from mind to mind. It is impressed with the wizard’s laboratory, and offers to show them a bit of long forgotten lore in exchange for the pleasure of a tour. Panciu know the traditional spells of D&D! Roll 1d10 to determine the spell level, then randomly determine one of the spells from that level. If you roll a 10 while determining the level, then you must switch to a different spell list and roll again. (If you don’t have a different spell list, just keep re-rolling until you get a 1-9). 

    The referee should then re-write the spell to be levelless. The magic user also learns any magic words that can be taken from the spell.

  6. Silchar  – A creature of sensual delight, with 4 long tentacular tongues, eight eyes, three cavernous nostrils, six genitalia (one of each type), and numerous other sensory organs. It would very much like to taste such a refined magic user as it now sees. If allowed, it will enshroud the lab’s owner in its many tongues, enjoying every subtle nuance of their taste. Once it has thoroughly tasted, it will depart gratefully. So long as the MU does not wash themselves with any great thoroughness, the licking will leave a film of fortune over their body. The next time they are required to make a saving throw, it will automatically be successful.
  7. Mukdahan – Fleshy platonic solids which are baffled & fascinated by the variety of human appearance. After a tour of the fascinating laboratory, they will ask the Wizard if they may take their body, to put it on display in one of their galleries. In exchange, the they will provide the wizard with a new body of their choice. The Wizard may opt for anything they like: a new gender, a new age, a new ethnicity, etc. They can also roll new physical stats (STR, CON, DEX), as well as add 1d4 -2 to their Charisma. 
  8. Odrelos – A thing which can only be described as “visible wind,” blows into the wizard’s laboratory, rapidly forming itself into words and letters to communicate. It has a moment of business in this realm, for which it will need some local currency. In exchange for 5,000 money, it will reveal a secret. Any secret–for it knows them all. So long as a bit of knowledge is held within only 0-16 minds, an Odrelos will know it as well. 
  9. Aromtap – Creatures who move through time the same way you or I might move through rooms of a building. It will take the magic user, along with any companions they wish to bring, to a time & place of their choosing. Each character who goes on this trip must pay for it with 1 year of their life per day they wish to spend in this other time and place. When they are returned, they will rapidly age. 
  10. Balamgg – A catalogist who has carefully noted the location of several Wizard Staves.  In exchange for 1/4th the money required to reach the magic user’s current level, it will retrieve one of those staves at random, and deliver it to the magic user. Once it has the money it will simply burn it. The currency itself has no meaning to the creature, its true payment was the act of extracting value from the magic user. 
  11. Toynnin – Feeds upon ill fortune. The creature will excite the mind of the magic user, allowing them to instantaneously create 1 new spell for every -2 taken to a future saving throw. The magic user may use all of their penalties at once, or spread them out over multiple saves, but they must take at least a -1 on each saving throw until their debt is paid. 
  12. Valachk – A grinning thing which punctuates too many of its sentences with a humorless chuckle. Not because it is a menace, (though it is), but because it sincerely believes doing so will put humans at ease. Valachk know nothing of what has happened, only what will happen. From a human perspective this may seem an impossible way to live, but the Valachk do just fine. They would like to Rent half of the magic user’s maximum hit points. They won’t say what they’ll do with it, but they promise to return them unharmed and whole. In exchange, they will tell the magic user of one future event. This future event is not described at the table. Instead, the magic user moves forward with this nebulous knowledge. At any point, the player of the magic user may announce “This is the event the Valachk told me about.” The game’s time will then rewind some appropriate amount, so that the magic user can relive the event with appropriate foreknowledge.

    After they’ve re-lived the event, their hit points will be returned to them, as promised.

  13. Gader’el – The Gader’el isn’t terribly interested in the Magic User’s collection, but the existence of said collection has made it think the MU may be suited to its needs. It requires a body, with a mind capable of holding spells. It guarantees to return the body without any permanent damage, and in exchange it will use any spare moments it has to teach the body how to perform a few of the tasks that the Gader’el is familiar with. If the magic user agrees, their mind is instantly transported to a dark void. It is terrifying, to be a displaced mind. Fortunately, it also passes as swiftly as sleep. When the Magic User awakes from their nightmare, the Gader’el will already be gone. The MU’s body is injured. They’ve only got 1d4 hit points, with at least one serious injury that will take time to heal. However, they will also discover that 1d3 randomly determined skills have been improved by 1 step. 
  14. Jikinburchk – An exhuberant creature which delights and marvels at the Wizard’s collection, almost to excess. In thanks for putting together this fabulous collection, the Jikinburchk will offer to put on the most sumptuous, sensual, hedonistic party imaginable. Anyone invited to this party will have a phenomenal time, and it will reset the Magic User’s reputation within a community to “generally positive.” Even if the Magic User had previously earned themselves a reputation for stealing babies to sacrifice in their magical rituals, all will be forgotten in the haze of good times.

  15. Lempema – A creature which roams the past, but cannot imagine the future. They are the unwitting cousins of the Valachk: anatomically similar, but neither can even conceive of the other. In exchange for being given permission to peruse your personal history at their leisure, they will erase a single past event for the magic user.

    The erased event should be direct: preventing the death of a single person, undoing a theft perpetrated against the magic user, or perhaps an encounter with ghouls which resulted in a lost experience level. The referee is also entitled to impose consequences for erased events: if Robert had never died, would the party have ever met David? If the party never encountered those ghouls, they wouldn’t have the magic ring that one of them wore. There is no need to think about this too hard, and indeed, it works best if the referee is somewhat lenient here. This is, after all, supposed to be a boon.

    If the Wizard agrees to this bargain, they will often find the Lempema within their memories, standing in the background observing what’s going on.

  16. Uzuzuz – One of many creatures which might be called. “Grim Reapers” by mortals. Uzuzuz knows the location of all the dead, and will bring one of them to speak with you. Uzuzuz will provide translation, and allow you to speak with this person for as long as you are able to continue speaking.

    In exchange, all Uzuzuz asks is that he be the one to guide your soul into the beyond when you eventually die.

  17. Hyuteir – Speakers of spells. Every word in the language is a spell word. When wizards cast their magics, they are speaking in the language of the Hyuteir. This one is willing to reveal any one spell word that the Magic User desires. In exchange, the first spell the Magic User makes with this word belongs to the Hyuteir who gave it to them. The MU may never use it themselves. The Hyuteir find the ways in which smaller creatures use their language amusing, and many have become collectors of spells. Exclusivity is highly prized among their spell collecting connoisseurs.
  18. K’ksht – A creature which enjoys a good mortal brawl. In exchange for 1 point of the magic user’s Strength, it will slice off a part of itself appropriate to the magic user’s needs. This part will form into a creature that stands 5′ tall, +6″ per level of the MU. It has the abilities of a fighter the same level as the MU, but with a d12 hit die, instead of a d8. It gets two d6 claw attacks each round (upgraded to d8 at level 5, and d10 at level 10), and an armor rating of 12. It is eager to fight to the death, and will never retreat to preserve its life. If the magic user orders it to stop attacking because they wish to parley, the slice of the K’ksht will obey. If they merely wish to flee, the K’ksht will stay behind and finish the battle. If they survive, they will rejoin the Magic User later.

  19. Grue – A thing which lives in the dark. Hungry. Is looking for someone to eat. As payment for not eating you, you must tell it someone else for it to eat. The MU may choose anyone who has at least some chance of being in the dark at some point. (Things that glow are immune). The Grue has a 3-in-6 chance of eating that person within the next month, removing them from play forever. The referee may modify the chance up or down by 1, if they think the person is particularly capable, or incapable of dealing with a Grue. But that’s it. Even your biggest baddest dude has a 2-in-6 chance of being eaten by the Grue.

  20. Nulapuv – A benevolent creature, who would like nothing more than a tour of this fine magical laboratory. In exchange for an enjoyable evening, it will grant one Wish to the Magic User.

A D&Drinking Game

drunk7While working my day job the other day*, I came up with an idea for one of my projects. So I pulled out my trusty notebook and started writing. A friendly coworker asked me what I was grinning about, which put me in the ever-awkward position of trying to describe my niche-appeal writing projects for someone outside that niche. “I just realized I should totally put some erotic objects on my random treasure table,” might be an accurate answer, but it’s kind of an annoying thing to say if you know the other person doesn’t understand the context. It puts the onus on them either to smile and nod, or ask followup questions that they might not really be interested in the answer to.

I admit, I probably overthink social situations. I’m sure that makes me the most original person on the Internet or something.

Anyway, as it turns out, this coworker wasn’t entirely ignorant of D&D. After I was done babbling, she told me a second-hand story about a referee who wrapped little scrolls around cans of beer. Whenever a player finished the beer they could unravel the scroll and receive whatever boon was written on it.

It’s a simple rule, and has a lot of potential in a “D&D is a gathering of people, and a gathering of people is a party” way. As someone who enjoys mixing drinking with games, it sounds like a fun time. After google failed to turn up any published examples of this rule, I figured I’d put my own spin on it.

Drinking and Dragons

Any time a player fully consumes a unit of alcohol, they may draw from the “Booze Boon” deck. These can be written on index cards, or just on scraps of paper shuffled in a bowl. Referees with too much time on their hands can affix each Booze Boon to an alcohol container if they like, but that seems like a lot of work.

The referee should ensure the game continues along at a good pace while the Booze Boon deck is in play. While conversational tangents may not normally be a problem, they could cause Booze Boon effects to stack up when play resumes.

It is assumed that anyone playing a D&D drinking game is willing to play pretty fast and loose with the rules.

Cards:

  • Referee for 15 minutes! The player and the referee set an egg timer, and switch places until it goes off. Each must do their best to pursue their new role with vigor, and both are vested with the full authority of their new positions. To the temporary referee: just remember that if you can make treasure fall from the sky, your opposite number can have your character swear a vow of poverty.
  • Fireball! Regardless of class or game system, the player gains a classic AD&D Fireball spell to use at their discretion. 20′ radius, 6d6 damage, save v. Breath for half.
  • You may keep this card in your hand and play it at any time. When played, the NPC of your choosing turns out to be a long lost friend of yours! You guys go way way back, and they’ve really missed hanging out with you. Monsters are not exempt from this card.
  • From the time this card is drawn, until the player who drew it is able to draw their next Booze Boon, all attack rolls at the table are resolved via Rock, Paper, Scissors rather than rolling dice.
  • What’s your favorite X-Man? Your character gains their powers for the next in-game hour. Just remember, you still gotta deal with the consequences once your new powers go away!
  • The referee must create a beneficial magic item based on the name or bottle art of the drink the player just finished. The player finds that magic item in their sack! Apparently they mixed up their laundry with someone else’s.
  • Holy shit you find 10,000 money.
  • You find a tommygun, in pristine condition, just lying on the ground. It has 100 rounds in it. Each round does 1d4 damage. You decide how many rounds you fire, then roll to hit.
  • LEVEL UP IMMEDIATELY
  • You’re raised to full health, and then, you’re raised to 100 hp more than your full health. Your maximum hit points remain the same, and the loss of these extra hit points cannot be healed. The extra hit points last until they are taken away by damage dealt to your character.
  • You cannot fail a save for the rest of the session. It’s impossible.
  • During the rest of the session, falling damage no longer exists for you. If you land on top of anyone, they take the falling damage you would have taken if it did exist.
  • You can fly by flapping your arms. Caveat: you the player must flap your arms for as long as you want to fly. This ability is permanent.
  • Any time you use a die-rolling technique that you have not used before during this session, you get a +2 bonus to that roll. (Roll off the back of your hand! Roll with your elbow! Grasp the die in your toes and roll it! There ya go, three freebie techniques).
  • Anytime you roll an 18+ on your attack roll the fist of god comes down to smash whatever individual you’re fighting.
  • Strip cheating. For each item of clothing you remove, you may alter all the dice involved in any roll to show whatever facing you want them to. Socks and shoes count individually, but if you put on any clothing after drawing this card you permanently forfeit its benefit.
  • You gain the 1st level benefits of a randomly determined class other than your own.
  • A time traveling car pops into existence in front of you. The folks inside were killed by the process of time traveling. Turns out when you go backwards in time, you go backwards in age at the same rate! Not that it matters for you, since the time travel device also seems to have broken. BUT, the car drives just fine. It’s all yours until the gas runs out.
  • The other players must decide on an obscure skill. Something like “Basket weaving,” “juggling,” “fart music,” “whistling,” or “speed chess.” The player who drew the Booze Boone becomes the undisputed world master of this ability for all time.  You have an effective 1000% chance to succeed. Not even the most severe situational penalty will ever stop you from being the baddest motherfucker in the room with regards to this very obscure skill.
  • God has chosen you! Drawing on your real world religious knowledge, you can perform one miracle that is considered to have occurred by some religious group somewhere. Anyone other than the PCs who observe your miracle will believe you are divine, and trust in any 3 teachings you give them completely.
  • You have chosen God! One deity of your choice becomes real within the game world. This can be a real religious figure, a fictional one, or indeed, literally anything that you want to be divine. You can pick the ham sandwich you had yesterday if you like, and it will become a god. You may select two religious doctrines taught by this new god, and each of the other players at the table may pick one. The referee must record these and remember that this god is entirely real within their game’s cosmology. Even if they’re running a monotheist christian campaign, Ham Sandwich is now a rival deity to Yahweh.
  • A surge of perception allows you to see through the lines of reality. For the next 60 minutes of real-world time, you cannot be struck in combat by anything less than a natural 20. You cannot fail a save on anything more than a natural 1.
  • Drunken Master! Your character permanently becomes a martial artist of exceptional skill. You gain a 4 to your armor class when wearing no armor, and your unarmed attacks deal 1d12 damage. These abilities only work when you are inebriated in real life. (Please do not become an alcoholic.)
  • On dealing a successful attack, you may choose either to roll dice, or do jumping jacks. If you choose the latter, you deal as many points of damage as you do jumping jacks.

*Actually it was over a year ago. This post has been in the buffer for awhile now.

Better Wizard Staves + d100 Wizard Staves

the_weeping_hand_of_the_tam_priest_30x40-thumbDo you know what I hate even more than wands? Staves. Fucking wizard staves are dumb and awful and stupid. At best they’re just alternate wands, and at worst they’re like a whole secondary spell list that the Wizard hast to keep track of. A nightmare of bookkeeping that most players would seem to regard as a chore, since I’ve never seen a single player pursue creating a staff. Not once in 13 years of playing these games.

These are supposed to be a wizard’s totem. The universal sign that someone is in touch with powers beyond your meek understanding. I mean, far be it from me to put Wizards in a box. There are a ton of great wizards who don’t use staves. I don’t think any of Vance’s wizards use them, and his wizards are just the best wizards who ever wizard’d. But the point remains: a wizard’s staff should be cooler than it has ever fuckin’ been in D&D. Apparently it’s up to me to make that happen. So here we fukkin’ go:

The secret of creating staves has been lost. All which now exist were formed in the distant past by wizards greater than any now living. There may be two staves in the world, or there may be twenty thousand, but there will never be more.

Staves are an inherently immaterial non-substance, twisted into a physical shape. This is different from merely binding an immaterial thing to a material object, which is relatively simple by comparison. If you bind a soul to a stick, then examine the stick under a microscope, you will see the molecules that make up the stick. Perhaps they behave oddly because of their connection to the bound soul, but the soul is still a separate thing, obeying the rules that govern souls. On the other hand, if one were to examine a staff under a microscope, they would be struck blind because the universe doesn’t know what to show them. Blinding a person is the path of least resistance. Staves are under constant pressure as every force in the cosmos tries to put things back to rights, and the only force preventing it are potent magics beyond the ken of some gods.

Even touching a staff is a great burden upon a person’s mind. Anyone who does not have at least a single arcane spell slot must save versus Magic or fall briefly unconscious when touching a staff. Only those who have trained their minds to hold spells can effectively wield these powerful objects.

There are 3 common type of staves. Theoretically others may exist, but have not yet been discovered.

The first type is made of a magic word. Usually a word of some potency was chosen for this process. Something like “Stop,” “Fire,” or “Life.” While wielding such a staff, a magic user may modify their prepared spells on the fly using the word they hold. So if their staff is the word “Flight,” and they have prepared the spell “Fire Ball,” then they may choose to spontaneously cast “Flying Fire Ball.”

These spontaneously composed spells would normally be impossible, and are enabled only by the powerful magics of the staff. However, their spontaneous nature makes them unpredictable. They are wild magics, firing off untested, unfocused, and unrefined. Using this method, the same spell could be cast the same way, and be different each time.The referee must come up with the new spell’s effects on the spot, and should feel free to go wherever their imagination takes them.

The second type is made from a body of knowledge. Touching the staff serves as a sort of psychic connection to every mind on the planet, which knows anything about a given field. While holding the staff, a magic user will be the world’s foremost expert on the subject which the staff covers.

However, the staff is limited to what is already known, So if a staff is made from “History,” then the wielder will know everything that is known about history. But, if the last person who knows about the Battle of Chapsik Hill dies, the wielder will lose access to any knowledge of the Battle of Chapsik Hill. (Unless, of course, they had already committed that information to their own memory).

When relevant, these staves may also grant certain abilities to their wielders. So if a wizard were to come into possession of a “Stealth” staff, then in addition to learning how to move with subtlety, they would also gain the physical agility and muscle memory required to do so effectively.

In most situations, staves of the second type can be ruled as granting a 6-in-6 skill for as long as they are being held.

The third type of staff is made from a consciousness. These may be taken from the souls of mortals, or sources more exotic. Devils, angels, and even fallen gods have all had some part of themselves twisted into staves for the use of powerful magicians. These staves are more than mere intelligent objects, they are true intelligences which have been imprisoned in a physical shape. The referee is encouraged to play them as NPCs with their own personalities and desires; usually involving finding some way to become free.

Such staves can only “speak” while they are being touched, and even then, their voices can only be heard by the one who is touching them. They may offer secrets or advice, but will always have their own agendas, which will rarely align with their wielder’s. That being said, when no one is wielding a soul staff, its consciousnesses experience an existence of complete isolation and loneliness. If they cannot be free, then having a Wizard to be their companion is the next best thing, so they will be reasonably cooperative.

Each Soul-Staff allows the wielder to harness some of the powers the soul held in its own form.

D100 Wizard Staves

  1. Magic Word: “Animate”
  2. Magic Word: “Armor”
  3. Magic Word: “Boar”
  4. Magic Word: “Cold”
  5. Magic Word: “Dark”
  6. Magic Word: “Destroy”
  7. Magic Word: “Empower”
  8. Magic Word: “Fire”
  9. Magic Word: “Flight”
  10. Magic Word: “Gorilla”
  11. Magic Word: “Greater”
  12. Magic Word: “Hate”
  13. Magic Word: “Hell”
  14. Magic Word: “Life”
  15. Magic Word: “Light”
  16. Magic Word: “Lightning”
  17. Magic Word: “Mass”
  18. Magic Word: “Maximize”
  19. Magic Word: “Monster”
  20. Magic Word: “Permanent”
  21. Magic Word: “Poison”
  22. Magic Word: “Quick”
  23. Magic Word: “Servant”
  24. Magic Word: “Silent”
  25. Magic Word: “Sphere”
  26. Magic Word: “Steed”
  27. Magic Word: “Stop”
  28. Magic Word: “Subtle”
  29. Magic Word: “Summon”
  30. Magic Word: “Sword”
  31. Magic Word: “Time”
  32. Magic Word: “Wall”
  33. Magic Word: “Weapon”
  34. Body of Knowledge: Alchemy
  35. Body of Knowledge: Animal Handling
  36. Body of Knowledge: Appraisal
  37. Body of Knowledge: Arcane Lore
  38. Body of Knowledge: Art
  39. Body of Knowledge: Astronomy
  40. Body of Knowledge: Athletics
  41. Body of Knowledge: Demonology
  42. Body of Knowledge: Engineering
  43. Body of Knowledge: Geography
  44. Body of Knowledge: Healing
  45. Body of Knowledge: History
  46. Body of Knowledge: Languages
  47. Body of Knowledge: Law
  48. Body of Knowledge: Literature
  49. Body of Knowledge: Living Monster Lore
  50. Body of Knowledge: Local Area (This knowledge changes, depending on what area the wielder is in).
  51. Body of Knowledge: Metalcrafting
  52. Body of Knowledge: Music
  53. Body of Knowledge: Nature
  54. Body of Knowledge: Noble Lineage & Heraldry
  55. Body of Knowledge: Planes
  56. Body of Knowledge: Religion
  57. Body of Knowledge: Sex
  58. Body of Knowledge: Ships & Sailing
  59. Body of Knowledge: Spelunking
  60. Body of Knowledge: Stealth
  61. Body of Knowledge: Stone Lore
  62. Body of Knowledge: Survival
  63. Body of Knowledge: Technology
  64. Body of Knowledge: Torture
  65. Body of Knowledge: Undead Lore
  66. Body of Knowledge: Designate a person by touching them with the staff. The staff is then connected to the whole of that person’s knowledge until a new person is designated.
  67. Soul: A monk whose life was spent in meditation. Spell failure chance reduced by 1-in-6.
  68. Soul: A wizard who loved birds. Wielder is able to cast the spells Speak with Birds, Shriketoss, and Talon Strike once each day.
  69. Soul: A wizard who was obsessed with expanding her memorization abilities. Grants 2 extra spell slots.
  70. Soul: A really boring wizard who was never invited to any parties. Wielder may re-cast one of their expended spells each day.
  71. Soul: A psychopathic wizard who enjoyed casting large area of effect spells. Wielder is immune to damage from their own spells
  72. Soul: A wizard who took up their craft after escaping an abusive relationship. +3 to saves versus mind affecting effects.
  73. Soul: A fierce sumo wrestler, regarded as one of the best in history. Wielder may attempt to cast spell even while they are within an anti-magic field. These spells have a failure chance which is worse than usual by 1-in-6.
  74. Soul: A young girl, ritualistically killed by a drug overdose in order to create this staff. The wielder may alter their size at will, becoming as small as 4″, and as large as 16′.
  75. Soul: A devoted guardian who died by leaping in front of their liege to intercept an arrow. While held, this staff will move of its own accord to block incoming physical attacks. The caster’s armor rating is improved by 2.
  76. Soul: A madman arsonist. Never caught during his lifetime. Wielder may summon a line of flame, 30′ long, dealing 6d6 damage to everyone along its trajectory. Each time this is done, the wielder must sacrifice one of their prepared spells.
  77. Soul: A small fragment of the dead creator god. Any creature the wielder encounters will perceive the wielder to be a member of their own species.
  78. Soul: The soul of an ordinary person, whose body became the first zombie–which still walks the earth to this day. Every zombie that exists was all for the purpose of creating this staff. The wielder no longer needs to breathe, eat, or sleep.
  79. Soul: A wizard obsessed with their own longevity. Will teach the caster a series of complex rituals they developed during their life. First is the ward against natural death. Second is the secret of perpetual youth. Third is the ritual of rapid recovery from wounds. The rituals are always taught in the same order. Learning them requires the wielder to gain a full level while wielding the staff. Performing the rituals requires expensive material components, and weeks worth of time.
  80. Soul: A giant, furious at being trapped in a little weakling’s stick. The wielder is granted great strength (+8)
  81. Soul: An angel, one of the messengers of the gods. The wielder’s movement speed is doubled.
  82. Soul: A wild, unthinking warrior from the frozen north. Each morning, 6 spectral axes surround the wielder. If they take any damage, one of the axes will fly off to strike the source of the damage, reducing the remaining axes by 1 until the next morning. The axes deal 1d8 damage, and do not require an attack roll. Note that the axes will retaliate regardless of the source of the damage. If the wizard suffers a fall, an axe will attack the ground, etc.
  83. Soul: A wizard who spent all of their time in a lab, tinkering with magic. The staff engages in a constant background dialogue with the wielder, discussing how various spells might be tinkered with. For each level gained while wielding this staff, the wielder & staff reach an epiphany! The wielder may choose one of their spells to improve. The referee will adjust the spell to be permanently more beneficial to the caster, with no drawbacks.
  84. Soul: A stage magician who became immensely popular performing for yokels. Wielder may create as many silent, immobile illusions as they desire.
  85. Soul: A vampire of impressive lineage. Allows the wielder to cast “Turn Cleric” 3 times each day. This functions the same as “Turn Undead,” but against clerics.
  86. Soul: A powerful Psion who considers wizards weaklings who are satisfied to merely scratch the surface of what the mind is capable of. Grants the wielder 50lb telekinesis. Objects move a little slowly and clumsily, though.
  87. Soul: A child psion, turned into this staff before they had an opportunity to develop. Grants the wielder ESP, allowing them to hear the thoughts of a single target within 60′ at a time.
  88. Soul: A powerful devil, servant to a notable demon lord. Allows the wielder to cast the spells Hellfire, Damnation, and Gate once per day, each.
  89. Soul: A paladin who will only ever refer to the wielder as “Warlock.” The staff grants the wielder the ability to cast the spells Judgement, Consecrate, and Cure Moderate Wounds. The paladin will be really upset each time one of their spells is cast.
  90. Soul: A wizard who found the material plane very dull, and doesn’t understand why anyone spends any of their time here. Allows the wielder to cast the spells Dimension Door, Teleport, and Planar Shift.
  91. Soul: A thief who made her fortune delving dungeons and finding what people didn’t want her to find. Any secret doors in the area will appear to be gently sparkling to the wielder.
  92. Soul: A druid who is notably silent, apparently in some deep meditative protest. Small animals will do the wielder’s bidding.
  93. Soul: A tyrannical, but effective, king. The wielder may attempt to dominate any creature with 4 fewer hit dice than they have. The creature does not receive a save. Dominated characters obey the wielder in all things. Only one creature can be dominated at a time.
  94. Soul: A mathematician who was notably superior to all others during their lifetime. The caster may roll the damage dice for each spell twice, and take the better result for each one.
  95. Soul: A splinter from the soul of the goddess of time. In every day, there are moments of time which the goddess wanted to keep for herself, before they were stolen by the one who created this staff. Each hour off the day, the wielder may stop time for 1 round. If they do not use this ability in a given hour, it carries over to the next. If they wish, they may continue saving up these brief time stops until the final hour of the day, when they can stop time for 24 rounds. (2 minutes and 24 seconds). If time stops are not used by the end of the day, they are lost, and the staff begins accruing time stops anew.
  96. Soul: A djinn, who will grant a wish to anyone who breaks the staff. (This is a very difficult thing to do). The staff wielder levitates constantly. They move at their normal speed, but rest anywhere from 1″ to 6′ off of the ground. If they stand still, they can ascend up to 30′. As a consequence of this levitation, the wielder is also immune to any falling damage.
  97. Soul: An angel who once stood before the court of its god, judging who may enter, and who must go elsewhere. If the wielder fixes their gaze upon a person, they will immediately know the single worst thing that person has ever done.
  98. Soul: A splinter from the soul of Asmodeus himself. The wielder is immune to damage from fire, electricity, and acid, but takes double damage from any weapon that is silvered.
  99. Soul: The platonic ideal of a horse. It cannot speak, but will often whinny and neigh in the wielder’s ear. May be used to conjure a horse out of nothing. May conjure 1 horse every minute.
  100. Staff of the Archmage: Roll a d100 until you’ve landed on one of each of the three types of staff. This staff has all of those properties. Somehow, three staves were twisted together int a single unit. Whoever made this could easily have rivaled the gods for their power.

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