Archive for July, 2013

You Want M-Us to Invent Spells

July 25, 2013

I know every time I play an M-U my head is full of plans for cool spells to research, but there’s always some bummers: gotta have the gold, access to a library, etc.

What if you could invent exactly one spell per level-up for free as part of your miscellaneous research? Trick is, it can’t be something that’s already in the “regular spell list” that you could pick from for your free level-up spell before.

So you can make a spell that fills an area with cleansing bubbles and acts like a Fog Cloud as well, but lasts far less time, and ask the DM what level it would be. DM ponders over the course of the next week between sessions and gives you the answer next time. If the spell is too high of a spell level, you get it as soon as you reach the right M-U level to cast it. Or you can accept the DM’s amended spell that will work for you right now.

We assume an unbiased DM who isn’t out to screw his players or give them the world on a platter, making a Hold Person variant that also does 1d6 cold damage per round into a 9th level spell, or Mass Grease into a 2nd level spell, etc.

If you really don’t want to get creative, instead your researches result in a roll on some M-U chart that gives things like scrolls, potions, something your familiar dragged in, and hunchbacked hirelings.

M-U Spells Disseminate if you Sell Them

July 19, 2013

Here’s what I’ll call the standard way to handle M-U spells: you have a spellbook, and the spells in the spellbook are what you can choose from to memorize. If you want a new spell, you need to find a magic scroll or a whole spellbook or invent a new spell through rigorous research. But the spell is a magical thing, it detects as magical, and you can’t just hire some scrub scribe to transcribe it.

This makes spells less common because there’s an investment in copying them.

And I would say in general that fun is had when the PCs gain new spells slowly, and when enemy M-Us have spells they don’t have yet, and when the enemy M-Us can play some of the same tricks the PCs use.

It’s also kinda fun to be able to sell your spells if you’re in a bind. But if a PC can make this “free money” by selling his spells, why wouldn’t he? If PCs are so free with their spellbooks, why are NPC M-Us so secretive?

I think it’s espionage; if you have a secret, you are more powerful for it, in direct relation to how few other people know the secret. And in terms of magic, the secret itself has physical power separate from social power or the ability to take advantage of opportunities because of extra knowledge.

So, you can also trade spells with other M-Us, but beware: every M-U you give a spell to is a 1 in 6 chance that every other M-U will have access to it. If you sell it 6 times everyone is gonna be running around blasting that stuff. And that’s a bad thing if the spell you sell is one you’d rather not have used against you.

This works better if there is a standard spellbook everyone starts with. I’d recommend maybe 3 good spells and 3 lame spells per spell level up to 6th. Beyond that anything is uncommon. So that every M-U isn’t walking around with a 10k gp spellbook, it would also help if spells had virtually no cost to transmit. What if a spell was more of a set of instructions, a way to exploit your knowledge as an M-U and your spellbooks? Then selling it isn’t a matter of recouping material costs, it’s a matter of how badly the other guy wants it.

So, we now have a situation where your M-U PC looks around and sees a bunch of other M-Us around town with their own agendas and their own mysterious powers. One may be a master of the Webs, and another may exploit the mysteries of the dreaded Ray of Enfeeblement. And of course nobody tells what all their tricks are, and rumors abound.

An M-U who emerges from the dungeon with new spells will be approached by emissaries fro many wizards wanting to trade or buy, but most offers will be insincere: traps, or lowball offers, or just attempts to figure out exactly what the spell is. Some may be just and true, and might remain good friends for some time. Of course, these good friends are also somewhat likely to pass the spell on to others.

The only people who will not add to the dissemination chance are PCs. Trusted henchmen add to it. Your mother adds to it. NPCs gotta pay the bills sometimes.

And if a spell gets disseminated, it gets added to the standard spellbook for PCs and NPCs alike, with an X in 6 chance next to it until the chance is 6 in 6 whereupon it just is always present. Any potential buyer for a spell (after the first one) will have a chance that it’s already in his book. A spell simply can’t be sold more than 6 times because there are no more buyers, and the more times you sell it the more work it is to find a buyer (and the more likely the buyer is undesirable, unfriendly, more likely to assault or cheat the seller).

Note that in my experience, players typically share spells freely anyway, so this gives an interesting choice between keeping a spell secret or benefiting from selling it.

I imagine this working on a small-scale campaign because M-Us travel around in a small area and make a few desperate trades if necessary. In a globetrotter campaign, I assume NPC M-Us are just as mobile, so information disseminates just as quickly on a global scale as it does on a local scale for a local campaign. Yeah, this means if you sell Fireball in Cormyr there’s an instant 1 in 6 chance every Waterdhavian M-U knows it. Magic is magical!

And, of course, my personal “guaranteed spell list” would not include the most useful spells like Fireball and Fly, but would include less-useful ones like Levitate and Magic Missile. Just enough to get by without adventuring – except any M-U worth his salt will DEMAND to adventure to get new spells!

And if the PCs capture an NPC spellbook with Fireball, and share it among themselves, and agree not to share it – imagine their chagrin and suspicion when one of them ends up taking one of the lavish offers from some NPC and M-Us start showing up with Fireball! Who did it?!

Spell creation is a process that takes years of labor for a high-level and high-INT M-U, and may end up being fruitless. Just like mathematicians working on difficult math problems that lack proofs and solutions.

The repercussions include de-magicking the world. When only a few rare M-Us know Continual Light, you won’t expect to see Continual Light along every village street. If you want a spell to have that kind of widespread Ebberon-style impact on the world, include it in the auto-spell list.

PC M-Us should be a little happy about this since they actually start with a lot more spells (albeit not great ones) and they can feel like they have something rare and powerful even at low level if they find a new one. Plus the interesting choice of disseminating it or not.


Finally, this can replace Chance to Learn Spell if you don’t want to keep it. But I like the idea that an M-U can come across a spell and just not grok it. No matter how hard he tries. Makes every M-U different without needing specialist classes.

Your Domain is a Henchman

July 4, 2013

I can’t remember where I read it, but it was on a blog in the past few days. The idea was to have your “name-level” PC get a domain (stronghold, village, whatever) that would “attack” nearby resources to gather them. So it has HD and uses the same sort of systems as in the main game.

I’d like to expand that idea to just have a character sheet for your domain. HD is population (in general units of people, not individuals), AC is its defenses. You could utilize the six ability scores too (CHA affects immigration and trade).

Another way to look at it is like board games that have a central board and each player has a side board where they develop their own stuff. The central board has limited opportunities that the players scramble for and bring to their side boards. I would say the domain is a personal board and the player develops it as a side interest, with the PCs coming together to adventure in the “main board” of the rest of the game setting. Of course, players would be able to affect each other’s domains if they wanted, whether by taking central resources or directly assisting or hindering each other.

Each class should utilize different resources more effectively, should gather some more efficiently, and those two shouldn’t necessarily be the same resources (encouraging trade). They should have different goals too, for example an M-U might need to have a domain to create spells, magic items, dabble in cloning, etc. Clerics might be able to create holy relics, healing potions, holy water, train Paladins, etc. Fighters would have the largest forces of trained warriors, and thus able to protect the largest amount of land and gain the greatest agricultural production (needed to feed those men … ). And all of this should be graphically clear with the layout of the personal domain boards exactly as it happens in the board games that inspired this.

Basically, I’m trying to encourage the D&D endgame, partly by making domains feed benefits into the PC’s adventuring, partly by not requiring retirement to run a domain (such as “taking care of your Thieves’ Guild takes up all your time, no time for adventure”). If a PC enters the domain game late, it’s not a huge problem, since they’re not in direct competition and the benefits of adventuring still outweigh the income from the domain. In fact, I look at the domain’s profits as going into domain development instead of the PC’s purse, and the development allows transactions instead of giving direct benefits.

A specific example would be an M-U who wants to clone up some monsters to assist him. He needs a secure place far from the prying eyes and pitchforks of the locals: a fortified tower or mansion would be ideal. After setting up whatever defenses he feels necessary, he must spend resources to set up the vats and apparatus for monster-mashing. All this requires resources to be gathered from the countryside: weird plants, monster parts, bottled gasses, salts and sulfurs gathered from steaming pits, etc. And of course craftsmen need to make things. So the M-U either needs to gather villagers who can gather these things, or needs to have magical minions do it, or do it himself. However he manages, all those resources don’t go toward the “GP” line on his character sheet. Instead he now has his vats, and can spend in-between-adventures time mixing up the poor things. His future resource gathering will probably go toward a spell research library, an alchemy lab, observatory, more defenses, improved resource gathering, a special forge for working adamantite, crystal gardens, etc. His vats will produce some monsters that he can bring on the adventure or use for defense of his mansion.

If his M-U buddy doesn’t want to do the same kind of domain side-game, that’s fine. He will end up with an excess of money: he won’t be able to spend it on making magic items, he won’t be able to spend money to grow weird crystals, etc. Maybe he can make a deal with his buddy who has a domain, to buy his stuff, and maybe his buddy will sell him stuff at-cost. Or maybe he will decide to make a domain of his own and develop different things, and the two M-Us happily trade their wares.