Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Sunken Castles, Evil Poodles - what German folklore can do for your game

I've written about German folklore before, especially about the legends of the Fränkische Schweiz mountain region. But it has been a few years and my attention wandered elsewhere.

But last year I found this page at Wikisource which lists a massive number of old, public domain collections of German folklore tales - and realized that the vast majority of these tales have never been translated into English. Thus, I decided to start translating them myself, which culminated in the creation of a Patreon campaign in early April:

All translations are published under a Creative Commons Zero license and thus can be used and copied by anyone without any restrictions, even for commercial purposes. I have posted new translations and commentary of more than 1,000 on a weekly basis since then, and currently maintain a buffer of material sufficient for the next three months. Additionally, I am developing a Google Map layer which displays the locations of these folklore tales:

I am confident that I can maintain this pace for the foreseeable future... so now it's a good time to consider how I can use all this in gaming products. For one thing, gaming will always be my first love when it comes to hobby projects - and for another, folklore-themed gaming products could create some additional revenue and channel folklore-interested gamers back to my Patreon page.

The lowest-hanging fruit would be Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition... or rather, the 5E d20 Rules. It's popular, it's everywhere, and the license is not overly complicated. The following options spring to my mind:

  • Miniature "monster supplements", each showcasing and discussing a single creature or type of creature from German folklore. One-off entities or ones that only appear in a few stories like the Mecklenburg Hoop Lindwurm should be easy to write up, while more common entities like pressure spirits, the Wild Hunt, the many types of ghosts, or the Devil himself require considerably more care and would have to wait until I have a firmer grasp of the source material.
  • New spells and magic items. As it happens, there are quite a lot of descriptions of magic and its effects in German folklore, ranging from the minor and subtle to grand works that wouldn't feel out of place for 9th level spells. This would likely be an ongoing effort as I uncover new descriptions of magic in German folklore.
  • Character options. Eventually, I should be able to work out new subclasses, backgrounds, racial options and so forth that fit into the themes of German folklore.
  • Finally, a very distant project would be regional sourcebooks for specific regions, mixing real world history at a specific time (right now I am thinking the year 1500, but I am open to other suggestions) with folkloric stories - possibly including legendary locations such as Vineta. However, this would require considerable research for both the region in question and its associated folklore stories.
Another option which I am considering is the newly-released Scion 2nd Edition, a game where the myths of old faded into the background, but never completely left. The "All Myths Are Real" premise of the setting would surely apply to German folklore, and it would be fascinating to explore how these stories interact with both the Gods and their children, and modern-day Germany. And since historically Germany sat at the crossroads of Nordic, Slavic, Roman, and other pantheons before the rise of Christianity, it should be a fertile ground for the adventures of the children of the Gods.

The upcoming Storypath Nexus, a "Community Content" program like the Dungeon Master's Guild for D&D, would provide the opportunity for publishing material for the game. I'm envisioning a series of essay collections similar to short magazines - perhaps 20 pages each - exploring facets of Germany and German folklore as they apply to the setting of Scion, which can be used either by entire chronicles set in Germany, or for shorter stories that visit the region and its associated Otherworlds.

A third possibility would be creating a supplement for the Zweihander RPG, a retroclone of the first and second editions of the old Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game. To be honest, I haven't paid too much attention to Zweihander until recently, but people have been saying good things about it and I do have fond memories of WFRP. And as its flavor is strongly inspired by Renaissance-era Central Europe (with extra doses of Grim and Gritty), German folklore would be a perfect fit for its Community Content program.

What other possibilities do you see for using German folklore in gaming products?

Monday, April 1, 2019

A Return to Maztica

Around the year 1990, TSR started producing a number of expansions to the Forgotten Realms which were based on historical cultures. These included Kara-tur (based on East Asia), The Horde (Mongols), Al-Qadim (based more on the Arabian Nights tales than the historical Arab world), and Maztica - based on Mesoamerican cultures in general and the Mayans and Aztecs in particular.

I bought and read the boxed set when it was first published in 1991. I enjoyed it well enough at the time, but looking back I must say that it has not aged particularly well. One reason is that the state of historical knowledge has increased drastically those past 28 years, and obviously the Maztica Boxed Set couldn't take recent discoveries into account.

Yet in my opinion the biggest problems derive from the author's decision to not only introduce a setting based on the historical Aztecs and Mayas, but also re-tell the story of Hernando Cortes' Conquistators and their conquest of the Aztec Empire within the Forgotten Realms (in the Maztica novel trilogy, which serves as a prequel to the boxed set). While the outcome eventually differed from real world history, this decision nonetheless has profound implications for the setting.

For starters, the storyline needed to explain why the invaders succeeded with their conquests against such overwhelming odds. In our worlds the invaders had a technological advantage with steel weapons armor, and horses, and this is also the case in Maztica. But the Conquistators also had the advantage of a massive smallpox epidemic wrecking the native population, and this should be less of a concern in a world with magical healing - indeed, neither the boxed set nor the Maztica novels mention any kind of plague. Thus, there needed to be other explanations:

  • The native Mazticans had no knowledge of and exposure to arcane magic (and indeed, the novels feature such classics as "let's have our invisible wizard teleport within range of their leaders and throw fireballs at them until they are charcoal!").
  • While the natives do have a unique magic of their own - plumaweaving and hishnashaping, which draws on the power inherent in feathers and talons - it is vastly weaker than other forms of magic (indeed, its foremost practitioners were represented by Rogue kits).
  • To add insult to injury, even the native clerics are weaker than their counterparts from mainland Faerun, having access to far fewer Spheres of clerical spells and no special powers. The Spheres of Summoning and Necromancy are even completely banned to native priests - which means, among other things, that no native priest can raise the dead!

This is of course frustrating for those who want to play native spellcasters in a campaign where both natives and invaders are present - why settle for the weaker spellcasters when the invaders have magical superiority on their side? But the problems with the storyline do not end there - throughout, the native characters show little agency of their own and are usually pushed or manipulated by external forces - whether the invading Golden Legion, their own or foreign gods, or even drow (!) exiled from Faerun which set up the human sacrifice cult for their own purposes and manipulated the natives into this activity. That the climatic events of the series culminated in the members of said cult being transformed into orcs, ogres, and trolls only added insult to injury - as if implying "the natives can only be a real threat when they are transformed into monsters derived from European mythology and folklore!".

Additionally, neither the novels nor the boxed set really engage with the topic of human sacrifice in a serious manner - their stance is basically "It's evil, but it was all instigated by outsiders anyway, and now most natives refuse to do this evil thing any more!" This does not really represent how pre-Columbian Aztecs viewed the practice - as a conscious decision to harvest the energy of rival city-states in order to feed and strengthen the gods and the cosmos as a whole in order to delay the inevitable dissolution of the current world a little while longer (admittedly, it was a pretty effective intimidation tactic too - "send us tribute, or we will rip your hearts out!").

Eventually, Wizards of the Coast also presumably came to the conclusion that Maztica wasn't one of the best work done for the Forgotten Realms. Which is why, when they published the 4th Edition of the Forgotten Realms, they sent the entire continent to the twin world of Abeir and replaced it with a new continent named Laerakond. Oh, and they also introduced a hundred-year timeskip, in addition to numerous other changes.

Most fans were not amused. Thus, Wizards of the Coast undid most of these changes for the 5th edition (as presented in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide) - without, however, returning to an earlier time. Maztica too is back, though beyond a few references indicating its return there is nothing known about its precise state.

Which means that now is a perfect time to start developing a new version of Maztica - and that is precisely what I am planning, with the eventual goal being a series of publication on the Dungeon Master's Guild.

Of course, there already is an interpretation of Maztica for the 5th Edition era - the True World series by Jon Hild and others (and you should go and buy their stuff right now). So what will my project, which I call "Returned Maztica", bring to the table? Mainly, a difference in approach.

The True World series an approach similar to the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide - while the timeline has advanced, many of the changes are rolled back and the setting now largely resembles how Maztica was in the era before or immediately after the conquests of the Golden Legion. There are some chances, but they are comparably minor. This is a legitimate approach (and follows the lead of Wizards of the Coast), but I wanted to try something different - inspired by the book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles M. Mann.

This is one of the most gameable nonfiction books I am aware of - among other things, it contains such tidbits as "there were Japanese samurai guarding silver shipments in 17th century Mexico" (and why this hasn't been turned into a manga or anime, I will never know). But the main lesson for me is this:

You cannot really rewind the clock. Once the "New World" is "discovered" by outsiders, changes will inevitably follow. Technologies will be exchanged, creatures will be introduced to new habitats, new modes of thought and belief will spread among the people.

But change is always a source of conflict - and thus, adventures. Therefore my vision of Maztica will not portray a pre-colonial or colonial setting, but a post-colonial setting - one that has been recently liberated from its oppressors but now struggles to define itself and its place in the world. My basic outline is this:

When Maztica was transported to Abeir during the Spellplague, the colonies established by nations from Faerun were cut off from their home countries and rapidly lost most of their power and influence. However, new overlords soon appeared - dragons who sought to claim the riches of Maztica for their own. Their fighting was fierce, but eventually seven ancient dragons survived and divided the nations of Maztica between them, setting themselves up at the top of the traditional tribute chains that tied the towns and cities together. To administer their conquests, they brought clans of dragonborn sworn to their service with them who collected the tribute, stopped any uprisings, and made sure that trade and commerce (and thus, treasure) kept flowing. And for the most menial of tasks - such as working in the vast silver mines of Lopango - they introduced genasi slaves from Shyr. One people placed above for the natives to resent, and one people placed below for the natives to look down on - this way, the dragon overlords distracted the Mazticans from their ultimate oppressors and kept the mortals from uniting against them. And it worked... for a while.

But ill omens continued, and though the priests of the High Gods were no longer able to channel miraculous power, the people of Maztica never completely abandoned their faith. Did not the philosophers claim that the gods needed to be empowered by ritual and sacrifice to give them the strength to keep the world turning and prevent cosmic disaster? And wasn't the shift of Maztica to Abeir precisely a cosmic disaster that the philosophers had warned about?

Then the couatl reappeared and whispered to select heroes: "Strive to become dragon slayers, for when the dragon overlords are slain, their evil vanquished, surely your faith and devotion will be rewarded and Maztica will be returned to its rightful place!" And when a group of mighty heroes assembled, they were gifted the long-lost Cloak-of-One-Plume and proclaimed the Feathered Champions - the saviors of Maztica. And indeed, after a series of mighty battles the Feathered Champions were able to slay six of the seven dragon overlords, although most of the Champions perished in the final battle, and one of the dragons... turned out to be not quite dead enough.

And after the final battle, the skies lifted and Maztica returned to the shores of Toril. Now the dragonborn trading houses send out their great ships to Faerun and even more distant shores to establish new trade routes, while the cities, nations, and empires of Maztica eye each other and contemplate the future they will want to build.

That's the basic background - for much more detail, you can visit this forum thread at the Piazza forums, as well as the other threads linked there. But first, here are my design goals for this project:
  • Developing a unique, compelling vision for each of the regions of Maztica which supports not only adventures, but entire campaigns taking place within that region. The writeups for these regions should emphasize both their Mesoamerican roots and the fantastic nature of D&D settings - "Aztecs meet Morrowind" is the vibe I am striving for.
  • Developing a Maztican view of the gods, the world, and everything in it that is derived from Aztec metaphysics and in no obvious way "wrong" or "lesser" when compared to that of mainland Faerun.
  • Developing explanations for how all D&D 5E player character classes (including the Artificer and the Mystic from Unearthed Arcana) and most of their subclasses fit into the setting without seeming out of place for native characters.
  • Using the sojourn on Abeir to introduce all sorts of fantastic new creatures to Maztica - staying away from the more "common" creatures prevalent in Faerun and instead using more obscure creatures from D&D lore (such as those from the AC9 Creature Catalogue) and bringing them to the 5E rules if necessary.

My plan is to write a series of supplements for "Returned Maztica" - starting with a rules supplement that presents the plumaweaver and hishnashaper as new 5E subclasses to test the waters, which will then be followed by a Player's Guide giving a top-down overview of the setting and its changes.

So what are your thoughts? What do you want to see in a revised Maztica setting? Comment here, or in the forum thread that started it all!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Arms Control in the Starfinder Setting

There is an ongoing debate on Paizo's Starfinder forums about what level of gun control is likely to exist in the Pact Worlds (the "default" setting/home system of Starfinder). Here are my own two cents on this issue:

The Pact Worlds have, within living memory, fought a number of fairly devastating wars (in particular, against the Veskarium and the Swarm), and the outbreaks of new wars are entirely possible. Thus, most governments will probably encourage citizens to be proficient with weapons and practice with them on a regular basis - this gives them a greater reserve of people they can draft once the shooting does start. That being said, not all weapons are equal and not all are equally acceptable in all circumstances. Here is my best guess:

Ranged Weapons:

Single-shot sidearms (pistols and the like): Unexceptionable under most circumstances, except in ultra-secure or ultra-formal settings or where there is a real danger of damaging highly sensitive equipment (the bulkheads of most space stations - including Absalom Station should not be easily penetrable by random shots, but the guts of the local life support systems might be another matter). Places where people regularly consume mood-altering substances that might make them more aggressive (such as drug dens) or where the clientele is exceptionally violent (such as certain bars in the criminal underground) might also restrict all weapons.

Single-shot longarms (rifles and the like): Unproblematic in "frontiers" and similar areas where attacks by monsters, bandits and the like might not be necessarily common, but are always a possibility.

Automatic weapons: Generally only acceptable in military-controlled regions or where attacks by hostile entities occur on a regular basis, since there is a lot of risk for collateral damage. Plasma weapons will be seen with suspicion for much the same reason.

Explosives: Like automatic weapons, acceptable only in areas where attacks are frequent - since those can cause a lot of collateral damage.

Melee weapons: Knifes can be classified similar to sidearms - besides using them for protection, they are also common tools (especially in frontier regions) Larger melee weapons (such as swords) generally say one of two things about their user:

- "I have put in serious work at dealing out violence up close and personal" (since it takes a lot more training to become proficient with them than simple sidearms), or
- "I am a violent thug who relishes carving up others up close".

Such melee weapons likely have a similar legal standing to single-shot longarms, but wearers will be viewed with more suspicion since they might belong into the second category (for how to avoid that perception, see the next section).

Finally, space stations or similar habitats with closed life support systems will likely place additional restrictions on plasma and similar weapons that can quickly start large-scale fires, as well as chemical or biological volatiles (gas grenades and the like) that can foul up the enclosed atmosphere - since unlike with planetary atmosphere there will be no reservoir of fresh air and no place to flee.

Player Advice

So what does this mean for player characters who want to keep using their favorite toys, no matter what the circumstances are? While avoiding all forms of arms control is probably not feasible, player characters can probably mitigate much of it by following these guidelines:

Be respectable. While the Pact Worlds don't have instantaneous interplanetary (let alone interstellar) communication, their communication systems will still be vastly better than those of Golarion in the Pathfinder area. In other words, news of the player characters' exploits will get around (especially if one of the PCs was brave or foolish enough to take the "Icon" theme). And how they acted during their exploits will determine a lot how much leeway the authorities will give them regarding their weaponry. If they consistently helped and defended other people, then they can get away with a lot. ("You carry what kinds of explosives with you? Oh, wait... didn't I see you in that video where you took down a purple worm attacking our colony with those? No, go ahead - I am sure you will use them responsibly, although I hope they won't be needed..."). On the other hand, if they harass, intimidate, or even attack other people on a regular basis they will be seen with a lot more suspicion - even if there is no outstanding warrant on them at the moment.

A corollary to this is that they should think twice about intimidating others with their weaponry ("Please hand over your weapons before entering this establishment." - "Make me!"), since this can effectively represent a declaration of war against the local authorities. You entered their turf and demand that they back down instead of following their customs, and even if they back down you will have made a new enemy since you have just reduced their authority in the eyes of the other locals. And most local authorities cannot afford to back down in front of such a challenge - whether the authorities are actual law enforcement or the local mob. Sometimes such a challenge is appropriate - especially if the local authorities are brutal tyrants - but the players should consider the implications before issuing it.

Appear respectable. Many organizations in the setting - law enforcement, armed forces, orders of knighthood, explorers' societies and so forth - have members who wear weapons as part of their duties yet are not viewed with (much) suspicion for it. This is because they wear uniforms or insignia proclaiming that they are part of a larger organization - and, presumably, they will have to answer for any misbehavior to their superiors within that organization. They can even get into many ultra-formal settings where weapons would normally not be allowed if he weapons are considered to be "part of their uniform".

And this approach can serve the PCs as well. If they cannot or will not join one of these established organizations, they could found their own. Just like the "professional adventuring parties" of bygone ages they could form their own chartered company (providing mercenary services, or exploration, or any other profession that describes what the PCs do as a group) and design a snazzy uniform that all party members wear while "on duty" (or at least "on display"). And even if this is a pure legal fiction, others will rest easier in their presence knowing that the PCs are "responsible" to some larger organization (which could, in theory, be sued for any damages the PCs cause).

Even if the PCs are not part of an "official organization", they can still attempt to dress "respectably" - as opposed to "street scum and vagabonds".

Finally, while there are methods of circumventing arms control - such as glamered weapons disguising their true nature - the PCs should not rely on them all the time. If they get caught, then most people will assume that they are still using them and search them more thoroughly or even deny them entry in the future.

Game Master Advice

So, how should GMs use weapon control in their game?

First of all, don't use weapon control to screw the PCs over! If the PCs have to hand over their weapons before being allowed into a certain facility, then restrict the weapons the bad guys have access to as well. Perhaps their attempt at smuggling weapons in can be discovered by the PCs (in which case they get to use the contraband for the fight), or they might be as limited in what they can bear as the PCs. Furthermore, if the PCs hand their weapons over, make sure that they get them back from the owners afterwards. Otherwise the PCs will constantly focus on how to smuggle their favorite toys into adventure locations, which will likely derail the adventures.

Secondly - as pointed out earlier - make past PC behavior matter! If the PCs have been acting responsibly with their weapons in their past, cut them some slack with what they are allowed to pack (although this might mean that the authorities come to them with dangerous problems. To which I say: Adventure plots!). Conversely, if they have been misbehaving take not of that - and have the local authorities quote these incidents at them as justifications for why they are treated differently.

This doesn't even mean you have to take their weapons away, or refuse them entry. Instead, after a long discussion about past incidents where the PCs misbehaved (make them squirm!) you can have the custom official frown at them and say the following:

"Okay, here is what I can do. I am really not all that comfortable with you walking around with all those weapons. But if you, [most-respectable-looking PC] sign this form that you take responsibility for the behavior of your... associates, I am willing to let you through. Oh, and I also need you to pay a bond of 5000 credits [scale as appropriate]. If you leave without causing any... incidents, you will get the money back. Otherwise it will be used as a down payment on any damages you have caused."

This way, the PCs need to police their own if they want their money back - which is far easier than have NPCs do it. More fun for the GM as well...

To sum it up: Yes, some form of weapon control will exist in various places, but it should be used appropriately - it can make for interesting complications, but not deprive the PCs of their toys all the time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

After Victory - How It Came To Pass

The Evil Empire has fallen!

Abraxas, called the "Dark Lord", the "Living God", "Defiler of the Earth Mother" and many other names besides, undisputed tyrant of the Empire of Owls and terror of three continents for more than two centuries... is no more. The Sirean Alliance, forged under desperate circumstances, staged a daring raid against his ancient capital of Strigium while he was distracted, and at the same time some of the world's greatest heroes invaded his inner sanctum inside of the lair of the Earth Mother and severed the link that sustained his stolen divinity. Though it cost many of them their lives, they triumphed and Abraxas fell, his works now in ruins. The forces of Good have triumphed, at a heavy price.

But the story is not over...

The victorious nations of the Sirean Alliance are united in their belief that the Empire of Owls must never rise again - but now, bereft of some of their greatest leaders, they find it increasingly difficult to agree on anything else. The Empire was huge and consisted of many people and cultures, ruled by quisling kings, sycophants, monsters, and worse. Ruling it in Abraxas' absence, administering these vast territories, and rebuilding them into a more peaceful form is a daunting task, made much more complex by the many voices in the Alliance - some of whom just want to go home, while others are trying to shape the future to their own nation's advantage.

Abraxas' end came in the fall. The winter was long and hard, but cleansing, and the last of the warlords who attempted to claim the Throne of Owls for themselves were defeated. Now at last, spring has come, and many are beginning to hope for a better future. But too many of Abraxas' plots and minions remain concealed, and may yet threaten to undo the fragile peace. Former spies and enforcers band together in crime rings. Resentful soldiers of his fallen legions turn to mercenary work or banditry. Merchant princes who lived off the plunder of many lands and sold slaves throughout the Empire now use hidden stockpiles of wealth to reinvent themselves and their houses. Chaos might yet engulf the land - and perhaps one day a new Dark Lord will arise from the chaos.

In this realm of hope and chaos, great wealth and great desperation your player characters will have to find their own path. Perhaps they are discharged veterans from either (or both) sides of the conflict. Or perhaps they have been ordered to act as administrators or troubleshooters for one small corner of the Empire by their superiors in the Alliance, trying to establish peace and order with few resources against great obstacles. Will they succeed and help restore the land to peace and prosperity? Or are they just another group of scavengers feasting upon the succulent corpse of the Empire?

So what's all this, then?

After Victory is a setting idea I've been musing for some time - indeed, you can see its beginning in this post back in 2015. It is based around the question: What happens after the Evil Overlord is overthrown? This is not addressed in The Lord of the Rings and similar epic fantasy stories - at best, you get an epilogue which addresses the fate of the primary protagonists, but there is little about the political aftereffects.

Yet as we know from real world history, defeating and occupying another nation rarely ties up neatly - history ever marches onward. Some were ultimately great successes, like the post-WWII occupations of Germany and Japan - while others were spectacular disasters, like the occupation of Iraq after 2003.

And in the setting of After Victory, the fallen Empire of Owls could go either way - and the player characters' actions should be able to make a crucial difference.

Right now, the setting is still in development, and most of what I have come up with can be found in this RPGNet thread. However, it is my eventual goal to publish this as a standalone setting, similar to my other work Doomed Slayers (buy it if you don't have it already! Review it if you have!). I have rough outlines for the various regions shown in the map above, and future blog posts will go into further details on them. But first, I'd like to state my base assumptions about this setting:

- Overthrowing and defeating Abraxas was just and necessary. He was not just some "benevolent despot" like you might see in fiction, or a "Tough Man making Tough Decisions" - he was evil and everything he did was ultimately for himself. Some people might have benefited from his actions, but that does not imply any benevolence on his part. He made the world a worse place, and would have continued to do so every year he was in power. Now, after the war's end, plenty of his followers will make excuses for him (as it was the case after the fall of the Third Reich, or the Confederacy), but they are morally in the wrong.

- Abraxas was defeated by true heroes. They might at times have squabbled and had differences of opinion, but ultimately they banded together against overwhelming evil and - with great sacrifices - they won. Many of these heroes have paid for this with their lives, and others are in retirement or are overwhelmed with their now political jobs, but their actions show that it is possible for Good to triumph - in other words, this is not intended to be a "grimdark" setting where you must commit evil to defeat a greater Evil.

- Establishing peace is in its own way just as hard as winning the war. Indeed, the task may be altogether impossible when one considers its scope - the occupiers find themselves in strange lands with strange customs, steeped in generations of corruption and evil with few legitimate figures of authority that can be trusted. Yet they must at least try, or else new warlords will rise and menace the world anew.

And if the PCs are not interested in all that, they can join the throngs of treasure hunters seeking the many caches of hidden loot, and attempt to strike their fortune. Either way, there will be plenty of opportunities for adventure!

So, what are your thoughts so far? Share them in the Comments section!

Friday, November 18, 2016

[Eberron] Campaign Idea - Ironport-Splintertown

Every good hexcrawl/wilderness exploration campaign needs a good home base - a frontier town where the player characters can rest and restock after an adventure. But for your Eberron campaign, you don't want just any home base. You want a frontier town that has steep mountains to the north, dinosaur-filled plains to the west, deep jungles and swamps with ancient ruins to the south, stormwracked oceans to the east, and the unfathomable depths of Khyber below. You want a boomtown that visibly grows every month, with new arrivals both noble and base coming in on an almost daily basis. You want a port town beset by greedy pirates and angry orc tribes. You want a border town straddling a political division a mere two years old, with one side trying their utmost to be "respectable" while the other side remains in cheerful anarchy. You want an aspiring city which, once completed as its founders intended, will reshape the politics and economies of the entire region.

In other words, you want the twin town of Ironport-Splintertown. Read on...

First, some background: As outlined in Forge of War (p. 17), the Mror Holds were the first region of Khorvaire to officially declare themselves independent from the Five Nations - all the way back in the year 914 (84 years before the present time). Karrnath was rather upset about this, but lacked the resources to do anything about it at the time. To take some of the sting out of this, the Iron Council (the leadership of the Mror Holds) gave Karrnath Most Favored Nation Status and wasted no time in selling them weapons, armor, and other war materials, assuring that they would "maintain close military ties". However by no means did the dwarves wish to lose out on the very profitable Southern Trade with Breland and Cyre - thus, they clandestinely hired on Lhazaarite "merchants" to smuggle their products, maintaining plausible deniability with Karrnath.

However, now that the Last War has ended the Mror Holds do no longer have to be clandestine about the Southern Trade - after all, everyone was now at peace and thus free to trade with whomever they wanted to. Naturally, this has cut into the war profiteering profits of the sea princes. However, they managed to bargain their way into the Treaty of Thronehold, and are now doing the whole "We are a verrrry respectable nation with verrrry serious businessmen and verrrry vigorous and innovative forms of taxation! Arrrr!"

In other words, their erstwhile business partners have become a major pain for the Mror Holds - any goods shipped from the north has to pass through pretty much the entirety of the Lhazaar Principalities, which means that every sea prince on the route will want either hefty bribes or plunder their goods outright. Thus, the Holds need a new trade route that will circumvent as much of the Principalities as possible. Fortunately, there is a possible route, though it will require some work.

Two years ago, the nations of Khorvaire signed the Treaty of Thronehold, which nailed down the national borders after the Last War. While the main focus of the extremely intense negotiations was on the borders of the original Five Nations with their neighbors, the newer nations had their own arguments - one of these being the boundary between the Mror Holds and its neighbors Q'barra and the Lhazaar Principalities. In the end, the Mror Holds managed to gain a small strip of coastal land that represented "a natural extension of the Ironroot Mountains" and thus clearly part of the Mror Holds (which was news to the Jhorash'tar tribes living there, but nobody invited them to Thronehold). The dwarves tried the same argument for the territory south of the Hoarfrost Mountains, but the sea prince of Cliffscrape considered the numerous fishing villages dotting the coastal plains to be part of her domain and objected most vehemently. The negotiations with Q'barra were easier, since the latter country did not have much in the way or resources to spare for this strip of no man's land this far north anyway. In the end, the current borders were worked out as a compromise in order to present a united front to the older nations.

Half a year later, the dwarves surveyed the land for a possible location for a new port (with the assistance of Lyrandar experts - the Mror Holds had excellent engineers, but little in the way of maritime expertise). It was soon determined that the very best location for a new port was at the mouth of the Crystal River - which, awkwardly enough, was the boundary line agreed upon with Q'barra in the Treaty of Thronehold. Furthermore, the site already had a small settlement named "Shardtown" by its inhabitants - a combined fishing village and hideout for smugglers who during the war specialized in lightweight/high value items - including Dragonshards.

Officially, the logic of nautical engineering won out. The dwarves arrived with a force of engineers, guards, administrators on the north side of the river mouth and announced to the startled inhabitants their intention that they intended to build a new city on the spot entitled "Ironport" (after the Ironroot Mountains). Anyone who wanted to stay under the new rulers could do so and take part in the many exiting and entirely legitimate business opportunities. Those who were unhappy about the regime change were politely but firmly pointed towards the other side of the river, where the settlement retained the name Splintertown and doubled down on the smuggling and all sorts of other dubious activities (many of which take advantage of the riches generated in Ironport).

Very privately, several Mror clan leaders see this problem as an opportunity. They would dearly like to grab more territory for the Holds (and their clans), and considering that Q'barra is weak, underpopulated, and focused on the southern parts of its territory, the country looks like a perfect victim. However, none of the other major nations are willing to allow such a blatant land grab and violation of another nation's territory so soon after the Treaty of Thronehold was signed. Thus, the Mror Holds need some sort of pretext for expanding southwards. Their strategy is as follows:

  • Tolerate the presence of Splintertown, but subtly encourage it as a den of criminality and vice that causes ongoing problems in Ironport (frankly, this isn't hard) - and then complain loudly to the government of Q'barra, the worldwide press, and anyone else who will listen about it. Q'barra of course does not have the resources to "clean up" a town so far from its core settlement, but it might send the occasional lawman north who will predictably get horribly murdered in short order (either by the crime bosses or deniable agents of the dwarves). Eventually, the dwarves might be hailed for invading the town and "cleaning it up" by world opinion...
  • Provoke some sort of attack or raid on Splintertown that is unlikely to threaten the defenses of Ironport but represents a major threat to the inhabitants of the smaller town. This can provide an excuse for the trained soldiers of Ironport to march forth and defend the town, since Q'barra is obviously unable to defend its people. And once the threat is defeated, the soldiers might stick around... and the inhabitants might cheer them for it.
(Side note: For an alternative campaign, consider making the PCs the "lawmen" sent north by King Sebastes in order to clean up Splintertown and then discover all the... complexities of their assignment once they arrive. Assuming that they won't get horribly murdered first.)

But these are far from the only issues facing Ironport-Splintertown. To the north, the Mror Holds need to establish a secure route through the southern Ironrood Mountains, which means dealing with the orc tribes one way or another. Some clans are in favor of giving the orcs a place in the Iron Council, while others are bitterly opposed and would like to see nothing more than have all the orcs wiped out - and they are perfectly willing to send agents sabotaging each others' efforts in this. There is also the question how this new region is supposed to be distributed among the clans, since it is not part of their traditional territories (see the Player's Guide to Eberron, p. 55 for a map). For Ironport and the route leading to it at least, the Iron Council has agreed on a basic profit-sharing scheme based on the amount of investments each involved clan has made. Currently the lawyers and accountants are battling over the details, and whether this agreement will survive the next round of renegotiations in a recognizable form is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, beneath the southern Ironroot Mountains things stir in the depths of Khyber, and duergar have been spotted in increasing numbers. How this will affect the new trade route is anyone's guess.

To the west, the hill country gradually gives way to the Talenta Plains, and dinosaurs are a common sight. While the halflings themselves are good neighbors, and their trade caravans become increasingly common as Ironport grows, the Valenar raiders range far and wide from their southern lands, and eventually the growing town might represent too tempting a target for them.

To the south, the lizardmen and dragonborn of the marshes seem mostly quiescent, though the occasional group of dragonborn pilgirms passes through town on their way to the Boneyard. But the swamps hide numerous brass-embellished ruins from the Age of Demons, and the explorers of Ironport-Splintertown might not be wise enough to stay away from their sleeping inhabitants. Indeed, perhaps agents of the Lords of Dust are already active in town in order to encourage such explorers...

To the east, the Sea Princes watch the growth of Ironport with fear and greed. The northern princes fear the inevitable loss of income - and with it, prestige and political power - that will result once the Southern Route is firmly established, while the southern princes hope for increased opportunities for bribes and plunder. Prince might turn against prince, and this issue is what might cause the young nation to splinter again in its component parts. For now, the alliance holds - but for how long?

And to the far east, the Inspired watch this new development with interest. Any new major port on the eastern end of Khorvaire represents another opportunity for infiltration from Riedra - and once they realize how explosive the political situation is, they will do their best to cause the situation degenerate further while presenting a helpful and friendly face to everyone.

It is in this maelstrom of political intrigue where the PCs will make their names. Will they just focus on plunder and profit to their own benefits? Or will they make a stand and shape this new town in accordance with their vision?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

[Exalted] Three Ponds Market

As a major city, Jade Plum Citadel is surrounded by several market towns within a day's distance of travel. The market town situated in the valley downriver from the Emergence Cave is called Three Ponds Market, named after the three circular lily ponds in the center of the town which surround the local market. All in all, it's a prosperous, quiet, orderly town - while there is some rowdiness associated with visitors, these are generally encouraged to stay in the hostels just outside the actual town limit. People in the town respect their elders and their social superiors, and are stoic in the face of adversity.

But there is more to Three Ponds Market - the town is, in fact, the center for the cult of the Seven-Stranded Vine for the High Lands. The leaders of the cult effectively run the town, which is reflected in the orderly and hierarchical atmosphere - aristocrats before artisans before common laborers (each have their own third of the town). The three ponds are in fact a reference to the Three Spheres Cataclysm, though none alive remember this. The cult headquarters are in underground chambers right below the market, with entrances/exits to all three town districts.

The PCs are unlikely to realize anything of this unless they go looking for it (and being new in this land, they probably have no reason to search for this cult). However, they might get involved with this town nonetheless when they spot burning opium fields outside town - there is currently a conflict between Generous Agun and Prosperous Fanaka over control of the local opium production. Generous Agun currently controls the fields and is somewhat more acceptable to the population despite her Guild ties, as at least she is a native Tenges. Prosperous Fanaka desires these fields and has hired assorted thugs to convince the townfolk to align with him.

Once again we turn to the Random Nations Generator to work out the details. We get Theocracy as the government, which we already knew (that is, the Seven-Stranded Vine is in charge). Among the organizations we get Deep State - appropriate for a town that is ruled from behind the scenes, but Deep State implies a bit more than that. Let's say that the cult has managed to subvert at least one of the noble families from the court of the Jade Plum Citadel, and make a note to return to them later. Another entry is Quiverfull - many religions are passed on from parents to children, and it makes sense that a secret cult of Yozi-worshipers that already has a strong theme of "obedience to family" would view things the same way. Female cult members are encouraged to have as many children as possible, and those who have had six children already are awarded a special honor - they will gain the opportunity to be impregnated by one of the surviving male descendants of the original royal family of An-Teng (such as Night Butterfly - see Blood and Salt, p. 30), and these children will become part of the lesser nobility of the realm once the Dragon-Blooded are overthrown and the true royal family restored to the throne. A third entry is Eastern Lightning, a Chinese apocalyptic cult which uses "violence, kidnapping, and brainwashing for both recruiting new members and resisting the Chinese government". So far, this branch of the Seven-Stranded Vine doesn't want to attract attention and has been very selective when it comes to kidnapping and brainwashing people - but they do use these methods from time to time.

Among the major personalities we get Eddie Chapman. A womanizer, criminal, and safecracker who turns into a double agent has potential. However, I think it's best if our "Eddie" - let's call him Quick Chanchai - is still in the "crook" phase of his career. He will hang out with the foreigners in town, spot the PCs - and, if they look like either destitute, desperate, or shifty, will try to convince them to help him rob a local villa (apart from trying to flirt with female player characters). What he asks of them is to stage a distraction at an opportune moment - as foreigners, they will draw lots of attention if they act strangely, which he can use to slip in unnoticed. He will promise them a part of his take (depending on their risk) and pay it. Alternatively, he may run afoul of the Seven-Stranded Vine - or he might abscond with some sort of important cult artifact which will come to haunt him later - or the PCs, if they end up with it.

And as it happens, another "major personality" in town is an Artifact of Doom. Looking at the assorted sub-souls of She Who Lives In Her Name, a Luminata (The Deer Who Hunt Men) seem appropriate. It is bound to a small urn covered with writhing branches and studded with three rubies. A cult member can invoke the Luminata by filling the urn with burning poppies and saying the right invocation in honor of the Living Tower. which will then hunt down an enemy of the cult when they are alone. Someone carrying the urn or sleeping nearby who does not know the proper rituals will first dream of the Luminata and being hunted by it, only to be eventually hunted by it in the waking world. When "slain", the Luminata does not return to Malfeas but to the urn, until the urn is destroyed.

A third personality is Cleon Skousen, the famous anti-Communist conspiracy theorist. Let's turn that into Venerable Ruthai, the town matriarch and local cult leader, who is writing and publishing anonymous pamphlets decrying various Dragon-Blooded crimes against Tengese virtues, Tengese family, and the "natural order" under the pseudonym of "Truth-Teller". The PCs will likely encounter various pamphlets during their time in An-Teng, and newer pamphlets might even refer to their own adventures once they get tangled up in the affairs of the Dragon-Born. Her villa has a printing press (using woodblock carving) that produces more pamphlets, and as a result the town has a significant number of skilled wood carvers.

Another entry is Isaac Newton, whom we will turn into Far-Sighted Manee, an astronomer and cult member who has her own observatory on top of a nearby hill and who has written quite a few texts about the "perfect order and hierarchy" of the heavens. She maintains extensive correspondence with Prince Kiotaran of the Middle Lands, who shares her interest in Astronomy (though he remains ignorant of her cult leanings).

Moving on to political issues, we get "In Search of Death", a story about gay men intentionally seeking to infect themselves with HIV as an "erotic experience". Creation does not have a direct equivalent of AIDS, but coupling "death" with "erotic experience" we get Ghost Flower Tea, a drug that allows its user to interact with ghosts (including, yes, interact with ghosts in that way). A local plantation owner, Mournful Mongkut, has been abusing the drug in order to be reunited with his dead lover Agile Kulap, who used to be a stable boy working for him. Mongkut is a cult member - his family has been part of the cult for generations - but Venerable Ruthai had his lover killed because he neglected his duties to his family (in particular, by refusing to sire children with his wife Pleasant Suda). Needless to say, Mongkut is not happy with the current leadership of the town. He gets the Ghost Flower Tea from Wandering Wiriya, a merchant who has contacts to a smuggling network in the Jade Plum Citadel, which ultimately gets the drug from the City of Dead Flowers.

Quite possibly it's Mournful Mongkut's villa that Quick Chanchai wants to rob...

None of the "Major Projects" seem to fit for a town of this size, and neither do the entries for "Economy". Among the "Major Products/Exports" we get Pigs as well as Candles - which can be made from tallow rendered out of animal fats. Thus, we should note numerous pig farms in the area, as well as many butchers and tallow producers in the poor part of town (naturally, the inns for foreigners will be next to those).

Considering the cult presence, the "Forms of Worship" for this town are especially interesting. We get Nazirite, a form of asceticism where someone undertakes a vow to abstain from wine, cutting their hair, and not come in contact with corpses or graves for a specified time - at least 30 days. Another entry is Anchorite, a religious hermit who lives in a cell and avoids contact with the outside world. While the cultural context is different, it should be noted that Thai culture does have "temporary" (Buddhist) monks. Thus, let's say that those who have been chosen to join the Seven-Stranded Vine (or rise further in its rank) retreat from the world for a while in order to contemplate the Principle of Hierarchy (and especially favored cultists may be granted visions of demons). They sit in up to 9 small cells carved out of the mountain next to a spectacular waterfall. The town youth take turns every morning and evening to bring the monks food (rice and vegetables) and replace and light their large tallow candles (which the monks aren't allowed to touch because they are made from dead things). The path they use for this purpose leads up to Far-Sighted Manee's observatory.

Another Form of Worship is Prosperity Theology - the cult teaches that in a properly-ordered society those who are the most devout to She Who Lives In Her Name will also be richer due to their higher station, while those who are rich should join the cult to pay her the proper respect for their affluence.

This should be enough material for the time being - if needed, I can always expand the town further.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Revising GURPS Magic, Part II - The Spells

After revising the basic rules of GURPS Magic in my previous post, let's look at the list of spells and see how we can balance them better. As before, these tweaks were initially discussed in this forum thread.

Air Spells

No-Smell: Characters in close range of the recipient of the spell who are relying exclusively on their sense of smell can still determine the target's location via a Smell-based Perception roll at a -2 penalty, by detecting eddies of other smells within the local air currents. However, even if they succeed their attack rolls will still be at a -6 penalty.

Notes: I wanted to reduce the number of automatic "I win" conditions in the spell list. This brings the effects more in line with that of invisibility (see B394) and doesn't render smell-based enemies completely helpless, though they are still at a serious disadvantage.

Concussion: Instead of doing area damage according to the rules for explosions, damage decreases by 1d for each yard of distance from the center.

Notes: The "Explosions" rule on B414 might be realistic, but by dividing the damage done by (3 x distance in yards from the center) they pretty much make all the "explosive" damage spells of GURPS Magic useless. This rules change - applied to all similar spells as well - returns the situation to the 3E rules.

Animal Spells

Spider Silk: A single strand has an effective ST of 10 plus the base energy cost paid for the spell, as well as DR 3. The caster may shoot as many strands as he has arms from a single casting of Spider Silk; calculate the total cost of the casting by adding up the total length of all strands. Resolve the attack as Rapid Fire (p. B373) with Rcl 1. The web has DR 3 and a ST of 10 plus the base energy cost paid for the spell, plus 1 ST for each additional strand.

Base Cost: Any amount up to your Magery. A base strand has a length of 5 yards, and you can extend this length by 5 yards by paying one point of energy beyond the base cost (maximum 100 yards). Half that to maintain.

Notes: The base spell is rather weak, since a normal humanoid caster with two arms can only get the web up to ST 11 even if he hits with both attacks and the target fails to dodge - which won't stop the target for long. This variant will make the spell a more attractive alternative in combat.

Partial Shapeshifting: As a clarification, unlike with Shapeshifting the continuous use of this spell does not reduce IQ unless the entire head of the caster is transformed.

Body Control Spells

Might/Grace/Vigor: The "always on" magic items for these spells are no longer permitted. Replace with "Any item; only affects the wearer." Energy cost to create is equal to that of the "staff or wand" item for these spells

Notes: Especially considering the new enchantment rules, anyone who lives in a fantasy setting where magic items can be bought and is rich will want to get the best stat-boosting items you can afford - and considering that the Wealth advantage scales geometrically, having high Wealth in order to afford stat-boosting items is a vastly better character point investment than buying up the attributes directly. With this rules change, "permanent attribute boosts" can still be modeled by combining this enchantment with the Power enchantment - but that is less problematic since Power does scale geometrically.

Enlarge/Enlarge Other: The cost increases to 10 (same to maintain). A single casting of the spell will only increase the target by +1 SM, though multiple castings stack. However, casters should note the increased costs for casting Regular spells at targets larger than SM 0 (see M11).

Notes: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers was absolutely correct in increasing the costs for this spell, but I thought that the base cost of 15 was a bit harsh. However, in order to prevent "Godzilla" incidents if someone manages to access enough energy I limited this to a stackable +1 SM per casting. This not only makes repeat casting significantly more expensive, but also creates further problems with maintaining the spell.

Communication & Empathy Spells

Sense Foes: This spell only detects plans or a desire for physical violence against the caster (which can also be directed against the group he is traveling with as a whole). Additionally, the spell is resisted by Will.

Notes: As written, this spell was absurdly powerful - especially considering that it doesn't have any prerequisites. It could be used to circumvent all sorts of courtly intrigue scenarios, simply by detecting who has "hostile intent" against the caster without allowing a resistance roll.

Sense Emotions: This spell is resisted by Will.

Notes: As with Sense Foes, permitting a resistance roll makes it somewhat more balanced.

Telepathy: Both caster and subject know the whole of each others' surface thoughts only.

Notes: The spell description states that it includes the effects of Mind Reading, which reads surface thoughts - but doesn't mention Mind Search, which allows to search for deeper memories. Even with this limitation the spell requires a lot of trust between the characters - without it, there would be no privacy left at all.

Communication: As a clarification, an audible, illusory image of the other participants in the spell appears before each participant, which can be observed and listened to by other people.

Notes: The spell description was somewhat unclear whether this was merely a projection within the minds of the participants or something that bystanders could observes, but I was swayed by the argument that both Voices and Simple Illusion were prerequisites.

Earth Spells

Seek Earth: Use the distance modifiers for Regular spells instead of long-distance modifiers. However, do not use this modifier for determining whether the success roll is a critical failure.

Notes: As written, this spells would quickly allow characters to find every significant gold, silver, mithral etc. deposit for many miles around, which would make for rather drastic changes in how prospecting and mining works in fantasy world. With Regular distance modifiers, it's still useful for detecting if there is any undiscovered gold treasure nearby, but it won't break the economy. The additional clause was needed because otherwise critical failures would occur almost constantly if no amount of the desired material is nearby.

Earth to Stone/Create Earth: As a clarification, the "Permanent" duration of these spells mean that their effects remain magical after casting - and that a "Dispel Magic" or similar effect can end them and a no-mana zone will suspend them. Additionally, if some of the magical earth or stone is broken off or otherwise removed from the bulk of the material, it loses its magical properties - transformed stone will revert into earth, and created earth will dissipate into nothing.

Notes: Create Earth is probably one of the most controversial spells in the spell list due to its ability to quickly produce metal or stoneworks and thus disrupt the economy, but I find that by thinking about the implications of its "Permanent" duration most issues can be resolved. The "no removal of the material" clause was added to further reduce their usefulness for craftsmanship.

Enchantment Spells

Talisman/Amulet: By doubling the energy cost, the provided bonus will work against all spells of an entire College.

Notes: As written, a resistance bonus against a single spell is so specific as to be almost useless, considering the sheer number of spells out there.

Penetrating Weapon: This enchantment is unavailable.

Notes: In typical fantasy campaigns, an Armor Divisor of (2) is almost always better than Puissance +1. It would be different if Hardened armor was more common, but pretty much no fantasy creatures or armor published so far has it. Rather than retrofit Hardened DR to existing creatures, it is probably best to eliminate the Penetrating Weapon enchantment.

Powerstone: Powerstones can recharge even when in close proximity to each other. However, they can only provide energy if used as "dedicated" or "exclusive" powerstones - i.e., when combined with a magic item - and never directly provide energy for the spells of a spellcaster. For an alternative, see the "Power Item" advantage at the bottom.

Notes: While the reasoning between the "powerstones cannot recharge within six feet of a larger powerstone" limitation is understandable, in the end it causes too much bookkeeping and too much keeping track of sleeping arrangements and the like. The Power Item advantage should be easier to keep track of.

Fire Spells

Resist Fire/Resist Cold: Instead of providing complete immunity to their respective element, they give the target DR 4 against that element per energy point put into the spell (half to maintain).

Notes: The core GURPS 4E rules have moved away from "complete immunity" effects, and so should spell effects.

Explosive Fireball: The damage decreases by 1d for each yard of distance from the center.

Notes: See Concussion, above.

Healing Spells

Lend Energy/Share Energy/Recover Energy: These only work for a spellcaster's Energy Reserve. A "Lend Fatigue" spell also exists (which might be limited to priest types).

Notes: It always struck me as inappropriate that mages recover Fatigue much more quickly than seasoned warriors - but then again, GURPS Magic was written before the Energy Reserve advantage was published. The way I see it, an experienced mage will primarily draw upon their Energy Reserve and use Fatigue only when the Energy Reserve is getting depleted.

Suspended Animation: Any injury will wake the character.

Notes: Considering that the spell only costs 6 energy points, there should be some mundane countermeasure.

Illusion Spells

Create Warrior: Add 1 energy to the cost to cast and maintain in order to give the warrior a full set of leather armor (DR 2) as well either a shortsword and a small shield, or a shortbow. Add 2 energy to the cost to cast and maintain in order to give the warrior a full set of scale armor (DR 4) as well as either a broadsword and a medium shield, or a longbow. The GM can permit other weapon and armor combinations for suitable energy costs.

Notes: While the basic idea of the spell is neat, needing to equip the warrior in addition to the lengthy casting time makes it almost useless in a fight.

Knowledge Spells

Aura: A spell called "Psychometry" exists which works the same as Aura, except that it examines the psychic impressions and emotional associations of an inanimate object or place.

Notes: I found the absence of such a spell a curious oversight - while "History" comes close, it doesn't fulfill the same function. And what's the point of playing a diviner if you can't say things like: "I get baaad vibes from this place..."?

Making and Breaking Spells

Explode: The fragmentation damage of the spell is [1d] ([1d+2] for double energy cost) regardless of the number of damage dice dealt to the initial object. Furthermore, the damage dealt by the individual fragments cannot exceed half of the hit points of the destroyed object, rounded down (see the "HP and DR of Objects and Cover" table on B557). As a clarification, the maximum range of the fragments depends on the damage dice dealt to the destroyed object (compare with the fragmentation damage rules on B414) - that is, five yards times the damage dice.

Notes: In my previous campaigns we assumed that the damage dealt by the fragments was equal to the damage dealt to the object. As a result, Explode was basically the IED spell, perfect for slaughtering small armies - a favorite was to combine it with Delay on a small object and then teleport it into an enemy camp. However, after re-reading the rules for fragmentation damage I noticed that explosives that cause it generally have separate damage values for the direct hit and the fragments, and applying that principle to this spell gives much more reasonable effects - although the spell is still very useful for injuring lots of people. The damage limitation based on the exploding object's hit points was added in order to prevent the old "exploding pebble" trick.

For your convenience, I have created a table showing the correlation between the effective skill of the fragment and the average number of hits. The distances assume a SM 0 target that is not prone or behind cover.

Meta Spells

Counterspell, Great Ward, Reflect, Suspend Spell, Ward: These benefit from the "Improved Counterspelling" perk, described below.

Mind Control Spells

Wisdom: Replace the "always on" item with: "Any item. Allows the wearer to cast the spell on himself. Energy cost to create: 2,000."

Notes: See the discussion about Vigor/Grace/Might earlier.

Movement Spells

Levitation: If cast on himself, it limits the caster's Dodge as if his Speed was 3.00. A "Dodge and Drop" is possible at the caster's normal Dodge, but it cancels the Levitation spell (costing the usual 1 FP in the process, as well as possibly causing falling damage).

Notes: The spell description doesn't specify this, but it makes sense that a relatively slow and clumsy flight spell like Levitation would hamper a character's Dodge.

Wallwalker: Cost changes to "1 per 100 pounds, half that to maintain". Furthermore, the -2 penalty to combat can be bought off for individual combat skills as a Hard technique.

Notes: It wasn't clear why Wallwalker should be more expensive than Levitation, despite Levitation being more versatile - so I made Wallwalker cheaper.

Lockmaster: This spell specifically disables magical locks and does not assist with opening mundane locks.

Notes: Otherwise it would make mundane Lockpicking skills redundant, which would be boring.

Necromancy Spells

Steal Energy: This spell works on characters' Energy Reserve. A "Steal Fatigue" variant exist which drains Fatigue.

Zombie: As a clarification, despite what M10 implies, this spell does not have a "Permanent" duration and Dispel Magic doesn't destroy zombies - instead it effectively has an "Instant" duration which just happens to create a new magical creature. Corpses reanimated with this spell gain the "Brawling" skill equal to their DX, if they don't have it already. Furthermore, a "Dread Zombie" variant spell exists with a base cost of 30 which adds +3 ST, +2 HP and +2 DR to the relevant template. Such undead have their appearance altered by the stronger necromantic energies - glowing eyes, black mists surrounding their bones, and so forth.

Notes: As zombies and their ilk are undead abominations hating all life, I find it appropriate to give them some actual skill in combat for free. The "Dread Zombie" variant spell is intended if a necromancer has access to some special corpses of powerful people - say, dead adventurers - which would be wasted on an ordinary Zombie spell.

Banish: A successful roll with an appropriate Hidden Lore skill should give the caster a good idea of the approximate casting cost for this spell on a particular entity.

Plant Spells

Heal Plant: This works only on inanimate and non-sapient plants - for other types of plants the spells of the Healing College are required.

Notes: By the rules as written you could cast Plant Form Other on someone and turn them into a tree, cast Heal Plant on them, and once the former spell ends they are completely healed, no matter how badly injured or diseased they were before! Only the general reluctance of the player characters to spend any time as a tree prevented this trick from being used more often in my old campaign.

Protection & Warning Spells

Missile Shield: Instead of providing complete immunity from missiles, this spell reduces the effective skill of the attacker by -1 for each energy point put into the spell, up to a maximum of five energy points. Half to maintain.

Notes: Missile Shield, as written, is possibly the spell I hate the most - it represents the most absurd "total immunity" effect available, and combined with a Levitation or Flight spell makes the caster completely immune to any mundane reprisals from the ground. The new version is still very useful (and doesn't require the mage to be aware of the attack, as it should be), but the mage still shouldn't taunt an entire battalion of archers, or a master marksman.

Water Spells

Resist Acid: Instead of providing complete immunity, the spell provides DR 4 against acid damage for each energy point put into the spell. Half that to maintain

Weather Spells

Resist Lightning: Instead of providing complete immunity, the spell provides DR 4 against electricity damage for each energy point put into the spell. Half that to maintain.

Explosive Lightning: The damage is reduced by 1d-1 for each yard of distance from the center of the explosion.

Ball of Lightning: The damage is reduced by 1d-1 for each yard of distance from the center of the explosion.

New Advantage - Power Item

A spellcaster can dedicate one item he owns as a Power Item. This is essentially an Energy Reserve (see GURPS Powers, p. 119) with appropriate Gadget limitations (B116), as well as any other limitations the GM permits. The exact form of the Power Item depends on the style and preference of the spellcaster (a wand for a wizard, a holy symbol for a priest and so forth), but the maximum amount of energy a Power Item can hold depends on its mundane value, as outlined on p. 28 of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers. However, unlike the Dungeon Fantasy variant, this type of Power Item will recharge on its own according to the usual rules for Energy Reserves (take note of the Slow Recharge/Special Recharge on p. 119 of GURPS Powers). If the spellcaster has an "internal" Energy Reserve of his own, this internal reserve will always recharge first.

Notes: As outlined earlier, this is intended to replace classical powerstones as a reserve of energy. The Dungeon Fantasy notion of linking the maximum capacity of the item to its mundane value is a good one, but forcing the caster to return to town in order to recharge it doesn't sit quite right with me. Furthermore, adding new limitations to the Power Item can be used for some interesting concepts. Want a Power Item which has to be bathed in the blood of sacrificial victims in order to be recharged? Now you can!

New Magic Perk

Improved Counterspelling: This perk can be taken once for each College of magic, and requires that the character knows six spells from that college. A spellcaster with this perk can use Counterspell, Great Ward, Reflect, Suspend Spell and Ward for all spells of this college, whether the caster knows the spells being affected or not.

Notes: Needing to know the individual spells that need to be countered is a huge weakness of the assorted warding/counterspelling spells. This perk should make them significantly more useful without being unbalancing.