Words of Power for Simpler Games

Thanks and a Link to Recap

I owe a debt to both Keith J Davies and CTP from Giant in the Playground. CTP provided a wonderful guide to WoP in 2013. Keith shared a lot of good thoughts to my post on MeWe. Unfortunately, there is not a good way to link to my post there. (There is no API for posting, either, but that's a story for another time.)

My previous post on the Words of Power system is here.

Keith Always Has Great Ideas

Keith brought up a very good point that the HERO System does a very good job of building powers and could be a useful guide. He suggested changing the Effect Words around Acid, Fire, and Lightning to have certain advantages and limitations. This allows a spellcaster using those words to think carefully about the words being used and not just make Fireball with Complications spells. Here's what he said:

So, lightning might have armor-piercing (in D&D/PF, perhaps a bonus to the save DC), acid is uncontrolled (i.e. does damage for a brief time after the initial attack... fire could work here, but acid arrow exists as precedent), fire might be inherently explosive (does diminishing damage around the target... or in this case, is always an area effect -- small, unless overridden), and so on.

Limitations, lightning might have a side effect or backlash (caster takes damage), acid... dunno offhand, fire might have decreased accuracy (always uses the grenade tables), and so on.

I really like this for a number of reasons. One is that keeping a larger number of Words to use creates more interesting combinations. Another is that by saying that an energy has advantages and drawbacks, the system as a whole encouraging more thoughtful spells and provides a real choice to compare specializing in an energy type or using all of them.

I Do Not Always Have Great Ideas

One of the goals of using Words of Power as some kind of framework to create spells is to make it simpler. However, the system is not difficult now and I've been given advice that would make building certain spells interesting. I'm also concerned that making effects simple makes spells bland. This conflicts with another goal to make spells interesting.

So in the face of so many good things, I'm going to attempt to go a different path.

I love spells that go beyond different ways to damage a target or targets. However, I want to start with them because they feel easier to explain. I'll get into relative values and spell levels later; bear with me to work through the effects. The effects will be fairly generic at first with an ability to specialize and fine tune the spell later.

The Energy Spells

To simplify the Effect Words that center around damage, I generalize damaging spells to 1d6 damage per spellcaster level (max 10d6). Wall spells do 1d8 damage plus the level of the spellcaster to anyone running through the wall (Max 10 points).

This provides two effects words instead of 10: Energy Blast and Energy Wall.

I also want to add another, Energy Weapon. This creates a weapon that does 1d4 damage and lasts a number of rounds equal to the spellcaster's level. The shape of the weapon is irrevelant, it provides a way for a spellcaster to create a temporary magic item that can help the caster or anothe member of the party to temporarily do a specific type of energy damage.

I'll talk about boosts later, but I did want to mention that one of the Meta Words will boost an energy spells by increasing the die type. I plan to use Keith's Dice Progression. (I told you he has good ideas.)

The Change/Enhance/Modify Spells

The Change effect words in WoP focus on partial or full transformations into a beast. The type of beasts are not stated, but based on the effects available to choose, it is obvious that there is a serpentine form, an avian form, and a feline form. Change spells can also increase Armor Class and grant abilities like trip, swimming, darkvision, etc.

To simplify this, the limitation of a partial or total transformation spell effect can only use a creature actually encountered, not researched, but the spellcaster. I'm not ashamed to say that this was inspired by the Wild Kratts. Despite tons of research, the brothers gain no creature powers without fur, feather, or some small sample of an animal. (They traveled in time to gain the powers of a Dodo bird, but that's another story.)

The original WoP has three change effects, but I will name them Modify spells instead and there will be five.

Modify Body Gain the Strength, Dexterity, Constitution or one physical characteristic.
Modify Mind Gain the Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma or memories.
Modify Shape Gain the form, not the special abilities
Modify Soul Be transformed into the target with special abilities
Modify Ability Gain a special ability of the target

Again, there must be an encounter with a creature and a sample taken before these take effect. If your 3rd level spellcaster survived getting a sample of a dragon, congratualtions.

Part Two Coming Later

I'm over 1000 words, so I'll leave off here. More about Divination and Armor spells next time.

 

Mind Flayer Alternative

If you need Mind Flayers with an extra dose of creepiness, use the Phrenic Scourge. I run Spelljammer with these substituted for Mind Flayers and it makes a big difference.

For one, you cannot read their mind because it's not one mind but many. You aren't going to win a psionic battle with these space slugs because you are vastly outnumbered already.

They are straight-up alien. No two will be exactly alike. They leave madness in their wake.

As a GM, I feel the inner Bwa Ha Ha every time I include one of these. Go and do likewise. 🙂

15. COPYRIGHT NOTICE

Open Game License v 1.0, Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich Baker, Andy Collins, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

Unearthed Arcana Copyright 2004, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Andy Collins, Jesse Decker, David Noonan, Rich Redman
The Iconic Bestiary: Classics of Fantasy Copyright 2005, Lions Den Press; Author Ari Marmell

The Grand OGL Wiki, http://grandwiki.wikidot.com Copyright 2008-2011 Purple Duck Games; Authors: Mark Gedak, Alex Schroeder, Joel Arellano, George Fields, Yair Rezek, Mike Whalen, Shane O'Connor, Mike Rickard, John Whamond, Bill Browne, Eric Williamson, Slatz Grubnik, Charles R. Wenzler Jr, John Fraser, Jonathon Thompson, Thomas Boxall.

These guys make a perfect foil to Mind Flayers. Best of all, they are OGL!

Magic-User Options

The featured image was created by Luigi Castellani. His patreon is here, go support him. He is anextremely talented artist and writer.

In four older  posts, I covered tweaks to the standard Magic-User. For convenience, they are listed below:

By popular request, a fifth link is provided that deals with the Turn Undead table.

Using the Turn Undead table

The premises for these posts were simple:

  • A class feels different when the mechanics are different.
  • The spell table is the primary limiting factor.
  • House rule: The standard Magic-User can create scrolls for 100gp per spell level. The process takes a number of days equal to the spell level.

Looking back on these posts, one theme stands out. A different mechanic creates an unreliable spellcaster. When the success is not automatic, like with the standard Magic-User, other things are needed to make the class worthwhile. Here are the pieces so far:

  • Creating a spell focus that can guarantee spell casting success without a roll.
  • Creating amulets that allow for the Best 2 out of 3 rolling for success.
  • Minor counterspell ability that costs highest available spell slot.
  • Creating Mnemonics that allow the spellcaster to keep the spell slot in case of failure.
  • Gaining lucky numbers that always grant success when rolled.
  • Creating magic items that guarantee a range of die rolls will result in a successfully cast spell.
  • Minor hex ability based on the Prayer spell.

What can we do with these pieces? Quite a bit.

Campaign Ideas

One way to use these four variant magic-users is to have a campaign world that doesn't have the standard Magic-User. All spellcasters are unreliable, but each type searches/fabricates items that help them make magic more reliable.

I could see this in a Swords & Sorcery type of setting where the four different types of magic-users would have evocative names. The Red Hand, Disciples of the Path, The Feeders, etc. I'm partial to the name I gave the Chainmail spellcasters, the magic-eaters. I could also see where each type is distrustful of the other three. It provides a built-in backstory for the magic-user in the party.

Another campaign idea would put the standard Magic-User as high mages with the other three considered hedge mages. The academics could laugh at a preoccupation with numbers or making charts while they study real magic.

Parts is Parts

Take a mechanic you like:

  • Saving Throw
  • Chainmail (2d6 + m-u level/2 greater than or equal to 7)
  • Percentages
  • Custom charts
  • Turn Undead table

Decide the consequences of failure:

  • Retain spell slot
  • Lose spell slot

Decide how the unreliable spellcaster can increase his chances:

  • Make something to guarantee success
  • Make something to increase the odds of success

Determine, if necessary, how making something increases your chances of success:

  • Add an extra dice
  • A magic item create a specific number that when rolled is always successful
  • A range of results as success

If they make something to increase the odds of success without guaranteeing success, choose a minor ability:

  • Counterspell
  • Hex
  • Mnemonics (Save spell slots at spell failure)

Viola! You have a tweaked class that uses the same tables for spell slots and advancement. There are many different combinations available just for these limited options. A minor ability is roughly based on 2nd level spells or weakened 3rd level spells. I would avoid spells that do damage, but instead choose spells like Locate Object, Mirror Image, a weakened Monster Summoning I, or Rope Trick.

That's it for now, the next post will be about my favorite OGL alternative to the Mind Flayer and then moving to more thoughts about the Words of Power Hack I've been working on.