He’s Doing It Again!

If you’ve been following my Tweets, you know that last week I sent out invites to my game group for a new Dresden Files RPG campaign. I sent invitations to 11 folks, telling them all that the limit for the game was 6 people. I had all the slots filled within 36 hours.

Now, one of the reasons I sent the invite out to so many people is that I wanted to fill the slots fast; I’m terribly excited about starting a new DFRPG campaign. And I wanted to make sure that all the players who helped with the playtest – plus a couple of others – got invited.

It’s a weird experience for me, inviting players into a campaign at this stage. Usually, I have a pretty solid idea of the world and the big themes before I send an invitation to people, and I usually have an information packet ranging from 2 to 10 pages outlining things. I still sent an information package, but it was more about what I expected in the way of pregame, setting-building participation. It said this:

Okay, folks, you knew this was coming. This is your official invitation to join my Dresden Files RPG campaign. Now, before you get all excited, I’m setting some ground rules and expectations, so read this whole document first before you jump in with a commitment.

The Basics

  • I want to run this game quorum-style, so that we play as long as a minimum number of players can make it.
  • I don’t want players to have to double-up on characters, so if you can’t make it to a session, your character will not participate.
  • To help facilitate this, I’m going to be doing my best to keep things to bite-sized chunks, so that we don’t end a session in a circumstance where your character needs to be there for the next game, nor one where it is unlikely that a character could join the next session.
  • That said, I don’t want to have things quite as episodic as the Hunter game. I would like more of an opportunity to build in longer storylines that span multiple sessions.

Expectations

These are the things I want to do to establish the game. I would like every player to participate. This will pretty much happen in the order listed.

  • Establish Power Level. There are four different power levels, and I want the group as a whole to choose which one we’re going to use. They are:
    • Feet in the Water: 6 refresh, 20 skill points, skill cap at Great. Enhanced mortal level. You can do stuff even the best of humanity cannot, but only barely.
    • Up to Your Waist: 7 refresh, 25 skill points, skill cap at Great. Low-level supernatural level. You may be a magical being, but you’re not big fish. This is where you can start playing a Sorcerer.
    • Chest Deep: 8 refresh, 30 skill points, skill cap at Superb. Minor-league powers, but at least you’re in the league. This is where you can start playing a Wizard.
    • Submerged: 10 refresh, 35 skill points, skill cap at Superb. Welcome to the show. This is the level we playtested, and is about the level of Harry Dresden at the beginning of Storm Front.
  • Pick a Setting. Where do we want to set the game? Winnipeg? Chicago? Baltimore? Another city? A rural setting? Road game? The Nevernever? I want the group to decide this. Everything is on the table: modern, historical, futuristic, sci-fi, whatever.
  • Build the Setting. I want to go through the city-building method in the book to develop the setting to a playable level. Even if we choose to play in Magical Winnipeg, I still want to go through the new method, even if we use a lot of the same material. For that, I need all the players to do a little prep work.
    • First, read the City Creation chapter in Your Story.
    • Second, do a little thinking about the setting we’ve picked. Make some notes, if you like.
    • Third, come to the city creation session, and we’ll put together the setting following the guidelines in the rules.
  • Build Characters. Character creation will take place in a group session, complete with all phases and the novels being done.
    • Make sure you have a solid character concept in mind, and have looked at the kinds of stunts and powers you will need to make it work. Of course, I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions before and during the session.
    • I am also going to be building two characters as NPCs, so that they have some tie to the PCs.
    • I would like to encourage anyone who is interested to build a second character during this session as an NPC. These characters will belong to me, and become canon in the game world.
  • Finish Up. Once the character creation session is done, we’ll likely need one more group session to finish off the setting creation and allow for any last-minute character adjustments.

Why all this blather?

I want to make sure that you realize, before committing to the game, that I want a fair bit of up-front work from the players to help establish the game. I’m looking at a minimum of an e-mail discussion to set the power level and the basic setting, one group session to build the setting, one group session for character creation, and one follow-up group session to finalize everything.

This is more group involvement than I usually ask for at the start of a campaign, but the way DFRPG is set up, this kind of thing will pay off in a much richer, more tailored campaign, with plenty of things tying the PCs to the world and the NPCs. It will also, I hope, create a greater emotional investment for the players, which will make the game more involving for all of you.

This prep work is taking the place of The Bribeâ„¢ for this campaign.

What’s next?

Read what I’ve written here and, if you want in and are willing to make the commitment I’m asking for, let me know. First six positive responses get in, but I’ll run with as few as three. Deadline for responses is October 1 – if I haven’t heard from you by then, I will consider that a no.

The last page of the invitation was a list of links to articles on this blog and on the DFRPG site about the game that I thought would be useful information.

We’re starting with a discussion about the power level and setting for the game, and brainstorming some character ideas. To facilitate this, I’ve set up a forum. Now, if you’re curious to watch the sausage of the game getting made, you’re welcome to visit the forum as a guest and read the posts; however, I’m only going to be activating accounts for the players and maybe one or two special outsiders, just to keep the conversations uncluttered. Don’t be offended if you try to register for the board and I turn you down.

Still interested in seeing what we’re doing? Okay. Here’s the link.

I’m really looking forward to the game. I can’t wait to see where it’s set and what it’s about.

Fearful Symmetries: The Stag Moat

Friday night was the latest installment of the Fearful Symmetries game.

Emeric and Izabela decided to continue to focus on the person who stuck the knife in Izabela’s door. The only name they really had was Giaccomo Malvora, a White Court nobleman from Naples who was reputed to hunt Jeleni Prikop – the Stag Moat – for the remnants of Rudolf’s menageries that were said to run loose there.

So, they went snooping after Giaccomo Malvora.

Amadan warned them that what was going on looked like the power games that are played by followers of the Hunter, an aspect of the Erlking, and that the encounter the pair had had with the Erlking had marked them as rivals and targets. He also said that, if it was Giaccomo Malvora behind this, that his sister, Lukrezia, the head of the household, would not take kindly to it. Though coming to her attention was probably not a good idea – the Hussites who had thrown the Imperial emissaries out of the window a few months back had been spending some time in Lukrezia’s company, and look what that got everyone.

The plan the heroes came up with was to go into the Stag Moat and try and turn the tables on Giaccomo, or whoever it was hunting them.

This decision came after some substantial time debating, investigating, and preparing, and I’m always glad to see the players caring enough about the game that they do agonize a little over the options and mysteries. The upshot of things, though, is that they didn’t have enough solid information to unravel all the questions, and eventually opted to take action regardless. I’m even gladder when this happens, because nothing drags a game’s energy down like endless dithering and navel-gazing.

It’s a fine line to walk – as a GM, I’ve got to make sure that the mystery is intriguing enough that they puzzle at it, and that the stakes are high enough that they take it seriously. At the same time, I have to make sure that there’s enough time pressure that they are prompted to act, or that the stakes aren’t so high that they refuse to budge before exhausting every conceivable option. The ideal kind of feeling I want when the characters finally put a plan into motion is the essence of the scene in season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just as the gang heads out to face down Glory and rescue Dawn. They’ve done all they can reasonably do, and they just pray it’s enough*.

So, into the Stag Moat, with all their preparations.

Now, at this point, I wasn’t sure how this whole thing was going to go. I knew what was going on, and who was behind it, and so forth, but the characters hadn’t uncovered the full picture. When they headed into the Stag Moat, I needed to come up with a satisfying way to wrap up this immediate storyline, though I wanted to make sure there were enough dangling threads that they could eventually come back and find out the deeper secrets*. I decided to make it a gauntlet that they had to run, to prove themselves against the one who had challenged them. And, as all literary challenges must, it had three phases.

The first was a huge bowman in camouflage who almost got Izabela with a javelin-sized arrow. They managed to capture him alive, but he could give them little information, because his tongue had been cut out. They took his weapons and told him to leave the park, which he was only too happy to do.

The second was a larger pack of the nasty, warped hounds they had fought earlier. They wrapped these up fairly quickly, despite the fact that I had the hounds team up and attack in a coordinated manner, using maneuvers to try and bring down the characters. Izabela’s amazing roll on her whirlwind evocation kept them bouncing around in the air with no hope of escape while Emeric roasted them one by one.

Oh. There was also a deadfall trap that destroyed Izabela’s conjured horse, which slowed them down and bottled them up enough for the hounds to make their initial attack.

The last opponent was Giaccomo Malvora, who stalked the characters through the woods, using his Incite Emotion power to make them more and more nervous*. When they finally spotted him, they made very short work, with Izabela binding him up in the spirits of the animals he had killed, and Emeric unleashing the sword Beortning and using it to skewer the White Court Vampire, pinning him to the earth.

As they were questioning the poor, shrieking, burning fellow, another man showed up. He told the characters to let the vampire live, and things pretty much went downhill from there. Emeric got pissy when the fellow didn’t feel that he was in Emeric’s debt for letting the vampire live (the guy explained that it was for the sake of Emeric and Izabela that he made the suggestion), and Izabela got pissy when the man didn’t seem to want to help defend Prague.

The stranger told them that the hunt was over, and gave them each an old stone arrowhead on a leather thong as a trophy. He also told them that he was not the one who challenged them. Izabela asked for the name of the one who had, and was told it was Konstantin Arkady. When Emeric pushed the point of how he had let Giaccomo live as a favour to the man, he tore out the vampire’s heart and ate it, saying again that the favour was his advice to Emeric, not Emeric sparing the vampire.

At this point, Emeric threw the arrowhead on the ground, saying that if the man wasn’t going to honour his debts, then he wanted nothing from him. The stranger said, “That’s the third time you’ve insulted me. You’ve got one chance to take it back.” Emeric declined, and the fellow said, “You’ve got one month to kill me. If you don’t do it in that time, I will come and kill you.”

As a GM, I knew that things would come to a bad end. In fact, I had planned it. See, Emeric is very much the alpha-male, in the best Norse traditions. He never backs down or admits to losing an argument. If you want to put him in his place, you need to put him in his place. Physically. So, I know that whenever I throw another alpha-male into the mix, if that character isn’t instantly and obviously waaaay out of Emeric’s league (Odin) or outside of his circle (Zuckerbastl, Amiel), there will be a fight.

So this guy not showing any obvious power and interfering in Emeric’s life was guaranteed to get a fight going. I wasn’t sure if the fight was going to happen there or not – I was hoping not, but ready if it was going to happen – but I knew that this would generate an enmity that would need to be resolved.

And that enmity is one more tie into the game world for our characters’ emotions.

That’s pretty much where we left it. I gave the characters a significant milestone, and I look forward to seeing what they plan to do next. I know Izabela has had some interesting ideas about the curse on Gold Lane, and they now have the name Konstantin Arkady to look into. There’s still the dangling Petrunas Cult storyline hanging around*, too, and some other things I’ve got on the back burners.

Another fun game.

 
 
 

*Giles: We few, we happy few…
Spike: We band of buggered. Back

*Which I’m not going to talk about here. Back

*I basically cribbed the stats for Lara Raith, and made a couple minor changes on the fly to reflect that Giaccomo’s a hunter in 1620 Prague. And a dude. Back

*Well, not really hanging around, because things have been happening, but the characters don’t know about them, yet. Back

Fearful Symmetries: Complications

Last Friday was the latest episode of the Fearful Symmetries campaign. I did things a little differently than I often do in the game, trying to achieve a specific kind of effect. I don’t know how successful it was; we all had fun, but I felt that maybe I hadn’t provided enough focus and direction.

What was this big change? Well, we’ve been playing for several sessions, now, and the characters are having more of an impact on the setting. In the past couple of scenarios specifically, they managed to get themselves marked by doing a couple of impressive things: bringing the Wild Hunt back to the world for a night, and traveling to Asgard to talk to Odin. I figured that these things would leave a sort of mystical mark on them, making them a little more obvious and visible to others in Prague who could perceive such things.

So, what I did was look at the write-up we had done for Prague, and see who might be interested in such things. I found two specific groups and, rather than picking one, I decided to have both groups come sniffing around for different reasons, and with very different styles. And because some of the things unfolded over time, I wanted to give the players plenty of opportunity to pursue their characters’ agendas in the meantime.

Anway. We picked up pretty much immediately after the attack by the warped dogs on White Mountain, with the characters heading back down into Prague, keeping a sharp eye out for other attacks. Once Izabela was safely behind her wards, Emeric went to the Goblin’s Brewery, and had an interesting discussion with Amadan, where he learned that Amadan could tell that Emeric had been to the Mittelmarch and had a brush with the Erlking. I was glad of this opportunity to dump a little information on the characters about their current visible status, and so was grateful that Emeric had chosen to go talk to someone who would know about it. With this information, Izabela whipped up a specialized veil to mask their magical signatures, and they went about their business.

Emeric has been working on building up a network of contacts and information in the city, so he went on with that, spending some time with Captain Amiel and his men, keeping those ties tight. Izabela finally found another mortal practitioner in Prague: a down-on-his-luck alchemist named Aurelius. She also found the powerful curse on Gold Lane, and had a chat with Rabbi Cohen about it.

During this, Emeric spotted a falcon watching him from time to time. His Lore check told him it was a natural bird with some sort of enchantment on it, so he devised a cunning plan to capture it – which failed, unfortunately; it’s hard to catch a falcon in a city using your hands and a cloak.

The characters also got an invitation to meet with a young nobleman named Evzen, who revealed himself to be a member of the secret Petrunas cult that meets on Petrin’s Hill. He wanted the assistance of the pair to help lend credibility to the cult, setting it up as a viable and attractive alternative to Christianity in the current troubled times. Specifically, he wanted to know what they could tell him of the Dooms, and to open the Rainbow Bridge for him. Emeric was somewhat sympathetic to the man’s desires – Petrunas is a local cognate of Thor – but Izabela was very concerned that Evzen seemed to know so much about them, and wouldn’t agree to anything unless Evzen agreed to reveal the source of his information. In private conversation, she told Emeric that she was certainly willing to help the cult, despite her fairly devout Catholicism, but that she could not let the fact that someone knew who she was and that they had been to Asgard go uninvestigated.

Evzen was, however, bound by his oaths to the cult, and said he could not reveal the source of his information. He said that he would speak to his fellows, and see if a meeting could be arranged to satisfy Izabela’s concerns. He said he would contact them in a day or two.

The next day, Izabela went back to Gold Lane to study the curse there, and Emeric made the rounds of his contacts, looking for information on the dogs which had attacked them. He turned up some rumours of dangerous creatures in the local parks, especially Jeleni Prikop, and found someone who told him that there had been a number of disappearances around there, and that Giaccomo Malvora, a rather brash young Italian nobleman, was known to go hunting in the dangerous parks. Izabela told him later that the Malvoras were White Court Vampires who fed on fear.

Emeric also found himself watched by dogs that day. Not large, warped ones, but not the scruffy mongrels that frequented the streets of Prague, either. These were well-cared-for hunting beasts. He managed to snag a few hairs from one of them, and brought them to Izabela to try and find out who was sending the beasts to spy on them.

Izabela managed to reach back through the mystic link from the dog to a powerful, feral force that seemed as much beast as man. I hit the player with a compel at that point, suggesting that she use her Sight to get a real good look at whatever it was. She did so, and saw a powerful man wrapped in many animal skins, holding the leashes of a vast hunting pack, with a pile of animal carcasses behind him. Over them all was the shadow of the Erlking.

As she came out of her Sight-induced trance, there was a loud thud at the door of her rooms. When they opened up, they found a huge hunting knife driven deep into the wood of the door, and no one around. They took a few seconds for Izabela to weave a compass ritual around the knife, so it would lead them to the one who had wielded it, and then took to the streets. They were told on the street, when they asked, that a hawk had flown out of the building shortly before the characters came out, and they followed the pull of the knife down to the Vltava, where the trail was lost. They tried to cross the Charles Bridge and pick up the trail on the other side, but as they passed beneath the Old Town Tower, the mystical defenses that the Templars had placed there to ward the bridge against Saracen magic unwove the finding spell and turned the knife red-hot.

They went back down to the river’s edge and Izabela tried to speak to the ghosts there to find out what had happened – they assumed that the hawk was a shapeshifter who had flown into the river to rinse away any connection to the knife, but they wanted confirmation. The ghosts who appeared to Izabela were all fighting men armed with spears and shields, arrayed along the riverbank, and they would not answer her questions, saying that the Queen was the only one who could. Izabela asked to speak with the Queen, and face formed out of the waves and told Izabela that yes, a hawk had flown down into the water, and then flown away again.

Now, the characters are very concerned about this fellow looking for them, and also are starting to get concerned that they haven’t heard back from Evzen yet. I figured that was a good place to leave things, with them trying to think of a way to track down this shapeshifter with ties to the Erlking.

As I said, the session was a little muddled and unfocused, but I hope I haven’t confused things too much. We’ll find out next session.

Look What I Can Do: Mortal Stunts in DFRPG

I’ve noticed, both in the playtest and in my Fearful Symmetries campaign, that players have a tendency to overlook the Mortal Stunts chapter of the rules when building their characters, unless they’re building a pure mortal character. It’s easy to get distracted by the shiny Supernatural Powers and dump all your Refresh there, but overlooking Mortal Stunts may be a mistake.

Stunts are a great way to customize a character, and build on a theme, creating a unique set of abilities that are dependent on the character’s skills, rather than on any mystical powers. They can grant you wonderful little tricks that no one else can do, or turn a useful skill into a powerhouse for you. And they can augment pretty much anything else that your character does, whether mundane or supernatural.

But people still overlook them, or dismiss them.

There are two main reasons for this, I think. The first is that whole bit about getting distracted by the Supernatural Powers. It’s easy to spend your entire Refresh budget in that chapter, so why look anywhere else. The second reason is that the stunt chapter, while it has a few sample stunts*, the strong recommendation of the book is that you build your own, and that can be a little daunting.

So, let’s see what I can do to up the profile of Mortal Stunts.

Stunt Appeal

Why should my Wizard consider taking a stunt rather than a point of Refinement? Why spend a point of Refresh on a stunt when I can get a Cloak of Shadows for my mystic ninja? If I can have Wings, why should I instead buy a stunt?

This is all going to come down to character concept, of course. But the tension is less between cool and not-cool than it is between learned coolness and inherent coolness. Most of the Supernatural Powers are a product of what you are, while stunts are a product of what you made of yourself.* I like to look at my character creation phases and see what neat things my character may have learned to do in the mundane framework – somehow, it just makes the character more rounded and believable to me.

But aside from the character concept aesthetic, stunts can grant some fabulous synergies with Supernatural Powers. Examples? How about a stunt to give a spellcaster an extra minor Mental consequence? Or to give a werewolf a bonus to Athletics when in wolf form? Suddenly, you’ve increased the effectiveness of your Supernatural Powers by essentially saying that you’ve practiced with them.

And, of course, you can use them to round out the non-supernatural parts of your character. Harry’s got his Listening stunt which, though it’s not as useful to his magic, really shines when he’s acting the PI. Carlos has a stunt that helps him out as a Warden, but not so much as a Wizard. Susan has a stunt leftover from her time as a reporter that helps her track down information. And Ronald Reuel, the former Summer Knight, had an Art Historian stunt that represented his day job.

In general, Mortal Stunts give you that little extra – and reliable – oomph to put into your character. They’re worth a look.

Building Stunts

Building stunts is very much an art, rather than a science. There are some basic guidelines:

  • Stunts are all based around skills.
  • Stunts can either add a new trapping to a skill, or expand an existing trapping.
  • All stunts are circumstantial – i.e., they work in limited circumstances.
  • The basic power level of a stunt is the equivalent of a +2 shift.
  • Power level shifts down if the circumstances are very broad or are an attack.
  • Stacking stunts gives diminishing returns.

Now, those guidelines are pretty loose, and allow for a lot of creativity. That also means that you’re going to have to do some negotiation with the GM during the process, and there may be a little back-and-forth until the stunt is what you want it to be. When I build stunts, I go through a pretty simple process:

  1. Decide what effect I want in the stunt. Not mechanically, but flavour-wise. Do I want to be able to survive homeless on the streets? Or to be world’s leading expert on Anglo-Saxon riddles?
  2. Decide what skill it relates to. The first one is probably going to be Survival, and the second one is probably Scholarship, just for example.
  3. Figure out if it’s a new trapping or an expanded trapping. Living on the streets is going to be a new trapping for Survival, while Anglo-Saxon riddles is going to be an expanded trapping for Scholarship.
  4. Decide on the mechanics. New trappings are easy – you just use the skill for something other than what is already listed in the skill description – this pretty much defines the circumstances of use. Expanded trappings mean you have to determine the bonus and the circumstances. So, for the street survival, the mechanics are that it allows you to use Survival for scavenging in urban environment. The Anglo-Saxon riddle thing can be modeled very easily using the Occultist stunt under Lore – a +1 bonus to riddles, with an extra +1 if they’re of Anglo-Saxon origin.
  5. Pick a good name. You really need a good name for your stunt, something that is (as with Aspects) both descriptive and evocative. So, let’s go with Urban Ranger for the Survival stunt, and World Expert (Riddles – Anglo-Saxon) for the Scholarship one.
  6. Negotiate for GM approval. At this point, you should run it past the GM and get his or her okay. You may need to make some changes to the mechanics to get that approval.

Really, the best advice I can give about building stunts is to look over the sample stunts in the Mortal Stunts chapter of Your Story, and the Who’s Who section from Our World. See what ideas others have had, and use them to spark your own creativity, and as the foundation for building your own stunts.

What Makes a Good Stunt?

The true measure of a good stunt is the cool that it adds to your character. I’m not talking about the bonus it gives you, or the way it lets you sneak around the rules, but the way it makes others look at your character and go, “That’s pretty damn cool!” It’s a chance to snag the spotlight for a few minutes in the game so your character can strut his or her stuff, doing something that no one else can do.

Uniqueness is the base coolness of the stunt, after all. Harry’s met lots of other Wizards, but he’s the only one that can do the Listening thing. Karrin Murphy is surrounded by cops, but she can kick all their asses using her aikido stunts. Morty Lindquist is just a medium, but his extensive contacts on the other side are what make Harry go to him for help and advice.

What you want to do when coming up with the idea for a stunt is to think about the scenes in the story when it would come in handy, and what sort of image you get of your character using it. If it’s just your character doing normal stuff a little bit better, maybe that’s not the right idea for a stunt. You’re looking for an image, a scene, where your character is the go-to guy (or gal) for that particular thing, with everyone else standing around for a couple of minutes going, “Wow! That was awesome,” as you unveil your unique and stunning ability.

Of course, you may be worried about stealing the limelight too much – but that’s what the circumstantial limitations on stunts are there to prevent. Stunts tend to be applicable in a relatively narrow set of circumstances, so that you can’t trot them out every time you use the skill. That keeps stunts from being too good, and that’s a large part of what you’re going to be negotiating with your GM.

To sum up, a good stunt gives you the opportunity to show off your character’s mad skills every now and then, without overshadowing everyone else’s mad skills.

Sample Stunts

Just to illustrate some of my ideas, I’ve thrown together a few sample stunts below, with a little commentary on each.

Urban Ranger (Survival): You can scavenge using Survival in an urban environment, finding food, water, shelter, and miscellaneous useful bits with a successful roll.

This is just a straight-up new trapping for the Survival skill, giving a way for a possible homeless character to live on the streets.

Home Turf (Survival): Define an area – a forest, an area around a town, the land around a lake, a neighbourhood, or something of similar size. Within this area, you get a +1 shift to all Survival checks to hunt, scavenge, and track, thanks to your familiarity with the lay of the land.

This is an expanded trapping, inspired as I was thinking about the Urban Ranger stunt. The bonus to rolls is only +1 because of the broad applicability of the stunt.

World Expert (Specify) (Scholarship): You’re an expert in a particular subsection of academia. This must be limited, but can still cover a fair number of things, such as literature or history. Gain a +1 to Scholarship when researching things covered by this topic. You must also define a deeper specialty within that category, such as Shakespeare or the Thirty Years’ War, to gain an additional +1 (for a total of +2) whenever the research focuses on that narrower area.

This is pretty much a straight port of the Occultist stunt from Lore.

Spellcasting Dynamo (Conviction): You’ve inured yourself to the strain of casting spells. For purposes of spellcasting, you have one extra minor Mental consequence that you can use to offset stress incurred from channeling energy and backlash.

I’m not as sure about this one. It’s patterned after No Pain, No Gain stunt from Endurance, but I’m worried that allowing the extra consequence to be used to soak up backlash might be making it a bit too broad. I think it’s okay, but I’d have to see it in play for a few sessions to decide.

More Time on Four Legs Than on Two (Athletics): You’ve spent so much time in your wolf form that it seems more natural to you than your human one, and you have learned how to make the most of the wolf’s physical capabilities. When in wolf form, you get a +1 to Athletics when dodging, jumping, and sprinting.

Again, I’ve kept the bonus down to +1 because of the broad range of things it covers. I’m a little leery of including dodge in the list, but given that the stunt only kicks in when the character is in wolf form, I think it should be okay. Again, seeing it in play for a few sessions will tell the tale. If it’s too good, then we’ve got to renegotiate.

This Bike is a Part of Me (Driving): You are so familiar with a single motorcycle that it is almost an extension of your body. When driving this bike – and no other – you get a +2 to Drive.

This last one is a simple situational +2 expanded trapping, because I hadn’t done one of those yet.

 

And there you have it.

 
 
 

*Well, more than a few. 103. But the game is so ripe for new stunts, and there are only a handful listed for each skill, that it seems like a few. Back

*Sure, this is a simplification. Billy and the Alphas made themselves into werewolves, for example, but it’s still a valid point, I feel. Back

Math and Miscellany: Magic in DFRPG, Part Six

This is, I think, going to be the last post in this particular series. After this one, I don’t think I’m going to have anything more to say about the magic system for a while. This is sort of a hodgepodge of stuff about magic; it’s basically everything that didn’t fit under the other headings. So, let’s get going.

Calculating Your Bonuses

Just looking at the powers, most Wizards are going to look very similar. They’ve all got Evocation, Thaumaturgy, The Sight, Soulgaze, and Wizard’s Constitution. That doesn’t leave them a lot of Refresh to spread around on stunts or other powers, so they all wind up looking the same, with the same range of powers. But they can be very specialized, being better at some things than others. While this is a cool thing, it does lead to some complexity in working out just what the values for doing different things are. The Wizard player in my Fearful Symmetries game made herself up a little spreadsheet to help track the various bonuses, so she doesn’t need to sweat things during play, and honestly, that’s a pretty good idea.

Your base scores for various things are your skills: Conviction for the save level of power you can call, Discipline for controlling that power, and Lore for figuring out thaumaturgic rituals. But different situations bring different bonuses into play. For our purposes, let’s assume a Wizard with a Conviction of Superb (+5), a Discipline of Great (+4), and a Lore of Great (+4).

Specialties

Let’s look at Evocation, first. When you take Evocation, you first choose which three elements you have familiarity with. Then, you get to apply a specialty to one of them. This specialty is going to be be for either power (increasing the effective Conviction score of the caster when using this element) or control (increasing the effective Discipline score of the caster when using this element).

Picking the element to apply this to is going to be a matter of taste. You can get pretty much the same effects out of any element – provided you’re creative and clever enough – but each element has a different style and feel to it. And, of course, each is just better at some things than others.

The choice of power or control is going to be a much more difficult matter. Mechanically speaking, it’s good to have equal scores Conviction and Discipline, because that lets you call a fair bit of power and still have a pretty good chance of controlling it. If your Conviction is higher than your Discipline, then you’re either not going to be calling on all the power you can, or you’re going to be running a higher risk of uncontrolled power and the concurrent fallout or backlash. If your Discipline is higher than your Conviction, you’ll have less trouble controlling the power you call, but you’ll have less power available without taking Mental Stress. Having the two skill ratings equal to each other is a good compromise.

Now, I’m a firm advocate of ignoring the mechanical benefit in favour of the story or character concept, so you may not want to have your Conviction and Discipline equal each other. Maybe, like Harry, you want to have access to a frightening amount of power, and always be running the risk of losing control of it. Or maybe you like the idea of a careful, precise Wizard, with little power, but total control over what he or she is doing. Character considerations should always come before mechanical ones.

For purposes of our demonstration, though, let’s go with a bit of a funk element theme of Earth, Air, and Fire. We’ll give our Wizard a specialty in Earth (Control +1).

With Thaumaturgy, you don’t need to pick which areas you know, the way you do with the elements of Evocation. You automatically know them all. But you do need to pick one area of specialization, and choose whether the bonus is for complexity (increasing the effective Lore skill of the caster when using this area) or control (increasing the effective Discipline skill of the caster when using this area).

Looking at the two options of complexity or control bonus, I have to say that I think the complexity bonus is going to be most widely useful. Because of the way casters can draw in limited amounts of energy over a number of rounds, what control bonuses effectively do is speed up the casting time of a ritual. While this is handy, a complexity bonus comes in handy in speeding up the preparation time of the ritual – usually a much greater amount of time – and bringing more complex spells realistically into play. Still, if taking a control bonus means that you now have one or more shifts of power you can draw each round without a chance of failure, it’s definitely worth considering.

Choosing the area is somewhat less structured than choosing an element for Evocation. The wide range of specialties available for Thaumaturgy – basically, any kind of magic you can think of – can mean that you’re spoiled for choice. Here’s where it’s vitally important that you focus on your character concept to make the decision: pick the area of magic that works best for how you see your Wizard actually using magic.

Let’s go with a specialty in Wards (Complexity +1) for our notional Wizard. This makes more powerful wards available with less preparation time, showing that he or she has paid special attention to the theory of warding magic.

Refinements

Refinement is how your Wizard specializes even more in his or her magic. Each level of Refinement gets you a new element, or two specialization bonuses, or two focus items. These all work the same way as above, though there is an explanatory paragraph about how you need to take your specializations in columns, like skills.

So, let’s give our Wizard one shot of Refinement, going for two specializations: Air (Power +1), and Wards (Power +1).

Foci

Like specialties, focus items give a bonus to power or control (for Evocation) or to complexity or control (for thaumaturgy).  You get two focus slot items for taking Evocation and two for taking Thaumaturgy. Now, there’s nothing in the rules that say you can’t use the slots from Evocation to buy Thaumaturgy foci – you can, by the rules, take all four focus item slots and buy a four-slot item for Thaumaturgy, for example. I can’t even see it messing too much with game balance, though there may be some profound thing I’m overlooking.

Still, it makes sense thematically to limit the slots you get from Evocation to buying focus items for Evocation, and the same for Thamaturgy. At least, it makes sense absent any story or character reason to deviate from it.

Focus items can take pretty much whatever form the caster chooses, though there are size considerations: the required size of the item increases with the number of slots spent on it. The same follows for enchanted items. Let’s stick with one focus item for Evocation, and one for Thaumaturgy. Each item will use up two slots, meaning they can be no smaller than a ring.

For the Evocation item, we have to choose not only the element that the item applies to and whether it’s a power or control item, but also whether it works for offense or defense. Let’s make this one a small geode pendant that grants a power bonus and a control bonus for offensive Earth evocations. That’s Geode Pendant (+1 Offensive Power and Control for Earth).

For the Thaumaturgy item, let’s keep going with the wards theme. We don’t need to narrow the focus the way we did choosing offense or defense for the Evocation item, so let’s just make it a ring of cold iron inlaid with silver that grants a complexity and control bonus to wards. That’s Iron and Silver Ring (+1 Complexity and Control for Wards).

Final Totals

Here’s how it all breaks down. Our Wizard works magic with the following scores:

  • Water and Spirit Evocation – Can’t do these.
  • Fire Evocation – Superb (+5) power and Great (+4) control.
  • Air Evocation – Fantastic (+6) power and Great (+4) control.
  • Offensive Earth Evocation – Fantastic (+6) power and Fantastic (+6) control.
  • Defensive Earth Evocation – Superb (+5) power and Superb (+5).
  • Thaumaturgic Wards – Fantastic (+6) complexity and Fantastic (+6) control.
  • All Other Thaumaturgy – Great (+4) complexity and Great (+4) control.

Enchanted Items

Enchanted items come out of the crafting area of thaumaturgy. They’re handy little gizmos that you can trot out when you need them and release a prepared spell with no Mental Stress, no risk of backlash or fallout. You can trade in a focus item slot, gained when you take Thaumaturgy, Evocation, Channeling, Ritual, or Refinement for two enchanted item slots.

Any spell you can cast, or even conceive of, can be stored in an enchanted item, with one big catch: the power of that spell is limited to your Lore. This is called the strength of the item. While that may not limit your options with storing evocation effects in your enchanted item, it does seriously put a crimp in how powerful a thaumaturgic effect you can store. There are two other, not-quite-so-heavy limitations on enchanted items: first, they only work for you, and second, they only work once per session.

These last two restrictions are more flexible than the first one. You can get an extra use per session out of an item if you reduce its strength by one, down to a lower limit of Average (+1); you can also get two extra uses out of an item by spending an extra enchanted item slot on it; and, finally, if you’re all out of uses but you really need to use that item, you can squeeze another use out of it for one point of Mental Stress. You can also make the item usable by others by reducing its strength by one. Note that, with the exception of the Mental Stress thing, all of these decisions must be made at the time you create the item, and don’t change after that.

The only way to increase the strength of an enchanted item above your Lore score is to spend an extra enchanted item slot on it. Period.

So, looking at these points, it becomes pretty obvious that most enchanted items are going to store evocations (like Harry’s duster and force rings) or use thaumaturgy for maneuvers or simple tests. I’ve put a couple of enchanted item examples together below, based on the stats of our notional Wizard example, with the Lore of Great (+4). They specifically use thaumaturgic rituals, because there aren’t any of those as examples in the rulebook.

Parkour Shoes

These shoes let the wearer move for one scene as if he or she had made a Great (+4) Athletics roll for changing zones, overcoming barriers, and basically doing cool free-running stunts.

Spell Provided: A thaumaturgic ritual granting Great (+4) Athletics for one scene.

Power Crystal

When activated, this crystal enhances the spellcasting ability of the Wizard for one scene.

Spell Provided: A thaumaturgic ritual using a maneuver to place the sticky Powered by Crystal Aspect on the user. The user gets one free tag; thereafter, he or she must use Fate Points as usual for invoking the Aspect.

Potions

I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m on the fence about potions. I think they might just be a little too good, compared to enchanted items. See, they work pretty much like enchanted items, with the following differences:

  • You must allocate an enchanted item slot to a potion, but you get to decide every session what potion is in that slot.
  • You only ever get to use a potion once.
  • Anyone can use a potion once it’s been created.
  • You can leave the slot allocated for a potion empty at the start of a session, and fill it with a potion that you just happen to have prepared that fits the situation. Doing this requires you to either pay a Fate Point to have the convenient potion, or succeed at a Lore roll.
  • When you create a potion, or when you use it, you can boost the strength by +2 for every Aspect you invoke (with the normal Fate Point cost). You can even take compels in advance to get this boost.
  • If you allocate extra enchanted item slots to a single potion slot, the strength of the potion you create and carry in that slot increases by one for every extra enchanted item slot allocated.

So, really, the only downside to potions is that you can only use each one once, while the upside is extreme flexibility, far beyond what enchanted items offer. Of course, that may be why Wizards are so famous for their magic potions…

As with enchanted items, any effect you like can be stored in a potion, with the strength limited by your Lore skill. Here are a few samples, again using our example Wizard’s Lore of Great (+4):

Shadow Juice

This dark liquid makes the drinker hard to see or hear for a scene.

Duration: One scene

Effect: The drinker moves with a Stealth of Great (+4) for one scene

Bottled Confidence

While not actually making the drinker more attractive, this potion gives them an air of confidence and comfort that draws people to them.

Duration: One scene

Effect: The user gains the sticky Aspect Magnetic Confidence. The first tag is free; thereafter, the user must pay Fate Points, as usual.

Aqua Regia

This powerful, mystic solvent can be sprayed at a target as an attack.

Duration: Instantaneous

Effect: Acts as a Weapon:4 attack. It is equally effective against flesh and inanimate material, dissolving both rather speedily and messily. Must be applied with the successful use of a relevant skill.

The Sight

Unlike the previous material, which is aimed mainly at players, this section is primarily for GMs. There are no spoilers, but using the Sight is pretty passive for the player; most of the real work comes on the GM side of the table.

First thing, it’s important that players understand that using the Sight is dangerous. If they’re running around with their third eyes open all the time, the GM has to show them the error of their ways, with stunningly, absurdly high hits of Mental Stress. They’ll get the message soon enough.

Why? Two reasons. First, it reinforces the source material – Harry goes on at some length about how keeping your third eye open will fry your sanity. Look at what he goes through after seeing the naagloshi. Second, coming up with an interesting symbolic scene for what is revealed by the Sight takes some work on the part of the GM. If he or she has to come up with five or ten every session, that’s putting too much of a burden on him or her – you’re going to wind up with lacklustre visions as the creative well runs dry. Maybe not right away, but it’ll happen.

But the Sight is an important piece of the Wizard’s kit, and deserves some love. I’ve found that prepping for a scene where a character is going to use the Sight is similar to prepping for a conflict scene: you need a little bit of ground work, but then you can fit it in anywhere you need it. When you look at the overall structure of your scenario, it’s pretty easy to spot the main potentials for conflict scenes, so you work up some stats for the opposition. Same thing with the Sight: you can guess the points at which a character is going to want to take a little peek behind the curtain, so you work out what they’re going to See in advance.

Most times, they’re going to be looking at someone, something, or someplace that you’ve signaled to them is important in some way: a mysterious figure who may or may not be on their side, a bloody knife left on the floor of an otherwise-spotless apartment, a standing stone in the middle of a forest, that sort of thing. If you put something like that in your scenario, write up a short blurb about what it looks like to the Sight, along with a short list of possible Aspects for the character to suss out. And then figure out how hard it’s going to punch the Wizard in the brain.

Setting the intensity of the vision can be a little tricky. On the one hand, you don’t want to make it so easy that there’s no risk to it, but on the other, you can rapidly trap the character in a Sight-induced death spiral if you set the intensity too high. Remember, the character takes a Mental attack of the intensity +dF for looking at whatever it is. If the character does not successfully defend against this, he or she keeps looking and gets punched in the brain again. The character cannot close his or her third eye unless and until he or she successfully defends against that attack. As long as the third eye remains open, the attacks keep happening. See? Death spiral.

If you set the intensity at equal to the Discipline of the character, it’s pretty much a toss-up each round whether or not the character successfully defends, and that’s not a bad default. That’s kind of arbitrary, though, and tends to penalize characters who really bought up their Discipline score. If we’re talking about looking at a creature, you could do worse than let the Refresh cost of the creature set the intensity – not directly, but relative to the starting Refresh of the characters. So, if you’re playing at Submerged level (starting Refresh 10), and you’re looking at an elf (Refresh cost -6), maybe set the intensity two shifts below the character’s Discipline. If you’re looking at a grendelkin (Refresh cost -18), maybe set it three to four shifts above the character’s Discipline. Does that almost guarantee a death spiral? Maybe. But three things to remember: one, the character may have Fate Points to spend; two, they can always concede before being taken out; and three, they’re the one who had the bright idea to look at a grendelkin with the Sight.

Upshot? Prepare for the characters using the Sight. Think about what they’re going to see, and how much it’s going to hurt them.

Soulgazing

Not much more to say about soulgazing than I said about the Sight. It’s somewhat safer than the Sight, because you can’t get stuck in one, but the person you’re soulgazing is also looking into you, and will wind up with some of your Aspects figured out. Again, preparation is key for the GM: figure out what they’re going to see, and what will be seen by the other party.

The only other real trick is that soulgazes can be initiated by other people. Read over And Then Our Eyes Met on p228 of Your Story. It’s a good way to hook characters into plotlines, or to feed them info when they need it, or just to creep the hell out of them, depending on how you use it.

Faster Magic (Minor Spoiler for Turn Coat)

Shapechanging like Listens to Wind has come up frequently in discussions. Using the basic thaumaturgy rules, how does Listens to Wind do the super-fast shapechanging, keeping up with the naagloshi in Turn Coat? The mechanics of the magic system don’t support it. How about other powers, like the Gatekeeper’s ability to worldwalk? Again, doable via thaumaturgy, but he does it so fast!

The answer to this is pretty simple. They have the appropriate supernatural powers: True Shapeshifting and Modular Abilities for Listens to Wind, Worldwalker for the Gatekeeper. They paid the Refresh, and they have the power, along with their spellcasting.

But how do they change it so that they do it using their spellcasting? Again, it’s simple. They say, “I can do this because I got very good at the spells and learned how to do them very fast.”

So, if you want a Wizard who can change into a bird via thaumaturgy without spending hours preparing for and casting the spell, spend the Refresh and take Beast Change, then say you got that power through your thaumaturgy. Want someone who can spurt out streams of fire every round without the Mental Stress of evocation? Breath Weapon. I did it with magic. Bam. Done.

Law Breaking

One thing the group needs to decide when setting up the game is how big an impact they want the Laws of Magic to have on play.

For example, in the Fearful Symmetries campaign I’m running, the characters are in on the ground floor of the Thirty Years’ War. Things are chaotic and life is cheap. That means that there’s less White Council oversight in Prague, so people can get away with a little more in bending the laws. In fact, during one of the first big fights, Izabela blew a mortal’s head off with magic, thinking he was a vampire. I didn’t force her to take the Lawbreaker powers, because of the circumstances and the fact we were early in the campaign. On the other hand, a large part of her backstory and her Trouble is based on the fact that her mother was a lawbreaker who enchanted a man she was in love with. So, we obviously want some weight to the laws.

The Lawbreaker powers are a neat little feature of the system, much like the Dark Side points in Star Wars, giving the characters more power if they break the law than they get if they don’t. But as they gain that power, they lose control of their own destinies, becoming closer and closer to being creatures completely governed by their nature rather than their choices. There are certain players who will like that sort of character, the draw of power and the slide to darkness. There are also players who don’t want to deal with that sort of thing.

Forcing a character to take a Lawbreaker power is a bad idea. Don’t do it. It’s forcing change on the player that he or she may not be comfortable with.

That said, you need to make the possibility very real to the players if you want to keep the weight of the laws real for them. So, if a character is about to break one of the laws, make sure you warn them. Give them a chance to back off and do something else. That way, the player gets to choose whether or not they get to play a Lawbreaker, rather than having it forced on them. And those clever fellows with an Aspect alluding to the lure of the Dark Side? Well, go nuts with the compels. They asked for it. But never, never, never when they’re out of Fate Points. That’s just forcing the choice on them.

Those of you playing along at home will have noticed that, while I’ve said this is the last article in the Magic in DFRPG series, I have ignored a large, complex chunk of the system: Sponsored Magic. That’s not really an oversight; or rather, it’s a deliberate one. Sponsored Magic is kind of tricky in the system, and I haven’t got my head all the way around it yet. I may come back to this series with a final article on it, but it won’t be right away.

No, the next thing I think I’m going to tackle in DFRPG is Mortal Stunts. I’m finding they’re often overlooked by the players, but have a wealth of good stuff for all types of characters.

But that’ll be after the Armitage Files game post from tonight’s game, and then my week-long pilgrimage to GenCon. If any of you are attending the con, I’ll be helping out Pagan Publishing and Dagon Industries at booth #315. Stop by and say hi, and I’ll fulfill my booth weasel duty of trying to sell you some cool Cthulhu stuff.

Fearful Symmetries: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Bridge)

Last night was the latest installment of the Fearful Symmetries campaign. My players caught me completely off-guard with what they decided to do, but I think it all worked out okay in the end.

We got a bit of a late start to the game because of some real-world obligations*, and then spent a little bit of time eating*, before settling down to play. During the meal, we talked a bit about how enchanted items work – it’s another layer of complexity on the spellcasting system that the characters are starting to feel ready to explore, though none of them went for it just yet.

I had checked what the plans for the players were via e-mail earlier in the week, and they had said that they wanted to take care of some mundane, personal stuff – moving into new rooms in Prague, getting to know people in the neighbourhood, resting up after the injuries taken last session, stuff like that – but also to see what could be done with the hammer they had taken from the fire giant.

Their initial examination of the hammer showed them that it was an item of power, and had dark energies woven into and around it. That precluded just leaving it lying around, but they also didn’t want to hang on to it for too long, lest something bigger and badder than the fire giant come looking for it. And they didn’t want to try destroying it until they knew it was safe to do so, and the right method to dispose of it.

I liked the attention they were paying to the hammer, so I decided to make it something more than just a powerful magic weapon. Emeric is carrying a sword called Beortning (Brightening), which is supposed to be the flaming sword his father, Surtr, carries with him to start Ragnarok. I decided to make the hammer something similar, giving it the name Faurbauti (Cruel Smiter), and making it one of the four Dooms (also called The Pitiless) – the weapons the giants will wield against the gods during the final battle*. I also decided that, since Faurbauti is fated to be at Ragnarok, destroying it is futile, if not impossible. In keeping with the fatalism of the Norse myth cycle, it will be at Ragnarok, no matter what is done to it.

Anyway, with these things in mind, I fleshed out an adventure structure where different things happen depending on how the characters try to deal with the hammer. Asking different people about it gives them different information, looking in different places causes different things to happen, etc. I’m not going to talk at length about what those things are because, as mentioned above, the characters bypassed pretty much all of that stuff and caught me completely off-guard. That means I’ve got a bunch of raw adventure material that I can reuse in a different situation.

I also decided to take some advice from this post by Rob Donoghue, and add another plotline – one that sprang from the players’ actions, but was not actively pursued by the players. Basically, at 12 Refresh, these characters can handle most moderately nasty things I care to throw at them, so rather than just ramping up the power and undercutting their competence, I decided to ramp up the complexity of the situation by throwing another agenda and adversary into the mix.

Anyway. Catching me off-guard. Right. That was my point.

After we did a little straight roleplaying stuff, with Izabela setting up her new rooms and Emeric getting to know some of the neighbourhood folks, the characters started asking a few questions of various folks about Petrin Hill – Petrunas, the god who used to be worshiped there, is a cognate of Thor, and Emeric reasoned that, if there was one god who would want to keep a powerful weapon out of the hands of giants, it was Thor. The Contacts rolls and Lore rolls and other rolls to conduct the investigation came up craps, so they wound up getting very little information; just enough, in fact, that they became unsure if the Petrunas worship here was indeed a branch of Thor worship.

I did, however, show them some good pictures of Petrin Hill and the Hunger Wall to set the scene in their minds.

Not making any progress that way, Izabela decided to perform a ritual to see what she could discover about the hammer. This worked, and I gave her a vision of the forging of the weapon on the rune-etched anvils of the dwarves deep below the earth, a look at each of the four Dooms (Beortning, Faurbauti, and a spear and axe I haven’t named yet), and a vision of the four weapons coming together in Ragnarok.

Faced with that image, they decided there was only one thing to do with the hammer: take it to Asgard and give it to Odin.

Did I mention they caught me off-guard?

So, they worked up a ritual to catch a rainbow in a prism, sacrifice their magical horses and, dressed in floppy hats and blue traveler cloaks, walk over Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, and try and talk their way in to see the All-Father.

Now, I wasn’t ready for this solution, but it was a cool idea, and the players were very excited about it, so I decided to go with it, despite the intimidation factor. See, Clint, who plays Emeric, knows (as far as I can tell) everything about Norse mythology. Penny, his wife, who plays Izabela, knows slightly less, only because she’s not as interested in it. I, on the other hand, know a little bit about it, but it’s not my main area of expertise and interest. And here I was, having to present a trip to Asgard to these two, with no prep time.

Thankfully, neither of my players are purists about how this stuff gets used in game. They allow the GM to twist things for the purpose of game, and just go with it to have fun. Still, a little intimidating.

Over the Rainbow Bridge they went, talking their way past Heimdall, giving their binding oaths to do no harm, and up to Odin’s seat in Valhalla. Given that Emeric is the son of Surtr, and wields the sword that Surtr will use to start Ragnarok, his welcome was not entirely warm, but the two mortals were made guest-friends of Valhalla by Heimdall, and Odin upholds the pledge. After a little discussion, Odin accepts Faurbauti from Emeric, and asks what he can give them to show the generosity of his hall.

I set this up as a bit of a sneaky trap. Odin is a good guy, but he’s tricky, and untrusting. So, I decided that he was going to be judging the characters based on what they asked from him; anything material he gave them was going to be unlucky, or draw unwelcome attention. However, Emeric asked only for Odin’s trust – an honourable thing in the culture – and Izabela asked for the gift of tongues. Given Odin’s questing for knowledge and secrets and power, he had to respect this request, too. He decided that the two were worthy of some respect. Emeric was given a ring off Odin’s own hand (a sign of trust and favour), and Odin promised to tell Izabela where she could obtain the power she sought, though she would have to win it for herself.

Their audience over, they were given the hospitality of the hall for the night. Emeric had a bit of a pissing contest with one of the Einharjar to win a more respected place at the tables than what they were assigned, and Izabela got a private meeting with Odin, where he told her that, if she wanted the gift of tongues, she would need to seek out the Rimewell.

I conflated a few sources to come up with the idea of the Rimewell – John Myers Myers featured the Hippocrene in his book Silverlock, and Norse mythology tells of Odin drinking from Mimir’s Well to gain wisdom (after having sacrificed his eye as the price of the drink), and how he hung himself on Yggdrasil for nine nights to gain wisdom and the charms he sought. I decided that, as with the Silverlock Hippocrene, the Rimewell would grant a different gift with each of three sips: the first would give the gift of poetry, the second the gift of tongues, and the third would give the gift of prophecy. Odin warned her not to take a fourth drink.

He also told her that the Rimewell was guarded by the Rimewitch, and that she would have to persuade her to allow Izabela to drink.

After a night of partying, the pair depart Valhalla in the morning, down the Rainbow Bridge Heimdall summons for them. There, as he unleashes his power, they get their first glimpse of what it means to be a god: his presence in that brief moment almost overwhelms them with its majesty and potency. I made a point of indicating that the power they sensed here dwarfed that of the Erlking, and that Heimdall is one of the lesser Aesir.

Back to Midgard they went, deciding to seek the Rimewell in Utgard another time from a different direction. And, when they arrived back in the earthly realm, I hit them with the additional plotline, just to keep them guessing: they were attacked by a pack of magically enhanced dogs. They dispatched them pretty easily, and found that each was marked with a curved knife brand, which Izabela recognized as a symbol she had seen branded in the flesh of a slain wizard in Buda-Pest, and was rumoured to be the mark of a secret clan of assassins.

During the fight, Emeric spotted movement in the trees away from the dogs, but when he charged to investigate, a hawk flew away, dodging his blast of fire in the process.

And that’s where we left things last night. All in all, I’m pleased with the way things went, and with the different threads of story coming together in the campaign. I think everyone had fun, too, and the whole improvised visit to Valhalla came off about as well as I could have hoped.

Next game is in three weeks. Now to finish my prep for the Armitage Files game tomorrow afternoon.

 
 
 

*Happy birthday, Kieran! Back

*If you like Indian food and live in Winnipeg, you can do a lot worse than Clay Oven. Back

*If you know Norse mythology, you know I’m just making crap up at this point. But it gives an interesting context for some stuff, and lays some pipe for future scenario ideas. Back

How to Build Spells, or A Practical Grimoire: Magic in DFRPG, Part Five

Alright. This post, we’re going to take a look at how to put together some actual spells from the ground up.

The requests for spells came from you folks out there, but I’m not going to work out all of them, only a few examples to show the thought processes involved. If you’re looking for a long, detailed list of possible spells, you’re not going to get it here; in my opinion, having a list like that undercuts one of the great things about playing a spellcaster in the game, which is the ability to use your powers creatively and come up with spells on the fly. This post is focused on the sorts of things you need to take into account when creating a spell, and only secondarily is it intended to offer a little inspiration to the magically inclined out there*.

I’m going to be using Harry’s stats from Our World as the basis for the math in this post. You can find his write-up on p136, if you want to follow along at home.

Let’s get started.

Get Away From Me!

In a couple of places in the book, Harry blasts a foe with an evocation that catapults them away from him, giving him time to run away or deal with something else.

Now, as with any evocation, there are lots of different ways to apply the various elements to produce the effect; air and spirit are the most obvious, but a mystic wave of water or a blast of expanding air from a sudden heat source or the gravity of the target shifting 90 degrees would also all work. For our purposes, let’s go with spirit, in the guise of pure force slamming into the target and sending it flying.

Once we’ve chosen the effect, we have to pick what mechanics we’re going to use to model it. For this effect, it’s a little tough, because there are no rules for using evocation for movement – Harry points out that movement via evocation would be a wild, uncontrolled, unsafe thing. Because we’re applying this to an enemy, though, we don’t mind those problems so much.

The obvious option is to model it as a maneuver, applying the Aspect Knocked Sprawling or something like that*. If the point of the spell is to move the target one or more zones away from you while applying the Aspect, I’d say that it would take extra power to do that. And there we have the mechanic.

Next, we need to determine power requirements. Assuming a standard mortal as a target, that’s going to take 3 shifts of power to apply the maneuver. However, if we also want to move the target one or more zones away, that’ll take a little more power – I’d say 1 per zone, plus another 1 for every level of barrier between zones that the target needs to move through. So, Harry, with a Superb (+5) Conviction, can call up 5 shifts of power for only a 1-stress hit. That’s enough to toss a normal target 2 zones away if there’s nothing in the way. If there’s a barrier:1 fence in the way, the target’s only going 1 zone away. And a barrier:2 wall means the target’s not going anywhere. Let’s keep it at 5 shifts for our calculations.

So, 5 shifts is easy to call up, with only a 1-stress price tag. But it’s still more power than Harry can readily control with his Good (+3) Discipline and his focus item (his staff). He’ll need to roll at least a +1 on the dice to keep from having to worry about backlash and fallout, which he should be able to do 38.3% of the time. Assuming success, the target should probably get a chance to oppose with either an Athletics roll (to dodge) or Might roll (to tough it out and not be moved).

Final version of the spell looks like this:

Knockback

Type: Spirit (force) evocation, offensive maneuver

Power: Varies; typical is 5 shifts – 3 for effect plus 2 for distance

Control: Roll Discipline plus appropriate specializations and focus items.

Duration: One action

Opposed by: Target’s Athletics or Might

Effect: If the spell hits, the target has Knocked Sprawling temporary Aspect applied, and is thrown one zone away from the caster for every extra extra shift of power. Barriers between zones reduce the distance by their barrier value: i.e., the shifts of power must overcome the barrier value to move the target through the barrier.

Notes: GMs may wish to apply some damage to a target passing through – or failing to pass through – a solid barrier.

Feather Fall

A quick, simple spell to keep you from getting hurt when you fall. This is a little more challenging than the above spell, partially because of the way falling works in DFRPG. See, when you fall, you take a hit equal to 5 stress for every 10 full feet you fall, and most protections just don’t work against it. You need either supernatural toughness or a shielding spell specifically constructed to absorb falling damage. Given the speed at which things fall, even evocation may not be fast enough to save you*.

Let’s look at two different ways to save yourself from falling damage: through evocation and through thaumaturgy.

Evocation

For this, we’re going to want to set up a block, obviously, focused on absorbing falling impact. The obvious element for this one is air, though earth comes a close second, by lessening gravity and softening the surface. But let’s go with spirit, because Harry’s better at it – forming a cushion of force for him to land on.

For every shift of power we channel into the spell, it’s going to offset one shift of stress from the fall. This means that the amount of power we want is going to vary depending on how far we’re falling. For simplicity’s sake, let’s go with 5 shifts, so that we take no damage from a 10-foot fall, and only 5 shifts from a 20-foot fall; enough to be useful, but still practical to deal with in an evocation situation.

So, simple. Pull in five shifts of power, and roll to control. 5 shifts is easy for Harry to call up with his Superb (+5) Conviction, requiring only a 1-stress hit on his Mental track*. With his Good (+3) Discipline and his shield bracelet focus item, he’s effectively got a Great (+4) Discipline, so he needs to roll a +1 or better to soak up the 5 stress, which is again a 38.3% chance for him. Because he probably really needs this to work, let’s hope he’s got a Fate Point to spend.

Final version of the spell:

Featherbed

Type: Spirit (force) evocation, defensive block

Power: Varies; typical is 5 shifts – enough to offset 10 feet of falling distance

Control: Roll Discipline plus appropriate specializations and focus items.

Duration: One action

Effect: This spell reduces the number of shifts of damage taken from falling by the number of shifts of power in the spell.

Thaumaturgy

Thaumaturgy is far too slow to be of use when you get tossed off the side of a building, but if you know you’re going to be facing down a feathered serpent on top of the Chrysler Building, you might want to consider a little preparation for the (hopefully) unlikely event that you’re going to plummet to your doom. Now, the rules don’t explicitly talk about this sort of contingent spell, but the way wards work and can trigger magic shows the basic process.

What we’re really doing here is designing a low-powered ward that is activated by falling a certain distance and, when activated, unleashes a stored evocation to cushion our fall. So, for base complexity, we’re talking about a single shift for the basic ward that we need to trigger the evocation – wards release stored spells when they fail, so we want this one to fail pretty quickly. Add 2 more shifts for the conditional trigger, and then as much power as you want in the final protection – let’s say 10 shifts, giving us a free 20-foot fall. Total complexity of 13.

Now, Harry’s got a Lore of Good (+3), so he needs to make up 10 shifts in order to be able to cast this spell. So, how about he researches the basics in his library (Lore: Basic Ritual Research), gets Bob to check his calculations (Rapport: Bob’s Input), tracks down where to find a peregrine falcon nest (Investigation: Bird’s Nest), sneaks past building security to get to the roof where the falcons are nesting (Stealth: Through the Perimeter), and climbs out on the ledge of the building where the birds nest to snag some feathers (Athletics: Flight Feathers). That gives him an extra 10 shifts, so he can now cast the spell*.

Finally, Harry needs to pull in 13 shifts of power to make this work. Given his Good (+3) Discipline and lack of bonuses to thaumaturgic control of this type (his specialty is Divination), he’s probably safest going 1 shift at a time, which means it’s going to take 13 rounds for him to actually cast the spell. But this is the sort of thing where you usually don’t have a lot of time pressure, so that’s okay. Harry needs to roll a -2 or better on each of the rolls to successfully cast the spell. That means he’s got a 6.2% chance of blowing any of rolls, which is as safe as he can possibly make it.

Once cast, the ward is going to last until the next sunrise, unless it’s triggered. When triggered, it lets go with a 10-shift block against falling damage.

Final version of the spell:

Mystic Parachute

Type: Thaumaturgy, wards

Complexity: Varies, 13 is typical – 1 for the ward, 2 for the trigger condition, 10 for the defensive block

Duration: Usually, until sunrise

Effect: Once cast, this ward is triggered whenever the recipient of the spell falls 10 feet or more. When triggered, the ward creates a 10-shift defensive block against the falling impact.

Variations: This model can be used to create all sorts of triggered spell effects.

Psychometry

The primary tool for practitioners to get magical information is The Sight, but it’s got a few risks. First, you’ve got to worry about the stress from whatever you see, and second, you’ve got to figure out the meaning of the stuff you see. It’s a powerful, flexible tool, but it doesn’t always fit the situation, especially if you’re not dealing with magical stuff. For psychometry of mundane objects or people, The Sight is not the best choice.

Let’s look at a specific application of psychometry – Harry needs to find out who left a footprint in his backyard. Obviously, this is going to be a thaumaturgic ritual*, and Harry’s got a pretty good symbolic link, which is the footprint itself. He needs to decide how he’s going to use his magic to get the information he wants: he could trace a link from the footprint to the shoe, or call up the spirits of the grass for a description, or any one of a number of things. Harry’s a bit of a traditionalist, though, so he opts for looking into the past to see an image of the person who made the footprint.

If Harry were using mundane means, he’d find the person who made the footprint using Investigation: taking a picture and maybe a cast of the print, comparing it to shoe types to find the brand and noting anything odd about the tread or wear pattern, finding out where the shoe is sold, sifting through customer lists, etc. Doable, but difficult. Let’s set the difficulty at Superb.

The difficulty of the skill check is what sets the complexity of the ritual, so we’ve got a ritual of complexity 5 right here. Harry’s Lore is Good (+3), so he needs to make up two shifts in order to cast this spell. He spends a little time examining the rest of his yard looking for other footprints, to give himself a larger sample size for the ritual (Alertness: Multiple Prints), and then he’s ready to cast the spell.

He needs to call 5 shifts of power, and he’s got a Control of Good (+3). He’s also got a specialty in Control (Divination +1), so he’s effectively got a discipline of Great (+4) for this ritual. If he goes 1 shift at a time, he’s going to take 5 rounds to cast the ritual, and need to roll -3 or higher on each roll; that means he has a 1.2% chance of failing any given roll. Should be easy for him.

Final version of the spell:

Psycometric Retrocognition

Type: Thaumaturgy, divination

Complexity: Varies, 5 is typical

Duration: One scene

Effect: This spell allows the caster to see an image of a person linked to an item. The person must be important to the item in some way: the current owner, the creator, the last person to touch it, the person who broke it, etc.

Up, Up, and Away!

In the Dresdenverse, spellcasters usually don’t try flying spells, and there’s a paragraph at the bottom of p282 of Your Story that explains why*. It’s a matter of control – just because you have the ability to fly doesn’t mean you have the expertise to safely move through the air. And given the penalty for falling from any sort of height, there’s a real danger inherent to slipping the surly bonds of earth.

That said, building a flying spell is pretty simple, if the GM is going to allow it. Personally, I would let someone get away with it if he or she built the character to show that he or she had spent time mastering the intricacies of aerial movement. Here, I’m thinking a minimum of a stunt to reflect the ability to use Athletics for flying, and preferably both the stunt and an Aspect to show the time and effort expended in gaining this off-beat skill trapping.

The guideline for gaining new powers by using magic are laid out in the sidebar of p283 of Your Story: what you need to do is transform yourself into a form with the new powers. You need shifts of complexity equal the amount necessary to kill a target, plus you need to spend Fate Points to gain the temporary powers.

So, let’s say Harry wants to be able to fly, binding the winds to hold him aloft and move him around, and his benevolent GM has okayed the attempt. In my mind, though it’s not listed anywhere in the rules that I can find, transforming a willing target should be easier than an unwilling one, so for purposes of this spell, Harry has to meet a complexity equal to all his possible consequences plus 1, but doesn’t need to overcome his Stress Track (because he just decides to take all consequences rather than Stress), and his defense rating is locked at Mediocre (+0) (because he’s not trying to resist the spell or defend against it in any way). This sets the base complexity for the spell at 21: 2 for his minor consequence, 4 for his moderate consequence, 6 for his severe consequence, 8 for his extreme consequence, and 1 to take him out. The taken out effect becomes gaining the ability to fly.

Duration becomes very important for a spell like this. I’d start the default duration at a single scene* (15 minutes or so), so if Harry wants to be able to fly for longer than that, he needs to boost the complexity as well. Let’s say he needs to be able to fly for a day. That increases the complexity by 5, stepping him up the duration ladder from 15 minutes to a day. Total complexity comes out at 26.

In addition to this complexity, Harry has to pay Fate Points for the power, in essence temporarily lowering his Refresh to buy the power for the duration of the spell. While there is no Flight power, there is Wings, which is a -1 power. That’s close enough for our purposes, so Harry needs to pay a Fate Point for the power. If he needed to fly super-fast, he’d have to pay the Fate Point for Wings, plus another 2, 4, or 6 for the desired level of speed power. But let’s keep it just to flying.

Now, Harry’s got a Lore of Good (+3). That means he needs to make up a whopping 23-shift deficit to be able to cast this spell, and he needs to have at least a single Fate Point left at the end to pay for the Wings*. For convenience, let’s say he goes through the same routine he did for the Magic Parachute spell above, giving him +10. After that, he buys some special incense for the ritual (Resources: Ritual Incense), gets Listens-To-Wind to bless his falcon feathers (Contacts: Shaman’s Blessing), does a little research into the wind patterns over the city to find the optimal place to get the attention of wind spirits (Scholarship: Air-Flow Map), fasts for a day to purify himself (Endurance: Ritual Purification), spends an hour conducting a centering meditation (Discipline: Focused Mind), and then drives out to where he’s going to cast the spell and scares off the muggers in the park so he can work uninterrupted (Intimidation: Quiet Workspace). That bumps him up to a total of +24, so he’s set to cast the spell.

Dealing with so much magic, there’s a real potential that, if things go badly, Harry’s going to be in a world of hurt, so he’s going to go slowly with the actual casting, drawing one shift of power at a time. With his Good (+3) Discipline, that means that he needs to roll -2 or better on each of his 26(!) rolls to get the power he needs and take to the air. He’s only got a 6.2% chance of blowing any single roll, but with the large number of rolls, he’s got about a 16.8% chance of succeeding on all 26 rolls without needing to spend a Fate Point or take some backlash*. Not an easy spell.

Final version of the spell:

Rite of Icarus

Type: Thaumaturgy, transformation

Complexity: 26; can vary depending on duration

Duration: One day

Effect: When the caster completes this ritual, he or she must pay one Fate Point. The caster then gains the ability to fly, as per the Wings supernatural power, for one day. Unless the caster has some training in moving aerially (reflected by an Aspect and/or stunt), the caster’s Athletics is considered Terrible (-2) for purposes of moving by way of flight.

Variations: This model can be used to gain any reasonable power, subject to GM approval. Fate Point cost is equal to the refresh cost of the power acquired.

 

There you have five examples of building spells. The mechanics get to be second nature pretty quickly once you get your head around a couple of basic concepts, so don’t let it overwhelm you. Come up with a couple of prebuilt spells that your character knows and you can see coming in handy during play, and work out all the math before hand to help speed things up during play, and you’ll soon start to see the way things fit together. Once that happens, building spells on the fly gets much easier and faster.

Next up in the Magic in DFRPG series is Math and Miscellany, where I’m going to talk about how to work out bonuses from focus items and specialties, as well as some of the corner-cases of the magic rules: things like The Sight, Soulgazes, Potions, and so on.

 
 
 

*What I’m really saying is, “Come up with your own spells. It’s more fun for you, and you’ll like them better.” Back

*As an alternative, use it as an attack, and ask the GM to make any consequence inflicted reflect the idea that the spell knocked the target back. Back

*At least, not without the expenditure of Fate Points and a kindly GM… Back

*And let’s be honest: If we’re falling off something tall enough to hurt us, we’re in the kind of situation where we need to be monitoring our stress tracks carefully. Back

*Plus, the player has come up with an interesting little story about how the spell is cast. The story of the spell, remember. Back

*Though I’d be willing to rethink that if someone came up with a convincing – and cool – enough justification for using evocation. Back

*In my mind, this is false. I think a lot of spellcasters try flying spells; they just give up on them real quick when they see the problems involved. Back

*Though I’d vary this based on circumstances, the intent of the character, and the needs of the story. Back

*Or accept a compel to be named at a later time by the GM – a compel that he can’t refuse, no matter how many Fate Points he’s got. Back

* By contrast, having a Discipline of Great (+4) would mean that he’d have a 72.2% chance of making the rolls. Huge difference! Back

In My Hot Little (Non-Virtual) Hands

If you’re following me on Twitter, you’ve seen the various phases of this story, but for those who haven’t, here’s what happened.

Yesterday at lunch, I ran home to grab something, and checked my mailbox. Inside was a slip to let me know that there was a package for me that would be available at the post office today after 1:00. Now, I knew that it must be the DFRPG books – that’s the only package I’m expecting – but I was heading out of town last night to my parents’ farm. I wouldn’t be able to get the package until Sunday at the earliest.

This made me sad.

So, after work, after packing the car, after hitting the gym, I was set to hit the road. On the way out of town, as an act of purest optimism, I decided to stop by the post office to see if the package had arrived early.

To my intense surprise and joy, it had!

The books are beautiful. They are also big, fat bastards. For all those who are down on the price, let me just say that, if you’re buying books by weight, these guys are one of your best bargains.

It’s a little strange, after all this time of reading the books on .pdf, to actually have to look through a book for stuff. No search function. Bound pages. No bookmarking – well, until I get busy with some post-its.

On second thought, given the marginalia and interjections, post-its might not stand out enough.

It’s great to have the books, and be able to have them to pass around during the game, or to keep open beside me as I work on the blog on my iPad. It’s been a long walk to get here, but it’s been totally worth it.

So, congrats to Fred and the rest of the folks at Evil Hat. You’ve made a great game, and it’s been a fun ride along the way to get here. Thanks for letting me be part of it.

Getting Ready, or A Thaumaturgic Preperation Cheat Sheet: Magic in DFRPG, Part Four

Based on the comments from my last post on magic in DFRPG, it sounds like people are looking for a cheat sheet with a range of examples of how to prepare for rituals and some example spells, so those are the first two posts I’m going to do. This one is all about preparing for the ritual. I’ve broken this down in a list format: there’s a heading for each type of consequence and each skill, along with a few examples of the type of preparatory action you take for each, and the Aspect each action gives you. This Aspect is either the consequence (for the consequences) or an Aspect on the spell that you tag to make up the Lore deficit.

Now, these are meant to be examples; the list is not exhaustive, and you’ll come up with better ideas as you sit around the table. I’ve tried to come up with one or two fairly standard things for each item, as well as one or two less obvious thoughts. Some skills, though, are a bit of a reach, and you need to keep that in mind. Your GM may pull you up short if you try one of these things. Hopefully, though, they’ll give you some ideas to try, and a starting point for your own creativity.

Some of the suggestions below don’t directly affect the spell itself, but instead affect other preparations for the spell. That’s okay. The Aspects they place still get placed on the spell, paying down the Lore deficit. It’s all part of the story of the spell, whether you’re making a Contacts roll to find someone who knows something or using Resources to hire a detective to find someone who knows something. Basically, what I’m doing with a lot of these is choosing one moment in a longer event, and using that for the Aspect – so, if Harry’s trying to convince Bob to help him with a potion, he can use Contacts to represent knowing him, or Rapport to persuade him to help, or Resources to bribe him with porn, or Empathy to know that Bob wants some time running loose, etc.

Time-wise, some of these take longer to pull of than others. The amount of time you have to make the spell happen is something you have to work out with the GM, but thaumaturgy can sometimes take days or weeks to get everything in place to actually perform the ritual, so I’ve given a wide range of time frames in the examples below. If you’re concerned about spending too much time on getting just one Aspect, try negotiating with your GM to see if the task can be broken down into subtasks within the time frame, then come up with a way to use each subtask to give you the opportunity to stick on another Aspect.

Ready? Good. Here we go!

Physical Consequences

  • Spill some blood to help power the ritual – Deep, Bleeding Cut
  • Burn foul substances and breathe in the noxious fumes – Hacking Cough
  • Sleep on a bed of nails – Pinpricked Back
  • Walk around the perimeter of the city to define the area of the spell – Really, Really Sore Feet
  • Fast for three days to purify yourself – Weak With Hunger

Mental Consequences

  • Performing difficult calculations to compose the spell – My Brain Hurts!
  • Cross-checking ancient manuscripts, translating from multiple languages – It’s All Greek to Me. Or Maybe Akkadian.
  • Take mind-altering substances to change your perceptions of the world – Tripping Balls
  • Delving deep into your dreams for hidden knowledge and revelation – Sleepwalking Through the Day
  • Matching wits with a spirit of intellect for a secret chant – Thinking in Circles

Social Consequences

  • Ignoring personal hygiene for a few days while you research – What’s That Smell?
  • Dropping out of sight for days at a time while you work on the spell – Ignoring My Friends
  • Trading favours with one of the fey – In Debt to the Summer Court
  • Getting arrested doing a little nude graverobbing – Unsavoury Police Record
  • Watching everyone you meet to see if they’re spirits sent to attack you – Weird Stalker Vibe

Alertness

  • Finding six dimes with the right dates on them to use in the spell – Matched Money
  • Spotting a bit of marginalia in a book that provides an important key – Lore of the Doodle
  • Catching a fly with chopsticks – Can Accomplish Anything
  • Knowing what to look for when the spell starts to turn – Ready For Anything
  • Checking out the pattern of stoplights blinking to red to help with your timing – In the Zone

Athletics

  • Scaling a cliff to get a feather from a falcon’s nest – Merlin’s Feather
  • Running from the gang when you’re caught asking questions on their turf – Working Hard For It
  • Chasing down a fleeing informant – Caught You!
  • Dodging the cars in the middle of the busy street as you paint a targeting sigil – That One Almost Got Me!
  • Making a parkour run over the rooftops, tracing a ley line – Charted Power

Burglary

  • Stealing a personal item for a symbolic link – My Foe’s Hairbrush
  • Scoping out the museum to find the pattern of the guards’ patrols – Guard Schedule
  • Solving the secret of the puzzle box – Power Unlocked
  • Breaking into a meet between two foes to overhear their plans and weaknesses – I Heard Everything
  • Stealing a famous painting to trade to a faerie lord for help – For Services Rendered

Contacts

  • Finding out personal information about your target – I Know You
  • Spreading a rumour to rattle your target and get him on the defenses – Vicious Gossip
  • Getting a warning when your target is ready to act against you – Every Move You Make
  • Getting a friend to share his lore with you – Borrowed Wisdom
  • Co-opting a target’s circle of friends to isolate him – You’re All Alone

Conviction

  • Seek the blessing of your priest – Blessed Undertaking
  • Psyching yourself up to attempt the spell – I Can Do It!
  • Steamrolling over others who tell you what you’re about to do is impossible – I Think I Can, I Think I Can
  • Letting your can-do attitude affect those around you – Confidence is Contagious
  • Holding true to your goals in the face of someone trying to argue you out of them – You Won’t Change My Mind

Craftsmanship

  • Carving a small figure to represent your target – Voodoo Doll
  • Crafting your own magical implements for the ceremony – Hand-Made Tools
  • Sound-proofing your workshop so the street noise doesn’t distract you – A Quiet Haven
  • Creating a miniature diorama of the city to help with location spells – Little Chicago
  • Examining a target building to see where to focus the destructive power – Weak Spots

Deceit

  • Convincing an apprentice Wizard that they should give you access to their master’s library – Lore of the Master
  • Getting the fire department to show up to your rival’s house to draw him away from a ley line you need – Ill-Gotten Power
  • Disguising yourself as a security guard to get access to the museum’s Egyptian exhibit – Mummy Dust
  • Convincing one of the fey nobles that “John Doe” is your true name as payment for knowledge – Duped Fey Lord
  • Acting contrite when the cops question you so that they don’t search your car and find the stolen spell materials – Hot Merchandise

Discipline

  • Maintaining a complex mental image during the creation of the magic circle – Focused Visualization
  • Fasting for two days to purify yourself – Cleansed
  • Meditating to find your centre before beginning the ritual – Centred
  • Facing down a fierce river spirit to get some water from its sacred river – Old-School Holy Water
  • Keeping your ego in check when groveling for a favour from a hated rival – Eating Crow

Driving

  • Charting the quickest route between five points of a giant pentacle centred on City Hall – Magic Street Map
  • Chasing down one of the Erlking’s Hounds to get a special material component – Fey Dog Drool
  • Getting safely out of gang territory after a meet with a contact goes badly – Home Free
  • Spray painting a magic circle around a city block at speed – Mobile Tagger
  • Winning a drag race with the scion of Hermes, and thus earning his favour – Mercury’s Respect

Empathy

  • Sensing the weak spot in your target’s psyche – Chink in the Armour
  • Linking your emotions with those of the target – Simpatico
  • Understanding what your informant isn’t telling you – Listening to the Silences
  • Not falling for the con man’s lies and getting the real newt’s eyes instead of tapioca – Discerning Customer
  • Getting a sense of what the cops want to hear when you have to explain your presence in the evidence locker – Say the Right Things

Endurance

  • Pulling an all-nighter to work out the complex sigildry for your magic circle – Cram Session Calculations
  • Maintaining a lotus position on top of a pole while performing the ritual – Yoga Power!
  • Crawling through a faerie bramble of razor-sharp thorns to get a special flower – Nevernever Bloodrose
  • Surviving a mystic toxin after being poisoned by a spirit angry at your theft of its power – Ghost Scorpion Survivor
  • Performing a six-hour chant without needing a break – Ritual Stamina

Fists

  • Snatching a handful of hair from your target – Sissy Sympathetic Link
  • Triumphing in a ritual battle with a spirit, gaining its help – Wrestled With an (Almost) Angel
  • Breaking out of a ring of gang members unimpressed with the mystic sigil you painted on their clubhouse – Arcane Tagging
  • Counting coup on a buffalo spirit – Blessing of the White Bison
  • Showing the proper respect to a traditional martial artist and getting him to teach you a special Chi Gong technique – Master’s Teaching

Guns

  • Using a paintball gun to hit your target with a special mixture to help you focus the spell – Painted Target
  • Casting the special alloy bullet you need to imbue with magical energy – Mystical Gunsmithery
  • Grazing a gryphon on the wing to gather the blood – Gryphon’s Blood
  • Using a holy-water-filled water pistol to trace a protective sigil on a door from a distance – God’s Supersoaker
  • Finding a collector to sell you a wheellock pistol owned by Edward Kelley – Kelley’s Gun

Intimidation

  • Scaring a straight answer out of a contact – Extorted Knowledge
  • Getting a fey lord to lose his temper so that he owes you a favour – Pissed-Off Elflord
  • Facing down the guardian of the sacred spring and getting your drink – One Drink at the Hippocrene
  • Getting safely through a bad neighbourhood to the spot you need to cast the spell – …For I am the Meanest SOB in the Valley…
  • Scaring off a rival who wants to poach the power from a ley line you need – Mine, and Mine Alone

Investigation

  • Double-checking the information you got from an old book – Confirmed by Independent Sources
  • Uncovering blackmail material to get the help you need from a rival – Dug-Up Dirt
  • Surveiling the target to learn her routine – Creature of Habit
  • Running a background check on the target to find a weakness – Uncovered Connections
  • Finding the secret message hidden in the illustrations of a grimoire that unlock real power – Deciphered Keys of Power

Lore

  • Spending time researching the spell you want to cast – Well-Documented Ritual
  • Knowing the name of the fey spirit who knows the most about this type of ritual – Expert Advice
  • Uncovering the proper invocations to call the attention of powerful spirits – Names of Power
  • Finding the recipe for the proper pigments with which to craft the magic circle – Enhanced Circle Paints
  • Having a mystic secret to trade for one that you need – Arcane Bartering

Might

  • Breaking through a locked door to snatch something personal of your target’s – Smash and Grab Sympathetic Link
  • Winning a wrestling match with a snake loa to get it to help you – Dhamballa’s Aid
  • Physically holding two mystically attracted pieces of stone until the correct moment in the spell – Atlas’s Task
  • Holding a door shut in the face of an angry troll after you stole his club – Grimbash’s Maul
  • Ceremonially snapping a sword in half to curse your foe in battle – Swordbreaker

Performance

  • Painting an intricate protective pattern within your magic circle – Detailed Glyphs
  • Using a Native American medicine dance to help focus your magic – The Blessing Way
  • Singing a song to calm the three-headed dog guarding the way out of the Nevernever after getting information from the spirits – The Orpheus Trick
  • Using complex dramaturgical rites to walk the Monster of Glamis through the performance of MacBeth* – Curse of the Scottish Play
  • Playing a sad tune on your instrument to harness the emotions of the audience to power the ritual – Dirge of Power

Presence

  • Gathering a small band of folks together to help with the ritual – My Very Own Cult
  • Getting a hearing at the local practitioners’ coffee klatch to solicit advice – Peer Reviewed Ritual
  • Letting your target know you’re coming for him, and then using the worry that generates to help target the spell – My Reputation Precedes Me
  • Not backing down when warned by very frightening demons that you shouldn’t proceed – I’m My Own Man (or Woman)
  • Having someone tell you a secret to try and curry favour with you – People Like to Help Me

Rapport

  • Getting the bartender to open up to you about the movers and shakers in the area – Local Power Structure Scoop
  • Convincing the wee folk to do some snooping for you – Little Spies
  • Having friendly Wizards willing to offer some advice on constructing the ritual – A Little Help From My Friends
  • Not letting the spirits you’re bargaining with for information know that you’re intimidated – Poker Face
  • Getting a partner for a sex magic ritual – Tantric Power

Resources

  • Buying enough silver to make a strong magic circle – Sterling Protection
  • Having the ingredients for the ritual on hand – Well-Stocked Workshop
  • Hiring a private investigator to find information about your target – Target Dossier
  • Spreading money around on the street to gather information – Money Talks. And Listens.
  • Flying to Prague to check out the Sedlec Ossuary for necromantic sigils – Lore of the Bohemian Necromancers

Scholarship

  • Tracking down a complete transcript of Dutch Schultz’s last words to unlock their mystic secrets – French Canadian Bean Soup*
  • Translating a medieval Latin grimoire to find the name of a demon that you can bind to your service – Solomon’s Key
  • Knowing enough about physics to be able to focus the least amount of energy for the greatest effect – Optimized Force Calculations
  • Checking the stars for the appropriate sidereal configuration to empower the spell – The Stars are Right
  • Bandaging the cuts you got from crawling through the junkyard to find enough copper wire to wrap the stone that’s going to hold the lightning to power your spell – Blood-Bought Conductor

Stealth

  • Sneaking out of the library with their copy of a rare book – “Borrowed” Necronomicon
  • Hiding in the underbrush with your prize as the goblins chase past you – Goblin Arrow
  • Following your target home to help you target the spell – I Know Where You Live
  • Mugging a dark fey for his headgear – Red Cap
  • Hiding in the office building until after hours in order to work your divination in the right place – Johnny on the Spot

Survival

  • Finding the rare herbs you need for the ritual – Real Mandrake Root
  • Befriending cats to use as a pattern for your shapeshifting – Live Models
  • Finding the hidden grove with the magic pool – Unspoiled Place of Power
  • Convincing the big cats in the zoo not to eat you as you pluck one of their facial hairs- Tiger’s Whisker
  • Keeping your seat on a faerie horse as you join the fey hunt to curry favour with their lord – Riding to Faerie Horns

Weapons

  • Slicing off a piece of a Minotaur’s horn to use in your ritual – Heroic Picador
  • Performing a ritualized weapon pattern to harness and direct your energies – Magic Kata
  • Dueling another Wizard over a rare magic herb – The Last Really Magic Mushroom
  • Impressing a collector with your knowledge of Renaissance rapier makers so he loans you a rare one – Medici Rapier on Loan
  • Winning a game of darts with a leprechaun to get him to give you some of his treasure – Faerie Gold

So, there’s a big list of 140 different things you can do to help make up that pesky Lore deficit. If you can’t find what you need on it, I hope it at least gives you a starting point for coming up with your own ideas.

Next post, I’m going to look at putting together a few spells, using everything I’ve been talking about in the previous posts, and explaining the decisions at each step. If there’s a particular spell you’d like to see me put together, let me know in the comments of this post or through Twitter (@Neal_Rick), and I’ll see what I can do. If you can give me the Lore, Conviction, and Discipline scores of the Wizard creating that spell, all the better – it’ll give me some hard numbers that I don’t need to make up.

I can’t guarantee that I’ll work out every spell request posted, because I think that the post will be plenty long enough if I just do three or four spells. So, if you want to make sure that your spell request gets used, make it interesting. 😉

 
 
 

*Apologies to Ken Hite for stealing this one. But I try to steal from the best. Back

*This Aspect really only makes sense if you’ve read Dutch Schultz’s last words. Back

Fearful Symmetries: The Erlking and the Eaters

Last night was the latest installment of the Fearful Symmetries game. When we had left our heroes, they were planning a little expedition to look at a farm that had been ravaged by… something. Something that the locals claimed were monsters. They got directions from the villagers at Mstetice, which told them to head through the forest to the standing stone, and bear right.

The mention of the standing stone caught the attention of both the characters – one of the things they were doing while outside the walls of Prague was scouting for places of power with an eye to denying them to the invading armies. A standing stone in the middle of a forest certainly sounded like it was worth checking out, at least in passing.

I had, of course, decided that the stone was a place of power. Trying to decide what kind of power, I thought about the place and the scene I wanted to set, and about the kinds of characters in the campaign, and the themes and such, and came up with the thought that it was tied to a power of the hunt. This naturally led me to the Erlking. The problem with using the Erlking is that the Queens had closed the gates of Faerie, so it struck me as a little problematic, considering the events already established in the setting, to involve the Erlking. Even though he’s technically wyldfae, beholden to neither court, I figure he’s still part of the fey structure, and bound at least somewhat by the strictures of the Queens and the Mothers.

But I also wanted to start laying in one of the ideas about magic that I think make a setting interesting – the concepts of wild magic, in this case. Now, I’m not talking here about D&D-style wild magic; I’m talking about magic that is older than mankind and completely unable to be tamed by anyone, the magic that represents the concepts of free will and lack of constraint that allow mortals to choose, rather than being bound to their natures and fates. It’s a concept that’s expressed beautifully in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry*, through the use of the Wild Hunt as a thread in the tapestry of the world that even the Weaver cannot control.

So, I decided that, as a representative or facet of that power, the Erlking is chafing at the way the closing of the gates of Faerie have curtailed his activities. This stone, which is set in a place of wild magic, is one of his sacred places – The Erlking’s Throne. Given that basis, I tracked down a good image of a standing stone in a forest on the internet, came up with a few Aspects, and wrote up a short description of what sort of sponsored magic the site would provide. I also figured it was a good bet that Izabela would use the Sight to examine the stone*, so I wrote up a description of the Throne as seen through the Sight.

Sure enough, I got her to look at the Throne through the Sight, and it took her a couple of turns to close her third eye, so her brain got beat up a little bit. No consequences, but a couple of unpleasant Stress hits. What she saw made her nervous enough about the nature of the power here that she decided to leave it be, and she and Emeric would continue on their own to find whatever had been raiding the farms in the area.

To that end, she decided to see if there were any ghosts in the area that could tell her anything. She very carefully walked out of the area of lifelessness around the Throne, and did a little ritual to call up the ghosts.

That’s when I offered her a compel to use some of the power from the Throne, and she took it.

I had decided that the only ghosts in the area were animal ghosts, and that without using the power of the Throne, she wouldn’t be able to communicate with them. But she used the power, and so she could, and found out that the things killing folks and destroying farms were indeed monsters, and one smelled like Emeric. She also found out that using the power here had opened the door for the Hunter.

And so the Erlking showed up. Also a mass of goblins and hounds. He offered a pact to our heroes, essentially offering sponsored magic if they desired it. Neither of them took him up on it, so he made sure they knew that, even without a pact, they could come to this site and use the power here freely. And every time they did, his Hunt would be loosed in the world for a night. Starting with tonight. Out of consideration for the service done to him by opening the door, he gave them until sunset to leave the wood. After that, he said, everything in the wood was either part of the Hunt, or it was prey.

Somewhat shaken by the encounter, the characters made good time out of the forest to the farms, finding a scene of terrible slaughter, but nothing in the way of corpses. Also hundreds of crows. Izabela tried call up ghosts to question about the attack, but found that there were no ghosts here, which gave her pause. Emeric decided to question the crows*, and they told him that one of his kin – a fire giant* – was with a group of monsters, and they had done this. The crows agreed to tell the pair where the monsters were in exchange for killing them and leaving the bodies for the crows.

Izabela and Emeric spent some time preparing for the confrontation, dropping some Aspects on themselves, like Limbered Up and Giant-Killer, and Izabela veiled them, and off they went. They came unseen upon the camp, but didn’t spot the two sentinels watching the approach. Which was fine; the sentinels didn’t spot them, either. They found a group of half a dozen rough-looking men sitting around a fire eating, a few small tents set up, and one very large pavilion.

And so they rushed to attack.

The fight was fairly long, but lots of cool things happened. After the first round, most of the men – actually ghouls – were on fire and trapped in a whirlwind, and the fire giant was in play with his massive hammer. He wiped out the veil with his fire magic, but that left him with a severe mental consequence from trying to control that much power. Everyone was working hard to layer on Aspects, and moving around doing interesting things, with ghouls trying to hamstring the heroes and leaping down on them from on top of the pavilion, but the heroes prevailed. They weren’t unscathed, though; Izabela had to retreat and veil at one point because her stress tracks were pretty much filled up, and she had used up her minor and moderate consequences.

But the ghouls were dead, and the fire giant was dead, and the crows were paid. A good night’s sleep, and they were able to head back to Mstetice and then to Prague. They brought along the fire giant’s hammer, because they could tell it was an item of evil power, and they’re looking for a way to destroy it, or at least get it out of circulation permanently. I decided that was a good place to leave things for the night.

As we shut down, my players started asking about enchanted items, so we had a talk about what they could do, and how to get them, and so on. I had decided when play started that I wasn’t going to push the idea of enchanted items until the players asked about them – there’s enough stuff to learn without adding that complexity at the start of things. We are all gaining familiarity with and mastery of the system, which pleases me. I had given the players a significant milestone, so they have the opportunity now to shuffle their enchanted item/focus item slots around, and they may do so.

All in all, a good game.

 
 
 

*If you haven’t read this series, you should. Back

*And if she decided not to, she’s got a couple of Aspects I could compel to persuade her. Back

*Invoking his Raised in Legend Aspect, saying that speaking to birds is well-represented in Norse mythology, and Emeric had learned the trick in his youth. I liked that idea. Back

*Not in the book, so I started with an Ogre, and tweaked it until it looked fire-giantish. Back