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[Circûmflex] Messing around with spellpoints in an OSR-style system


This last week I have been sick. With lots of time on my hands I have been working on a version of Labyrinth Lord that is more suited for playing on HârnWorld. By now the whole thing does not look much like Labyrinth Lord anymore. Although it still is pretty close to the mathematical values, and more of a homebrew than an actual new system. I call it Circûmflex, because if you know Hârn, which is like calling something D&D-connected Ampersand.

These posts will be basically meditations on why I decide to do certain things one way or another. Please feel free to comment, especially if you know more about the maths of games than I do (which is not hard).

In any case, one of the things I decided to overhaul was the magic system. I adore the Vancian magic system, I really do. But it just is not a good fit for the setting I intended this to be played in.

So I started to fiddle around with spell points a bit.

One idea that was floating around in various places was that one could just use the number of spells wizards gained per level, and give them a value of points per level, connected to the Fibonacci sequence. I liked that. It made lower level spells cheaper, while making more powerful spells more difficult to cast.

Piety and Mana

To use spells and invocations wizards and clerics use a pool of points each. For clerics this is called Piety, for wizards this is called Mana. Both are determined by the level of the character, modified by the modificator for Wisdom for Clerics, and the one for Intelligence for Shek-P’var.
Mechanically they work almost the same. A spell or invocation of a specific level has a cost in piety or mana. When it is invoked or cast it reduces the amount of points by the set amount. When the pool of points reaches 0 no further invocations or spells are possible until they are replenished.
If the last spell cast would bring the pool of points under 0 the cleric or shek-p’var has to Save against Spell. If this roll fails he/she might incur the displeasure of their deity (cleric), or the spell might misfire (according to GM’s fiat). In any case the cleric/shek-p’var will feel burned out and not be able to invoke/cast again until at least half the pool is replenished.
Piety and Mana points replenish at a rate of 1d8 per night of rest spent in prayer or meditation.

The cost of spells and invocations is determined by the level it has. At level 1 it costs 1 point, at level 2 it costs two points, at level 3 three points, at level 4 five points, etc.

Some notes on that:

  • I renamed spells for clerics to invocations. This is in line with the terminology in HarnMaster, even though in this case it does not make any difference ruleswise. Likewise I used the word Piety, which has an actual value in HM, to denote something completely different. The word Mana does not even appear in HM I think, but I am trying to dress Labyrinth Lord in the right guise, I don’t try to emulate the rules of HM.
  • Wizards are of course Shek-P’var in HârnWorld. Technically Shek’P’var are just the most common and widespread of wizards, and there are quite a few hints towards other traditions, but I will go with that right now.
  • The spellpoint management is actually inspired by older editions of Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). I don’t know if newer editions still have it (5th edition just came out and I haven’t even seen a book of it yet…), but I felt it might fit the setting well if spells cannot be easily regained from day to day. Mana and Piety in this system replenish at about double the rate as hit points. Which means that spellcasters start pretty strong, but have to keep their resources in mind better.

Ah yes, about that last part…

This is the point when I decided to have a look at the amount of spell points available to my spellcasters. Now, I have to add here that in the previous version of my houserules I decided at one point that all the levels I really needed to think about was the ones up to level 12. In the last few years barely any of my players managed to reach even these lofty heights, and I mean the years since I started playing AD&D 2nd edition back in the 90s.

Funnily enough I noticed something interesting when I calculated the spellpoint equivalents to the usual Labyrinth Lord spell slots: if I calculate according to the Fibonacci sequence I mentioned earlier, with one 1st level spell as 1 point, and 1 6th level spell as 9 points, at level 12 I reached exactly 66.

If I would let that go on further the Quadratic Wizard effect would of course be in full effect. That was one of the things I found was easier to avoid with a soft level limit of 12. But even like that, this is pretty strong, isn’t it? Especially considering that I was already thinking of getting rid of spell books and memorization. Kind of strong for the nominally low-magic world Kethira.

On the other hand I was toying with another idea: why not give spellcasters a roll for their spell pool that is equivalent to their hp pool?

Well, ok, because people might hate not having a clear level progression, and because bad rolls happen (although I do have an idea to mitigate that) and because it would benefit some people but not others. But other than that?

I actually did see something similar in Das Schwarze Auge. True, there the system actually started with 25 or so “astral points” and leveling added to that, but DSA always was a bit of a slugfest with all those points. So lets say we start with a mana pool of 1d8 for shek-p’var, and 1d6 for clerics. This still might be too much actually. This would give an average of 4.5 points, plus Int-mod. At the top of the range this might mean a wizard could have 11 spells a day on first level. Hmm. Nope, not good.

Ok, lets go with 1d6 for both. this would give an average of 42 points, a minimum of 12, and a maximum of 108 spell points on level 12.

I gave the Shek-P’var a requirement of Int 9, so no negative modifiers should be possible. After all one needs to be at least able to read to study old musty tomes of arcane secrets. No Int 3 wizards in this system. Sorry.

Ok, a super-genius wizard who can spam 12 level 6 spells on level 12. A bit over the top, but doable. On the other hand even someone with the worst possible kind of luck and no modifiers should be able to blast off at least 12 spells at once.

In this case it actually might help that either of these wizards only get back a maximum of 8 points per day.

Luckily, there are some limitations for both clerics and wizards in this setting. Clerics only have access to a limited pool of spells. Some of the spells, sorry, invocations, might be downright useless from an dungeoneering point of view (which is okay, there aren’t that many straightforward dungeons in the setting anyway). There is not really a reason to invoke “Marriage” for example, except to replenish piety points. And where do you find a willing couple in the middle of the dungeon anyway?

Ah yes, that latter one is an actual invocation from HarnMaster Religion. There it of course makes a lot of sense. The clerics in HarnMaster are not only walking hp-fountains. In fact a lot of the gods don’t even have healing invocations. But doing some good work like baptising new adherents, and performing weddings for others, actually increases the piety for the priest. This would not actually have much sense with the usual Vancian magic, it does make more sense if clerics have to replenish their piety somehow.

Wizards actually have it a bit better, at least in higher levels. The Pvaristic system the setting has actually keeps wizards from having access to all the cool spells at once. A shek-p’var starts as a specialist in one of six convocations. This means he for example only has access to water-aspected spells. But shek-p’var can attune themselves to the other convocations the more experience they have. So over time they can gain access to all convocations. Or they just stay a specialist in their field. Whatever floats their boat.



[HarnWorld] Visitors (Session 1)

Screenshot at 2016-05-03 21:00:37So, I had my first session on Hârn two days ago.
We played my unholy mess of an OD&D/AD&D hack, and I decided to make character generation part of the game (the players were remembering who they were after waking up with amnesia). There was a mishap with interdimensional travel involved, which lead to a motley collection of characters waking up in a forest.
This was intentional. I wanted the characters to explore the world on their own, and I wanted test out how well I can run this rather sophisticated world.

Also all of us work, and I am the only one who enjoys reading all that background material.

The characters woke up at the edge of the Shâva Forest, just south of Trobridge, scattered together with some other interdimensional trash around something which might turn out to be an Earthmaster artifact (or might be completely unrelated).
I had a rather free-wheeling approach for character generation, and they were supposed to be from various other worlds, so I ended up with
* a ditzy apprentice wizard
* a soccer-playing Shaolin monk
* a rude ranger from “the woods, but not these woods”
* a sith from Tatooine (I used some Star Wars house rules I had for that)
* a stab-happy pirate with a fixation on swords

Hardly the characters you might think about when exploring Hârn, but well, it was supposed to be an introduction to the setting. (and we play OD&D, I would be surprised if more than half survived the next session)
The characters soon armed each other with the trash that was around (the ranger decided that a STOP-sign must be some kind of pole axe, the rest went with some more traditional things they found; two shields they found became important as barter material soon enough).

A short survey of the surrounding lands from the hillside they were on showed Lake Herâs and Trobridge to the north, but the pirate decided to go straight to the lake (because pirate needs water), while the others decided to look at the settlement first. The Tatooine native at this point was freaking out because flowers grew on what she was told was grass.
They already came to blows at this point, which made them ignore my remarks about the random encounter that approached them, until the bear was already behind them, hungry and ready to attack.

This was quite the disaster. The swordsman rolled nothing but failures, the magic-user put herself to sleep with a really bad roll, and the others managed to get a few tame hits in. The most successful was the monk who managed to stun the bear with a good blow long enough for everyone to run away downhill.

Soon enough they met a Chelni (horse-people) encampment, and decided against trying to pillage it. The Chelni were friendly, especially after the PCs offered to trade one of the shields they found for a very small amount of food.
During the subsequent celebration of the trade they encountered a deep rift in their cosmology, while most of the characters were convinced that the world was flat, two and their host knew that it was spherical. One can get a lot of roleplaying out of the fact that the primitive tribesman one encounters is better at astronomy than most PCs.

The arrival in Trobridge came soon afterwards. The innkeeper pointed them towards the Physician and the Apothecary to receive exposition (the physician turned out to be a Shek-Pvar journeyman) and a quest (Bring me… garlic! But watch out for that rabid bear!). They soon decided to go back to the place where they woke up, I think they might have thought I had this adventure planned out in that direction. The fools!

Before they couldleave again a bunch of local ruffians (Kurson’s guys) tried to extort some money out of what they thought were easy marks. This ended with three of the ruffians unconscious (a more successful use of the Sleep spell) but their leader still awake and alarmed (because “Witch! Witch!”).
Before reinforcements could arrive, but after he sounded the alarm, they tried to fast talk their way out of it by claiming they were all affected by the Sleeping Plague. This valorous attempt to save the situation was cut short when the ruffian was stabbed to death by the swordsman (“what the hell are you doing?”). Then they withdrew to the inn, whose owner was not happy about the fact that they made a mess out of a delicate situation. Luckily for them local wannabe-lord Kurson decided to be an ass about it all, and the innkeeper kept them inside, unwilling to have Kurson have any authority over his inn.
The next morning they overcame the guards Kurson had posted outside and went back to the woods.

– during Kurson’s brief siege of the inn the person who murdered the ruffian decided to offer to murder everyone in the inn for Kurson. This caused the force-sensitive Tatooinian to embrace the dark side

– Chelni horses are basically thin banthas, bears are rabid ewoks.

-fast talking someone works better if you don’t stab them in the stomach first

Lessons Learned:
I should have given some more limitationsof what characters to create. Maybe only Terrans would be better for a game like this. This would have given it a feeling closer to the John Carter novels, or maybe the beginning of Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series. On the other hand this would most likely have hampered the fun they had with the characters they created. I received various messages about further character development the next day. So it seems like I got them interested. But now that they are going back to where they came from I guess I should at least provide them with a small dungeon. I noticed that some of my players were itching for more fights.

What I learned making a list of RPG companies

I put together a list of currently active RPG companies a while ago. The reason for that was mostly to check how the hobby actually looks like right now.

I don’t think I know even now. I have the feeling that some things still elude me, even though I found some crazy/interesting stuff while searching for new companies. But you know what? Despite all the doom and gloom the hobby is still freakishly wide and varied.

Sometimes I have to wonder about these companies. I mean, ok, we have a rather niche hobby, but some of these games should have been better known just for the concept alone. Instead quite a few seem to be one-man shops with 90s websites, and products that could only have been published back then. Some even still have websites that haven’t been updated in two decades.

Still, they soldier on, and that is admirable.

Some interesting things:

  • Judge’s Guild exists, again. This is which incarnation by now? In any case, they still have stuff from back in the day for sale
  • Flying Buffalo on the other hand STILL exists, and still sell Tunnels and Trolls, since 1975. I haven’t checked, but I think this would be the only company on the list that lasted in exactly the same configuration for such a long time (41 years!)
  • the runner-up would be Chaosium. But I am not quite sure how exactly they now are organized. There’s some shuffling-around with Moon Design Publications going on
  • the prize for the title with the most gratuitous fan-service/alliteration I would have to give to Tri Tac Games Beach Bunny Bimbos With Blasters
  • quite a few companies have stopped publishing RPGs over time. The one I noticed the most was FanPro, once the powerhouse of German RPG scene. By this point they are reduced to a one-author publishing house with attached 2nd hand bookstore
  • despite the proverbial antipathy of Christians towards RPGs there are two dedicated Christian publishing houses that have RPGs in their program. One has a German-language Narnia RPG, the other is the infamous DragonRaid, which was created as a non-satanic alternative to D&D. Yes, DragonRaid still is being published.
  • the most convoluted story I found so far is the one of Paradox, Cabinet, White Wolf, and Onyx Path. Swedish company Paradox Entertainment which published Kult and Mutant Chronicles was sold to the Hollywood-based Cabinet Entertainment, but there still is Paradox Interactive, which recently bought White Wolf. So now the website of White Wolf doesn’t have anything but some fluff on it, but Onyx Path which used to develop White Wolf stuff is now selling stuff. I assume there is some drama in the background that I am missing out on.

The Curse of Being a Responsible Adult

It has been a year since we played any RPG. I was just talking about this with one of my players. The last RPG we played was the second session of Shadowrun a year ago, and then some Arkham Horror later on.

In between our group did meet, but stuff kind of shifted away from role-playing over time. I still prepared scenarios, but we haven’t played any. We played boardgames, went to film festivals and movies, met for half a dozen other things. Just the role-playing didn’t work out.

The curse of being a responsible adult, you still might like the same things as before, but you don’t have the time and energy to do it all.


Did I mention Fluxx before?

We played it again tonight. We had a boardgame evening (no time for proper roleplaying 😦 ), and used Monty Python Fluxx as a warm-up.

You see, there is a basic version of Fluxx, but I haven’t seen that one yet. There also are multiple variations that use different images and themes from each other, some even modifying the rules to get what is basically a completely different game.

The ones I have or have played are Monty Python Fluxx, Star Fluxx, and Cthulhu Fluxx.

The basic rules are simple, and even get put out on a card: Take 1 card, play 1 card. Everyone draws 3 cards in the beginning and then  the game begins.

This means that in the beginning there is not even a victory condition in play. Luckily it does not stay like this for long. Players can play new rules (e.g. a rule that allows to draw multiple cards per turn), can put out “keepers” (which allow to meet victory conditions), goals (which set victory conditions), or other action cards that might completely change the game. Players might encounter “Creepers” which are like Keepers only they attach themselves to the players and bar them from winning.

The basic rules are surprisingly easy, and the game soon drops into a nice rhythm that allows for a fast and fun game.


The variations play with this formula. Monty Python Fluxx is rather weak in this regard, it often has cards that depend on knowing Monty Python and their comedy, and we all know how annoying that can be over time. One card for example demands everyone sing a bar of a Monty Python song. After a dozen versions of Every Sperm is Sacred and Always Look on the Bright Side this becomes frustrating at best.

Cthulhu Fluxx on the other hand makes the game even more twisty than before. Creepers still are bad, unless you turn out to be evil yourself, then having them is a boon. Even some keepers make it more difficult to win, and easier for all to lose. These might not seem to be large changes, but the game actually becomes even more challenging with this. All of a sudden one cannot easily understand anymore if another player just has lousy luck in this round, or is actually working to undermine all the others.

SF_BoxTop_CS3If you want to try the game best get Star Fluxx by the way. More interesting than the MP variation, but less twisty and dark than the Cthulhu version. It also has a surprise type of card that can be played whenever and makes the game more interesting without going too far in the other direction.

It’s the small things…


My work’s proxy is now blocking this blog because “Games”.

Not WordPress though, just the actual blog. So I can post but cannot read what I posted.

[Call of Cthulhu] The Cubicle 7 London Box and general musings on what we assume is progress

I bought myself the Call of Cthulhu London Box by Cubicle 7 as a slightly belated birthday gift to myself. Have I even mentioned before that I started Masks of Nyarlathotep with my group a while ago?

It might be better that I didn’t, because work and life got between everything again and we are stuck just before the Ju-Ju House, so at the very, very beginning.

Having this box on the other hand fires the idea to play this up again. In fact I am wondering if maybe I should be playing this with the new players I managed to find a while ago. Well, in addition to the ones I already played the first few sessions through with I mean. Actually restarting the whole thing from scratch would be one idea I was floating. It’s not like they remember anything from back then. So we could start the whole thing at the Chelsea Hotel again and I could properly track what stuff exactly they already found and whatnot.

Yeah, I lost a bit of track there. I am not quite sure what exactly happened and which clues they managed to find, and I actually was working through the campaign again and I think I understand much better how to structure the whole thing now. Masks needs to be pulpy and action-packed and deadly.

Why I am thinking this right now?

Well, I did just get the London box, as I mentioned, and I really would like to use that one as well. And Masks does have a rather big part of it set in the London. And at least in this case I would have some printed maps and a guidebook my players can read. In fact my wife was nearly as giddy about the whole thing as me, taking over the box and reading the London guidebook as soon as I went to inspect the other things I bought.

So far it looks rather promising, if a bit cartoony and slightly too glamorous for, well, London. I think it slowly becomes obvious that we are nearly a hundred years away from the time most Call of Cthulhu material is set in. We just don’t have so much of a grasp for these times anymore.

Just yesterday I found an old forum entry on wondering why exactly one would send telegrams in the 1920s, when the telephone already existed.

Not that this is a new phenomenon. I am lately reading the first few years of Amazing Stories (from the late 20s), and one reader had the gall to criticize H.G.Wells for not having planes in the War of the Worlds (published in 1897). It had to be pointed out that the story they were reading was written before planes were a thing. But I am going to go into that in some separate entry at one point.

The thing is: I don’t have a clue how my children will react when at one point I will tell that yes, we were alive in a time when not everyone had a mobile phone, internet was a once a week for an hour thing, and people watched whatever was on television for lack of a choice. And that was just my childhood.

Re-evaluating Magic: The Gathering

Image.ashxLately I reconsidered my disdain for Magic: The Gathering; I even spent a lot of money buying new cards, and found my old cards back at my parents’ place. I bought Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 for my tablet and had a blast playing it. Despite all the misgivings about the game in the community it has a rather nice structure for new players, or those that haven’t played it for close to 20 years.

Did anyone notice that Magic turned 20 in 2013? How is time going by so quickly?

I originally gave up on Magic in about ’97 or ’98. I think I was one of the first people in my region to even know what a trading card game was, and most likely one of the first ones to buy the game at all (the German 3rd edition starter set, and the Renaissance reprint set). I weathered the Homelands expansion (still widely maligned to be one of the worst ever, but with a lot of flavor and amazing art), had a lot of fun with Mirage and Visions (which had an amazing Africa inspired theme that has not been repeated since), and then hit a roadblock during the Weatherlight saga.

Image.ashx2It was Serra Avatar that killed it for me back then. I had not graduated to buying large amounts of boosters and starter sets, and when my neighbour managed to get a card collection multiple times the size of my own, just a month after I introduced him to the game, I knew I was in trouble. And then he played Serra Avatar (a creature with toughness and power equal to the life of its controller) and I knew I wouldn’t manage to compete.

Well, I guess I could have. If I spent more of my money on trying to catch up.

The problem was that I didn’t want to. I already was deeply into RPGs, and I decided that I’d rather spend more money buying books and other supplements than  cards. So there was that.

I sometimes would buy a few boosters afterwards, but around ’02 or ’03 the art direction became so grating that I stopped doing even that.

Then a few months ago El Goonish Shive had an arc set during the equivalent of a Magic tournament. El Goonish Shive is a webcomic that has been running for a long time now. There is shapechanging squirrel hybrids and anime style martial artists in there. There is a lot of weird sexual fetish stuff without anything really overt in there. And then at one point an arc with lots of important plot development was set at a Magical Gatherings tournament. One of the characters works in a comic shop, and they have a weekly tournament.

And while reading this I was thinking: hey, that reminds me, that game wasn’t actually so bad.

And it has gotten better in the time I was away. I only noticed it after starting the computer game, but the rules have been straightened out a bit, card design has been changed, the art has matured a bit, etc.

Mana burn is gone for example. No more damage points if you miscount how many lands you tapped. Interrupts are gone, folded into instants. Creatures have become stronger to make them a feasible choice against spells.

Mulligans have changed as well and created an even deeper tactical part. Instead of just doing the Mulligan when one has either no or only lands, now everyone is allowed to reshuffle and draw again (minus one card) if the initial draw is not good enough.

The game has sped up. Stuff is happening in the game. There is constant action instead of a slow slugging of cards against each other. I guess this is what happens when you actually try to learn from your mistakes and try to improve a game over the course of 20 years. Not everything is perfect, but I dig the current version of Magic much more than the one I used to play.

The Wilderlands are a strange place

Ready Ref Sheets, page 49:

Somehow Anchovies are fruits in the Wilderlands

Ready Ref Sheets, pg. 49

By the way, apples show up only as rare crab apples and as the unique Golden Apple. This means that in any given hex you have a 1/400 chance of finding coffee or rubber, but only a 1/8000 chance of finding sour apples. And a 1/16000 chance of finding a non-sour apple that gives immortality.

Have I mentioned I love the old JG stuff?

Terry Pratchett is dead

Terry Pratchett is dead.
I don’t think there is a single other author who had such an influence on me and my view of the world.
Scribner once said “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.” and so I think that he will live on, in a way, in all of us who spent part of their life in his books. And his books remain.

I hope that he will continue to change the people of this world for the better.