Monday, October 28, 2013

ACKS: Sorcery! : The Colour of Magic

Previously, we combined the Arcane and Divine sources into a single "Sorcery" class build category.

Next, we'll import some Swords & Sorcery flavor.


The Colour of Magic


For the full Swords & Sorcery effect, some magicks must be worse than others, else, whom will the barbarians immediately attack, and whom will they merely greatly mistrust?

We have handy categories available to us thanks to the ACKS:PC, and we'll utilize those to quickly divvy up the spells between the categories of Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. (or Good, Neutral, Evil, or White, Grey, Black, etc.)

I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty of each spell available. There's wiggle room all over, and to each his own. The table here paints a broad brush, following the example that Crypts & Things led with, though ACKS's spell selection is much larger.

Essentially, it boils down to a checklist:
  1. Is it necromancy?
  2. Is the only purpose of the spell dealing damage/death?
  3. Does it compel humanoids to act or transform against their will?
  4. Does it summon creatures from beyond the natural world or in unnatural ways?
  5. Is it a reversed version of a Cleric spell?
then it's probably Chaotic/Evil/Black.

Crypts & Things posits that Teleportation and things like Invisibility are Chaotic, as they put you in or through some shadowy netherworld; it's a neat enough concept I dropped Teleportation into Chaotic in this example.

And there's exceptions - take the Divine 1st level spell Fellowship, ACKS pg 76. It's a low-level Charm affecting intelligent creatures. Creatures treat the caster as if they had a 2d4 higher CHA on a failed save. It's got an out, though, in that a successful save penalizes the caster's interactions with the ones that made it. It's probably Neutral/Grey, but I'd completely accept Chaotic/Black.

There's a decent amount of wiggle-room in Neutral, and I'm probably being generous.


That Old Black Magic


So, you've decided to dabble in the raw power of Chaos! What's next? Let's ask Conan, in the form of Mongoose's d20 Conan - the closest d20 ever got to having it's own Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. It had a very original system of magic, completely divorced from anything Vancian, and that included a chance to corrupt yourself working with powers beyond what mortal men should toy with.

For each Chaotic spell you add to your repertoire, you must make a Corruption check - make a save vs spells, with a penalty equal to the spell's level. If you fail, gain a point of Corruption.

For each Chaotic spell you cast, save vs Spells, unmodified. For each failure, gain a point of Corruption. If you gain a point of Corruption,  you must make a second save vs Death or be shaken, taking a -2 penalty to all rolls and AC for 1d3 rounds.

Corruption has increasing effects.

Corruption 1-3 (Troubled): You are troubled; having occasional nightmares full of horror; each time you sleep, roll 1d6. On a result of 1, you toss and turn all night, and you may not recover spells or regain hit points. This is as result (16-20),(2) on the Tampering With Mortality table on ACKS pg107. If you also gain that side effect from that table, the effects occur on a roll of 1 or 2 on 1d6.

Consuming sufficient quantities of alcohol or other sedatives grant you a +1 to the 1d6 roll. The next morning, you suffer a -1 to all rolls for 1d6 hours.

Corruption 4-6 (Disturbed): You are disturbed and distracted. Each time you sleep, roll 1d6. On a result of 2 or less, roll 1d3. The rolled effect lasts until the next time you rest.



It is a fine line between calming one's inner demons, and addiction, and you may cross it. Becoming addicted to a substance grants you a +1 on the 1d6 roll and a +1 on the subsequent 1d3 roll. Every hour you do not consume some amount of what you are addicted to, suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to all saving throws.

Do note the nightmares still continue while you sleep. They don't bother you anymore.

Corruption 7-9 (Detached): You are becoming detached from the normal ebb and flow of the natural world. The lives of other creatures seem to be nothing but tools to use or obstacles to destroy. You suffer a -2 reaction penalty with normal animals, and they will not bear you as a rider. You gain a +2 to reaction rolls to intimidate. You gain a +2 to reaction rolls with Chaotic creatures or individuals.




Each day, roll a 1d6 on the Disturbed table, appending the additional effects below:

You may start or continue an addiction to dull your remaining moral core to receive a +1 on the roll. Every hour you do not partake, suffer a -1 penalty to all rolls.

Corruption 10-13 (Corrupt): You are fully corrupted. The Chaos infusing you begins to reveal itself physically on your body. You take an additional -2 reaction roll penalty with normal animals, and a -2 penalty with all non-chaotic intelligent creatures. This stacks with Detached modifiers.


Roll each day on the Detached table. You may still gain a -1 to the roll by holding an addiction.

Additionally, each time you reach Corrupt, roll on the following table, and record the result, and the roll. When you reach Lost, do not roll - choose the effect that matches your roll on this table.



Reroll if you gain a corruption you've already suffered. If your reroll is the same result, or you already have all the effects, roll instead on the Effects of Being Lost.

Corruption 14+ (Lost): Chaos erupts from your body, causing a permanent change. Take your previous result on the Effects of Corruption table and choose the equivalent result.


You must roll on the Detached table once per rest. Reroll results of 1 forever more, no matter your Corruption score - you are beyond doubts. You may no longer gain modifiers from addiction.



If you recognize the structure of the above system, congrats! You also own/read Mongoose's d20 Conan system, which was actually pretty cool!


Continuing Effects of Corruption


Continue to track and add Corruption as the sorcerer continues to earn it. Every 10 points, roll on the Effects of Corruption table. Every 14 points, roll on the Effects of Being Lost table (so, at 24 and 28, 38 and 42, 56 and 60, etc.) The lists provided are by no means exhaustive, and the DM is encouraged to come up with their own, or inventive ways to double-up on the existing list. Rerolling duplicates, at the very minimum, gets any given sorcerer to....178 Corruption, I believe.

I'm pondering the existence of a third table with more severe effects, but don't have anything solid at the moment.

Acquiring Corruption


So, what's the math on this? A sorcerer's Spells save changes every 3 levels, starting at 12+ and going down one at 4,7,10, and 13.

Let's see how that looks at various bonus values from ability score, class/race power or proficiency:



A 1st-3rd level Sorceror can cast, on average, 25 spells before reaching 14 Corruption. A 1st level Sorceror might burn up in a month, essentially, if he casts Magic Missile once per day. At the end of the table, sufficiently high bonuses may mean you're never susceptible to Corruption - which, as part of a custom race, say, an analogue of ACKS' Zaharans, can make perfect sense.


Shedding Corruption


Corruption may be healed over time, through deliberate action. It also may be shed as a molted skin, by just letting your mind go.

This option requires the most work on the DM's part to make sure these insanities actually plague the character, rather than being a notation on a character sheet. They don't work for everybody.

Minor Insanities


By letting your mind loose, just a little, you may shed Corruption. Each minor insanity takes away 1d4 points of Corruption. You must (should) restrict yourself to bed rest for 1d6 days.

Delusion: This may be a mild paranoia, or a complete misunderstanding of a minor aspect of how the world works. You may believe that Lich King of Marladai prefers diplomacy over conflict, viewing his trampling over the baronies of South Tarshere as simply helpful garrisoning. You may be excessively tight-lipped around stonemasons, knowing they're part of a grand conspiracy.

Phobia: Choose a common animal, creature, or type of creature (ambulating fungus, perhaps). Whenever you are in the presence of a creature that can trigger the phobia, make a save vs Death or be panicked, as if you failed a save versus the Fear spell.

Insomnia: Sleep eludes you. Save vs Death every morning or wake up fatigued. You are at a -1 to all rolls and throws that day.

Major Insanities


By relinquishing yourself to a full breakdown, you may shed more. Each major insanity takes away 2d4 points of Corruption. You must (should) restrict  yourself to bed rest for 2d6 days until the mania has passed.

Paranoia: This is similar to delusion, but much more severe. The sorcerer believes in a number of highly personalized delusions, all relating to persecution or treachery, from all fronts.

Voices: The voices in the sorcerer's head become more insistent. Anytime the sorcerer is in a stressful situation (at the DM's purview) he must save vs Paralysis or become controlled by the GM for 1d6 turns.

Hallucination: The sorcerer sees objects that are not there, and real objects may be distorted. The sorcerer takes a -1 penalty to Surprise rolls, and the same to all melee or ranged attack throws.


Cleansing Corruption



A sorcerer can renounce the call of Chaos to clean themselves of Corruption.

He must first divest himself of all Chaotic spells from his repertoire, and any remaining taint - this takes one week per Chaotic spell of rest, meditation, and fasting. Afterwards, the sorcerer must save vs Death once per week. Success means he reduces his Corruption score by one point.

Digressing from this path and reengaging Chaos causes each failed save to result in 2 points of Corruption gained until the sorcerer is back at his highest level of Corruption originally gained.

A sorcerer may never reduce his or her Corruption score below 1, nor may he or she divest themselves of the physical manifestations of the Chaos that once suffused their being via this method. Likewise, insanities gained may not be healed in this manner.

Forgiving Corruption



A sufficiently powerful priest of a Lawful god, if such a thing exists in the world, may forgive a properly penitent sorcerer of Corruption, the physical mutations of Chaos, and any insanities.

The sorcerer must first divest herself of all Chaotic spells from her repertoire, taking one week per Chaotic spell of rest, meditation, and fasting in a location of the priest's choice.

Once that task is complete, the sorcerer must submit herself to a Quest, as the spell, from the priest. This will often be a task beneficial to the priest's church, and may also be for resources that will aid the priest in the last step.

That last step is a Miracle, cast by the priest, on behalf of the sorcerer, to remove all Corruption and it's effects from the sorcerer.

It would be remiss to not note that the priest, and that priest's god, will continue to expect Lawful behavior from the sorcerer from that moment on, and that ramifications for the sorcerer that breaks that trust may be dire.

Escaping Corruption



The final option available to the sorcerer is apotheosis. A sorcerer may transform himself into an inhuman form, and in doing so remove all of himself that Chaos taints. This may be via necromancy (lichdom, perhaps), transmogrification (into a dragon, maybe), or encapsulation (into a construct, for example).

The sorcerer's Corruption ceases to exist after transformation, and he need not check for gaining Corruption.

Middle Road: Grey Magic



To be honest, I'm drawing a blank on this one. Crypts & Things does this as HP damage, which I'm not necessarily a fan of.

 We either get a bit (more) fiddly with things, or instead grant boons to those who have only White magic in their repertoires, or, alternatively, muddle White and Grey together, and just have Law magic vs Chaos magic.

An "easy" alternative would be to continue to utilize the Corruption system presented above, but slow it down greatly:

Neutral, or Grey magic, has some base in this world; and the flow of those energies is much less corrupting. Corruption checks gain a bonus of (7 - spell level), +6 for a first level spell, down to +1 for a 6th level spell.

For each Neutral spell you add to your repertoire, you must make a Corruption check - make a save vs spells, modified by the relevant bonus. If you fail, gain a point of Corruption.

For each Neutral spell you cast, save vs Spells, with the relevant bonus. For each failure, gain a point of Corruption. If you gain a point of Corruption,  you must make a second save vs Death or be shaken, taking a -2 penalty to all rolls and AC for 1d3 rounds.

This takes the previously shown table (Avg. Chaotic Spells Loosed) and shifts it over to the left quite a bit - in fact, I think that a character with a +4 total bonus to saves vs. Spells would never be subject to Corruption.

A 1st level Sorcerer with no save bonuses at all would reach Corruption 14 after 140 castings of a level 1 spell, on average. Compare that with 25 on the original table.

Characters with a proper proficiency or high enough stats may not really need to worry about Corruption from Neutral magic, which seems like a good enough feature.

Removing Corruption would work in essentially the same way.

The DCC Way



The current gold standard in spell corruption is the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG; and it'd be certainly flavorful to steal their corruption system outright. It's more direct than what's presented above, but it also doesn't build upon itself. This would require a bit of DM research to determine if what's presented in the DCC effects would fit the tone of her game, as some of the effects are...complex.

For each Chaotic spell cast, roll a Corruption check. On a roll of a natural 1 or 2, corruption has occured. Roll either according to the nearest matching DCC spell (Animal Summoning, for example, has a more detailed corruption table) or a 1d6 for a more general corruption result, where 6 indicates a Greater Corruption, 4-5 a Major Corruption, or 1-3 a Minor Corruption, as on the DCC RPG Corruption tables.

For each Neutral spell, roll a Corruption check. Corruption happens on a natural 1.

Otherworldy Promises



In the previous post, we talked about Turn Undead, and made a possible set of proficiencies:

Lesser Pact: You have reached an agreement with an otherworldly being, possibly a god. You may Turn or Control undead as befits your alignment and that of the being as a default Cleric of half your level. You may also utilize Divine Power, as explained in Chapter 7 of ACKS.

Greater Pact: You have solidified your relationship with an otherworldly being. You may Turn or Control undead as befits your aligntment and that of the being as a default Cleric of your level. You must already have a Lesser Pact in place with the same being.
For any given "cleric" build, Turn Undead is much more "expensive" - it doesn't come prepackaged with a Divine casting progression.

One way around that is to expand it's reach.

First off, since we've drawn a strong dividing line between Law and Chaos as it comes to magic, we can therefore declare certain creatures - summoned from elsewhere - as Chaotic.

Allow Turn Undead to effect them as undead of their Hit Die +2 -  your common Manes would turn as a Ghoul, a Marilith as a Vampire, a Balor as an Infernal.

Secondly, allow them to turn Chaotic sorcerers of corruption level 10 or more. Treat the sorcerer as an undead of their Hit Die +4 - the particular Detached result overrides this value. Treat results of T or D as a fear effect.

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