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Author Topic: [TSoY] Proposed rules for sorcery  (Read 4828 times)
colin roald
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« on: June 24, 2006, 06:12:58 PM »

Quote
In the midst of the table an alembic was working. The lamp's flame -- deep blue, this one -- kept a-boil in the large crystal cucurbit a dark, viscid fluid with here and there diamond glints. From out of the thick, seething stuff, strands of a darker vapor streamed upward to crowd through the cucurbit's narrow mouth and stain -- oddly, with bright scarlet -- the transparent head and then, dead black now, flow down the narrow pipe from the head into a spherical crystal receiver, larger even than the cucurbit, and there curl and weave about like so many coils of living black cord -- an endless, skinny, ebon serpent.

Behind the left end of the table stood a tall, yet hunchbacked man in black robe and hood, which shadowed more than hid a face . . . From under a receding forehead and bushy gray brows, wide-set eyes looked intently down at an age-browned scroll, which his disgustingly small club-hands, knuckles big, short backs gray-bristled, ceaselessly unrolled and rolled up again. The only move his eyes ever made, besides the short side-to-side one as he read the lines he was rapidly intoning, was an occasional farther sidewise glance at the alembic.

. . .

[In Bones Alley] the night-smog was thicker than ever. A high-circling nighthawk would have seen the stuff converging from all sections of Lankhmar, north, east, south, west -- from the Inner Sea, from the Great Salt Marsh, from the many-ditched grainlands, from the River Hlal -- in swift-moving black rivers and rivulets, heaping, eddying, swirling, dark and reeking essence of Lankhmar from its branding irons, braziers, bonfires, bonefires, kitchen fires and warmth fires, kilns, forges, breweries, distilleries, junk and garbage fires innumerable, sweating alchemists' and sorcerers' dens, crematoriums, charcoal burners' turfed mounds, all those and many more . . . converging purposefully on Dim Lane and particularly on the Silver Eel and perhaps especially on the ricketty house behind it, untenanted except for attic. The closer to that center it got, the more substantial the smog became, eddy-strands and swirl-tatters tearing off and clinging to rough stone corners and scraggly-surfaced brick like black cobwebs.

. . .

The tempo of the incantation quickened, the blue-white flames brightened and hissed audibly, the fluid in the cucurbit grew thick as lava, great bubbles formed and loudly broke, the black rope in the receiver writhed like a nest of snakes; there was an increasing sense of invisible presences, the supernatural tension grew almost unendurable, and Fafhrd and the Mouser were hard put to keep silent the open-mouthed gasps by which they now breathed, and each feared his heartbeat could be heard cubits away.

Abruptly the incantation peaked and broke off, like a drum struck very hard, then instantly silenced by palm and fingers outspread against the head. With a bright flash and dull explosion, cracks innumerable appeared in the cucurbit; its crystal became white and opaque, yet it did not shatter or drip. The head lifted a span, hung there, fell back. While two black nooses appeared among the coils in the receiver and suddenly narrowed until they were only two big black knots.

-- "Ill Met in Lankhmar", Fritz Leiber


"The Shadow of Yesterday" explicitly declares its debt to Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories, and does a splendidly at allowing creation of Leiberesque characters and plots. But in the rules as written, I don't see a good way to do magic like the famous strangling smog from "Ill Met in Lankhmar". Three-Corner Magic, I think, has quite the wrong feel to it. The smog is not anything so tidy as a Creation of Air, and it kills from several blocks away, no line of sight.

Myself, I think it's a sorcery, a summoning of a killing spirit that merely takes the smog as a special effect. So here's a proposal for how I'd do sorcery in TSoY rules. I have made no great attempt to disguise my influences -- this is obviously a simplified, semi-neutered borrowing from Ron Edward's excellent "Sorcerer". I intend it mostly to be for villains, but if a player character demands to learn, it would be nice if it was balanced.

The Secret of Sorcery
Allows your character to use the sorcerous abilities Summon, Bind, and Command at Unskilled. You may spend advances as usual to improve the abilities. The character must accept a visible physical marking of some kind, such as scars, gnarled hands, eldritch tattoos on the face, or similar.

Ability: Summon (Instinct)
Bring a demon into the world. By default it will remain for one hour. The basic demon is a beast with Power 1, Prowess 1, Senses 1, and Brain 1. Success levels determine how many advances may be spent improving the demon, at usual prices. "Unspent" success levels may be rolled over into bonus dice on attempts to Bind or Command the demon. Summoned demons will follow their own black desires unless Bound and/or Commanded.

Ability: Bind (Reason)
Normally the demon will remain in the world for about an hour. A successful Bind conflict will keep the demon trapped indefinitely, until a specified condition occurs. The demon must be bound to a particular object, such as a jewel. Likely conditions include "until I say 'Szarthulasacz'", "until the Potentate of Ammeni touches the jewel," or "until one not of my blood crosses this threshold". While bound, a demon can do nothing. Attempts to bind will be opposed by the demon using its best Ability; failure stakes may be that the demon attacks the sorcerer, or that it flees to find tastier prey, as the SG chooses.

Ability: Command (Vigor)
Compel the demon to carry out one task of your will, rather than its own. It will follow its instructions for as long as it remains in the world, or until they are complete, whichever comes first; then it returns to the netherworld. The sorcerer need not remain in contact with the demon while it is executing its task. Attempts to bind will be opposed by the demon using its best Ability; failure stakes may be that the demon attacks the sorcerer, or that it flees to find tastier prey, as the SG chooses.

Some sample demon secrets:

Armour
The demon has an intrinsic armour rating. For instance, +1 in physical combat, or +2 vs slashing weapons, or +3 vs the Potentate of Ammeni.

Insubstantial Form
The demon may pass through walls or other barriers at will.

. . . .

Questions and considerations

* Should the Secret of Sorcery provide any other benefit than merely serving as prerequisite?

* With an Imbued brazier of +2 for Summoning demons plus gift dice and/or the Secret of Enhancement (Summoning), it is not terribly difficult to accummulate SL 6 on a Summoning roll. This would allow the creation of a demon with Power 3 plus one secret, or Power 2 plus four secrets. With an Imbued amulet of +1 for conflicts against demons, a sorcerer need only be Competent at Command to have a fair shot at controlling it. Adept would help, as would Enhancement(Command). Does this seem reasonably balanced? There's a lot of power available there, but quite a few advances and secrets spent controlling it.
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colin roald

i cannot, yet i must.  how do you calculate that?  at what point on the graph do `must' and `cannot' meet?  yet i must, but i cannot.
-- Ro-Man, the introspective gorilla-suited destroyer of worlds
Doyce
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« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2006, 06:45:57 AM »

First of all, I dig this with both hands a shovel.

Second, you already put it up on the wiki, which is six kinds of awesome.

Third, there should be a secret or ability for preemptive banishing.
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Doyce Testerman ~ http://random.average-bear.com
Someone gets into trouble, then get get out of it again; people love that story -- they never get tired of it.
colin roald
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« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2006, 09:44:43 AM »

Third, there should be a secret or ability for preemptive banishing.

Oh yeah!  I knew I forgot something.

Should it be its own secret, or can you use Summon "in reverse" to banish a demon?  I'm tempted to go with the latter, since three Abilities seems like enough.  I think it has to be a contest against the demon's best ability again:  "I banish the demon" vs "The demon tries to disembowel you."

Slightly related, what about pentagrams?  They could be just areas of floor Imbued with +2 armour vs demons, or we could have Secret of the Pentacle:  You can inscribe a line that no unbound demon can cross, permanent until broken (by being scratched or scuffed), cost 2 I.
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colin roald

i cannot, yet i must.  how do you calculate that?  at what point on the graph do `must' and `cannot' meet?  yet i must, but i cannot.
-- Ro-Man, the introspective gorilla-suited destroyer of worlds
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2006, 10:19:56 AM »

This is nice. Some notes:
- The walozi rules already do a passable Sorcerer imitation. Check them out and learn.
- While I adore secrets that are prerequisites for learning an ability, this set-up is underpowered and a bit broken regarding the nuances of the ability rules: underpowered because you have to invest in three separate abilities, which is rather much to get just one type of magical effect; broken because those abilities are difficult and undramatic as regards transcendency. The latter is a killer in my opinion, because you absolutely have to make sure that your abilities are protagonising; a character that starts taking these should have a dramatic and impressive transcendency waiting for him, and having sorcery split into three abstract skills is not good in that regard. Like, what will my transcendency look like if I transcend from Bind?
- I think it makes more sense for the demon to resist boundage with some particular ability rather than it's highest one, as most of it's abilities do not really have anything to do with resisting sorcery, fictionwise. The way to work it is to either require that Power is always it's highest ability (like in Sorcerer), or let the summoning roll influence how low or high it's Power (or whatever the sorcery-resisting attribute) is; the latter would allow the player the choice of risking it if the situation warrants.

How I'd do demonic sorcery:

Secret of the Sorcerer
This secrets acts like the Secret of Walozi, except the character contacts demons instead of spirits. The secret also acts as the Secret of Walozi for requirements of other secrets, except those secrets will only be usable against demons, not spirits. If the character has both sorcery and walozi secrets, he can interact with both spirits and demons.

Sorcery (Reason)
This ability concerns the civilized pre-threecorner occult practices of old Maldor. It can be used to answer questions concerning demons and other malign occult powers. The ability can also always replace any of the abilities in the Walozi series of secrets for purposes of interaction with demons. (In practice, when the character has the Secret of the Sorcerer.) However, using the ability in this manner requires expensive and rare ritual ingredients, and lacking those will mean penalty dice.

Concerning demons: Lesser demons work like Zamani. Greater demons work like Sasha. However, demons are not bound into bodies, but in items. Usually the demon has a secret that allows it to manifest some kind of body (actual body or perhaps some shadow substance) when necessary, but it's primal essence will still be bound into the item. A demon not bound will disappear within one hour.

That's it. Add some demonic secrets, a couple of ways for them to manifest bodies/fog/whatever, and you're done. Note that Sorcery the ability is only balanced because of the annoying ingredient requirement, so the GM should harp on it constantly. Requiring a baby boy to sacrifice at an inopportune moment is a fine way of adding a couple of penalty dice. (The reason I added the ability is that I view demonic sorcery rather more finessed than the crude shamanism of the walozi; it makes sense for the latter to use everyday abilities with other usages, but the sorcerer really needs his own, dedicated ability.)
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colin roald
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« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2006, 03:11:28 PM »

- The walozi rules already do a passable Sorcerer imitation. Check them out and learn.
- While I adore secrets that are prerequisites for learning an ability, this set-up is underpowered and a bit broken regarding the nuances of the ability rules: underpowered because you have to invest in three separate abilities, which is rather much to get just one type of magical effect;

You're right, I hadn't paid that much attention to walozi, because the style didn't seem to be what I was looking for, but I've spent a while poking at them now and trying to see what I could do with a dark walozi sorcerer and a bunch of advances to spend.

First off, the walozi has to invest in a bunch of different abilities, too:  Pray for contacting, Dueling for Severance, Sway for Zamani Control, and Create for Spectral Form.  Maybe these things are abilities he would have taken anyway, but probably not.  Dueling and Sway are at least generally useful for non-sorcerous stuff, though. 

The walozi's most dangerous ability, it seems to me, is the ability to Sever the spirit of a living opponent -- if successful, this leaves the victim as a helpless automaton under the control of the walozi.  The walozi needs to make a Dueling check, and it's not quite clear to me if the victim even gets to resist, except possibly by a parallel action to try to kill the walozi before he succeeds.  That's just vicious, and pretty cheap to acquire in terms of character advances.

The more sorcerous walozi ability, to contact and bind a zamani, is pretty cheap for the basic version.  A point of Vigor plus a Pray check to contact a zamani, then a few points of Vigor to bind it to a body (one plus the success levels of the zamani's Resist check).  This gets you what seems to me to be a zombie servant, all beast Abilities at Competent.  (The rules say "all abilities at 2", but I'm pretty sure that was first edition, and that first-edition ability 2 translates to Competent.)  Now, success levels on the Summon (that is, Contact, I think) can allow the zamani to have advances above the basic beast, but:  "Half of these advances are spent by the player, if a player's character has summoned a zamani". 

So, the walozi can get a permanent, mostly obedient servant, bound to a physical body.  If he wants at binding time, he can trade character advances one-for-two for advance for the servant.  It seems to me that this is something different that what Sorcery would do.

Let's do this out in some detail, because I really do want to check that this seems balanced.

A dark walozi with five advances could buy:
Secret of the Walozi; Pray(V) - 1; Ritual of Binding; Sway(I) - 1; Ritual of Zamani Control.
This would let him summon a zamani for a few Vigor.  The zamani would have basic stats, would remain to serve indefinitely, and would obey on a successful Sway check.  A more powerful zamani would require spending character advances.

A sorcerer with five advances could buy:
Secret of Sorcery;  Summoning(I) - 1; Imbue: Amulet +1 vs demons; Command(V) -1; Secret of Enhancement (Summoning).
This would let him summon and command a demon with basic stats plus an average of 4 advances for 4 Instinct plus 1 Vigor.  I'm calculating that Summoning success as SL = 1 (base competent) + 1 (weapon) + 1 (first bonus die) + 1 (three more bonus dice).  Commanding the demon is easier, depending on what you do with those advances, but runs a greater risk of screwing up and having to fight the demon than the walozi did.
What this gives you is a demon probably with a Power of 2 and two secrets, possibly specified as lethal against a specific individual, that will remain in the world for about an hour.  It can be sent out to conduct a remote attack against any victim whose location could be described to the demon, without exposing the sorcerer to counterattack.

It's different, but I think it's not weaker.

I'm going to add a rule to my draft that Summoning takes an hour to do cautiously.  It can be hurried to be done in about a minute, for one penalty die, or a few seconds, for two penalty dice.

Quote
broken because those abilities are difficult and undramatic as regards transcendency. The latter is a killer in my opinion, because you absolutely have to make sure that your abilities are protagonising; a character that starts taking these should have a dramatic and impressive transcendency waiting for him, and having sorcery split into three abstract skills is not good in that regard. Like, what will my transcendency look like if I transcend from Bind?

Hm.  Is that really any different than say, Transcending from Kayaking?  You can only transcend if you've cared enough about the ability to raise it to Grand Master levels, so you must be doing it a lot, and trying to stretch it to interesting tricks.  I'd suggest that a Transcendent success on Binding would probably mark the discovery of a whole new technique, making possible a Secret the world had never seen before.  Or something like that.
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colin roald

i cannot, yet i must.  how do you calculate that?  at what point on the graph do `must' and `cannot' meet?  yet i must, but i cannot.
-- Ro-Man, the introspective gorilla-suited destroyer of worlds
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 2591


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« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2006, 03:53:42 PM »

The walozi abilities are, pretty much by definition, useful abilities in other uses as well. Their basic description does not refer to the walozi at all, so supposedly they're all useful for some character. What makes walozi interesting is that their occult skill is tied to this variety of normal abilities.

As for kayaking for transcendency, I can totally see it when the character is the first after fall of Maldor to cross the eastern sea. Lots of interesting stuff to do with it.

Other than that, if you're happy with your approach, it's cool.
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Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
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