Monday, March 23, 2015

Old Schooling 5th Edition's Identify Spell

Identifying magical items is one of the areas of play where the game does not meet the fiction.  In part, this is due to magical items becoming frequent commodities and tools and not the singular plot points of fiction.  Yet some of us do have stories of the first time we found a wand, pressing the button, or quizzing the Dungeon Master on the properties of the newly found sword we were swinging about.

A spell that gratuitously reveals all the mystery removes those moments from play.  On the other hand, spending 30 minutes of play deciphering that +1 dagger isn't fun for anyone else at the table, least of all the sole player and DM at that moment.  In 1st edition, the Identify spell was nearly unplayable by the book.  It needed to be cast within a certain time frame of acquiring the item so that the debilitating effects could be dangerous, and the 100gp cost was also meant to be significant, at least to the 1st level caster that had access to it.

The 1st Edition Identify is a wall of text that today makes me squint and day dream, but here were the highlights:
  1. The item must be examined within 1 hour per level of the caster.
  2. The caster only has a 15+5/level % chance of discovering at most the caster level number of properties.
  3. The caster temporarily loses 8 points of constitution, which are regained at 1 per hour of rest.

That's a far cry from the ease with which one discerns the properties of magical items in today's editions.

Erol Otus, making your games cool since 197someone will tell me

5th edition conveniently categories items according to tiers of rarity - from Common to Legendary.  This may be a means of preserving the mystery of discovering a magical item when the item is meaningful to the character.  So try on my 5E Identify spell to "see if it fits":

The 1e Identify was also QUITE clear that the magic-user would have to wear the item, and be the target of any ill effects...


1st-level divination (ritual)
Casting Time:  1 minute
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a pearl worth at least 100gp and an owl feather)
Duration: Instantaneous

Very Rare

You choose one object that you must touch throughout the casting of the spell.
If it is a magic item or some other magic-imbued object and your caster level is less than required for its rarity tier, you must make a saving throw with your spell casting attribute of DC 15 plus the difference in caster level required.  If you fail the saving throw you learn no properties of the item and you gain the difference in rarity tiers in exhaustion levels.

If you succeed on the saving throw or have a caster level equal to or greater than the rarity tier of the item, you may learn its properties.  Each property requires an arcana skill check with your spell casting attribute of DC 10 plus the difference in caster level required to identify the property.  A failure still informs you something of the property according to the whim of the Dungeon Master.  This may be the command word, the school of the spell that produces the property, an image or a riddle.

If you instead touch a creature throughout the casting, you learn what spells, if any, are currently affecting it.

Casting Identify upon an item consumes the pearl.

From the 1st Edition DMG - this is by Tom Wham, correct?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Catastrophe of the Day: Plague Survivor

Today's Catastrophe.  Catastrophes are obligatory character choices that involve rolling on tables like the one below.  I'm looking for critiques or brilliance that's evaded me before I subject them upon my test subjects, er, players.  This one is tentatively "balanced" to have roughly a 30% chance of a good, bad or mixed result.  I've got spreadsheet formulas to compute odds of different results for tables, because that's how I roll.  (get it?)

Here is what you could get as a

Plague Survivor:


Plague Survivor Effects
Your constitution saves vs disease are at +2.
You have the scars of a plague survivor.  -2 to charisma checks for Performance or Persuasion and +2 to Intimidation checks.  You have advantage on constitution saves against disease.
You are immune to the plague but still have a dormant infection.  Anyone within 50’ of you during a long rest has a 1% chance of acquiring the plague.  You must complete a pilgrimage before Cure Disease will fix this condition, as the plague is divine vengeance against the world.
You have the scars of a plague survivor, -1 to charisma checks for Performance and Persuasion, +1 to Intimidation checks.  You learned the Medicine skill during your ordeal.
You have an aversion to uncleanliness and corruption.  Not only must you attempt to bathe every long rest or be at -1 cumulative to ability checks until you bathe, but you have disadvantage to constitution saves vs nausea, odors, or corruption (Prestidigitation comes in really handy as a cantrip here).
You have advantage to any perception, insight or investigation checks to detect the presence of disease or corruption. 
Your immune system is weakened and you are at disadvantage to constitution saves vs disease until you complete a pilgrimage, gaining you XXX Exp.
You gain an enemy who blames you for spreading the plague.
You are haunted by an abandoned friend or loved one.  Every Long Rest you must make a DC 10 charisma check against fright or not gain the benefits of that rest.  You must atone to your companion’s spirit or complete a pilgrimage to overcome this and gain XXX Exp.
While you no longer carry the plague, you still look like you do with all the superficial but non-debilitating symptoms.   You can use spells or the disguise proficiency to try to hide your symptoms.  You must succeed on a DC 15 persuasion or deception check in order to calm anyone who realizes your appearance matches that of a plague victim.  You can overcome this condition if you complete a pilgrimage, gaining you XXX Exp.
Roll twice, disregarding conflicting results.
wow, cutting and pasting tables from Word actually works ok. 

Medieval accounts of the plague are interesting.  The spiritual aspects are in the forefront of their minds, as is sense that the plague was a divine retribution.  Certainly a cleric couldn't use Cure Disease against something their god had intended, correct?

You read accounts like this: 

"When this plague was passing from one land to another, many people saw shapes of bronze boats and (figures) sitting in them resembling people with their heads cut off.  Holding staves, also of bronze, they moved along on the sea and could be seen going whithersoever they headed.  These figures were seen everywhere in a frightening fashion, especially at night.  Like flashing bronze and like fire did they appear, black people without heads sitting in a glistening boat and traveling swiftly on the sea, so that this sight almost caused the souls of the people who saw it to expire."

John, Bishop of Ephesus, as quoted in Justinian's Flea. 

So, assuming you'd be a player in my campaign and would have to choose one of these catastrophes, would you pick plague?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Catastrophe of the Day: Cursed

Today's Catastrophe.  Catastrophes are obligatory character choices that involve rolling on tables like the one below.  I'm looking for critiques or brilliance that's evaded me before I put them onto their final dice tables, arranging odds of about the same chance for good and ill on the different catastrophes.

Here is what you could get if you were


Who Cursed you?
1.       Drank from a cursed well/stationary cursed object.
2.       Came into contact with a cursed artifact/item
3.       Came into contact with a demon
4.       Came into contact with undead
5.       Creature of the wild
6.       Enemy: offended a witch/warlock
7.       Enemy: offended a priest of the Church of the Sun
8.       Enemy:  offended a druid or the Forest Mother
9.       Enemy: offended a priest of another religion
 I haven't set the odds yet.  But the most common will be witch/warlock.

These curses are what characters would start with.  Catastrophe results should also be quirky and unique, to provide the players with un-envisioned and hopefully darkly comic problems. They are not intended to be completely crippling, but difficulties that can be worked around or accommodated.  They can be alleviated through a pilgrimage or other means but not by a simple Remove Curse spell.

Your Curse:
1.     Any other player may speak in your voice, though they may only say things as if you were speaking self-referentially. 
2.     You can’t get on a horse, or travel on a cart pulled by one.
3.     Unstable curse:  you are at disadvantage for 1 ability check (pick one).  Every long rest there is a 1 in 3 chance that one of your opponents will also be cursed, you choose
4.     Natural animals are disturbed by you, and all attempts to control animals within 30’ of you are at disadvantage.
5.     Non-magical fires go out within 10’ of you.  You also are resistant to natural fires.  Unfortunately, you are also always cold.  On actual cold days, you suffer double penalties for non-magical cold or are at disadvantage to saves vs non-magical cold.
6.     You can’t see the stars or moon, or light from them.  While a moonlit sky may only be dim light for some, it is utter darkness to you.
7.     Every door closes and locks behind you if it is able.
8.     Your lovers have disadvantage on all saves.
9.     Clothes always change color to bright orange.
10.  All your coins turn into copper.  This condition will end if you complete a pilgrimage, gaining you XXX Exp.  You gain starting equipment as normal, but your starting gold is 0.
11.  You can’t benefit from surprise and always go last in initiative. This condition will end if you complete a pilgrimage, gaining you XXX Exp.
12.  People won’t remember your face unless they have been with you the entire time between two long rests.  This effects any enemies or allies you might have.
13.  People can’t remember your name unless they have been with you the entire time between two long rests.  This effects any enemies or allies you might have.
14.  There is a 10% daily cumulative chance that the walls of any room in which the character sleeps will begin to drip blood.  This will last for 1d4-1 days after the character leaves. 

Peanut gallery comments?  How would you feel with a beginning character with one of these?