So I got to thinking, why use any special abilities at all? Why not just go ahead and make everything a trait. So I did. Should I probably just finish slogging through FATE? Probably. But this is more fun.
Warning, only some of this is play-tested yet (
which is why it's not published yet). Probably contains at least a few logical errors and mathematical flaws. And the usual disclaimer regarding solo play versus shared play applies – I have no idea how well any of this would work in a group game.
Remember that under my modified trait system, you always apply up to two positive traits to any roll, in addition to any and all negative ones (and any temporary traits).
“Token pools” are point reserves generally filled with “tokens” that are earned in some way through play. You can spend tokens from your pool to achieve various ends, depending on what powers you have. Token abilities are applied in addition to any traits that are applied and are considered separate. This means a trait might end up being applied twice (or even three times).
It is also possible to apply only a portion of a trait to a roll; if you have a trait you think might be relevant but not entirely (“I know a ton about dinosaurs, and dragons are really just big lizards, aren’t they?”) you can use the semi-relevant trait as one of your allowed two, and apply half its value. If you do this, and fail, it’s always amusing to have your character proceed on incorrect information.
“Independently Advancing” traits are traits that have their own rules for advancement and may not be subject to the usual trait cap.
Spells & Magic
There are three broad options for determining magic potential and spell effects.
To be a wizard, put your archetype as “I’m a wizard” of whatever flavor. To be a cleric, same deal. Druid? Yep, same thing. Just want a few spells? Buy a “knows a few spells” trait. This trait works for ‘how’ as well; if you’re a wizard, you can roll this trait for studying old tomes, recalling wizardly facts, and similar tasks. If you’re a thief with “knows a few spells, 2” you can use it to maybe figure out what those glowing runes mean or how to read that scroll.
Your spell list is out of OSR Boring Spells. Pick the archetype that fits best. You have access to any spell on your spell list equal to or lower than 1/2 your magic trait’s value.
Choose a magic archetype or trait as in Option 1. However, instead of choosing spells, list each spell as a separate trait, defining what it can do and giving it its own rating. A spell’s rating indicates both its cost and its potency. A hero starts play with spell-traits totaling the number of points he has in his primary magic trait but can have only half as many points in any given spell as his primary magic trait. If you choose this method, give the hero (or provide a way to earn or find) an extra number of trait points equal to his new level that should be spent entirely on spells.
A first level wizard with the archetype “I’m a stock fantasy wizard, 2” has two points to put in spells. He chooses “Light, cast glowing lantern-like orb, 1” and “Fire, start small fires with a touch, 1”. When he levels up, his archetype goes to 3, and he uses his three new trait-spell points to buy “Light, cast glowing lantern-like orb, dazzle foes, 2” and “Fire, start small fires with a touch, set flammable stuff on fire at range, 2”, and adds one more 1 point spell. He could, instead, choose to buy a two point spell and boost either Light or Fire.
If you really want to simplify, you can simply say that your hero can cast any spells that fit into his magic attribute’s purview, at a level (and cost) up to that trait’s max value. Decide if you’re a generalist or a specialist. If you’re a generalist, you can do whatever type of magic your magic trait supports (“I’m a Gandalf-style wizard, 2” would support fireworks, barring paths, knowing stuff).
If you’re a specialist, choose up to one “thing you can do well” per point in the trait and divide your points in the trait between them. Also mark the total as the trait’s total value. Now choose one “thing you can never do”.
If you need to accomplish something that fits into your purview, you probably can. For general magic of this type, use your total trait value; for magic that falls into one of your specialties, it costs one point less from the total cost (minimum one). Additionally, you can add the point value of the specialty to both the effect (and the base cost) if you so choose (making your ‘level’ effectively that many points higher for specialty spells). For spells outside your purview but not forbidden by it, use your base magic trait but pay twice the cost (figure out how much it would cost if it were in your purview, then double it).
Our first level wizard with the archetype “I’m a stock fantasy wizard, 2” is now “I’m desert mage who harnesses the power of the sun and heat for healing (1) and destruction (1) but never necromancy, 2”. For healing or destruction spells, he can use up to 3 (2 + 1) trait points. For other spells related the sun and heat, it’s just 2. Not related to the sun or heat? 2, but the cost is doubled. Necromancy? Not possible.
Nobody memorizes spells anymore. Instead, (taking a page from Microlite20) each spell you cast costs you hit points. This means magic use is important – only the most powerful wizards will use minor magics for trivial tasks.
Cost is a flat 2x the level of the spell or the spell’s trait value (minimum of 1). If you’re using one of the options that doesn’t use a strict spell list, cost doubles for every level over your magic trait’s value (figure out the normal cost if you were of that level, then double it).
If you cast a spell that drops you to 0 or fewer HP, you’ve just poured the last of your life into the magic. Make two saving throws, versus base difficulty (9) plus however much the spell cost you in HP, then choose your outcomes, assigning the results of each dice as you prefer, one to “Spell”, one to “Caster”. Regardless of what you choose, the spell’s effects will be dramatic (this is how curses unto the seventh generation happen). If your hero does die, the GM should make it legendary – it’s fueled by a life, after all!
Spell: (Success) The spell goes off better than intended (name a beneficial result within the scope and flavor of the spell) OR (Failure) the spell performs in a very unpredictable way with increased power (GM’s option if it’s bad or indifferent for you or someone you care about).
Caster: (Success) You fall unconscious immediately, waking in an hour or two with 1 HP, OR (Failure) you immediately lapse into the “dying state” (or just die outright).
HP loss from spell casting is regained exactly as any other HP is.
Our first level wizard with the archetype “I’m desert mage who harnesses the power of the sun and heat for healing (1) and destruction (1) but never necromancy, 2” casts a healing spell. He can choose to do so as a 1 point spell, costing him 1 HP and giving the recipient 1d8+1 HP. Or he can do it as a 2 point spell, costing him 3 HP but giving the recipient 2d8+1 HP back. Or he can cast it as a 3 point spell, granting 3d8+1 points of healing at a cost of 5 HP.
If you don’t like burning HP outright, you can always give the hero a magic token pool. This option makes for a more magical campaign where people with magic will sometimes choose to use it frivolously (even if they’re sane). This pool is equal to half his HP, plus two positive traits, minus any negative ones. Once he burns through those points (at the default cost per spell), he can start working through his HP at double the cost.
This magic pool returns to full after a good night’s rest.
Variations & Extra Applications
- Choose an alternate method of regaining magic tokens, either instead of or in addition to the regular method, available to just you or to everyone. Human sacrifice, meditation, sex, maintaining a taboo, you get the picture.
- Counterspelling. Someone with a magic pool or trait can always choose to burn tokens or HP to boost a saving DC against magic or deflect damage from it, on a one for one basis. You can also choose to sacrifice all remaining magic tokens (or if you’re out of tokens or don’t have any, drop to 1 HP) to succeed on that saving throw if it is failed or to mitigate all damage and effects from that spell.
- Counterspelling, Other. As Counterspelling, but can be used to protect others, one for each point you have in your magic trait. Choose if you want to be included in the effect; if so, divide the number of tokens and/or HP sacrificed by the number of people being protected; that’s the bonus to the saving throw or amount subtracted from the damage. If not, each person protected gets the full bonus, but you don’t get any.
- Curse-Eating. As Counterspelling, but can be used for dispelling magic that is already in place, whether on someone else or on an area or an object. On a failure, choose whether the curse remains OR whether it transfers from the original victim or object to you, leaving them free of it.
Set the limit to equal to the primary magic trait for high-powered magic. Set it to half for more OSR levels. Double the magic pool and double the HP cost for glass cannons. Make the cost per spell higher and set the pools to replenish only on sacrifices, either personal (good) or of someone else (evil) for a “sword and sorcery” feel.
For a trait-based wizard, look at the OSR Boring Spells as a guide, counting each spell level as 2 trait points (so if you have 1 or 2 trait points in a spell, look at the first level spells, 3 or 4, look at second level spells, and so on). Some general things you can do for a one point cost:
- Do 1d8+1 in damage or heal 1d8+1 in damage to one person or divided among a group of people clustered together.
- Impose a status effect or minor penalty or minor curse with no save on one person of HD equal to or lower than your magic trait or with a save on one higher, for a duration of one scene.
- Change an area of effect of your size or smaller in a small way (change its appearance, cure or cause a mild, non-life-threatening disease or disorder, speed or slow its conversion from one state to another) that last for a short time (a scene).
- Impose status effects or a minor penalty on a group of people standing near each other, with each getting a save at +1.
Vampires, Half-Dryads, and Other Fancy Stuff
Just about any specialty “race” or state of being can be captured by a trait quite easily.
First, assign your hero the proper trait. This could be his archetype, or it could be a regular trait, or it could be an independently advancing trait, depending on which you feel is the best model for the race or state of being.
If it’s an archetype, it’ll go up in power every level; if it’s a regular trait, the player can choose whether or not to advance it, and if it’s an independently advancing trait, it will go up on a set schedule (or under set circumstances).
For a vampire, this might be “gain 1 point every hundred years or so”. For a Highlander-style swordsman, it might be ‘gain 1 point every time you chop another Highlander’s head off’. For a gelatinous cube, it might be ‘gain 1 point every time you digest enough mass to double in size’.
Also decide if the hero will pay for the trait at character generation or if it’s free, and if it’s subject to the normal caps (or a different cap or no cap at all).
Next, sketch out the scope of the trait. For a typical vampire, we might put “A vampire; quick, strong, and tough, bane sunlight, running water, garlic, wood, 1”. This gives us a general idea of what he can do, what to apply the trait to as a positive, and what to apply it to as a negative. Note that even if he’s not spending any tokens, or doesn’t even have a pool, the trait still applies (and might let him do superhuman things) in situations where being a vampire might be helpful or hindering.
Now determine if your trait requires a token pool, and if so, what the limits are on it. In this case, we’ll give our hero a blood pool; he can have blood tokens in his blood pool equal to his class level times his vampire trait score. Name a condition for replenishing the pool; in this case, it’s ‘drain blood from a human, one HD is worth tokens equal to the vampire trait’s value’. We can get a little fancier than that, but for now it’s fine (and you can easily use rules from an existing system like LotFP for the mechanics).
Now comes the fun part; define the things you can spend your pool’s tokens on. These can be passive abilities or active ones, and can require token expenditure or simply remaining tokens. Feel free to boost the power for ‘iconic’ abilities and drop ones that don’t make sense. Here are a few sample powers:
- An ability that lets you add the special trait as a bonus trait to a type of roll for a scene or double the special trait for one action. 1 token.
- An ability that lets you charm, alter, or influence someone, unopposed if they’re lower HD than you, with a saving throw if not. 1 token.
- An ability that keeps the hero alive or brings him back to life if a certain condition is met, at the cost of all remaining tokens.
- An ability that changes how the hero heals, with a benefit and a drawback, as long as he has at least one token.
For our vampire:
- Spend a blood token point and add the value of the vampire trait as a bonus trait to physical rolls for the rest of the scene.
- Spend a token, look deep into the victim’s eyes. If they have as many or fewer HD as your vampire trait, they succumb; otherwise, they get a saving throw. If they fail, treat as if under the effects of a Love Philtre or a Charm Person spell (with future saving throws as per the source material), your choice.
- If you have one or more tokens left and take a mortal wound, instead lose all blood tokens and fall into a state indiscernible from death. Unless your head is severed, your heart is staked, or you are exposed fully to sunlight, you will regenerate and awaken at the next sunset with 1 HP.
- As long as you have at least one blood token remaining, you heal much faster than a normal human. At the end of any scene in which you’ve taken damage not from the sun or fire and that you have at least one blood token, automatically heal 1d8+1 times your vampire trait in HP. If you’re still damaged, spend tokens involuntarily at the same rate until you are or until you run out of tokens.
Finally, determine what, if anything, happens if the hero runs out of tokens in that pool. Maybe he’s insubstantial for the rest of the day (if he’s a ghost). Maybe his Glamour fails and everyone can see he’s an ogre (if he’s a Fae creature). Maybe nothing; maybe he just can’t use his token pool until he regains at least one token.
If our vampire drops to 0 blood tokens, he’s hungry. Any time he encounters one of his banes or smells fresh blood or is reminded he’s hungry or the sun sets, he must make a saving throw at base difficulty plus his vampire trait value plus one for each day he’s been at 0 tokens. On failure, he flees the trigger (if a bane) or seeks out the nearest suitable living creature to feed on. He gets a new saving throw at the same difficulty as soon as he has at least 1 blood token. Even if this fails, he still regains control at the end of the scene in which he regains at least one token.
Of course, there’s a lot more that can be done with it! I’ll post my full vampire class soonish.