Saturday, October 6, 2018

Special Combat Magic Pt. I

Ever thought a wand’s magic could be used to deflect a sword? How about a sword deflecting a spell? Looks great in a story, but would it work in a game? Maybe. It’s what this article is about.

                Back in 2014, I’d devised special magical wands for use in the world of Calidar. As a system-agnostic setting, its original treatment left out left out how to use this concept with specific game systems. Interpretation can vary a lot as a result. I’m taking a shot at smoothing out conceptual kinks, at least for D&D BECMI. From here onward, it shouldn’t be too hard to extrapolate how to adapt these ideas to other game versions as well. Certainly, such devices could be used outside Caldwen, as unusual NPC plot devices or as exceptional rewards for deserving PCs.

Top Illustration: The Swordsman by DiegoGisbertLlorens, 
Digital Art / Drawings & Paintings / Fantasy©2014-2018 DiegoGisbertLlorens

The Original Material


Here’s what was published in CAL1 “In Stranger Skies,” page 86.

Personal Devices: Magic objects are sometimes created for one specific person: usually weapons, wands, and holy symbols. Called personal devices, they are attuned to their owners and will not manifest their powers in anyone else’s hands. The initial enchantment demands quests for rare components and much more time than “common” magic objects should require (gods grant personal holy symbols to deserving priors—mortals cannot enchant those).
                Part of the owner’s life force is bound to a personal device. If the device is destroyed, its owner suffers a permanent loss of vitality. Unless bestowed by a deity, only one personal device can be owned at any given time. If the rightful owner is killed, the item disintegrates or travels back to the god who created it. An undead creature may be able to retain a personal device. The owner can sense the general direction of a stolen device’s location, or whether it still lies in the same plane or universe.
                As appropriate to the game system used, personal devices are rated with magic adjustments, usually +1 to +4, including wands and holy symbols (on a 1-20 scale, +1 is a slight bonus while +4 is a major one, as appropriate to the intended game system). They enable owners to use an action to deflect an attack, as if they generated magic shields. They improve the owners’ defenses against melee, ranged, or spell attacks according to their adjustments.
                A mage’s personal wand (or a prior’s personal holy symbol) does not generate specific spells in addition to those the owner can cast, such as, for example, a staff of fiery storm which only produces this single effect. Personal wands are not needed to cast magic. Instead, they improve one aspect of the owner’s spell-casting: either range, area of effect, duration, or damage in 10% increments rounded up to the next unit. As an option, a device’s adjustment bonus can instead lower a target’s defense against the owner’s spell. These properties do not require magic charges. 

The Nitty-Gritty

The above is fairly vague and potentially far reaching since it concerns weapons, clerical symbols, and magic-user wands. Using “established” D&D BECMI game mechanics, each of these three categories ought to get a separate look. To begin with, personal devices are intended for characters level 9 or higher, although one may fall into less experienced hands for a limited duration. An immortal servant could bestow this item for the duration of a mission or a quest, or the object was stolen and its rightful owner is likely to come looking for it—whichever best serves the DM’s purposes.

Weapons: The +1 to +4 attack and damage bonuses are straightforward. Game rules already cover parrying as a fighter option (see Rules Cyclopedia, pg. 104).
                A personal device allows its owner to spend an action and deflect one specific attack. This includes a melee or a ranged attack aimed directly at the device owner, unless it scored a critical hit. The deflection action is spent, whether or not the affected attack failed on its own.
                Any character class/race can use this option, not just fighters. It should be announced at the beginning of a combat round; the first direct attack should trigger the deflection, if any, unless the player stated the source of the attack (i.e. “My character will deflect attacks from the nightmarish, eye-popping armored ogre…”) If no direct attack is aimed at the device owner during the remainder of the combat round, then this action is wasted.
                At the DM’s discretion, a player may keep options open, saving a deflection right up until the character’s turn to act comes up in the initiative sequence; if no deflection had taken place up to this point, the character may either continue to deflect or perform some other action, voiding any deflection for the rest of the combat round. This option is best limited to characters with “Skilled” proficiency or better with the selected weapon (see Rules Cyclopedia, pg. 76). At “Expert” proficiency, the device owner needs not waste a deflection on attacks that failed on their own. At “Master” proficiency, the device owner earns a +2 bonus to the following round’s initiative roll when deflecting an attack. At “Grand Master,” a successful deflection enables the device owner to perform an immediate melee attack over and above the normal number of attacks the character is allowed during this combat round, provided the attacker is within immediate reach.
                Deflection can affect a spell cast directly at the device owner with one of the following results: 1. If the spell did not allow a saving throw, one is now allowed—if it succeeds, the spell is deflected; 2. If the spell allowed a saving throw, the die roll receives a modifier equal to the device’s magical bonus.

Limitations: Deflection is useless against breath weapons and area of effect spells. It cannot be selected against an invisible opponent or one that the device owner isn’t aware of (i.e. “My character is deflecting anything that comes her way, I don’t care what it is!” Sorry, no can do.) Therefore, a thief’s “legitimate” backstab attempt cannot be deflected, and neither can attacks if the device owner is surprised. Deflection isn’t an option if the character does not have the personal device in hand at the beginning of the round. Finally, use common sense as regards the nature of the personal devices—certain weapons cannot be used to deflect, such as: bolas, darts, nets, slings, whips, bad breath, etc. One’s body parts cannot be enchanted as personal devices, though this matter could be debated concerning mystics (or creatures that do not typically use weapons to fight).

Coming Next, In Special Combat Magic Pt. II:
Clerical Symbols & Magical Wands