Jul 20, 2018

Mystery Cults and Magic Revisions in Into the Depths

The new magic system in Into the Depths is the piece of the game that's undergone the least playtesting. I've played in campaigns using Magic Words variations, but haven't stress-tested the implementation of the system currently in Into the Depths (if anyone has, I'd be interested in their feedback on how it worked).

Current Magic Rules

For those who don't want to check the PDF, here are the current published rules in their entirety:

1) Initiation: To cast spells a PC must be inducted into a mystery cult. A PC can only be a member of one mystery cult at a time but can abandon their old tradition and join a new one by undergoing a new initiation. Levels of initiation don’t carry over from one cult to another. A PC learns two magic words (referee’s choice) when they join a mystery cult.

2) Knowledge: PCs can know a number of magic words equal to their character’s level (not level of initiation). They can know a number of magic spells equal to their character’s level. PCs can forget words and spells with one day’s work.

3) Creation: All spells are combinations of words. PCs can use as many words in a spell as they have levels of initiation into their mystery cult. Words cannot be used twice in the same spell. It takes one day of work to create a new spell, or to replace one a PC already knows with a new one.

4) Learning: PCs learn new words by finding them on adventures or experimenting on their own time. If a word is found on an adventure, only one PC can learn it. If a PC develops a magic word, they can teach it to others.

5) Casting: You can cast as many spells per day as you have types of spell trappings at hand. If you get more types of spell trappings over the course of a day, the number of spells you can cast increases. Lose some, and it decreases (losing unused castings first). Rare trappings may grant more castings.

6) Effects: Negotiate with referee during spell creation. A typical spell targets one thing or person, or one 3x3x3m cube within 30m and either causes 1 instantaneous change or has effects that last 1 hr. The base damage of a spell is 1d8. Adding words to a spell can modify these factors.

There are a few changes I think I want to make already, plus some additional elements about getting initiated into a mystery cult that I want to add. I suspect in the next version, the list of magic words and the list of magic items will be moved to another page to free up space (and hopefully, expanded in both cases).

Revisions to Magic Rules

A PC learns one magic word (referee’s choice from the cult list) when they join a mystery cult, if they are able to. If they can't learn a new magic word, they may forget one they already know and instead learn a new word from the cult. A PC's initiation level can't exceed their character level.

They can know a number of magic spells equal to their initiation level. If they change the mystery cult they belong to, they decrease the number of spells they know to one until they gain more initiation levels in the new cult.

It takes one week of work to create a new spell, or to replace one a PC already knows with a new one.

PCs learn new words by finding them on adventures, by increasing their initiation level in their mystery cult, or experimenting on their own time. If a word is found on an adventure, anyone who studies it can learn it by spending one month studying it. If a PC develops a magic word, only they can understand it well enough to use it. Each time a PC increases their initiation level in a mystery cult they automatically learn one new word (referee's choice from the cult's list). PCs can't teach one another magic words.

These changes are mostly minor, but they invest more importance in advancing your initiation level, and give you more bonuses for advancing it, while disincentivising jumping mystery cults. A PC's spell selection is locked in a bit more. My overall goal was to get away from treating magic words as if they were a golf bag of possible effects that you could simply draw from on the fly, or spend a trivial amount of downtime to adapt to the situation.

I also changed how one learns words to make it a little less easy for PCs to simply exchange words with one another. Now, only words found as treasure (i.e. as spell codices or ancient carvings or whatever) can be learnt by multiple PCs from the same source. That incentivises you to go out and find those carvings and grimoires, while rewarding PCs who spend time and money on developing new words a special reward for doing so. 

I also decided that advancing your initiation level should give you a free word to make the financial hit less daunting. You can still know a number of words equal to your character level. From what I can tell, a typical wizard will have a 2-4 level gap between the two, giving you enough space to make developing your own or finding new ones worthwhile. I was debating separating spell scrolls from the sort of magical writing you can learn words from, but instead I decided that requiring a month of study per person was a severe enough penalty.

Mystery Cults

So I'm eventually going to get around to writing a mystery cult supplement that'll be a couple of pages long. There are two new abilities that membership in a mystery cult will bring you that I don't have formal write-ups of yet.

The first is that every mystery cult is built around a Mystery that only members can understand. You learn the Mystery when you join the cult. The Mystery lets you command one type of thing (narrowly defined). Members can, as an action, issue a command to an instance of the thing (no more words than initiation levels) and make a reaction roll. If they succeed (9+ on 2d6) then the thing complies to the best of its ability until the command is fulfilled (referee's discretion). Command the stones to speak, and they might just (better brush up on your ancient tongues). On a 6-8 nothing happens. On a 5-, things go sour - the stones lie, or they deafen you when they answer, or they lash out in anger at your hubris (possibly by falling down on you, or burying you in an avalanche).

I wouldn't allow this to serve as a "blast" spell that could be used an unlimited # of times per day, but I might allow it to be used to create incidental damage if appropriate. I'm also debating if you should retain mysteries if you change cults, with the caveat that your old cult will begin hunting you down, or if it would be simpler just to lose access to it (your whole weltanschauung has changed). 

The second is that every mystery cult teaches its members one form of manteia (divination) when they're first initiated. You can learn a new type each time you increase your initiation level (but you don't automatically learn it). I'm still figuring out the exact rules for performing and learning manteiai, but the root stock of what I'm working with is some ideas developed by Marquis.

Along with these two cult-specific abilities, each mystery cult will have a list of magic words they teach members or that you can learn from gaining initiation levels in the cult.

That means that to come up with your own mystery cults, you need the following:

1) A name for the cult
2) A type of thing (stones, shadows, integers, anger, the colour blue, right hands, undead, flames, etc.) that their mystery can command.
3) A manteia every member learns (or a table of possible types to roll on)
4) Some magic words, preferably with a theme (I'd suggest 8-12)
5) A couple of initiatory rituals that PCs can do to go up (I'd suggest 1-3 to start, and make up more if anyone shows interest in going further)

I'll be creating sample cults for the Old Lands and Necrocarcerus once I have all the details hashed out on how this system works.