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Bag o' Nifties: Tricks for GMs


by Dan Pond
February 5, 2002  

Hermetic Elementalism - Running Elemental Magic with an Edge

The Problem

It seems to me that Elementalism, as a school of magic, should be as primal and brutal as nature itself. Yet, in most fantasy RPGs, it feels like any other magical specialty: clinically sterile and academically predictable. Worst case scenario, it's just another way to blow shit up. Personally, I like my magic to bite back. I want supernatural power to carry a price tag. (If you read the Hexcraft article, you may be noticing a pattern.) In short, I think magi should have to give up more than a few hours of daily study to command the elements themselves.

The Solution: Hermetic Magic

In the All Worldz setting, Hermeticism is a type of magic based upon the Law of Sacrifice: The universe gives a magus power for giving up something of equal value. In this case, they must sacrifice an elemental component of their own being. This results in a magical, chronic illness whose symptoms grow more severe as the magus grows in power. (Note: In the Nameless RPG, Skills are rated from 1-5. That's why each of the elemental illnesses has 5 degrees of severity.)

Alternatively, a more humanitarian GM could make the ill effects temporary and activate them only when spells are cast. For example, each degree could be linked to a spell level, with more powerful spells causing worse symptoms. In this case, the sickness would clear up during the next scene, possibly motivating some quick "first aid" action to prevent injury or death. The symptoms could also get progressively worse as the magus cast more spells, only subsiding after a good night's sleep.

In other words, you can also size Hermetic Elementalism to fit spell point and spell slot systems. We're an equal opportunity employer.

Fyre Elementalism

Also known as "Icicles," a Fyre elementalist's domain is heat, either its presence or its absence. They can start fires, cause explosions, shoot jets of flame from their fingertips, conjure beams of light from darkness, suffocate blazes, and even freeze things by drawing out their heat. The gradual loss of their internal fire leaves these magi in constant danger of hypothermia. They warm themselves any way they can, including self-immolation.

  1. A chill passes through the magus. (No game effect. The first one's free ;)
  2. Magus shivers in even the warmest climates. (Penalty to actions requiring coordination, unless warmed.)
  3. Body shivers convulsively. (Automatically fails physical actions, unless exposed to direct heat.)
  4. Body freezes in seconds. (Death occurs, unless warmed by fire.)
  5. Magus must stand inside a large bonfire or freeze instantly.

Water Elementalism

"Corpses" can control virtually anything in liquid form. They can bring rain, purify drinking water, dehydrate or drown enemies, breathe underwater, sink ships, and even part small seas. The price they pay is the loss of their body's moisture; they become desiccated and waste away like carcasses left in the desert sun. They drink constantly to replenish their body's liquids. Since they can survive on salt water, many work onboard sailing ships or in undersea complexes.

  1. Magus' lips and throat dry instantly. (No game effect.)
  2. Intense thirst compels the magus to drink. (Penalty to all actions until they get a chance to chug.)
  3. Eyes and throat dry out if not moistened constantly. (Penalty to all actions unless soaking wet.)
  4. Magus must drink and stay wet, or go into shock. (Death occurs in a matter of minutes.)
  5. Death is immediate if not submerged in water.

Death Elementalism

This form of elementalism is an odd case; to gain power over death, "greenthumbs" sacrifice their own decay and infertility. The result it that these magi cannot touch organic matter without causing it to grow rapidly and uncontrollably. Their own tissues grow quickly, leading to accelerated hair and nail growth, as well as an increased risk of cancer and vulnerability to certain infections. Most take pains to cover themselves from head to toe in sterile cloth to minimize exposure. In return, they gain power over dead, organic matter of all kinds. They can communicate with and influence creatures related to decay, especially carrion feeders. They can create, command, and destroy "undead" beings. However, they have no power at all over living beings.

  1. Hair and nails grow at nearly visible rates. (No game effect.)
  2. Magus is highly vulnerable to infection and cancer. (Penalty to resist any and all diseases.)
  3. Impregnates females by touch; magus automatically infected with any disease exposed to. (Treat as normal.)
  4. Plants and molds take root in the magus' flesh & cause wounds. (Will kill the magus if not treated.)
  5. Bacteria multiply visibly on skin, infecting it. (Dies immediately if exposed to non-sterile environments.)

A Note on Elemental Spirits

One of the more salient powers of All Worldz elementalists is the ability to bind spirits into elemental bodies. At lower levels, this amounts to enchanting items; the spirit is simple and can only influence the behavior or qualities of their body in small ways. At higher levels, they can become sentient, free-willed Golems, pillars of flame, etc. This provides an interesting framework for explaining the undead: they are spirit-possessed corpses. Water spirits can change their shape and refract light to produce some surprisingly convincing illusions. These "dopplegangers" make excellent spies and infiltrators, able mimic any person or object of the same or less mass. Unless other magic is used, however, they remain wet to the touch.

Next Time: Nifty Teleportation Tricks!

All Worldz: A Game of Interdimensional Civilization by ImEG Games

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What do you think?

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Bag o' Nifties by Dan Pond