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Charlie Seljos' house rules for Unknown East Magic

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Below are house rules originally published in the Chaosium Digest volume 15, number 7 on Sunday, August 4, 1996.

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From: Charlie Seljos

Subject: Damage and Multiple Targets for _Unknown East_ Magic

System: Elric!

SOME COMMENTS ON THE MAGIC SYSTEM PRESENTED IN THE UNKNOWN EAST

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I was looking over my copy of the Elric! supplement _The Unknown

East_, and I found myself wondering how GMs and players might

determine the effects a particular spell might have. The magic system

presented in _The Unknown East_ allows players and GMs a tremendous

amount of flexibility, and has room for plenty of creativity as well.

Although the rules provide some excellent examples, they don't seem to

cover a few important specifics -- namely damage and multiple targets

and/or recipients.

MAGICAL DAMAGE

Suppose that Aslak of the Withered Peaks casts a spell at an enemy

with the intention of rotting his opponent's flesh. Aslak has a POW of

19, and he just happens to know the Sphere of Flesh and the Rune of

Diminution, so the spell costs him only 2 magic points. The question

is, how much damage does the spell do?

The Eastern magic rules discuss damage for spells cast on weapons, but

they don't address spells that directly damage their victims. If we

simply applied the Rule of Four to One, (spot rules on page 58 of _The

Unknown East_) and took one-fourth (rounded up) of Aslak's POW as the

strength of the spell, it would 5 points of damage. But, the very idea

that a spell would do a constant amount of damage seems inconsistent

with the Chaotic nature of magic.

Here's what I might suggest: use a variant of the Rule of Four to One

and the Roll Table from the Elric! game for Demon powers. Aslak's POW,

divided by four, is 5 (rounded up). On the roll table, a Demon Power

generated with a 5 magic point sacrifice yields 1d10. Therefor,

Aslak's spell does 1d10 points of damage to his target, if the target

fails its resistance roll (MP vs MP). This is a bit less damage than

an average arrow, since most arrows gain some damage from the STR+SIZ

bonus of the archer. Does the target's armor, if any, provide

protection? I would say probably not, because the armor was not the

target of the spell.

[NOTE: The Roll Table utilized above can be found on page 88 of the

Elric! rulebook.]

I have written to Lawrence Whitaker about this. He did the majority of

the writing for the _Unknown East_ booklet, and he seems to think that

this is an excellent way to resolve the situation. I have not yet

contacted him about the other ideas in this note, but I will do so.

MULTIPLE TARGETS

I remember in the Elric saga that an Eastern sorcerer, by the name of

Drinij Bara fought very well, without benefit of weapons, against a

large group of opponents. Although Moorcock didn't go into too much

detail, he stated that Bara's incantations shattered bone, shredded

flesh, and severed limbs.

Drinij Bara also cast a spell that caused many archers' arrows to

reverse their course, and return to strike the archers. What kind of

combination of Spheres and Runes would one have to use for this kind

of effect? Also, would the caster of such a spell have to defeat each

archer in a MP vs. MP contest for his or her spell to be effective?

Would the sorcerer need to expend an additional magic point for each

arrow that he or she wished to return to its sender? In this case, a

sorcerer with a POW of, say, 20, could easily reflect 8 to 10 arrows,

at a cost of about 14 magic points -- about five for the spell, and

nine more for the nine additional arrows. Finally, would such a spell

remain in effect as per the Elric! magic rules -- for the sorcerer's

POW in rounds (20, in this case) rounds? That would make sense to me.

A sorcerer using such a spell might be safe, so long as 10 or fewer

arrows were shot at him in a single round, assuming he won all MP vs.

MP contests. But if an eleventh archer targeted him... How would a GM

want to handle spells that are intended to affect more than one

target? Or an area-affecting spell? Investing more magic points,

perhaps, and increasing the radius/area of effect... Here are some of

my ideas on the subject.

Although on page 55 of _The Unknown East_, the rules specifically

state that a spell may have no more than one target, this seems to be

a rather severe restriction not quite in keeping with the Eastern

magic presented in the Elric! saga, in my considerably-less-than-humble

opinion.

A possible solution for spells that affect a number of objects or

targets is, once again, to use a variant of the Rule of Four to One

and the Elric! Roll Table. A sorcerer casting a spell that would

temporarily induce madness in a group of enemies might be able to

affect a number equal to his or her POW divided by four. Again,

however, it is unlikely that anything as inherently Chaotic as spell

would affect a constant number of targets. To determine the number of

targets affected, simply divide the sorcerer's POW by four, and

compare the results to the Roll Table. If the sorcerer's POW is 24,

then his spell will affect the same number of targets as a demon power

which was purchased with (24 divided by 4 = 6) 6 magic points, or

1d10+1d2 targets. Note that in this case, the sorcerer would need to

make a successful MP vs. MP against all targets, and he would have no

way of knowing in advance just how many targets he would affect -- he

might affect up to twelve, or as few as three.

Similarly, a missile-reflecting spell might reflect a number of

missiles equal to a Roll Table power purchased with one-fourth of the

sorcerer's POW rating. In the case of reflecting missiles, overcoming

MP is probably not needed, as is noted below.

Example:

Aslak of the Withered Peaks is in a predicament. Bandits have stolen

an artifact before he was able to steal it himself. He successfully

sneaks near their camp, but is distraught when he takes a head-count

of his opponents -- there are six of them. Aslak must make clever

use of his precious magic-points, and so he casts a spell which he

hopes will cause as much confusion and in-fighting as possible.

Fortunately for Aslak, the GM rules that he can accomplish this with

a spell using the Rune of Inhibition and the Sphere of Flesh. Since

Aslak already knows the Sphere of Flesh, and the Rune of Inhibition

is only one place away from the rune of Diminution (the Rune he was

trained in), the spell only costs him 3 magic points. Since he is

casting a spell which does not use only the Rune and Sphere he is

specialized in, Aslak must also make a special Luck roll to cast the

spell (see _The Unknown East_ Magic rules, near the bottom of page

54). Aslak's POW is 19, and his spell costs 3 magic points, so he

has an 80% chance of casting his spell successfully (19 - 3 = 16; 16

x 5% = 80%). He rolls a 59, and the spell goes off. Aslak's POW

divided by four, is 5 (rounded up). Aslak's spell will affect a

number of opponents equal to a demon power purchased with five magic

point on the Roll Table, or 1d10. Aslak's player rolls a seven, and

so the entire bandit gang could be affected. Unfortunately, two of

the bandits successfully overcome Aslak in a MP vs MP contest, and

are unaffected. However, these bandits will need to deal with their

four screaming companions who are swinging swords and maces at

phantoms of their own imagination before they can even consider

dealing with the sorcerer. The affected bandits will continue to be

plagued by such visions for 19 rounds -- plenty of time for Aslak to

make off with the artifact.

If, as a GM, you feel that this makes Eastern magic too powerful, you

may wish to consider an alternative -- charge the sorcerer the normal

magic point cost for the spell, but charge an additional magic point

for each target beyond the first that he or she wishes to affect.

Note that this will also reduce the sorcerer's chance of casting the

spell successfully, if he or she needs to make a special Luck roll to

cast the spell. Furthermore, spending the additional magic points in

no way guarantees that the additional targets will be affected -- it

merely allows the sorcerer to make use of the Roll Table. Using this

rule, Aslak would have needed to put 5 additional magic points into

his spell if he wished to have any chance of affecting all six of his

opponents. His chance of successfully casting the spell would also be

considerably lower -- only 55% (19 - [3 + 5] = 11; 11 x 5% = 55%).

A GM wishing to further limit such a spell might also rule that,

because of the number of targets, the spell does not last as long. He

or she might subtract one round from the duration of the spell for

each additional target. Again, using the previous example, Aslak's

opponents would only be affected for (19 - 5 = 14) 14 rounds, rather

than 19. A less merciful GM might rule that each additional target

subtracts two rounds from the spell's duration. Finally, a GM might

instead simply declare that the spell affects each target for a random

duration, and use the Roll Table to determine that number for each

target. The GM should use the number of magic points used for the

spell to determine what dice he or she will use on the Roll Table.

This kind of rule could also be applied when dealing with a spell that

reflects a random number of missiles, such as the one employed by

Drinij Bara in the Elric saga. The GM would still use one-fourth of

the sorcerer's POW on the Roll Table to determine the maximum number

of missiles that a sorcerer could reflect, but the sorcerer might also

have to spend one additional magic point per missile after the first

in order to actually reflect multiple missiles. Of course, he or she

would have to spend these magic points when the spell was cast, unless

the GM was particularly kind, and allows him or her to mark off a

magic point only after a missile was reflected. Finally, it seems

unlikely that the sorcerer would need to defeat the victims of such a

spell in a MP vs MP contest, since the spell affects the arrows

directly, but some GMs may think that this makes such spell too

powerful, and allow its victims the resistance roll anyway. Note that

the spell would only reflect missiles which would normally have struck

te sorcerer -- it would not reflect misses.

Example:

During the confusion created by his previous spell, Aslak of the

Withered Peaks has managed to steal the artifact from the group of

bandits. Unfortunately, it took him some time to discover where the

item was, and the bandits have recovered from the effects of his

spell. As he runs toward his waiting horse, the pursuing bandits,

who are armed with bows, begin to launch arrows at him. Noticing the

arrows falling near him, Aslak casts another spell to save his hide.

Fortunately, his last spell killed or incapacitated two of the

bandits, and so only four of them are able to use their bows against

him. Aslak casts a spell which he hopes will reflect arrows back at

his opponents. Aslak uses the Sphere of Air and the Rune of

Direction in his spell. The Sphere of Air is one place away from the

Sphere of Flesh, his specialty, and the Rune of Direction is three

places away from the Rune of Diminution, which he also knows. The

spell cost him 6 magic points. But, because Aslak is facing the

threat of several arrows, his player decides to put three more magic

points into the spell, to give Aslak the chance of reflecting all

the incoming projectiles, bumping the magic point cost of the spell

up to 9.

He must also make the special Luck roll again. His POW is 19, and

his spell costs 9 magic points, so he has a 50% chance of success

(19 - 9 = 10; 10 x 5% = 50%). He succeeds just as the four bandits

launch their arrows. Two of the arrows score hits, and are bounced

back to the surprised bandits, gravely wounding them. The remaining

bandits wisely decide to allow the sorcerer to keep the stolen

artifact.

I welcome any comments and suggestions about these rule ideas.

Edited by Chaot
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