Eldritch & Ceremonial Magic Summary

Necromancer (Simon Forster)

The Black City Campaign uses the Eldritch Magic and Ceremonial Casting rules from the upcoming ACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook. This form of magic is less flashy and more subtle than in a traditional ACKS game.

Compared to the Vancian spell system, Ceremonial magic is slow (typically requiring one turn to cast) and dangerous (mishap rolls are possible, black magic leads to corruption).

The rules for ceremonial magic are more complicated than the standard spell system, and since my players don’t have access to the Heroic Fantasy Handbook, I’m providing a summary of the key concepts here.

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Black City – Shamanic Tradition

In an earlier post, I said that although I really like the one integrated Eldritch spell list in the ACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook, in practice I prefer limiting selection to characters based on their magical tradition.

I provided lists of “appropriate” runic ceremonies for characters in the Black City campaign, and have now put together equivalent lists for shamans.

Typical practitioners are “tribal shamans who barter with ancestral spirits and animistic powers to gain power over the living and the dead.” In my current game they are represented by the ceremonial shaman class.

The following lists are the “common” 1st- through 3rd-level ceremonies in the shamanic tradition. White magic ceremonies are on a white background, grey magic on a grey background, and black magic on a black background:

(Although the wolf-calling spells are really suited to shamans, note that they aren’t native to THULE.)

As I mentioned before, players are expected to creatively describe their reusable trinkets – like a bronze bell for Protection from Evil, or a scrimshaw bear thighbone for Call of the Wild Bear. Expendable Shamanic trinkets can be assumed to be “fetishes”.

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Spellsinging House Rules

I’m not using the full Spellsinging rules from the ACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook in my Black City campaign, but I like the concept that the revised Magical Music proficiency should be based on spellsinging.

Here’s what I’m going to use:

Magical Music: The character gains a limited ability to spellsing. The character adds one spellsong in his repertoire, which he casts as a 1st level spellsinger. A character can select this proficiency multiple times; each rank adds another spellsong to his repertoire.

Casting a spellsong normally requires 1 turn (10 minutes) and the spellsinger must succeed a special Performance proficiency throw to cast a spellsong. The character adds his Charisma modifier to this check.

(Non-proficient Characters will need to roll 18+, so Performance is a de-facto pre-requisite for Magical Music.)

He will need to be able to move his hands and sing freely in order to perform a spellsong. (Instrumentalists will need their instrument instead of singing.)

If the Performance throw is successful, then the spellsong takes effect at the end of the turn. On a failed throw means, the spellsong does not take effect. The spellsinger suffers no ill effects from failure, but cannnot try again until the next day.

If he has enough time, the character can attempt a methodical spellsong, taking 6 hours to elaborately prepare and stage the performance. This grants a +4 to the Performance throw. Failure incurs the same results as a standard spellsong.

A Spellsinger can also attempt a hasty spellsong (taking 1 round), but with a -4 penalty on his Performance throw. If the result is a natural 1, then a mishap may occur. Make another Performance throw with the same -4 modifier; if this results in failure, then the spellsinger suffers a mishap and must roll 1d10 on the Spellsinging Mishap Table (use the Minor Mishap column).

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ACKS Grimoire – Lesser Restoration

I really like the Mortal Wounds rules in ACKS. However, I’ve found that characters can end up with a large number of permanent injuries after extended play. Although realistic, it’s annoying to keep track of and can lead to disappointed players. In response, I’ve added a new 4th-level divine spell – lesser restoration – which replaces sticks to snakes on the standard cleric spell list and speak with plants on the bladedancer spell list.

Lesser restoration allows characters to heal permanent wounds without needing to roll on the Tampering with Mortality table. However, the spell must be cast relatively soon after receiving the wound (two days per caster level). The restore life & limb spell is also modified to allow healing of recent wounds without side-effects.

In practice, this means that mortal wounds suffered by low-level PCs are likely to become permanent, since they probably can’t afford to pay for a lesser restoration. Similarly, characters who suffer mortal wounds while deep in the wilderness may not be able to receive healing in time. As the characters gain experience (and wealth), it becomes easier to remove debilitating wounds. This is intentional, since players have probably grown attached to their characters by this point.

When PCs are high enough level to gain access to restore life & limb, they may also choose to heal old wounds – but will need to roll on the Tampering with Mortality table. Most of the time, characters are better off accepting small permanent wounds (scars, lost figures, damaged knees and hips) because it’s not worth the risk of side-effects.

Under the ACKS Heroic Fantasy eldritch magic rules, I’d probably add lesser restoration as a 5th-level white magic spell.

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Black City Templates

I’ve posted about templates in ACKS before, and today I finally decided to copy the Black City class templates from the Excel Character Builder into a more readable format. I also took the opportunity to catch some errors and tweak some templates while I was at it.

I’ve broken the templates into two groups: one for “Core Classes” that represent essential Viking archetypes, and one for “Optional Classes” that are more complicated or may not fit in every Black City campaign:

These templates work just like the ones from the ACKS Player’s Companion. Once you decide on a class you can roll 3d6 or just pick a template from the list. You’ll note that the result for a default roll of “10” is usually a seafaring-type template. Most adventurers who reach THULE should be familiar with the sea, so these represent the “default” class template.

Note that these templates use information from the ACKS Heroic Fantasy Handbook and incorporate all of my Black City custom classes and house rules, so they’re not ‘canon’ in a standard ACKS game. And I haven’t gone back yet to update the Character Builder, so not all the templates match.

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Using Campaign Events

In between sessions of my Black City campaign, I’ve been rolling on the “Campaign Events” table from John Arendt’s Dreams in the Lich House. We’re about six or seven weeks into the ten week summer season now, and these random rolls have really added to the atmosphere.

The first notable result was Blood Feud. Violence erupted into a full scale blood feud between two rival groups! This event led to Harald’s Red Men being declared outlaw and fleeing into the Black City.

One time I got Pod of Whales. A small pod of whales was seen off the nearby coast. I didn’t think this would be much of an adventure hook, but the PCs actually decided to do some whaling!

Another week I rolled The Enemy Among Us. Some kind of predator of men was discreetly hunting amongst the tent camps outside of Trade Town. The group never did figure this one out…

Some weeks I substituted the outcome of PC meddling instead of rolling randomly. An example was Things Get Weird when the inhabitants of Trade Town witnessed a battle in the sky – a silvery flying saucer vs. “winged demons” (Mi-Go). Another time, one of the PCs (who had been absent several sessions) was Kidnapped (and later rescued).

My most recent result was Inflation. As summer wears on, success in the ruins has led to much wealth being discovered. Costs in Trade Town are now triple the normal prices back home (instead of double).

I’ve really enjoyed these events. They give the illusion of a “living” settlement without making me do a bunch of background work in figuring out factions, motivations, etc. And as opposed to a set “schedule” of events, the random nature forces me to think on my feet.

I think more modules should have a “background events” table to roll on between sessions, similar to the “random encounter” tables you usually find. It really livens things up!

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More Degenerate Classes

I’m still obsessed with Dungeon Degenerates. Earlier I posted ACKS custom classes suitable for Würstreich and the Borderlands. Since then I’ve created a few more:

  • Barbarian: Savage warriors from outside the Würstreich’s borders.
  • Gladiator: Arena combatants who fight for sport and to entertain audiences.
  • Grifter: Gypsies, fortune-tellers, & entrepreneurial carnival entertainers.

(I’ve built these using the ACKS Player’s Companion, plus house rules from Astonishing ACKS and the Black City.)

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