View Full Version : Magic in a haunted setting

2008-12-26, 03:07 AM
I'm making a campaign module that involves a heavy limitation on magic to keep a certain sense of tension and horror. I want to make a caster character a viable option (combat won't be the solution to many problems, much like older silent hill games, first play through) without letting it actually solve everything. As such, I wish to severely limit its power in certain categories, and wish to give it a severe cost in others.

For an overall cost, I plan on implementing sanity into the campaign, using the CoC d20 rules for insanity, and the book of broken dreams for insanity effects. I'm going to rule that spells of any school cost 1 point of sanity per 2 levels of magic, rounding down.

The first and most important school of consideration is conjuration. Not much point to the setting if the characters just teleport out of the module, or plane shift away. I plan on outright stopping it from working in that sense.

However, I can compensate by creating a "safe room" that the teleport takes them to instead. If they try any transdimensional travel while in this place, the get redirected to this safe room, making teleportation somewhat useful for getting out of really sticky situations. However, to increase tension, I'll make it fairly clear that the more often you teleport there, the less safe it starts to appear.

I also don't want planar help, as a shining angel of hope, bravery and mercy kinda also kills the setting. Again, I can do the "file not found, here's this instead" thing and give them a creature that, while somewhat helpful, also severely damages their sanity. Possibly a creature with the pseudonatural template that speaks in a thousand languages at once speaking only words of pain. It will help the players, but cost more sanity than most spells. This means people that try callings will be taking a double wammy to their sanity score, possibly losing enough to go insane.

The last kind of conjurations that I want to limit are healing spells. I want there to be some tension here as well. Should we heal up, and risk going insane, or should we tough it out and keep our sanity? The exception is restoration and greater restoration. Since it's a fairly short module that I may or may not allow inbetween "mission" sanity healing in, and since psychotherapy isn't a D&D skill, I plan on letting it work to reduce the effects of insanity without sapping the casters own sanity. However, I plan on making restoration and sanity healing spells to cause addiction and dependance. If they use a restoration spell, they get a -1 cuculative penalty to sanity checks until they can get off the dependance somehow. If they become addicted, I'm simply going to apply the Monte cook alternate rules for addiction into the campaign for that character. Given that the penalty for dependance stacks with itself, this can lead down a pretty harsh path.

I plan on littering the place with little potion bottles, all containing restoration. For instance in a liquor cabinet, a few of the bottles will contain this stuff, rather than the norm. This will make it possible for groups that don't have clerics to easily restore some sanity, though obviously it's not a light decision to make.

Next major problem school is divinations. I don't want people to see through scary illusions that can sap sanity, I don't want them to know when danger is lurking around a corner. I want them to be guessing, yet at the same time, I want them to be able to use this tool. As such, all divinations now ask the dead spirits that reside in this place, and as such, the answer you get is the one they want you to get, not the normal one. Because of this, running into plot important things, like an old dolly, or a fragment of bone becomes the answer. If the divination is to ask a question to solve a problem, I'll give the answer and more. My solution for those sorts of divinations will be to give them the answer, but increase the sanity cost 2 or 3 fold. Spells like scrying, prying eyes and true sight will all reveal similarly disturbing things, and will all provide additional sanity loss depending on what they see at the time. Others like true strike act as normal.

Other schools I don't believe I'll need to change as much. obviously necromancy is a flat out bad idea, for the reasons of treachery, but other than that has few insta win solutions for this sort of setting. Transmutation is nerfed to a degree because the setting takes place in a sentient, morphic building, and as such can do little to get the party out. However, to reduce dependance on magic, they are still going to cost the same sanity as other spells. In the setting, magic can be an effective solution where martial prowess often won't, but it solves the problem at a steep cost.

So, thoughts, criticisms? I'll go into further detail of what each effect is when I've fleshed it out more specifically.

2008-12-26, 04:57 AM

That's all I should have to say on the subject. :smallwink:

2008-12-26, 06:42 AM
Look for Conan D20, the system is generally better for the kind of gaming you describe. Besides Conan and Cthulluh play in the same narrative universe; Lovecraft's characters were only less resilient than Howard's and more prone to break down when they see something they could not expalin with their rational thoughts.

If you do not insist on using D20, download Witchcraft (http://www.edenstudios.net/witchcraft/WitchcraftCorebook.zip) (it's free) and tone it down to a medieval setting, it is very close to what you are looking for.

2008-12-26, 06:53 AM
Bosssmiley is right: Ravenloft may well do much of what you're suggesting.

(And you can buy Conan d20 from the online section of my mate's shop, linked in my signature.)

If you don't want to trawl through that, and just want to apply the Sanity rules from Unearthed Arcana (http://www.systemreferencedocuments.org/35/sovelior_sage/unearthedSanity.html), I'd suggest you also add in the Taint rules (http://www.systemreferencedocuments.org/35/sovelior_sage/unearthedTaint.html) while you're at it.

Your restrictions seem sound. Sanity loss could be higher (see the rules for SAN by level in the link above).
I'd say do away with Turn Undead and its variants in favour of forcing undead to make a WILL save DC 10 + cleric level to attack the character while the holy symbol is brandished - the undead are not restricted in attacking the cleric's companions...

May I suggest that you make the act of spell casting unreliable? Require a DC 15 + spell level Spellcraft check to cast any spell (equates to a roughly 50% chance of success). Only apply the SAN and spell slot loss if the casting succeeds.

2008-12-26, 12:45 PM
Unfortunately, I'm a poor and honest person, so a new set of books is out. I'll check out the witchcraft rules for what I'm up to and see if they match, but the majority of the locals have already been designed for D&D 3.5, with a heavy dose of heroes of horror.

Is there anyway for me to "integrate ravenloft-like rules for magic into my setting" that you guys can "recommend"? :smallwink:

I read the rules for sanity in UA, but I find I like the CoC ones a little bit better, as they're a little more thorough, but I can bump the sanity loss for casting a little bit. What level do you recommend?

2008-12-26, 06:38 PM
I borrowed a copy of my freinds Ravenloft book and have perused the relevant sections. I'll keep all the restrictions on the spells that hampers or alters their effectiveness, but I don't want to introduce corruption. It's relatively the same magic that you find in a typical D&D setting with no real chance of turning to evil from its use, but I wanted to add a cost to it, and as such will require a sanity cost for all spells.

What's a fair cost for casting a spell, if your sanity score is wisdom x 5? I'm thinking spell level, or half spell level, but am not too sure. Possibly, full spell level on a failed sanity check, and half on a passed sanity check?

2008-12-26, 06:40 PM
Well, firstly, I'd like to reiterate that you've got a good set of ideas on how to make your magic more 'horror' than normal D&D in your original post. Stick with those.
UA suggests that you use Spell Level as the SAN cost for spells - minimum. You can find those rules here (http://www.systemreferencedocuments.org/35/sovelior_sage/unearthedSanity.html), for free and legally. I'd say you give a SAN check when a spell is successfully cast, and give the Low loss on a pass, and a randomised Moderate loss on a failure.

Here's a suggestion: why not throw out the caster core classes entirely, replacing them with d20 Modern Advanced Classes?

This'll take some explaining, so bear with me....

It seems to me you're looking to power down the magic in your game. The Acolyte (http://www.systemreferencedocuments.org/modern/smack/acolyte.html) (divine magic) and the Mage (http://www.systemreferencedocuments.org/modern/smack/mage.html) (arcane magic) from d20 Modern work like Prestige Classes from D&D - you have to qualify for them, and can't start out as one. Most importantly for a low-magic game, they each have a top level of spells of 5th. Use the D&D spell lists - modified as you've described - and these classes, less powerful than the D&D casters, but still worthwhile, become the horror-setting magicians you're after, especially if you add the Sanity rules from CoC or UA, and the Spellcraft check to cast that I suggested before. Magic becomes a dangerous and uncertain thing, as likely to mess you up as it is to save your skin.

Just a suggestion, of course.

2008-12-26, 07:07 PM
I'm not trying to weaken magic on the whole per se. I want it to be very effective when they do decide to use it, even a find the path can be useful in this setting. However, I want that use to be offset by the threat of insanity and horror, making it a hard decision. If magic is too weak in this setting, the players simply won't turn to it, because it won't help and causes insanity. So if they want to toss a fireball, or other such spell, I want it to be at the right ECL for typical D&D. Also, I probably won't be able to do the D20 modern method, as if the players survive the module, I may continue it in the normal greyhawk setting with similarly themed quests.

I'll try out a few control trials of the UA sanity casting variant, but I'm afraid that it may be a bit too high for the CoC sanity tables. Every time you go insane, you gain a permanent sanity loss which dictates your forbidden lore check, and stacks with itself really, really quickly. However, that permanent sanity loss can influence all future sanity checks, which makes the problem degenerate really, really quickly. As such, that spell chart may be a touch too high. It looks good though, if halving it reduces the tension by too much.

Thanks for the compliment to the rules I made. I'll consider doing more specific ones for specific spells and posting them here.