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The assembled men and women nodded or grunted at the lady speaking. Her tusks gleam as she walks around the bonfire which illuminates her brightly colored garb and the terrifying mask attached to her belt like a buckler or dagger.
“This is going to be tough. Less than one in ten of you made it through Horizon boot camp so you probably think you’re tough because you were the biggest baddest mooks on your homeworlds.”
“The kukeri training is intense and we stand to ensure trade is the only thing that happens here and no denizen of the Abyss decides to go on a vacation to this miserably cold and barren world. We must prevent any souls from being harvested without proper compensation or trade will break down and then invasion is inevitable as they will see us as too weak to be useful other than to be incorporated into being a part of a layer of the Abyss. And Gruumsh forbids any Tanurukk to get loose again.”
“This very Minkowski Tower we stand outside of is a Hellmouth linked to a trade fortress we have established at an unaffiliated crossroads in-between several Abyssal layers on the river Styx. From the “many-folded lands” point of view, we are now standing in the Abyss albeit a part of the thin lands. The portal underneath the Tower allows direct and easy travel from this world to Fort Zant and its bazaar.”
“I suppose most of you don’t even know the slightest thing about the Abyss other than the tales a shaman or skald tells to scare children around a campfire at night.”
“I don’t know the absolute truth of it but here is the legend I heard from Colonel Ilneval’s valourous skald when I last visited Fort Zant.”
“During the First Age but after the prime dreamed this eggs of the first worlds it began walking the dreamtree out of wanderlust and seeking novelty. Finally, it found the font or pool at the heart or base of the tree that fed the tree and all within it. Looking down at the well the prime saw nothing but itself. For an eternity it stared hoping for a response but nothing was revealed.”
“Then prime delved deep into the heart and the ocean became the same in all directions with no clues about up or down or left or right. For the first time, the prime felt panic and then terror. At last, it screamed.”
“Never before had the prime dreamer felt pain or doubt. This suffering gave birth to the first of the logos attuned to the emotions and experiences it felt while all alone in the crushing deep. Loneliness, loss of hope, and pain became real in the dreamsea. The first children fought each other and their blood and desires disturbed the purity of the deep and mixed with the prime’s tears. In the patterns etched by all of their experiences, the dreamer dreamed the first runes revealed like blood twisting and twirling slowly in a bath.”
“The prime screamed into the deep and in the echoes, the logos discovered the prime and language was born from that meeting. Joy now gave birth to new logos as did love and anger. A great host of logos and ideas were born and more and more began wandering and exploring the nascent Abyss.
“In time the greatest of the logos began shaping their environment with these primal tongues and runes. In wonder, the prime began writing the story of how to be a maker and with this toolset, the prime and the logos sang the first planes into existence with the prime guiding any of the logos who sought to create a home of their own. From that moment the logos would seek to create or if they could create they would seize a planar home for their own as the pinnacle of achievement laid down by the prime dreamer.”
“In the Prime Era, the Abyss had no layers around it as this was before the world eggs hatched our mortal kind and our worlds and much before the dread invasion.”
“I will skip the rest but a key concept is to understand that the Abyss is the most important thing in the cosmos. It is what the aberrations want to enter more than anything else. This is why the celestials haven’t marched in and destroyed every fiend and demon prince they could find for it is the fiends who protect the cosmos from the aboleths, beholders, and illithid aberrations.
“The layers of the Abyss shroud the heart of reality like those little Matryoshka dolls at the Bazaar with dolls within dolls within dolls. They are powered by the Abyss with each layer as you go deeper each ruled by a stronger and mighter lord or lady or cabal as if the Abyss is a sun and the many layers are empowered by the radiance. The masters of the Abyss include every major power from an alliance of mostly Githborn Grey Captains raiding the Astral and Abyssal Seas to a former Feywild Druid Circle and a Dragon-King of Athas. As time goes on the layers morph and eat other layers or unaligned planes as their masters grow stronger or shed regions as they grow weaker.”
“The nine deepest layers of the Abyss are commonly known as the Nine Hells with Nessus nestled next to the heart of the cosmic tree. It is Asmodeus who guards us all against the fickle treacheries of demons and the fearsome nature of the aberrations. Access to the heart is necessary for the birth of truly new and unique planar domains rather than just extensions or enhancements to existing planes or demiplanes.”
“Colonel Ilnevel hasn’t yet learned how to master an Abyssal layer so at the moment the plane is slowly shrinking and ceding territory to nearby rivals but Horizon and Sigil scholars are hopeful that we can decrypt more of the Primal runes or trade for knowledge so we can better defend the Abyss from aberrations and defend ourselves from overzealous fiends who consider it their duty to conquer the weak. Remember though that while at the Hellmouth this is considered the Abyss and the Fiends will face final death should they die here so any that manage to do so the intelligent will often be quite cautious for fiends.”
“That is enough legends for today. Get some rest for tomorrow we will go over combat strategies against Fiends and the types of Fiends you will likely face on the field.”
I hope you enjoyed my little story. Wanted to get it out before Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes came out and before what I read there would color my story.
The Kukeri Tradition is pretty neat and just begging for adoption in a game involving demons.
The many folded (manifold) lands is a cosmos I created after a war between the logos or gods/demons with the mortal worlds against the aberrations in which abominations like aboleths or illithids conquered entire swathes of the prime material plane and sought to gain access to the Abyss so they could create their own planes in their own images and displace the vast dreaming completely. The Horizon guild operates Towers as bases and portals throughout the material planes and the planes of the dreaming tree. The Horizon walkers are the most well known of the guild and will often travel alone to worlds unaware of the greater comings and goings of the cosmos and join groups of adventurers or nudge groups of successful adventurers to places and situations they can be useful to the Guild and even eventually join.
A key idea is that while the blood war is happening it is pursued for the power to fight the aberrations as each side thinks of the other as weak and that they should die so that their resources could be used by better more competent and powerful beings. It also shows why “good” gods and celestials don’t just slaughter all the distracted “bad guys.” The fiends serve a purpose and a big part of their power comes from the abyss or from the souls or lifeforce of mortals. The infernals tend to see mortals as mostly useless and good only for fuel or food. Powerful fiends like to forge fallen souls into magic items and then trade those items to useful semi-competent mortals who happen to be their descendants.
Devils don’t trust demons and rumors of demons being suborned or dominated by aberrations are spread by agents of the Lords of the Nine as part of their propaganda. They may be right. A demonic aberration would be a fearsome thing to face.
Since the river Styx flows through all the layers of the Abyss it is the key point of travel, war, and trade. It is not uncommon for the river to have tributaries pass through it at hellmouths in the material and elemental planes. There are rumors of powerful fae and celestials having their own hellmouths feeding into the Styx and supporting abyssal vassals.
If the devils could stop the flow of the river Styx they would do so and starve the other layers but demon hordes invade and prevent any serious attempt done so far by Asmodeus or other Lord.
(A Technique or “Half-Feat” that can be combined with another Technique or with an Ability increase). Gain Natural Explorer (Abyssal Lands) and Favored Enemy: Fiends from the Ranger list when in the Abyss or a “thin-lands” adjacent to a Portal called Hellmouths as the Abyss will flow into the region around an open Portal and these thin-lands operate much like the Feywild or Shadowfell do. The character gains the Abyssal language from the Favored Enemy ability.
This mask makes Abyssal creatures uncomfortable granting them Disadvantage on social skill checks when the mask is worn by an attuned user and allows the user to see the abyssal connections and traces like truesight pertaining to Abyssal Fiends and their magic. This makes it immediately obvious to any Kukeri trained individual anyone who is in servitude to a Fiend of the Abyss via an infernal brand or mark but wouldn’t reveal a mercenary who was doing paid labor for a Fiend.
D&D House Rules:
<Edit> I just found a really unique to me house rule called Variant Shared Turn Combat on Reddit on the Unearthed Arcana subreddit and I’m amazed at the production value and quality ideas.</Edit>
The above diagram is a depiction of the OODA Loop which is a tool for understanding how people make decisions. Many of the ideas I will be presenting use this framework and come from my homebrew game I’ve been designing and redesigning for years that works very well when transferred to D&D 5e.
With the OODA Loop you have four steps: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.
The general structure of combat in the PHB 5e on page 189 is as follows:
There are many ways the DM can handle showing combat whether with miniatures, physical or virtual maps or overlays, or purely via imagination and description.
I prefer if possible to use the fog of war during the initial setup and not let players know things they can’t perceive if possible. Having a second map or description available just to the DM can make it easier to show the movement of NPC’s in the fog of war for the DM that the PC’s do not know about. It can be fun to flank the PC’s and get the PC’s to think about flanking especially with mounts or vehicles in play.
I also would like to say that D&D is not supposed to be simulationist and works just fine as is. I offer my system to people who like a little more complexity and options in their battles and to add a bit of tactical confusion and surprise. There are some changes that can make things very different in your game as it shifts priority away from Dexterity towards Wisdom but I think that is actually more balanced.
I have not playtested this at all with D&D so if you’re interested in trying it out and letting me know what you think that would be awesome. Please just leave a comment about your experience. If I forgot something obvious please let me know as well. It is easy to make mistakes on this kind of thing.
1. Determine Surprise:
Nothing changed in this step.
It is important at this point to go over what each PC perceives prior to Initiative so that they can form an idea of what is going on based on their personal perspective not that of a Player who can see much more. So, if an ooze is slinking behind the wizard and the wizard doesn’t know they obviously won’t be casting a spell at it. This encourages a bit of roleplaying so the very perceptive Rogue who sees the ooze approaching his ally can take a free action to yell “Behind you Mage!” after stabbing the Orc in front of her which might confuse the Orc while alerting the wizard so they may change their mind and cast burning hands in front of them rather in front.
The DM also needs to keep in mind what the NPC’s perceive and how they react. Experienced soldiers used to working in tandem with each other are going to be much more difficult to deal with than expert duelists used to working one on one or a mob of amateurs.
Here things start to depart from the PHB 5e rules.
A big change here is that in my system Initiative is how well you observe your environment and process information rather than in the PHB which focuses on how fast you can move your body. After all, why would Dexterity have anything to do with how fast and well you can observe a combat, make a decision, and say “Shazaam!”? It makes a lot more sense to use Wisdom here to represent a combination of perception, common sense decision making, intuition, and actions and reactions especially those actions that don’t have any real physical component.
D20 + (Wisdom Modifier) + Proficiency Modifier/Die
For diceless Initiative just use the PC/NPC’s Proficiency Modifier and have an automatic 20 for the roll. For more variable Initiative use the optional rule for Proficiency Dice in the DMG on Page 263 which replaces, for example, the +2 Proficiency Modifier with a +1D4.
One could even use both in a game depending on the situation. Use the variable Initiative when surprise, “boss” battles, or unusual combat is happening and for the more normal lineup of good guys here and bad guys here just use the diceless version instead.
The reasoning behind using Wisdom here instead of Dexterity I provided above and my reasoning for using the proficiency bonus is that handling and reacting to combat is a matter of experience.
For example, take a reasonably healthy and elderly Special Forces combat veteran and mentally they will be able to process a combat situation faster and in a more capable fashion than a novice character with world-class Dexterity. Leveraging that experience to process the OODA Loop is a big part of improving decision making and thus performance in combat be it social, mental, or physical and you can substitute talent only so far when competing against old age and treachery.
Once you have everyone’s Initiative totals you can either post them for all to see or you can keep them to yourself.
The highest Initiative total provides the number of Combat Phases in this Combat Turn.
Rogue: 30, Ooze: 23, Wizard 22, Orc 22.
Thus, there are 30 Phases in this turn.
If two characters are acting the turn or movement during the same phase both actions take place at the same time. Thus, you can have both characters stab each other in the heart and this happened quite commonly in history or characters charging each other would meet at some point in between the two warriors rather than one warrior charging across the battlefield while the other sits there.
Any action that would take place at 0 Phase or when the combat phase is in the negatives all happen at the same time. Thus, a character who used their entire move before swinging a sword would have their action take place on the 0 phase along with any other characters.
At this point starting with this highest phase the DM has the characters decide what they are going to do in a descending fashion phase by phase allowing the characters to have started their round and have their action/s take place during or after their phase depending on the type of action.
Each action, maneuver, spell, or movement takes place during or after the round/phase the character scored in the Orient step of Combat.
Remember you still have only the actions you can do just like in the PHB even if you still have leftover Initiative after you attack or cast a spell. If you don’t use it up with actions or movement you lose it. So, if you attack during phase 15 and don’t want to move you don’t get more attacks to do later unless you have the extra attacks feature.
I am going to introduce a term called tempo which has various definitions depending on the martial tradition or master but in this case, tempo means how long it takes to complete an action. Each action has a tempo cost which tells you how much later the action actually takes place in since your Initiative score is simply how fast you were able to process the combat situation not the time it takes to perform an action.
Some martial masters have used the idea of hand, body, foot, and feet to describe combat, reaction, and initiative. This means that the tempo of moving your hand is fast, moving your body is a bit slower, moving one foot is slower than that, and moving both feet is the slowest. In other words, swinging a sword at an opponent in measure is faster than moving your torso/body back to dodge or forward on an attack. Moving a foot forward or back takes even longer and moving both feet is the slowest. In other words, it is faster to thrust a blade with just an arm movement vs an arm movement plus moving the body forward with the arm vs the arm, the body, and a foot forward such as when lunging vs the arm, body, and both feet in a shuffling strike.
To put this in perspective it takes longer for a warrior to walk 30 feet and swing a two-handed warsword than it does for the rogue to move 5 feet and backstab with a sgian dubh knife even if the warrior rolled a higher Initiative score which is how things stand now.
A character can under this system postpone their action or be indecisive. For example, a pikeman could see cavaliers and their horses charging towards him and plant her pike and ready themselves for the charge postponing their attack until the cavalier comes in range. Should the cavalier stop rather than coming into range the pikeman could charge forward instead or drop the pike and draw the loaded crossbow at their side and fire thus allowing more flexibility than the current system at the cost of more complexity for the DM and players to handle.
Actions and their Tempo:
For a second attack, the action takes place after the first one and any movement has subtracted from the initial Initiative. Starting Initiative of 10 and a heavy strike for on phase 7 and a second heavy strike for -3 for an attack on phase 4.
If the character is not Familiar, Proficient, or Expert with the weapon then add +2 to the Initiative Cost.
Heavy and Light Weapons have that trait listed with all others without that trait being regarded as Medium below.
Heavy Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged): 3 Initiative Cost.
Medium Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged): 2 Initiative Cost.
Light Weapon Attack (Melee or Ranged: 1 Initiative Cost. (Most Unarmed Strikes)
Loading a Weapon: 5 Initiative Cost.
Cantrip: 1 Initiative Cost.
Spells: (1 + Spell level) Initiative Cost.
Innate Spellcasting, Legendary Actions, and Special Abilities: 1 to 5. (DM should quickly decide based on the complexity and potency of the ability or power or the complexity of the situation.)
While the spellcaster is making magic they are vulnerable just as if they are Concentrating on a spell…because they are concentrating on the spell they are casting. This means not only does it take awhile to drop a major spell and thus adds difficulty to the tactical landscape it also means it is even more important to protect the big guns because if they take damage and lose concentration it can be the difference between an easy encounter and a deadly one.
For example, the Cleric has an Initiative of 15 and is casting a 6th level spell so their spell begins on Phase 15 and ends on Phase 8. If they get hit with a barrage of arrows and Magic Missiles they could lose Concentration and have their spell fizzle out. The spellcaster doesn’t lose the spell slot if they lose Concentration because they weren’t able to marshall the magic before getting distracted.
This can give a quick character a chance to use Arcana to recognize the spell the big baddie is casting and yell for the Archer to shoot the Wizard before they drop a Meteor Swarm on them. It also makes Counterspelling a bit more fun which counts as a Reaction below so it only has a 0 IC.
Skills, grappling, and non-combat actions like help, search, ): DM may add or subtract depending on the complexity of the skill use. This represents the simple automatic speed that develops from increased competency at a task. Picking a lock when you’re an expert and under pressure in combat is much faster than if you’re not an expert.
Unfamiliar: 4 Initiative Cost
Familiar: 3 Initiative Cost. (Jack of All Trades, Remarkable Athlete, or my house rule linked above.)
Proficient: 2 Initiative Cost.
Expert: 1 Initiative Cost.
Walking (base movement): 3 Initiative Cost per 5 feet
Dash: 2 Initiative Cost per 5 feet.
Sprint: 1 Initiative Cost per 5 feet. (Dash without gear, weapons, or any substantial encumbrance such as dropping everything and running for your life from the greek fire armory that a mage dropped a delayed blast fireball inside.)
Breaking up your move:
Walk 15 feet for a 15 Initiative Cost then cast a spell and use the remaining X (15) feet to get back undercover on the 0 Phase.
Use Object: 1 to 5 Initiative Cost based on the complexity of the object. Opening a stuck door may take longer than pressing a button.
Mounting: 10 – Dexterity Modifier
Dropping Prone: 1 Initiative Cost.
Standing up from “Prone”: 10 – Dexterity Modifier
Disengage: 1 Initiative Cost.
Dodge: 0 Initiative Cost.
Free actions: 1 Initiative Cost.
Quick Look Around: 1 Initiative Cost. Let’s the character get a quick scan of the environment for obvious things that don’t require a roll. Since things change dynamically during the round this can be important.
Reactions like Opportunity Attacks: Usually have a 0 Initiative Cost and take place at effectively the same time as the action that caused the reaction such as a Shield spell blocking an arrow.
Bonus Actions: Can take place before, after, or at the same time. For example, a Shield Master could do a shove before they do their attack or after. A Two-Weapon fighter could thrust forward with both daggers in simultaneously on the same phase or one after the other.
Using the earlier example: Rogue: 30, Ooze: 23, Wizard 22, Orc 22. Thus, there are 30 Combat Phases.
Starting with the highest Initiative Score have the highest scorer decide what they want to do. So, the Rogue at Phase 30 would say I am probably moving 5 feet forward to stab the Orc after a quick look around. On Phase 29 the DM would tell the Rogue that an Ooze is slouching towards the Wizard but about 30 feet away. The Rogue has to decide whether to tell the Wizard and alert the orc or move forward and backstab the orc. She decides he should be fine and walks toward the orc and sneak attacks. So, the DM would go through Phase 28, 27, 26 (sneak attack with sgian dubh a light weapon -1 IC) and on Phase 25 rolls for damage and kills the orc. Now on phase 24, she yells at the wizard “Behind you!”.
On phase 23 the Ooze starts sliming up to the Wizard but is 30 feet away. It will have closed five feet by phase 20. The Wizard on phase 22 panics and flings a firebolt cantrip at the Ooze without thinking and hits without killing the ooze. The cantrip had a cost of 1 IC so on phase 21 the Wizard turns and walks toward the Rogue keeping an eye on the ooze. Both the Wizard and Rogue move back to keep their distance from the creepy looking Ooze which decides to Dash on its remaining move to close the distance.
The DM would map out the movement as the phases would drop one by one. Any remaining movement would be used during Phase 0 for all three creatures.
The next round would start with either a new roll if the DM thinks the situation is very different like new creatures enter the combat arena or dynamically in a different “scene” or if the situation is relatively static just reuse the same totals from the previous rounds.
Hope this gives you some ideas on how to spice up your combat! Keep in mind that this system does penalize movement and powerful spellcasting the most. It does encourage more active protection of your spellcasters when they are casting spells and makes it a bit harder to unleash the big guns when not protected by the tanks/front line.
D&D House Rules:
I am tentatively calling the rpg system Singular Roleplaying System and the first main campaign Rogues and Masterminds.
The campaign and parts of the core system are inspired by movies, rpg’s, books, and tv shows like John Wick, Sneakers, the Equalizer, Leverage, Global Frequency, Planetary, V for Vendetta, the treatises of Fiore de’i Liberi, Hustle, Shadowrun RPG, Cyberpunk by the likes of Stephenson and Gibson, World of Darkness RPG, Amber DRPG, Grosse Point Blank, and Grifters to name a few.
Originally it was going to be Movers and Shakers a super/psi/spy world that I’ve been working on along with a connected campaign called Posthuman but I decided to scale back to making just a solid non-supernatural/SF game that can later on be built into something more complex along the lines of Donnerjack by Roger Zelazny and the works of Dan Simmons.
As a consequence I was looking to make a system that scales well from making a believable competent human to an extraordinary gentleman and later to beyond human. Too often games make mechanics in which a legendary person can be fairly commonly beaten by someone vastly less talented and skilled. Or the other issue that I see in games is that there are basically just one or two versions of a successful archetype for a PC to start with or end up with thus robbing characters of the chance to develop and become something completely unique both from a mechanics standpoint and from a story standpoint while also being successful. Few people want to play a helpless character or feel railroaded into choosing based on optimization min/maxxing. That is a tall order to make but I think I’ve come up with some interesting takes on things.
I am trying for that middle ground in complexity of mechanics to provide a scaffolding for making and growing the PCs and the campaign.
I am still in the alpha stage of development and will need art and design elements, playtesting, and a few decisions on how serious I want to be in developing this game but I think I have something cool and unique.
I will be posting shortly my plain and basic character sheet and another post about basic mechanics. I will definitely be looking at or for art, playtesters, advice on the game and campaign world, and on the business aspects. I’ve looked at places like drivethru which lets you do print on demand and pdf for far cheaper and easier than in the 90s. Still hard to make any money but maybe possible to have a nice hobby and maybe make enough for coffee and a bagel.
Magicians can perform magic because of the nature of mana. Mana is fueled by life and rises and falls in different locations and times. We are in the Sixth World and mana is rising overall each year except for the Year of the Comet when it spiked and later dropped. From a game mechanic point of view the increase of mana allows for today’s magicians to be just as effective as magicians in 2050 using a fetish. Mana is very sensitive to metahumanity and psychoactively charged by emotions, violence, and events charged with meaning and psychological significance. Repeated use of magic performed by a Tradition or through the use of geomancy can aspect mana towards supporting that Tradition. Widespread worship, prayer, and meditation can create a spiritual oasis as well. An area can also become a domain and aspected towards a specific magical skill like a master enchanter’s forge who loves what he does used over decades could develop additional layers of aspect for joy, creation, artificing, the enchanter, and the enchanter’s tradition.
Mana is also sensitive to the environment of the mundane world getting warped by pollution or radiation or naturally aligned to certain types of magic by powerful physical variables like the area around volcanoes being aspected towards fire magic and friendly to fire spirits. Feng shui, geomancy, and geomasonry are able to manipulate how the mana flows and what aspect it might have.
From page 30 Street Grimoire:
“A background count is a measurement of a variance from normal of mana levels in the area. Arcane scholars have developed a scale to measure the strength of these areas, ranging from –24 to 24, with 0 considered normal mana levels. A negative value relates to lower-than-normal mana available to be used for magic (meaning mana ebbs and voids). A positive value relates to mana that has been aspected in some fashion, making it harder to control unless your aspect overlaps with it (domains and warps). Regardless if it’s a positive or negative number, we use the absolute value in determining how it affects the Awakened’s use of magic.”
So what this means is that any BC that isn’t 0 that hasn’t been acclimated will impact either in a positive or negative fashion an awakened entity or astral denizens magical abilities. A place with less mana than normal will have a negative rating which means that ALL MAGIC will be penalized. A place with more mana than normal will have a positive rating and could help or hurt an awakened entity or astral denizen depending on many different factors. It is very possible for a positive BC to provide aid for one magical test and harm the next.
“Acclimated individuals are able to ignore background counts, but aligned people take it one step further. They are able to completely mesh with the aspect of a domain, getting a boost from the mana in that area.”
Acclimation is something that an awakened being or astral denizen can develop while spending time in that type of mana environment. Since most Universities in most areas focus on the Hermetic Tradition one could assume that any magician who achieved an undergraduate degree at such an institution would have achieved a certain degree of acclimation to a knowledge and hermetic environment. In the NAN the dominant BC at an University would be knowledge and shamanistic and in China knowledge and Wuxing for other examples. The awakened with a rarer tradition would still not gain the benefits of alignment to the dominant tradition and so would have to work harder than their compatriots privileged with alignment to the background count.
From page 31 Street Grimoire:
“The most powerful mana lines or events that have emotional or magical significance to most of humanity. Examples include the five sacred mountains in Chinese lore including T’ai Shan, where the great dragon Lung lives (Rating 15), The Great Cairn line in Tír na nÓg (Rating 14), The blast sites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Nazi death camps, or the Native American Re-Education Center at Abilene (Rating 13).”
The problem with this comes in with a later bit in which a greater than -12 or +12 BC causes Stun damage every combat turn. How does the Dragon Lung survive his home? Obviously he has an insane Willpower as a Great Dragon but with this rule he would be pummeled into unconsciousness in a day as the rule specifically says even if it is a domain. No matter how high his rating eventually the dice will fail. So, there must be some technique that Lung is able to do to survive this and that he is able to provide to his spirits, awakened servitors, and others unless he exists utterly alone in his home except for mundanes!
“It can take weeks or months of exposure to become acclimated to the background count before his skills aren’t affected by it. Generally speaking, you should plan on one week of exposure per rating point of the background count.”
I have an house rule I am still polishing up that will help quantify what BC a starting character would be acclimated to prior to play.
From page 32 Street Grimoire:
“A background count impose a negative dice pool penalty equal to its rating for all tests linked in any way to magic (such as spellcasting, summoning, and skill tests that use active adept powers such as Killing Hands or Improved Sense). The exception to this rule are background counts from domains, where a tradition, person, skill group, or skill may be exempt from the penalty as they are used to or aligned with the domain. Dual-natured creatures or purely astral creatures take a negative dice pool penalty to all actions equal to the background count. Again the exception of a domain can apply to specific types of creatures or spirit types. Pre-existing active foci, sustained spells, quickened/anchored spells and rituals are reduced by the background count. If they are reduced to 0 or less, spells fizzle, wards and rituals collapse, foci deactivate. A foci cannot activate while under the influence of the background count. Anchored rituals and quickened spells if they have not expired revive themselves at 1 point of Force per hour, up to their preexisting Force. Preparations triggered while within a background count have their potency immediately reduced by the background count. Adepts may use a Simple Action to turn on or off a passive power in cases where penalties from background counts might exceed bonuses from their powers. Background count makes Assensing, Astral Perception, and Astral Combat more difficult to do. Impose a negative dice pool penalty for tests associated with these skills. When attempting to track an astral entity through an area where the background count is higher than the target’s Force or Magic Rating, the tracker loses the astral link at the point of the background count.”
Many questions should immediately pop out at you upon reading this. Does a spirit summoned by a magician share his alignment or acclimations? Does a preparation or focus gain the benefit of alignment or acclimation from its creator or owner? Does it acclimate on its own or is there something the magician can do or must do? What if the quickened spell was made before the magician was acclimated? Wouldn’t an astral tracker benefit from tracking a target if it enters her domain which lets say she created?
This is a benefit of the Home Ground quality (p. 74, SR5). The quality allows characters to ignore the customary background count of an area, and only count half of the background count tied to temporary events.”
Well, earlier the book says that acclimation can be gained by any magician just by spending some time there. This kind of makes that option of the Home Ground Quality pretty weak if two weeks hanging out in a neighborhood acclimates you. It would make much more sense if Home Ground provided alignment for the magician. After all if you’re taking this quality you have a very strong tie to the area to the point where it is a key part of who the character is and what better way to show that than that over the years or decades you’ve been living in a neighborhood you’ve become so in tune with the astral realm and its mana that you and it naturally align together. Your home is a part of your magic now.
The background count is applied as a positive modifier to the limit tied to the skill or skills for an Awakened character aligned to a domain. For example, a Wiccan shaman trying to conjure a Force 4 spirit within a Hag Bolette ring (Rating 3 aligned to the Wiccan tradition) will have a Conjuring limit of 7 (4 + 3). A background count with an absolute Rating value of 12 or greater is dangerously powerful, regardless if it’s from a domain or void. Anyone magically or astrally active in any way (dual natured, astrally perceiving, casting a spell, active adept power, etc.) takes background count – 12 Stun Damage each combat turn they are exposed to it. They can resist this damage with a Willpower Test.”
Alignment can be an on/off thing like a domain of fire may align with a hermetic casting a flamethrower spell and the catholic priest throwing a censor with incense imbued with a preparation to unleash a fireball but penalize a shaman performing a Rain making ritual.
There are domains so great that an unprepared mage could be knocked unconscious by their sheer power, and there are great flaring bursts of mana called mana warps, which are more powerful than even the most powerful of domains.
This implies that a prepared mage could handle a powerful domain!
So, that covers the rules from Street Grimoire. A little known and lightly covered bit with a BC forming temporary spikes in potency is important as is the rule for alleviating half of the temporary BC because of acclimation.
Any area of magic lower than normal is termed as having a negative background count. Places that have higher-than-normal positive background count do not affect a magician’s ability to cast magic unless it’s been psychoactively fixed, which brings me to my second point. The second thing you should understand is mana is very sensitive to man. His emotions and his exploits can disrupt the accessibility of magic. From a rock concert to a violent robbery, from toxic waste to smog, mana becomes psychoactively charged, making it difficult to use if your magic is not aligned. A positive background count that is affected by this charge is called aspected. If it’s based on a physical place with some emotional or psychological significance, the aspected mana is tied to a domain.
This brings up something that is a bit of a contradiction to previous rules in Street Grimoire which state that positive BC must be aspected. With this added bit it makes sense that most any place with higher mana is more sensitive to life, man, and the environment making it very likely to aspect. Also later on it contradicts the information in Street Grimoire about mana warps which in Street Grimoire on page 33 it states are areas with -16 to -20 BC while in Aetherology and in other parts of the Street Grimoire it states that higher levels of mana are called mana warps. Later on in Aetherology it mentions that certain high BC areas are very attractive to awakened animals. One would think that the animals if attracted would not be penalized or harmed by the higher mana and must gain some benefit otherwise why would they be attracted to those areas?
A bit of fluff in previous editions is about how shamans don’t like to spend time in polluted or irradiated areas as spending too much time might be dangerous to them and push or tempt them into toxic shamanism. This could be a danger of acclimation and alignment with a BC is that the psychoactivity of mana is a two way street which is described in the Street Grimoire as various things like dragon lines purifying the environment or domains controlling denizens to pick up litter for examples. The mana can influence your emotions and viewpoints over time. This should be roleplayed and could be a good explanation for a quality gained in character generation or in play.
For example a neighborhood focused on learning, academia, and knowledge that a character has the home ground quality may have become more studious and respectful of knowledge in general because of her home. A Desert Wars magician might have spent years in mana soaked in the Battle aspect and as a consequence become more martial in outlook and more likely to use violence as a tool. Where does the experience and where does the mana aspect start and stop?
I also like the idea of aspected mana having multiple aspects or layers. A Spiritual place may provide the prime aspect for a hidden church in Aztlan and a secondary aspect might be Fear caused by the emotions of the worshipers about getting caught by the Nahuatl and sacrificed. A tertiary and temporary aspect might pop up from a lover’s spat taking place in the church a few hours earlier leaving traces of Anger. In this case the priest would be aligned to the Spiritual aspect and acclimated to the Fear aspect but vulnerable to the Anger until it faded away. Since the priest is aligned to the prime aspect he would gain the increased limit for his magic, acclimated to the secondary aspect so it would have no effect on his magic, and the tertiary aspect since it was temporary and he was acclimated or aligned to the more dominant aspects he would only face half the BC from it rounded down as a penalty.
I am working on a system to allow for a magician to gain at character generation various acclimations to different types of mana that they would have developed based on their character background. It utilizes a variation of the Contact system to work and just like contacts the magician will need to occasionally spend some time and effort in order to get exposure to that aspected mana and maintain their acclimation.
It is also important to realize that 0 is normal. If BC is a bell curve it should be -1 to +1 at least two thirds of the time.
Here are some previous rules and viewpoints I had developed prior to the release of the Street Grimoire with various alternatives and house rules.
I really dislike the way that the Spirit Index is setup in Street Grimoire. My main problem is that it doesn’t allow for a positive reputation among spirits. There should be a difference between a mage who has just atoned for bad behavior and a mage who is new to the spirit game. It basically just seems to be a mechanic introduced to punish player characters.
Anyway, it seems weird to make up a brand new system of reputation when there is a perfectly good system sitting there for the GM to use towards runners. So, Astral Rep will replace Spirit Index and represents how spirits, awakened critters, faeries, and even magicians might know and respect about each other. Remember what an astral denizen might consider noteworthy is going to be different from how a runner or the public might see things.
Astral Reputation Game Mechanics:
Spirit Cred is equal to the magician’s Grade. It provides a positive or null Social Limit Modifier and Astral Limit Modifier with the awakened, astral denizens, and spirits for social interactions and conjurations. The greater the cred the more the spirit world responds. Man-Of-Many-Names can achieve more from a whisper in the ear of the right spirit than some conjurers can with a half dozen great form spirits.
Astral Notoriety is influenced by some Qualities at character generation such as Spirit Bane, Mentor Spirit, or Spirit Champion by raising or lowering your Astral Notoriety by one. For most characters it starts off at 0. It represents various non-private actions that could be conceivably spread around about the PC that are primarily focused on the negative though it can be positive. It provides a dice pool modifier for social and conjury tests with spirits or astral denizens and especially those who respect or worship spirits. It is compatible with Spirit Cred in that an Initiate may have their Social Limit increased and have a negative dice pool penalty at the same time.
A Positive Notoriety could be earned by always banishing opposing spirits rather than disrupting them or by a habit of providing extra reagents when binding or a reputation for mentoring lost cubs and getting them on their feet. This should be used sparingly.
Notoriety can be bought off via the “Setting things right” methods in Street Grimoire or by burning off a point of Spirit Cred.
How much is bought off by an act of contrition is up to the GM but a point of Street Cred should buy off at least 5 points worth. Be generous but consistent. It might help to categorize spirit apologies by minor, major, and grand and provide a framework like 1 to 3, 3 to 5, and 6+ depending on the type of act.
The listing for Spirit Index on page 206 of the Street Grimoire would all be things that could increase Notoriety. Astral Notoriety can quickly grow and impact a conjurer’s effectiveness.
Categorize each transgression as a minor, major, and grand.
Minor transgressions like disrupting spirits would slowly build up steam and eventually increase Notoriety by 1 with a maximum of 3 for that type of transgression. Basically after disrupting a hundred spirits your reputation isn’t going to be hit any worse by 101 and 110.
Major transgressions usually impact your Notoriety after only one to three actions of that type. They start at 1 and go to 3.
Grand transgressions impact your Notoriety immediately and repeated transgressions keep adding up with no limit.
Decide with your players what constitutes a transgression and apology and what type it might be so they aren’t too surprised by it happening. Maybe make a news sheet about a recent treatise on spirits and how reputation in the spirit world is starting to impact conjury. Maybe a mentor mentions that spirits are starting to organize and punish those who abuse them. In other words introduce it gradually and don’t be a jerk about it.
Spirit Awareness represents how likely a spirit or another mage may have heard of you without having time to research about you. It starts off equal to your Spirit Cred plus your Astral Notoriety and doesn’t go down. In game it goes up whenever your Spirit Cred or Astral Notoriety goes up and whenever there might be an event that astral denizens might care about that you participated in. The key about Spirit Awareness vs Public Awareness is that the Astral Realm cares about far different things than the mundane world. Things that increase Spirit Awareness may be the same things that increase Notoriety or could be influenced because you invented a neat new spell or told a funny joke to a domovoi during downtime hiding in a safehouse in Russia. It is built by actions that impact spirits. Participating in killing an insect spirit hive or successfully sending a Master Shedim back where they came from or creating an ally spirit are all things that increase your Spirit Awareness. Maybe you’re a magical musical composer and spirits really dig your concerts or you made a pact with a free spirit. The main thing to remember with Spirit Awareness is that it is neither positive or negative as it is simply the likelihood of an astral denizen or magician knowing information about you on the spot.
Spirit Awareness table
0 to 6: Who?
6 to 10: Spirits from the metaplane you visited on your initiation ordeal or magicians in your Tradition in your neighborhood may have vaguely heard of you. Shamans with their ears to the spirit world in your area may know a little more.
11 to 20: Most Spirits and most magicians in your Tradition in your neighborhood/suburb/county know something about you without having to do research.
21 to 50: Most astral denizens or magicians living in your city knows your name/pseudonym and rep. They may even know more about you especially if you have the Distinctive Style Quality or less for Blandness. Most outside of your niche have heard your name and maybe something you did.
51 to 100: Almost every astral denizen or trained magician in your circles knows of you and is likely to recognize you or your name or style if given a moment. You are likely to be influential in your area for better or worse. A spirit summoned by an Initiate of St. Sylvester could nod and intone a respectful greeting upon meeting the magician while a Wiccan with a talent for making trouble might get an “Oh, no. Not you!” from the poor spirit.
101+ : You are a legend wherever you go in the astral and among the awakened.