If you'd like to donate to the site please use paypal.me/Tyrhaynes. Thank you.
Making our favorite games even better
There are lots of different shields in history and they are used a lot more like a weapon than depicted in movies and television where shields just passively sit on your arm like a piece of armor rather than an active participant in battle.
Rather than making a whole lot of distinctions between bucklers, bucklers with sharp points on them, rotellas, targes, targas, rotellas, tower shields, kite shields, and viking shields I’m just going to make a few categories for them to fall into.
One thing to consider is that the difference between a small buckler and a tower shield is greater than the difference between a dagger and a greatsword. It seems a bit strange to have them be effectively the same.
For roleplaying purposes, there are two major splits with shields. Those held in a boss grip and those held with a strap. Below is a reproduction of a boss held Viking Shield by the merchant Armstreet and a plate from Capo Ferro with fighters holding strapped shields.
Those held with a strap can allow you to hold something in your hand like a torch or a backup weapon to throw at an enemy before melee starts. The strap based shields are good on horseback allowing you to hold the reins in your shield hand. The negatives are that it is harder to be active and to use the shield like a weapon though you can hold the straps in your hand like a boss shield to get more control unfortunately that takes away from the advantage of being able to have something in your hand.
Boss shields are held in a grip at the center of the shield. Most shields until the late middle ages are of this design from small bucklers to large Viking shields. Shields of this design could get quite large in history and location as can be seen below:
This is another large shield called a dueling shield which is wielded with two hands shown in Talhoffer below:
As you can see there are a lot of different types of shields and they are used in different ways but they are a weapon not a piece of armor and knowing a bit more about them can allow you to be more entertaining in battle descriptions and even add a bit of fluff to your roleplaying. Is your shield round or tear drop shaped? Is it a rectangular buckler and does it have a spike or dagger sticking out to add damage? Is it concave or convex?
Another thing is to consider the materials the shield is made of. Viking shields usually had a metal center or boss attached to wood and bound with leather. Some shields have metal edges. Some shields are made entirely of metal. If so when they get hit they can make quite a sound…which can be a great explanation for why the knight botched their stealth roll by clinging their shield like a bell against something metal. Wood shields were often used to trap blades in them as the blade would get stuck and then disarmed which can be a tool for a DM to use to explain terrible rolls or for a player to use when the DM says the Barbarian is making wild swings so they can use their action to interpose the shield to purposefully disarm the “Buffel” relying on strength rather than proficiency.
For game flavor you can even impose repairs during the night or stops in towns to replace shields. Good use of the mending cantrip for roleplaying so the Paladin can grudgingly appreciate the value of the meddling wizard.
I had a lot of feedback saying my optional rules were overly complicated so provided two more simpler options.
Shield proficiency lets you add your Proficiency Modifier to your AC instead of +2 flat bonus to AC. At tier 1 this would make no difference but later it would scale a bit with threats balancing the demand for a second hand to be available for somatic components with spells even for many martial characters. If you want to separate bucklers from other shields than just have the AC bonus from the buckler/Dueling Shield apply to one attack a Turn or just one enemy a Turn.
Have the Dueling Shield provide +1 to AC normally and allow a PC to use a Reaction to bump that +1 with a + Proficiency Modifier against that single attack roll. Have the Warshield provide +2 to AC and +2 to Dexterity Saves and have the Body Shield provide a +3 to AC and Advantage on Dexterity saves from attacks facing the shield.
Look at the dueling shield as a specialized weapon component of two weapon fighting. Thus, use a bonus action to either hit with the shield or the dagger spike on the shield or get an AC boost. In that case, you get a passive +1 to AC but if you use your bonus action doing a shield defense you get to use your Proficiency Modifier instead. With the War Shield since it is larger, it could get a passive +2 to AC and the Body Shield a +3 to AC.
More complex rules splitting shields into three general types:
Dueling Shield: 2 to 6 lbs depending on the material.
At the start of your round take a free action or a bonus action to move your buckler into line with one target to gain a +Proficiency Modifier to AC against that single melee opponent or a ranged opponent within 10 feet until the start of your next round or you switch to a different opponent. A character can spend a reaction to move the buckler to block a different line of attack from another opponent but then the AC bonus no longer applies to the previous opponent.
1d4 Blunt damage. If spiked it does 1d4 piercing damage if striking with a punch or 1d4 blunt damage if striking with the edge. Has the “light” weapon property.
A boss held dueling buckler is small, quick, and active in battle. It is mostly used to trap swords, deflect attacks, bind weapons, to hide the movements of your other hand, close down lines of attack, protect the sword hand, and as a weapon to strike the throat, smash the face, and smack your opponent’s sword hand out of line to make it easier for your sword to strike or even disarm your opponent.
A Dueling Shield is great when fighting in small numbers and not in formation or dealing with a large number of ranged attacks like in a battle.
These are the shields that civilians use because of convenience and ease of transport. You put a strap on the shield and hang it over your sword hilt so it doesn’t take up much space and it doesn’t interfere with your daily life. Some versions have a connection so you can hook it to your belt directly which is also very convenient. The buckler is a daily part of life carried by peoples all over the world from Ireland to India for thousands of years and no one is going to bat an eye at someone carrying one when doing their shopping at the market or watching an opera.
I chose Proficiency rather than Strength or Dexterity which I originally had because it scales and using a buckler really is very much a skill rather than a talent that can be represented by an attribute. It does become interesting if you decide to allow shields to be weapons for the purpose of Two-Weapon Fighting.
War Shield: 5 to 12 pounds depending on the material.
User counts as under half Cover for ranged Attacks providing a +2 to AC and to Dexterity Saving throws. Adds +2 to shove and shove aside grappling ability checks. 1d6 Blunt damage if used as a weapon. For melee, it provides a flat +2 to AC to all opponents. Shield Wall applies to this weapon.
This is a martial weapon for war, defense, or threat of war. Most people aren’t going to want to carry with their hand a boss held Viking shield all day and even a strap shield on your arm can get exhausting after a few hours. Depending on size and shape you might have your shield strapped to your back, on the side of a wagon or boat, or carried by a squire or auxiliary. In daily life, you are most likely to see Medium Sized Shields carried by town guards, bodyguards, mercenaries, hunters going after large dangerous game, people in ceremonies, and soldiers.
A War Shield is designed to handle war and battle. One on One in melee I would personally rather have the dueling shield or buckler because it is more nimble but if I was possibly facing arrows and more than one opponent like on a battlefield or a skirmish than the Warshield shines.
Body Shield: More than 10 pounds depending on material with many being over 20 pounds.
User counts as under three-quarters Cover for ranged attacks providing a +5 bonus to AC and Dexterity Saving throws against ranged and melee attacks coming from in front of them.
A user may spend 5′ of movement turning around to face a different opponent. Using a Body Shield halves movement speed in addition to any penalties from Encumbrance or Terrain. It also denies the character from taking the Dash action or Sprinting without first dropping the shield. 1d6 Blunt damage if used as a weapon and as a bonus to shove actions.
For melee, it provides a flat +5 to AC to all opponents in front of the user. In a melee, the shield protects greatly but it also blinds the user’s perceptions. The user has Disadvantage on all Perception checks. Shield Wall action applies to this weapon.
Has the “Heavy” weapon property. Also, the user cannot effectively take the Dodge action since they are holding a giant shield in their hand/s (hands if using a Body Shield two-handed as depicted above.)
Has Advantage on shoves but remember your movement is severely curtailed making it easy in an open space to avoid and deadly in a constrained space whether in a phalanx or in alleyways.
This is a martial weapon designed to be used in war while in a formation. It is heavy and bulky making it dangerous to run with and for most non-warriors it will quickly cause exhaustion just carrying it let alone using it. It is slow and bulky making it a liability to a warrior by themselves or when flanked compared to a War Shield which is more nimble.
Socially, someone walking around with a Body Shield outside of a warzone or as part of their duty would be looked at askance and have Disadvantage on social rolls not involving Intimidation. Carrying a body shield around to buy a chicken at the market would be the equivalent of going to Target with a SWAT Riot Shield in your hand. If you’re not a police officer or a hollywood extra on a movie shoot you’re likely to scare people or make people very uncomfortable unless you can spin why you have it out into a good story. You’re also likely to bump people or knock over things in crowded spaces carrying a shield larger than some people.
Shield Wall: Warriors with a War Shield or Body Shield can if adjacent (within five feet of each other) and facing the same direction apply Disadvantage to any attacks from that direction against them. Works great while in formation even if it is just two Fighters guarding a bridge shoulder to shoulder. If the fighters face a different direction or move more than five feet away from each other the bonus stops effect.
For more information about real combat check out the freely provided treatises of the historical masters at Wiktenauer.
If you’re interested in HEMA or Historical European Martial Arts please check out my other blog: A Novice’s Guide to HEMA.
D&D House Rules:
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.
Simplified system: everything done following the phb but instead of the action or movement happening on the phase after the action is subtracted from initiative total instead of when the initiative score would say.
<Edit: Changed the base Initiative in the Initiative Formula from 10 to 20 to avoid movement and action problems at Phase 0.>
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.
There are two variants you can use for determining Initiative depending on how much you want to lessen die rolls and speed combat versus having a little variety.
Both start with: 20 + (Wisdom Modifier) + Proficiency Modifier/Die
So, for diceless Initiative just use the PC/NPC’s Proficiency Modifier. For 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.
Jack of All Trades and Remarkable Athlete instead of adding half of the proficiency bonus add +1 to the Proficiency Modifier or bumps up the die one level. I think it would be a little too powerful as the initiative spread is tighter in this system versus rolling a d20. Alertness adds 2 to the Proficiency modifier or two bumps to the die. Going above the listed +2 to +6 Proficiency Modifiers for Legendary Monsters and Heroes: +7 d12 + d6, +8 d12 + d8, +9 d12 +d10, +10 2d12.
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 20 Phases in this turn.
If two characters have their action/round in 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.
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:
If the character has the “Extra Attacks” trait the Initiative Cost is lessened by 1 but no lower than 0. 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 (3-1=-2) on phase 8 and a second heavy strike for -2 for an attack on phase 6.
If the character is not proficient or have Familiarity 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.
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.
This will be just a quick overview of my reagent house rules. More in depth rules will be covered in my Artificing Overhaul rules. I have added a new type of reagent called Flawless that is the step up from Radical. So instead of 30 Radical reagents being used to make Orichalcum it is 3 Flawless reagents.
For new Foci rules see here: New Foci
A big change is that only a single dram of a reagent can be used to aid a magical test or procedure. More than one reagent may be used in a long extended process by having the process be discrete. Each day of Artificing or building part of a Magical Lodge or each hour of Binding is a separate process for example allowing more than one reagent to be used in those cases.
Also, a reagent can be used by an Adept as long as the test is enhanced by their magic. An Adept with Nimble Fingers could benefit from the use of a reagent on a Palming test.
Each reagent has a Quality and a Grade. See Talismonger’s Guide to Harvesting Reagents for information about a reagent’s Quality. Alchemists use their skills to refine lower grade reagents to higher grade reagents following the rules on pages 210 and 211 of the Street Grimoire. The main changes are that there is one more step before making Orichalcum because of the introduction of Flawless reagents. The other is that during the process of refining reagents the Quality of a given batch is equal to the worst reagent. So, 9 Prime Quality Refined reagents mixed with a Sub par Quality Refined reagent would distill into a Sub par Radical reagent.
Quality of Reagents:
The Quality of any reagent that has undergone refining is determined by the lowest quality of any component dram. This makes accurate discovery of the grade of all reagents important during the refining process especially with Orichalcum and Flawless reagents because of their cost and use in Artificing.
Prime: 100% higher base cost and 50% faster to refine than baseline reagents.
A critical glitch is downgraded to just a glitch and a regularly rolled glitch is treated as a normal roll while the reagent is in use with any magical tests. When using a Refined or Radical reagent the magician has the benefit of spending Edge on a single magical test during the duration of the reagent as well as gaining the benefits of being unlikely to glitch.. This is compatible with the magician actually spending a point of their Edge.
Superior: 50% higher base cost and 25% faster to refine than baseline reagents.
Using a Superior reagent reduces the chance of glitching by ignoring a single rolled 1 from any magical test during the duration of the reagent. When using a Refined or Radical reagent the magician has the benefit of using the rule of 6 on a single magical test while the reagent is in effect.
Baseline: No modifer to base cost or refining time.
Sub par: 25% lower base cost and 25% slower to refine than baseline reagents.
All magical tests while the reagent is effective are modified so any 2’s rolled are counted as a 1 for declaring a glitch or critical glitch.
Inferior: 50% lower base cost and 50% slower to refine than baseline reagents.
All magical tests while the reagent is effective are modified so any 2 or 3 rolled are counted as a 1 for declaring a glitch or critical glitch.
Tainted: 75% lower base cost and 75% slower to refine than baseline reagents.
All magical tests while the reagent is effective are modified so any non hit is counted as a 1 for declaring a glitch or critical glitch.
Unusable: No value and impossible to refine with current alchemical techniques. Can’t be used with any magic test.
Grades of Reagents:
A magical test is any test that is utilizing a magical skill as a component or is being enhanced by magic in some way. An Adept with Improved Con could enjoy the benefits of increased social limit for example.
Raw: A raw reagent raises the limit by 2 for a single magical test taking place in an action phase.
Refined: A Refined reagent raises the limit by 2 for all magical tests for an individual in a Combat Turn (6 seconds). Refined reagents are used as a component of Magical Lodges and Binding spirits. Spirits vastly prefer Refined reagents to Raw reagents. A Refined reagent is also used to craft telesma for the purposes of creating minor Foci and other minor enchantments. A Refined reagent is also used to brew potions by master alchemists, create fetishes, and used to make ink for magical scrolls.
Radical: A radical reagent raises the limit by 2 for all magical tests for a minute. Radical reagents are used to craft telesma for major Foci and other major enchantments. Radical reagents can also be used in place of spending Karma by unweaving the concentrated mana from the reagent and channeling it exactly the way a magician unweaves part of themselves to empower a Quickened spell for example.
Flawless: Flawless reagents are used exclusively in Artificing as the reagent is refined to such a point that the mana can’t be unwoven from its physical matter except with extreme caution via the refining process to create Orichalcum. A Flawless reagent is dual natured and solid in both the physical realm and astral realm. They are used to create telesma for Grand Foci and other masterful enchantments.
Orichalcum: Orichalcum is created by using three flawless reagents and can be used by master artificers to create the mightiest of Foci and Enchantments. It is also dual natured and very obvious in the astral unless covered in some way. Any Focus crafted from Orichalcum allows a magician to bond to the Focus with much greater ease than normal. Each dram used to craft the telesma halves the amount of Karma necessary to bond.
More on Orichalcum and Flawless reagents will be covered with my future Enchanting Overhaul post.
|Raw Grade||20¥ per dram||–|
|Refined Grade||450¥ per dram||6 + 1 per dram|
|Radical Grade||5000¥ per dram||8 +1 per dram|
|Flawless Grade||55,000¥ per dram||10 + 2 per dram|
|Orichalcum||175,000¥ per dram||14 +3 per dram|
|Prime Quality||+100% Base Cost||+2|
|Superior Quality||+50% Base Cost||+1|
|Subpar Quality||-25% Base Cost||-3|
|Inferior Quality||-50% Base Cost||-5|
|Enchanter’s Lab 5th Gen||75,000¥||12|
|Enchanter’s Lab 4th Gen||40,000¥||10|
|Enchanter’s Lab 3rd Gen||25,000¥||10|
|Microlab 5th Gen||100,000¥||12|
|Microlab 4th Gen||60,000¥||10|
|Alchemy Kit 5th Gen||10,000¥||12|
|Alchemy Kit 4th Gen||4000¥||10|
|Alchemy Kit 3rd Gen||1000¥||8|
|Alchemy Kit Enhancements||1000¥ each||+1|
|Minor Foci||(F x 900¥) + (F x OR x 250¥)||(F x 2)|
|Major Foci||(F x 10,000¥) + (F x OR x 250¥)||(F x2) +4|
|Grand Foci||(F x 110,000¥) + (F x OR x 250¥)||(F x 3) + 3|
|Focus Tailoring||(Days x 1000¥) + (3 x Reagent)||+2|
|OR is Object Rating of Telesma||Doesn’t include cost of Telesma|