Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Pen is Mightier: Calligrapher Class

{This is a draft and likely highly unstable/unbalanced, but here it is}

Race: Calligraphers can be of any literate race. However for systems where race and class are the same, assume that the long years of study and peculiar discipline required to become a competent calligrapher outweigh racial attributes.

Hit Points: Calligraphers accumulate hit points as wizards/magic users

Armor Proficiencies: None
Weapon Proficiencies: Daggers, darts, slings, bows, staffs, light crossbows.
Saving Throws: Intelligence, Wisdom

Skills: Two from: Arcana/Research, Religion, Persuasion, Insight, Perception

You know two extra languages.

Starting Equipment - An ornate dagger (penknife), inkwell, inks parchment or paper and pens. Robes. Anything else you'll have to write up, you're a scholar not an adventurer.

General Abilities - 

  • The calligrapher spends a turn writing out the name of a simple object, crafting it in such a shape as to also reflect the form of the thing. The word then 'becomes' the object, "dagger" acts as a dagger, "torch" acts as a lit torch. At any given time, the calligrapher may create a number of such objects equal to half their level. Writing out a new object in excess of this number causes the earliest written to dissolve into a spatter of ink.
  • While they cannot produce magical scrolls themselves, calligraphers can transcribe scrolls produced by sorcerers. Turning the often-illegible and sloppy script of the sorcerer into a thing of beauty and contemplation enhances the power of such scrolls. Doing so, which takes the same amount of time and money as originally creating the scroll, allows the inscribed spell to be cast at its original level + calligrapher level. The act of transcription renders the original scroll a worthless scrap of paper.
  • The calligrapher can write a message coded by the very intricacy of its script. This message can only be read by its intended target(s) or by a very difficult decoding process.

--The calligrapher may create a creature crafted entirely of words. The process takes a week of writing and embellishing the text, and the result can be any creature up to the calligrapher's level in HD (or 1/2 level in 5e CR). The cost of the inks and papers is the HD of the creature x100gp (or whatever currency you use). The creature is obedient and intelligent, and while it cannot speak can communicate with the calligrapher through changing the sinuous lines of text in its body. At any point in time, the calligrapher can spend an exploration turn changing the creature back into written words and vice-versa. 
A level one calligrapher begins with such a creature which may be a cat, hawk, owl, poisonous snake, or similar small animal.

--At level five, you can spend considerable contemplation on the cosmological significance of the two letters and craft a lam-alif, لا, or "NO" that acts weapon dealing d10 damage and gives +1 to AC. The lam-alif allows you to cast remove curse or remove a negative status effect once per day.

--The calligrapher additionally has a number of spell-like things they can do. Calligraphers start off knowing 3 random scripts and add one at random every odd level. They can use a number of scripts per day equal to their level:*
  • Create a glyph that can temporarily paralyze, entrance or cause psychic damage (d6 per level) to a creature reading it.
  • Create a maze with words that can trap a creature for d4 hours: 1: Creature dies inside, 2: Creature comes back with d6 damage done to it, chastised 3-5: Comes back unharmed and confused, 6: Comes back angry.
    Parastou Forouhar
  • Write out a message that takes the shape of a carrier pigeon or similar bird. When completed the message takes flight and flies to its intended recipient. You get five words per calligrapher level 
  • You can write a message in such a way that even people who do not read the language it is written in or the illiterate can understand it. At higher levels (?) the message will translate their words into a form legible to you.
  • You take an object and create a calligraphic depiction/description of it. The object disappears and is held in the written words on paper. You can spend a turn contemplating the words to return the object to its material form, however if the parchment/paper is destroyed while the object is contained within it, the object is lost.
  • You gain knowledge of the author of a message by their writing, at higher levels the face itself appears to you as a series of letters allowing you to read minds.
  • You are briefly connected to the cosmological Tablet and the Pen, the instruments on which destiny is recorded. While you cannot change what is written, you can gain a precognition of your next encounter, or can use it to save against the next attack that would damage you or another target. Potency increases with level 
*This is definitely a bastardized version of Brendan S's spells without levels from Wonder and Wickedness. You could probably use these as a magic specialization within that system if you think this is a dumb class but maybe some of the magic is okay.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What the jinn wants

Maybe you come across a Jinn, and it wants something from you, either in exchange for something you want or just because it is a capricious spirit and messing with banu Adam or other mortals is an irresistible delight. In any case it definitely wants something from you. So when that happens you roll a d12, and they want:

1. Money (not that they need it. More so that you don't have it, or because they like its sound, or because they're into numismatics)
2. A story
3. Your life (either they kill you or this is a "trading places" type thing)
4. Your beloved 
5. A random item you have
6. A random item you don't have
7. Nothing (nothing)
8. "Nothing" (something)
9. To make a friend
10. To see where this goes; curiosity
11. One of your precious memories
12. To help you to further their own agenda. You'll have a valuable ally, but probably end up with another jinn, afreet, prince or someone else powerful as an enemy as you've been used to get their goat.

Three impossibilities

Here, a fourth impossible is added, political reform in the Arab world
A very old Arabic proverb notes that "there are three impossible creatures: the ghoul, the phoenix, and the faithful friend"

The plain fact of the matter is that any adventurer can confirm to you the existence of ghouls and phoenixes. Most any bestiary or monstrous manual, furthermore, will provide you with sufficient documentation of these two creatures; however, the same volume is conspicuously silent regarding the existence and nature of a faithful friend. The possibility that a 'faithful friend' is in this case a metonym for some other fantastic creature or familiar is a commonly held belief, although such a creature has yet to be identified.

Alternately, others believe that a strong act of loyalty or faithfulness by a friend will itself create a phoenix and a ghoul, for if one of a triplet of impossibles is to exist, then the rest must surely follow.

A further minority within this group additionally believe that the ghoul so created can only be killed by the combined effort of the two friends, and upon its death the phoenix will irrupt, reborn from the fiend's body.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

1001 Nights Story Mechanic

[I have no idea if/how this would work (open to comments and critique) but I think I'm going to implement it in my current game.]

Reading through the Thousand and One Nights and other old Arabic weirdness to purge my fantasy grammar of some of its lazier pseudo-european tropes got me thinking:

The structure and world of the 1001 Nights is one wherein stories serve as a didactic medium, but also almost as currency, as a medium of exchange and as tools. The framing narrative is one of Scheherazade stringing together story after story to save her own life and that of other potential brides-to-be after her. Within her tellings, characters at risk of death will tell a story as a parable to warn their would-be killers from their intended actions, travelers will tell stories in exchange for room and board. 

If story functions as a mechanic here, and a good story can change one's fate, improve one's lot or turn the tables on a situation gone wrong (likewise a bad story or one whose meaning is adversely interpreted often leads to bad ends), why can't we make this a game mechanic?

Start your campaign off like Scheherazade's framing narrative: "Here is a tale of adventure" wherein PCs are doing whatever they're doing (sure, let it even be about the heroes who entered the dungeon and slew the dragon - that doesn't matter at all). 

The first time the party comes to an impasse with a monster (even the usually unintelligent monsters should be suddenly sapient when the possibility of a good story is at hand) or an NPC, or in any situation of interaction they wish to get something more (free room and board in a storm), avoid a bad outcome (tax collectors taking their last silver) they say "You would do to me as the hyena-men sought to do to Prince Sameh" or "This reminds me of the story of the falconers"

At this point, you break and take an Inception -esque dive a layer deeper into the narrative. Roll up new characters (Hyena men or Prince Sameh and Retinue, depending on preference in the above example) and play out the one-shot, mini-sandbox or full-fledged-campaign of interactions/combats/intrigue at this narrative level until it seems some arc has played out. Depending on how this concludes (do the Hyena men kill the xenophobic Prince Sameh, or does Sameh play off the hyenas' hubris and outwit them) changes the "moral" of the story; this in turn will impact the events in the higher-order narrative. 

PCs will be driven to create a good story, but also one which would have a moral or ending that would grant them a suitable resolution in the higher-order narrative. They finish their story, and the listener, pleased or persuaded by its outcome or moral, resolves the situation to the Party's favor.

If the PCs are in a lower-order narrative and find themselves in a dilemma, they can again interject with the offer of a story to help themselves. One story deeper, now, not a problem. 

If there's a TPK or a similarly horrible outcome for the PCs, they find that (barring some real rhetorical flourish) they've probably just told a tale that will seal their death warrant or make them an enemy in the higher-order world.

There is no limit to how deep one goes into the narrative structure, nor any obligation to how far one comes back up. Recalling consistent details by the time one makes it back to a higher-order story is probably difficult, and probably not entirely necessary. The 1001 Nights and similar collections of stories often contain unfinished tales, loose ends and even, to quote the preface of a new translation, a bit of "narrative incompetence". The important thing is that all of the crazy stories you tell about your games are now stories within your games.