A floating book, all a wizard needs

An item of fancy and indulgence for those Magi who insist on looking the part and being most prepared. It might also make a good justification for a lab improvement item with a focus on texts or reading. This is a similar function to the Bookstand of Hespera (Covenants, pg 121) except it affects just a book rather than a place to write and work. More purposeful for reference and study instead of creation. It will also cause warping in the target books over a long period.

Bookmark for a Text at Hand  (ReHeAn 25) is a small plate which is touched to the desired text and allows the text to float as the caster desires.

Ready an Attentive Tome

Rego Herbam / Animal 15, R: Touch, D: Concentration, T: Individual

The targeted book, scroll, or text floats next to the caster and can be set in position via concentration.

(Base 5, +1 Touch, +1 Concentration)

(+5 Device maintains concentration, +5 for 24 uses per day)

With a final device level of ReHeAn 25 the devices are still cheap enough to be crafted by more junior magi, and may well be used as lab texts for an inexpensive boost to labs. The bookstand from covenants “adds two points to a specialisation in texts“, and has a slightly higher baseline although lower final level. This device is designed to that it can be used to direct many books at once, each sustained by the bookmark and controlled by the user’s concentration. It makes sense that it would offer a similar bonus and also have a more diverse application than a singular bookstand.

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A Thin Curse, a Fat spell

It’s one of those posts where I’ve been pondering stories again and thinking about Ars Magica spells for the effects; this started from Thinner by Stephen King.

The Curse of Limos

Muto Corpus 15, R: Touch, D: Moon, T: Individual

The target is unable to gain more than a trivial amount of sustenance from food and drink, and as days pass will find themselves lethargic and their hunger never satiated.

When applied to a target over many months they will become unnaturally gaunt and thin, so much so their visage is disturbing to others. Repeated application will also eventually cause a wasting death.

(Base 3, +1 Touch, +3 Moon)

Being a range Touch means either knowing the target directly, or cursing them from afar using a magical tunnel. This is an effect that can be worked into a very thematic Faerie spell using the Faerie Until range too, but above I’ve kept it to a standard hermetic non-ritual spell. Below is the fae ritual. 

The Pact of Limos

Muto Corpus 20, R: Touch, D: Until, T: Individual, Ritual, Faerie

The target is unable to gain more than a trivial amount of sustenance from food and drink, and will find themselves lethargic and their hunger never satiated.

When applied to a target over many months they will become unnaturally gaunt and thin, so much so their visage is disturbing to others. The spell will also eventually cause a wasting death.
The effect continues until the caster speaks a specific word aloud, typically performed when the target has performed their side of a pact.

(Base 3, +1 Touch, +4 Until, ritual, faerie)

I also wanted an opposite effect but also wanted some utility from the spell. This effect is immediate rather than long term on the target.

Paralysis of Gluttony

Muto Corpus 15, R: Voice, D: Diameter, T: Individual

The target of this spell is made unnaturally heavy and obese, so much so they are no longer able to move; with a final size two levels larger than their original size, or a maximum size of +4. Clothes will become painful and may burst their seams as the target grows in size.

(Base 3, +2 Voice, +1 Diam, +1 for three extra size categories)

Others effects I’ve pondered over the past few years are part of the free new spells compendium for Ars Magica.

Keep only 10 RPG books

Distractingly good blog questions: If you could only keep ten of your printed RPG books, which would you pick? Well darn it, that is hard.

Not so much picking 10 systems, that is easy. But 10 books is hard. Consider too that I’d also say none, as I am getting happier every season with using digital versions of RPG books.

I feel like the guys in the film High Fidelity – top 10 songs to ……

  1. Ars 5e core book.
  2. DeathWatch core book.
  3. An ArM5e source book, but I cannot choose which as yet. Probably the Bestiary.
  4. Ars 4e Grimoire, as it contains a stack of stuff that was great for its time, but failing that then probably the Ars 4e core book.
  5. DnD 4e DMG. To be frank I think I’ll be able to buy a copy of any edition cheaply, so keeping a 3.x or any of the expansion books is probably a waste.
  6. DnD 4e PHB.
  7. Shadowrun core book. I have an edition from the late 90s and am keeping it for the flavour.
  8. Cthulhu core rules.
  9. GURPS core rules (I don’t care what edition).
  10. Rifts core rules. Many folks hate Rifts, and in some part I understand that the system is a bit janky. That said it contains as much lore and fluff to make 10 great games in every book.

Vampire core rules almost made it except it would have been only because of the fun history, not the actual value of the system. Heroes Unlimited is darn good too, but there are many hero systems out there that can compete. I have an old Earthdawn copy somewhere, and a copy of Rus too – both read but never played.

via Untimately: Only Ten.

Magical encryption of texts and messages

Mages can be a secretive and sometimes paranoid group of people. Their knowledge is the key to their influence and power, and it makes sense that Magi would be concerned with protecting their secrets. Encryption is often thought to be a modern concept, but basic forms of encryption were present and effective in ancient times – so much so that it became a common form of sending secure messages.

An excellent historic example of this is the Caesar Shift Decoder (or Caesar Cipher) which is a known substitution cipher, meaning replaces one letter with another, and the scytale which is a physical tool to apply consistent reorganisation of characters. These types of ciphers were simple and effective, as they required a very little knowledge to implement, and made messages very difficult to read. A succinct description is (by blogger Dhaivat Pandya):

Basically, you shift over the alphabet over the message by a certain amount (that certain amount is called the key) to get the encrypted message, and, the person who wants to decrypt it shifts back the message by that certain key.

If simple substitution worked for military messages for the Romans, then it could very reasonably be used by medieval scholars to encrypt and decrypt texts and books. It also makes sense then within the Ars Magica mythic setting that encryption could be used, and also improved with magic.

The potential effects could based upon Rego or Muto magic, with the tasks that a scholar might do in cyphering a text manually but with the added benefit of magical speed and efficiency.

In a previous blog post there was a new spell called Disguise the Words as Written (Muto Imagonem level 5) which temporarily scrambled information in a document for a short time. This scrambling was not intended to be a real form of encryption, rather it modified the text into gibberish, a picture, or almost anything else (which is actually closer to stenography than cryptology). This was intended to provide a degree of security for messages while they were in transit. As an illusion it had the advantage of being a spell effect that ends gracefully, restoring the text to normal automatically. There was no risk of corruption in the process as the text itself was not changed, just the appearance of the text.

The challenge for magical encryption is how to implement that security in a permanent, controllable, and reliable manner. The Muto Imagonem spell above could still be used but it is not ideal, as getting long durations so that the material is protected for a long time becomes a difficult task. Instead a set of specialised spells are needed to act as the encryption and decryption mechanisms. This removes the limitation of time, but introduces a risk of corruption and quality loss when the books are re-written. Magic is not generally reliable.

Rego “craft” magic might be suitable for the actual permanent re-writing of messages, to emulate the work that a person could perform. When Rego is used in this manner it apples to the text itself, and will need casting requirements suitable to the materials involved. Temporary effects are also possible which affect only the image of the text, relying on Muto Imagonem.  Intellego should also be a core art for spells which must interpret and translate, which is fundamental to understand hidden meanings.

Aside: I am not sure if the idea of highly complex encryption fits well within a medieval paradigm, but as simple encryption in ancient and medieval times was historically accurate, a hermetic expansion on that capacity seems very plausible within the setting.

The arts and methods of spell design are open to a very wide interpretation, and as with everything produced for Ars Magica YSMV. My assumptions of Muto Imagonem for obfuscation/presentation and non-permanent translation, Rego for materials based work and repetitive work, and Intellego for understanding are core to this interpretation of how to handle encryption with magic.

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Salman needs what Ser Payne got

There is a strange quote from Salman Rushdie which called A Game of Thrones garbage, via Vulture.

“There was a series called Game of Thrones which was very popular here in the United States, a post-Tolkien kind of thing. It was garbage, yet very addictive garbage — because there’s lots of violence, all the women take their clothes off all the time, and it’s kind of fun. In the end, it’s well-produced trash, but there’s room for that, too.”

My knee jerk reaction is to say what the?

I’ll take Rushdie’s opinion seriously when I see the quality of what he writes and produces as a TV series. The opinion of an author in an abstractly related medium is not directly relevant, especially when it contains no real detail of what he liked about the shows that were ok in his opinion.

In the full text he lists shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Deadwood as shows he did like. OK that’s strange. Didn’t he notice the violence, naked people, etc in The Sopranos? And Deadwood has some events that make you not sleep at night (pigs anyone). Seems a strange set of criteria to base as a point of difference.

I also cannot imagine that he is a fan of the type of setting (what the hell is meant by post-tolkien?), nor has he read the GoT books. Well I’ve tried to read two of Rushdie’s books and would call them overly convoluted, boring, and altogether in need of a good editor.I’ve read all the GoT books now except the most recent Dance with Dragons, and loved all of them.

But hey, lets not throw stones at people for having bold opinions, Salman nobody ever got famous for being controversial. Give him what Ser Payne got.

Game of Thrones, thoughts

I’d heard the line that George R R Martin hates his characters, and looked forward to reading the books. Now that I’m starting Feast of Crows (book 4) I really understand why that sentence is true. If you’re expecting to understand that approach and you’ve only read or watched the first book, then you’ve not seen what it is like when an author loves his stories more than the characters within them.

Note: I’ll keep the post free of any Game of Thrones spoilers.

gameof thrones logoAs a series it is darn fascinating in both style and presentation. The books do not actually end at all. I read the books so far back to back, and I think that had I taken a break between them then the plot would have lost resolution for me. If you like a story that concludes between the covers, then you’ll have to consider Game of Thrones completed when Martin says he’s done. I think we’ll see at least seven in the series, although I’m not sure which characters will be left by the end.

Each chapter is from a different perspective, and there is no rhyme or rule to say which character will be written about, except to say that a few of the surviving characters get chapters regularly. Peripheral characters are raised to be main protagonists, and our heroes are brutally killed in the name of the story.

If its not blindingly obvious I am really enjoying the series. Several characters I liked have died, many others have escaped death where I thought they were due. It keeps me reading. Thankfully there have been no events that felt like Deus Ex Machina; which is a strength of Martin’s writing. If the story demands resolution, he gives it.

How does this translate into RPG games? Bluntly, brutally, and well – just like the books.

The overarching story is one of a fight against a dark evil, with the forward story of controlling an empire. The characters have almost no vision to the overall plight or story, and there is no dependance on a particular hero to provide the tempo or path forward. These are personalities in a world where loft goals often go unrewarded.

There are a few characters though who might stand apart soon to understand the need of the story, but I have faith and exposure to Martin to know that they will get little protection from their in-character enemies just because they might see a glimmer of the true fight.

For RPGs this is a world that you play in, but you’d not be saving it. An RPG setting would need to have the players as side characters, suffering the same toils as everyone else. There can be no “mission from the gods”, or “holy path” to provide a clear cut motivator – as for every character who thinks they are on a holy mission, there would be another with a different god giving alternate advice. It is less about black and white, and more about surviving a fight the characters do not even know they are in.

The setting lends itself to combat systems that are unforgiving, but also leverage skill well above base arms. It is common for a NPC soldier type to out think as much as fight a battle, and an RPG game would need to have some scope for that. Likewise some duels have been resolved with the lightly armored combatant dancing around the tank type, until the tank is too tired to survive.

The setting also needs a low amount of magic, but magic (real magic) is darn powerful. Some major characters are removed from the story with the use of magic, and there is little the characters around it can do about it. For magic lore there is also a huge range of skills considered magical, and almost all are trivial, but sometimes useful.

This means the setting is not one of fireballs and flying castles; but it is one of dragons and magic swords. It’s bloody interesting. Dark fantasy comes to mind, but the setting is almost fantasy-noir.

So what system? I have no idea. GURPS might serve, WH Fantasy is a good solution, and suits the high rate of death. Certainly DnD and d20 have no place here. Nobody in the story (so far) has soaked up a hit by a two handed sword and lived.

I can’t wait to keep reading, but I’m also keen to try the Game of Thrones-ish RPGs. Perhaps it is best done in a setting as a prologue to the books, where the ancient lore can be re-cast by the players. The events of the books are the future, and not likely to be needed or impacted.

A story about the Iron Isles becoming a kingdom, or the first men fighting against the Dragon King, or perhaps even a small game set beyond the wall in the first time of cold. All would be good settings, already full of lore, monsters, and nasty double edged swords.

Happy gaming.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld is good reading

At the moment I’m reading the second book in the Leviathan series, called Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld. The style is described as steampunk, and its good once you get into it.

Initially I was totally uninterested in the book, as it appeared to be another re-hash of “young teen hero saves the day”, and since Harry Potter and all the similar stories since I’m kind of burnt out on that plotline. Yes, yes, novels have always had a good child star every few years since forever, I get that. It is just that HP just turned the frenzy up twenty five notches, to where anything with 13 year old, a wizard, or a pet magic rock makes my skin crawl. But that is not why the book is blog-worthy, actually its the direct opposite which makes me write about it.

The series is worth a read as they are aimed at a young audience, but have something for adult readers to appreciate. Unlike the Harry Potter series, which bluntly projects the plot, and assumes the reader is a dim-whit; Westerfield gives you a story where you cannot see around the corners. I like that. The story can evolve in a manner which is logical to the setting, but also not lope from scene to scene until the final dialog draws out from the box text you read on the back cover.*

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