Monday, December 7, 2020

Pact Magic for B/X Games

Image by Squarefrog from Pixabay

Back in the summer I reviewed the game Pacts and Blades: Moorcockian Fantasy by Lucas Rolim. I instantly fell in love with it simple mechanics. Lucas was kind enough to set me up with his first major source book for the game, Salamandur Household as well. (Now we play games together on Thursday nights.) His idea for a magic system involves making bargains with spirits to get a flexible but constrained set of magical abilities is inspired. And, something I have wanted to integrate into my own campaigns ever since.

(It doesn't hurt that it reminds me of my favorite video game, Secret of Mana.) 

Lucas and I both are being GMmed by Stephen Smith over at Stephen's Hobby Blog. His World of Weirth campaign setting is so out of the ordinary for Dungeons & Dragons, that Stephen has been slowly hacking together rule sets and concepts to build his own unique and custom AD&D-based RPG. It was thinking about how I wanted to integrate Lucas's magic system and how Stephen had essentially built himself his own retroclone to suit his exact me that inspired me to build one of my own.

My setting specific retroclone, Ær: An Adventure Game of Dragon Riding and Aerial Heroics, focuses on being knightly adventurers serving a chain of magical floating islands by riding wyverns on important missions. I believe that even low-level characters ought to have an opportunity to do something awesome and world shaking. Discovering a lost island from dragonback certainly fits that bill to my mind.

I created Ær from two particular influences. The first was the Dragonriders of Pern, a favourite fantasy world of mine for a very long time. The other was the kingdom of Floating Ar in the Mystara resetting. Particularly how it appears in the Poor Wizard's Almanac & Book of Facts; A kingdom that was once part of a powerful empire of magicians now left on its own to solve its own problems.

I also like to liberally season it with Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar, which is a favourite of my wife and a couple of my other players. Namely, I wanted to play with the idea of powerful psychic bond being a characteristic of the heroes.

From this witches' brew of ideas, I built my own BX setting. I wanted it to play fast and light, and so my Thief character borrows a lot of its skills from Lamentations of The Flame Princess. I use advantage and disadvantage rather than complex numerical modifiers. I tried to make almost everything built on roll under ability checks, rather than D20 system roles. I used a low amount of fixed hit points, item slots, ascending AC, numerical alignment, and a few of my own hacks.

The big requirements for me was a magic system inspired by Pacts and Blades, an advanced aerial combat system, and a well-developed system of alchemy that replaces divine magic for healers.

The alternative magic system and Witch class can be used in tandem with traditional  B/X Magic-Users. They have very different powers and restrictions, but have roughly equivalent powers. Pact magic is available to all characters on the lowest level, but at the cost of the characters being beholden to the spirits granting the power.

It should be relatively portable to any other B/X by substituting Wits with Intelligence and Bond with Wisdom and choosing either to set the Bond limit.

Read it here. 

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