The King is Dead

Friday, September 21, 2012

Setting Rule - Grimoires

Also some comments about scrolls in Savage Worlds…

Actually, first some comments about scrolls in Savage Worlds. 

I’ve mentioned before that Fritz Leiber is one of my favorite fantasy authors.  I’ve also read a large chunk of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories.  It’s no secret that Leiber’s Gray Mouser and Vance’s Cugel were key inspirations in the development of the Dungeons & Dragons thief class and that both of these adventurers were amateur magic users; the Mouser’s use of a literal magic scroll in “The Lords of Quarmall” is probably the inspiration for the D&D thief’s scroll use class feature.  This can be replicated with Savage Worlds.

Buried deep in the random treasure generation section of the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion is a section on scrolls.  Scrolls, just as in the grand-daddy game of them all, are one-use magic items that allow characters to cast spells without tapping into their own magical reserves.  To quote the relevant section:

The user must have the proper Arcane Background to use the scroll…  To activate a scroll, the reader must use his own arcane skill… The caster need not meet the usual Rank requirement to cast the spell — a Novice character can cast greater healing without difficulty.
The part about using “his own arcane skill” is key.  The way I interpret this is that a character needn’t have an Arcane Background Edge to use a scroll, she just needs the Spellcasting or Faith Skill (depending on the type of scroll).  A character needs to be able to understand the basics of magic use, but needn’t be a full-fledged wizard or cleric to use a scroll. 

(If this isn’t the official interpretation, then I am deeply disappointed in the official interpretation.)

It’s a simple matter of skill point allocation to give your thief (or fighter, bard, monk, or whatever) a die or two in the appropriate skill and claim a background in magical dabbling.  What I wonder is whether the Jack-of-all-Trades Edge would do the same.  This would certainly be appropriate to a number of part-time magic users I can think of – Batman, Buffy, Solomon Kane, the Winchester brothers from “Supernatural” – but I can certainly see the official ruling being against Jack-of-all-Trades including Spellcasting.  I know I’d allow it in my games, but I tend to chafe a little at the limitations on PC strength in Savage Worlds.

The only real problem I see is that scrolls are single-use items and Cugel and the Winchesters use full (and reusable) spell books.  Hmm…

Setting Rule: Grimoires

A grimoire is a book of spells and magical learning that functions as a set of permanent, reusable scrolls.  Grimoires may also be used as tomes to allow trained spellcasters to learn new powers (see Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion) and many in Gothic or horror settings are also works of Forbidden Knowledge with all the bonuses associated with them (see Savage Worlds Horror Companion).  Most grimoires contain only 1d4+1 spells in the midst of all the extraneous information; ancient, powerful grimoires may contain more, but they will be highly sought-after items.

A character with the necessary training may cast spells from a grimoire as per the rules for scrolls (Power Points are provided by the grimoire itself, the reader may not use her own Power Points to power the spell, unused Power Points are lost, etc.) with the proviso that the page of the grimoire used does not crumble into dust after use.  Like most magical items, the grimoire regenerates Power Points (again, see Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion for details).  Each spell listed in a grimoire has its own Power Point pool (see table 7B in Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion), making immediate repeated castings of the same spell difficult if not impossible.  As with conventional scrolls, however, the Power Point totals may vary depending on GM adjudication; the grimoire of a powerful contemporary sorcerer (Aleister Crowley, the Simbul) may have 1d4+1 extra Power Points per spell while an ancient book of eldritch lore (the Necronomicon Ex Mortis) might have 1d6+1 up to 1d12+1 extra Power Points.

Most settings will require users of a grimoire to be trained in the mystic arts.  Some settings may instead allow for characters with appropriate Knowledge Skills (Arcana, Occultism) or simply knowledge of archaic languages (Ancient Egyptian, Classical Greek) to use a grimoire without formal magickal training.  In such a setting, the corresponding Knowledge Skill would be used instead of Spellcasting, or a Smarts roll might be used if the setting only requires knowing the language.  This is appropriate for high-action settings where ordinary people stumble into the supernatural (like in “The Mummy” (1999)) or settings where Edges and Skills are at a premium.  In a setting where true wizards mix with ordinary people in over their heads, it would be appropriate to apply a -2 penalty for untrained use to ordinary people attempting spells; failure might well be catastrophic (“Evil Dead II”). 

Example grimoire:

Umm… Let me get back to you on that.  Most of the spells I’d like in a grimoire are not described on Table 7B so I’ll follow this up on a subsequent post.

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