Magical Mondays: Magic For The Mundane   Leave a comment

Fairy Godmother

How much would a Commoner pay to be able to cast Magic Missile?

We’re going to look at questions like this in today’s Magical Mondays, a post that will focus on d20/D&D/Pathfinder rules.  Imagine, if you will, that you’re in an adventuring party and you discover a town where everyone has a supernatural ability to fight the undead.  The entire population has a marked history being a survivor of numerous zombie attacks, and when asked how the townsfolk just pleasantly smile, point their finger, and shoot a bolt of positive energy that would fry an undead monster if it happened to be there.  They can’t explain it, they’ve just always been able to do it.  If a player gets a look at their stat block, it will be confirmed that they’re just regular human Commoners.

Now, I also want you to imagine that you meet a wandering traveler who calls himself The Miracle Man.  He says that he can clean any building or repair any item of clothing faster and better than anyone else.  When challenged to demonstrate this, he utters a few magical words, issues some sparkles of energy, possibly whistling while he works, and work happens around him, even on the things that he doesn’t touch.  The sneaky player looks behind the screen again, and confirms that this is just an Expert.

Finally, let’s imagine a little girl accepting a dare to break into the local crazy wizard’s hut.  She ignores the alligator skulls and the ludicrous amounts of half melted candles (seriously, who needs that many candles?) and doesn’t notice the calico cat with two different colored eyes watching her.  She finds a book on a table that says “How To Talk To Animals.”  She flips through the pages, and finds a description of different kinds of animals on each, allowing with a magic word that will allow her to speak with them.  Eagerly, she runs off with her prize to learn what the book has to say, not knowing yet that the word will change every time, and that mere memorization won’t help her.  The cat blinks before it slinks off to find its owner, thinking that this is worth sharing.

Snow White Animal Helpers

Things like these aren’t typically found in your usual high fantasy game.  High fantasy is generally left to, say, wizards and sorcerers… you know, the fantastic ones.  Commoners generally work on common concerns, and unless magic comes along that can cripple an economy they’ll likely keep working in the most efficient way that they can.  However, sprinkling common magic like this into a society, an individual character, a location, or an object can be a good way to dial back the high fantasy for a moment while introducing another form of fantasy literature: fairy tales.

Magic words make horrible… hang on, I should bold this.  Magic words make horrible items.  In and of themselves, knowledge of a magic word that can be used at will by anyone who knows the word and can speak it is potentially game breaking.  Sure, if you can cast Prestidigitation or Identify at will you’ll probably be fine… but what if a character learns to cast Burning Hands just by saying the right word?  Worse, what if someone hears it and knowledge of this spreads?

D&D has a few “magic words” in it.  Clerics have a Word of Healing, and it makes sense that no one can steal that word since it’s generally seen as the gift of the gods or divine forces.  Wizards have their words of power, but these generally sit at very high levels, suggesting that there’s more to the words than the words themselves and that the wizards must invest a great deal of concentration or energy or something into making it work.  Then there’s the Truenamer class, which was a fantastic idea that needed a whole lot more playtesting (I fully support the Truenamer class, even if I did not care for the result.)  The Truenamer’s words were so complicated and situational that you really needed the training to say them properly, and the universe would actively fight you the more often you used these words.  (Interesting sidenote: the Words of Power that wizards and sorcerers use are confirmed to be Truespeak, giving even more credence to the theory that “wizardry” isn’t a single type of magic, but dozens or hundreds of smaller, interrelated types of magic, something that’s canon in Cantadel.)  However, it’s no fun to remove magic words entirely.  Is there a way that you can sneak this into your games as a GM or a player who invents magic items?  I believe that there is.  Get ready to shock the world with words alone.  …and other impressive, magical gestures.

Phoenix Wright

There’s a simple method for this hidden in the magic item creation rules.  In fact, I’ve already used this in a previous Magical Mondays, but as a side thing.  If you go check the Magical Mondays article where I described the Blood Cauldrons in my campaign setting, scroll down to the War Ink of the Goblin Tribes.  The War Ink is, effectively, a subdermal magic item inscribed upon these goblin warriors like a tattoo in a way that allows the goblin warriors to cast a spell once a day.  I’ve tweaked a few things in it, but basically each of those goblin warriors has a single spell slot of first, second, or third level.  The inspiration for this came when I realized that the rules for creating magical items contained a special space for items that grant a Bonus Spell, such as the Pearls of Power or Knowstones.  This type of magic item is meant for spellcasters to be able to cast more spells.

I hijacked this and broke the rule a bit.  Instead of “Bonus Spell”, I use this price justification for “Gain the ability to cast a spell”.  I don’t like to use this often, but I really enjoy seeing the results when players encounter whatever I make with it.  The formula is one of the simpler ones, too: Multiply the spell’s level by itself (square it), and then multiply that by 1000 gp.  So, it costs an even thousand gold for level one spells, four-thousand for level two spells, and so on.

The last example I used of the girl who gets the magic spellbook about talking to animals is a subtle example.  The book’s magic word changes depending on where the reader is, what time of day it is, where the closet leylines lie, and (of course) what animal it is.  If the book is left behind, a character won’t be able to just “remember” the word needed for the animal in question since there are too many factors and the words change all the time.  Also, the book will slam shut to conserve power once used during the day.  A book like this costs 1000 gold, and was almost certainly a collaboration between the Wizard and a local druid or ranger.

The second to last example also costs 1000 gp, a set of tools that also casts Unseen Servant.  Most of the experts prowess comes from maxed out skill ranks (and probably a few skill focus feats, of course), but having the extra set of hands is always helpful.

That first example is the tricky one.  It’s a level 0 spell, a cantrip called Disrupt Undead.  The very bricks of the town are infused with it.  Theoretically, anyone born in this town has the ability ingrained in them.  I don’t know a good way to price the magical brickwork for a town like this… but I’m positive that it’s possible and, ultimately, priceable.

So, the next time someone asks you how much a commoner would pay to cast Magic Missile, let ’em know that a thousand gold is about right.  I mean, realistically the ability’s probably not worth that, but that’s the kind of investment a commoner normally can’t get otherwise.  Have some fun with it.  And, for goodness sake, whatever you unleash with this abuse of the rules, please playtest thoroughly.

That’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays!  See you next week.

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Posted September 1, 2014 by John Little in Magical Mondays

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