Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Baleful Sorcerers for Fantasy RPGs



I'm familiar with 20th century sword and sorcery pulp, but there are many holes in my learning... and, alas, there are many stories I've only read once years ago.  Last night, I began a weird tale that gripped me like few others, keeping me in its rapacious grasp until the very end.  This short story was, "The Charnel God" by Clark Ashton Smith.  In all seriousness, it was one of the best dark fantasy stories I've ever read.

It also compelled me to re-think the traditional RPG wizard character class.  The following is what I came up with...

[Check out the finished product here.]


The Baleful Sorcerer of Tsathag'kha character class

Relative to ordinary man, the baleful sorcerer of Tsathag’kha is extremely powerful… but his power comes at a terrible price!  Taught his wicked ways by those who worship the hideous toad god Tsathag’kha, this sorcerer is familiar with the living dead, poison, certain edged weapons, and a concise selection of spells. 

His spells total nine.  They are listed from easiest to hardest in difficulty and potency.  At first level, the sorcerer knows spell #1.  At second level, he understands #2, and so on… each advancement bringing a new fragment of arcane lore.  For example, at 1st level a baleful sorcerer would only be able to cast discern magic.  Upon reaching 3rd level, he would have access to discern magic, sacrosanct, and deception.

Due to the particular nature of certain campaigns, the GM might want to swap the advancement of one spell for another.  For instance, the party’s survival could depend upon offensive magic.  If the baleful sorcerer is the sole magic-user, and of 4th level, the GM can choose to grant Ichorous Inferno to the character upon reaching 5th level, leaving Infernal Trafficking or Communion with Tsathag’kha to 7th.

The baleful sorcerer may attempt a higher level spell than he is currently capable of casting, but there is great risk involved.  Upon each and every pursuit, the sorcerer himself must roll a saving throw.  Failure means the caster takes the constitution drain himself, no matter who was selected for that fate, and is also whisked away by the batrachian servants of Tsathag’kha, whereupon the sorcerer is imperiled for a time (1d4 hours) as his infernal attendants acquire all that the sorcerer knows.  If he doesn’t reveal anything worthwhile, a blood-writ pact must be signed, obligating him to perform ghastly duties in the not too distant future.

Hit Die: D6

Proficiencies:  No armor may be worn.  Sorcerers may use daggers, short swords, sickles, and scimitars without penalty.  A baleful sorcerer may use poison as a thief of same level.

Progression:  Attack, saving throws, and all other progressions as the standard magic-user or wizard class.

Special Abilities:  The baleful sorcerer has the power to rebuke or command undead as a cleric of same level. 

Drawbacks and Other Considerations:  The sorcerer can never acquire a familiar,  nor can he multi-class.  Upon death, the baleful sorcerer’s soul is promised to Tsathag’kha.  Furthermore, there’s a 23% chance that the inert husk of a sorcerer-corpse assumes the semblance of life shortly after interment (1d4 days), rising of its own accord as a Lich.
Because a sorcerer is granted his dominion by the hideous grace of the toad god himself, spell books are unnecessary.  He doesn't forget his spells, and is able to cast and keep casting until physically spent.  This mitigates the drawback of spell limitation. 

Points of constitution drain/damage can either occur per spell level (1 point for a level one spell, 2 points for a level two spell, etc.) or as noted in each spell’s description, depending on the GM’s wishes.  The constitution drain affects a character's stamina, modifying his hit points.  However, this drain does not necessarily affect the sorcerer himself.  Either willing or unwilling victims may share the fatigue instead of, or in addition to, the baleful sorcerer, as long as, the victim is either physically touched at the time of casting or blood was drawn in preparation. 

Constitution recharges at a rate of 2 points per hour of uninterrupted rest and meditation; after six hours of such quietude, an individual’s constitution is fully restored.  However, those who fall between 1 - 3 points of constitution must roll a successful saving throw or they are instantly killed by the systemic shock.


Spell List

1.  Discern Magic - essentially detect magic, read magic, identify, and use magical device all rolled up into a single spell.  Constitution drain:  1 point.

2.  Sacrosanct - the culmination of mage armor, shield, and protection from arrows, spells, good, evil, etc.  Constitution drain:  1d3 points.

3.  Deception - for creating illusions and disguising the sorcerer or an intended subject.  Constitution drain:  1d4 points.  The observer must have familiar knowledge of a person, object, place, culture, and so forth in order to have a chance of seeing through the deception.

4.  Compel - command; forcing weak-willed individuals to do the sorcerer's bidding.  Constitution drain:  1d6 points.  Victim gets a saving throw to resist initially and then once per day to break free of the sorcerer’s will.

5.  Infernal Trafficking - communicating with, summoning, and binding all manner of Devils, Demons, and Outsiders.  Alternatively, the sorcerer may learn Communion with Tsathag’kha instead, which puts him into direct psychic contact with the hideous toad god, as well as, allowing the sorcerer to summon a spawn of Tsathag’kha.  Constitution drain:  1d8 points.

6.  Blackish Purple Tentacles of Abnon-Tha - horrid tendrils rise out of the ground and flail around, squeezing the life out of the sorcerer's foes.  Constitution drain:  2d4 points.  Each tentacle does 2d8 of constricting damage per round to those grasped (save each round to avoid).  Up to thirteen man-sized individuals within a 30’ radius are affected.

7.  Ichorous Inferno - streams of liquid green fire spraying out in various directions, incinerating those in the sorcerer's way.  Constitution drain:  1d4 and 1d6 points.  Save to avoid being roasted alive for 5d6 damage in a cone up to 50’ from the sorcerer, 7d6 at tenth level.

8.  Necromancy - speak with dead, causing the dead to rise and do as the sorcerer instructs for one night (24 hour period) per level of sorcerer.  Constitution drain:  1d10 points. 


9.  Extinguish Life - the act of murder via sorcery.  Constitution drain:  1d12 points.  Save versus death; a successful saving throw means victim only takes 2d6 damage (unless a natural 20 is rolled whereupon no damage is taken).  Intended victim must be within 100’ of the sorcerer when the spell is cast.  

...

Special Thanks goes out to Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Lin Carter, the hideous toad god Tsathag’kha, Brendan S., Matt Finch, Michael Prescott, Anthony Emmel, Todd Rokely, Shane Ward, Christian Sturke, and Tristram Evans, Thorswulf for inspiration and helpful suggestions. 

The new image is a sketch of an upcoming full-color cover for the PDF by artist Paul Allen.  The sorcerer is modeled upon Zentar from LotDS.