The World of Tel-Avi

Mechanics: Spell Research
Words of Power are good for something...

So, the rules that allow a spellcaster to create new and unique spells in Pathfinder are painfully vague. Even the Gamemastery Guide alludes to this:
The subject of designing spells is touched on only briefly in the Core Rules. While some guidance on cost and time is provided, a GM needs to consider balance and design factors before allowing a PC to introduce a new spell into the game. As a first step, request a detailed write-up of the spell using the Core Pathfinder RPG rules. Based on this write-up, you can determine whether or not the spell is balanced for its level and appropriate for the game.
A simple solution to this vagueness would be to simply “rule-zero” new spell research, disallowing the option for players to create their own spells in the desire for “balance” or “simplicity”.

The Words of Power system introduced in Ultimate Magic, has certain flaws, namely that it can be overpowered relative to other spellcasting and that it can significantly slow-down play if adopted wholesale. However, it does give a useful toolkit of seeds from which a character can build a wide variety of unique (or unique-seeming) spells for their own use.

Rather than allowing “Wordcasting” in this campaign, the Words of Power system has been adopted as the basis for all such spell creation. Whenever a character wishes to research a new spell, he must spend time and money in research as described in Creating a Spell, and complete all necessary skill checks. All costs incurred are in solids (i.e. 1000s per spell level).

As per normal wordcasting, a new spell crafted from words must include one target word and a number of effect words based on the spell level (see below). The spell creator may choose to apply a single meta word per target or effect word, so long as each word modifies only one target or effect word (the same meta-word could be applied multiple times, up to once for each effect word if desired).
Note, if the Quiet or Careful meta words are applied to an entire spell, the normal modifiers to the skill check DCs for not having verbal or somatic components are ignored.

New Spell Level One Effect Word Two Effect Words Three Effect Words
0th 0
1st 1
2nd 2 0/0
3rd 3 1/1 or 2/0 0/0/0
4th 4 2/2 or 3/1 1/1/1 or 2/0/0
5th 5 3/3 or 4/2 2/2/2 or 3/1/1
6th 6 4/4 or 5/3 3/3/3 or 4/2/2
7th 7 5/5 or 6/4 4/4/4 or 5/3/3
8th 8 6/6 or 7/5 5/5/5 or 6/4/4
9th 9 7/7 or 8/6 6/6/6 or 7/5/5

All normal choices allowed by a composite spell word (such are target type and saving throw type) must be made when the new spell is created and cannot be changed later. If the new spell would be from multiple schools of magic based on the words used, the creator may choose for the new spell to be from one or all of the schools involved. The spell always keeps all of the descriptors of the words used. If one or more words include a sub-school, such as Conjuration [creation] or Enchantment [charm], that school and subschool must be kept for the final spell. With the DMs permission, the player may apply other descriptors that seem appropriate.

In addition to the check DC modifiers listed on the Spell Research Modifiers table, the spell creator may choose to apply the following optional modifiers to the DCs of his Spellcraft and Knowledge skill checks.

Condition DC Modifier
Apply a Target Word that would be illegal for the effect words chosen +15 DC
Increase the damage die type of one effect word by 1 die type +15 DC
Increase the damage dice cap of one effect word by 5 dice +10 DC
Apply a known metamagic feat permanently to the new spell† +5 DC

† Increases to spell-level from the metamagic feat apply to the final spell as normal (i.e. a new spell that is always Maximized would be 3 levels higher than the combined word-spell would otherwise indicate). The Silent Spell and Still Spell metamagic feats may not be applied in this way (see the normal modifiers).

Sample Spells

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Tormenting Snowfall
Conjuration [Creation, Cold, Pain]
Level: Sorcerer/Wizard 5th, Witch 5th
Words: Burst (Boost), Torture, Blizzard
Creation Check DC: 28
Casting Time: Standard action
Components: V, S, M (bit of ice)
Range: Long
Target: 40-ft. radius Burst
Duration: 1 round/level
Saving Throw: Fortitude negates
Spell Resistance: Yes
This spell causes heavy snow to fall in the area of effect. It obscures all sight, including darkvision, beyond 5 feet. Creatures 5 feet away have concealment, whereas creatures farther away have total concealment. The ground in the area of effect is treated as difficult terrain for the duration and as being very slippery for the purposes of Acrobatics and Climb skill checks. In addition, creatures in the area are nauseated with pain if they fail a saving throw; they receive another save at the end of their turn to end this effect.

Campaign Theory: Literacy

One thing (apparently of many) that bothers me about D&D worlds is the idea that all characters can read and write. Even today 21% to 23% of adult Americans are not “able to locate information in text”, “make low-level inferences using printed materials”, nor “integrate easily identifiable pieces of information.” In a medieval world, the reason scribes had jobs was that reading and writing was a relatively rare skill. Most common folk never learned to read or write, and even the sending of letters was done through professional intermediaries (the letter would be dictated to a scribe and sent to the town where the recipient lives to be read to them by another scribe). The idea that 100% of all humanoids (except goblins) are literate is not only widely historically inaccurate (especially for a world with no clearly identified central education system), it is also boring. Having every character automatically able to read every language they know (which is typically 2 or more) denies the player a large number of role-playing opportunities (from simple daily interactions with scribes as above, to puzzling over a strange missive found on the body of a fallen foe).

In a medieval fantasy setting literacy should be the exception, not the rule. For this campaign it is assumed that characters are, by default, illiterate. Characters can become literate in one of the following ways:

  1. If the character takes a Lifepath that grants literacy.
  2. All Alchemists, Magi, Wizards, and characters with the Rune Domain are literate, due to their reliance on spellbooks and/or ability to scribe scrolls.
  3. All characters with 1 or more ranks in linguistics are literate.

A character must be literate to take the Scribe Scroll feat, as well as any other feats or prestige classes that are writing dependent (subject to the DM’s interpretation).

Mechanics: Armor as Damage Reduction

One problem I’ve always had with the D&D system is how it handles armor. The implication of the attack roll vs. armor class, is that on a failed roll the attack did not hit the target. However, in the case of AC bonuses from armor (or natural armor) the attack clearly had to hit the target for the armor to be of value. This has lead me in the past to making complicated notes next to a creature’s AC indicating on what attack rolls the hit struck the armor, but still did not hurt the target, in order to make descriptions better (i.e. if the attack rolled a 10, then the target dodged the attack, but if he rolls a 15 then it struck the target’s breastplate and was deflected away from his vitals). Regardless of whether it provides cushioning to absorb the blow or strange angles to deflect the blow away from the body, armor depends on the principle of the target actually getting hit. Thus it has always, to my mind at least, made more sense for armor to provide damage reduction rather than a bonus to “AC”. Thus, for this campaign, the Armor as Damage Reduction rules described in Ultimate Combat will be used.

These rules make combat descriptions better, but provide their own problems…

First, as written the rules imply that an enhancement bonus on armor increases both the user’s AC (Defense Value), as well as increasing the damage reduction provided by the armor or natural armor. In addition, having magical armor increases the type of weapon required to penetrate that damage reduction (from DR/magic to DR/adamantine). This triple benefit (more AC, more DR, and better DR) makes even +1 magical armor extremely valuable. While we have partly dealt with this from an economics stand point, it makes sense to simplify this as well. For this campaign, any enhancement bonus to armor applies only to the damage reduction granted by the armor, and does not provide any benefit to the wearer’s Defense Value (i.e. magic armor can absorb more damage, but does not also make you harder to hit).

The second problem with this system is one of math. The d20 system is balanced based on the idea that creatures will have certain ACs at higher levels, and, under normal rules, much of this AC typically comes from armor or natural armor bonuses. Assuming for example that we had a 20th level Fighter (20 base attack bonus), with no other modifiers to his attack rolls. According to the basic monster creation guidelines, a CR 20 monster (which the fighter should be encountering regularly) should have an AC around 36. In this normal circumstance, the fighter would have a 25% chance of hitting the creature (needing to roll a 16 or higher on his attack roll). Under this variant system, an ancient gold dragon (a CR 20 creature) would have very high damage reduction, but an AC of only 5 (since it primarily depends on natural armor), giving the fighter only a 5% chance (a natural “1”) of missing the creature. Since armor and natural armor provide the bulk of the AC bonuses for most creatures (and PCs) in the game, this system results in many more hits (likely for less damage, but still a lot of hitting). Counting attack bonuses for Strength, feats, class abilities, and magical weapons, it becomes practically impossible for any creature or character in the game to dodge an attack from an enemy of equal skill level. To counterbalance this, we need to pull on another real-world combat example.Neck to knees

Shields, unlike armor, are designed to keep an attack from landing on the user. Even when worn by an unskilled (non-proficient) user, the typical viking round-shield made the target much harder to hit, covering everything from neck to knees. Many fighters learned that it was not practically possible to attack around a shield, especially in single combat against a skilled shield-user, and thus spent many of the initial exchanges of battle focusing on breaking and splintering the opponent’s shield so that they could later land a blow. Thus, for a slightly more historically accurate simulation, shields should not only add to the user’s defense value, they should do so significantly. The values below replace those found in the SRD for shield bonuses to AC. Should an attacker not care about getting by the shield, and instead be happy to strike the shield, then the defender gets no AC bonus from the shield. Instead, the shield provides Damage Reduction on top of any provided by armour. The material of the shield determines the Damage Reduction. A character who is nonproficient with a shield cannot use it to defend as effectively, and the AC bonus suffers a -2 penalty.

Shield Cost AC Bonus Non-proficient AC Bonus DR
Buckler 22s 6d +3 +1 1
Klar 18s +4 +2 1
Madu, Leather 45s +4 +2 1
Madu, Steel 90s +4 +2 2
Light Shield, Wooden 2s 6d +4 +2 1
Light Shield, Steel 21s +4 +2 2
Heavy Shield, Wooden 10s +5 +3 2
Heavy Shield, Steel 45s +5 +3 3
Tower Shield 70s +8 +6 4

The shield spell, is similarly improved, providing a +8 bonus to the caster’s AC. In addition to these options, highly skilled users can also use a shield to completely negate some incoming attacks.

All bonus types other than armor and natural armor work normally.

Campaign Knowledge: Witch Contracts
A new star shines in the night...

The number of stars in the night skies above Tel-Avi are highly variable. While everyone agrees that the stars are pretty to look at, they also know that the shining lights in the sky forebode darker things behind them…

Witches, it is well known, draw their power from pacts made with their inscrutable patrons. When a new witch makes a pact, everyone in Tel-Avi is aware of it, as, for each new witch, a new star appears in the heavens. Likewise, whenever a witch is slain a star falls from the skies, leading many to refer to the stars simply as “witch-lights”. Whether the witch uses her powers for good or ill, her existence is so marked, and many astrologers will go to great lengths to find the particular witch to which a star of significance to them is tied.

The pacts are not without price. Another name that many apply to witches is “Contractors”. True to this name, all witches must pay a price for using their powers, whether they wish to or not. The witch feels an uncontrollable need to perform remuneration, which is a bizarre, obsessive compulsive “payment” for the use of their powers. Moreover, it seems that the amount of payment required is dependent on how much the witch uses his/her power. Although this payment can be delayed, especially in the midst of combat, it is ultimately unavoidable. Each witch has a unique remuneration, reflecting the chaotic nature of the patrons. Remunerations are typically difficult for the witch and range in severity from irritating to painful. However, there have been a few witches who enjoy their remuneration and some who use it in conjunction with their abilities.
Known remunerations include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Alteration of age, swiftly growing older or younger
  • Arranging pebbles in meticulously straight lines
  • Baking
  • Drinking various fluids, such as hot milk, beer, or the blood of children
  • Earmarking the pages of a book
  • Inability to lie
  • Inhaling fumes such as perfumes
  • Ingesting and regurgitating objects
  • Kissing someone
  • Placing shoes upside down on the ground
  • Pulling out hairs
  • Revealing a secret
  • Self-mutilation or injury, including dislocating fingers or wrist-slitting
  • Singing a song
  • Sleeping
  • Smoking
  • Stripping
  • Losing function of body parts, such as legs
  • Writing poetry
  • Making origami sculptures
  • Revealing magic tricks

Some claim that it is also possible for a witch to fully pay off her “contract”, but this is an incredibly rare feat, requiring a drastic and traumatic sacrifice.

Campaign Knowledge: Regarding Dragons
Every little piece...

Dragon anatomy   advanced by shinju the dragon
Dragon liver can cure a cold
Dragon powder grows hair
With dragon blood you’ll never grow old
Every item is covered with gold
Every item is covered with gold

Dragon cartilage keeps you thin
Dragon fat is for burns
A dragon tear will clear up your skin
Watch the profits come rolling in
Watch the profits come rolling in

Every little piece, every little crease
All lead me to the dragon
I’ll buy him up and tie him up
Drag him from the cave
Show him that I’m brave

I’ll bind him up, grind him up
Lop him up, chop him up
Can’t you hear that jingle, jangle sound?
It’s money, money, money by the pound!

The song above has been taught to every inquisitor, alchemist, and apprentice mage (basically everyone with at least 1 rank in Knowledge [arcana]) for centuries, and reflects the general attitude towards dragons. While dragons might be large and dangerous, they are also extremely valuable and useful…at least, they are valuable and useful dead. Such that most scholars agree that the tales of dragons sleeping on great mounds of gold refers to their hides rather than any actual coinage.

Over the thousand of years since humans and their ilk discovered the secrets of alchemy and iron-working, Dragons have been hunted to near extinction. Those dragons that still live are silent, elusive creatures, constantly on the move, hiding from men who would hunt them with their magic and steel. The most successful breeds of dragons have evolved numerous features to aid their evasiveness, from natural invisibility to claws that can burrow through stone.

On the plus side, because of their value, dragons often receive much more humane and conscientiousness treatment than other game, as the slayers know that every part of the dragon, from scales and claws to blood and vital organs, has a use. On those rare occasions when a dragon sighting does happen, hordes of would-be dragon hunters gather, each determined to slay the creature and claim the body as their prize. The best dragon hunters spend years mastering the art of slaying the dragon with a single stroke or mastering spells that can slay the creature without damaging the carcass.

Watch Out for Animals
They are not as simple as you think...

Of the books that have survived from medieval times, none are more amusing than the Bestiaries. These texts describe the creatures of the world, both common and mythical, in very interesting terms. even the most common creatures had supernatural powers attributed to them, from antelopes that cut down trees with the saw-bladed horns, to goats that kill trees with a bite.

And then D&D came along with its various bestiaries and monster manuals and completely dropped the ball. I mean come-on, this goat can’t even see great distances, let alone dissolve diamonds with its blood.

Clearly the various creatures in D&D need an upgrade…we’ll work on that.

Mechanics: Carousing Mishaps
Am I Getting Drunk Yet?!

Eventually PCs arrive in a town with too much money. Not surprisingly, the first thing most PCs do with such cash is go looking for a bar. Below are rules for when PCs would rather drink themselves into a stupor than save up for a new sword. Since many of the results can be good adventure hooks, we’ll reward the PCs with some free XP for their efforts.

First, these rules will normally be for the end of a session, not the beginning. This’ll generally be a session where the PCs have finished by finally reaching a city or have just pulled off a big score somewhere in a city. Carousing at the end gives the DM time to write up the necessary info (if any) for the carousing result before the next session starts. If the chart is used at the beginning or in the middle of a session, the DM should be ready to improvise.

Normally, PCs will only get XP for monsters. However, once they get to a Big City, they may trade cash for XP by blowing it on various forms of strong drink. The exchange rate is 1 solid to 1 XP and must be exchanged in chunks of at least 100s per PC. Resulting XP is divided evenly among the party.

However, for every (total # of PCs) x 100 XP exchanged, one member of the party (the party may choose who) must carouse excessively. The excessive carouser must then roll d20 on the Carousing Mishaps Table. Complex results are resolved at the beginning of the next session:

Mechanics: Initiative Tracking
Some thoughts on speeding up combat
  • Each monster gets its own place in the initiative, rather than each group. DM should roll up monster initiatives before the game.
  • At the beginning of the session have each player roll six initiatives & make a list. When battle breaks use a d6 to pick one.
  • If using minis and if possible Have duplicate or near-duplicate minis for each character in the fray. We keep them lined up in initiative order, so that everyone can see whose turn is coming up next / have a visual cue that your turn is coming can spur you to think about your action before it comes to you. As each player’s turn passes, we move her mini to the end of the line.
Campaign Knowledge: Medusae
The beginnings of a creation myth...

Pale medusa

Once, demons ruled every universe, unchecked. Then came 12 sisters, medusae, they looked upon the demon kings and changed them to stone, and drove the rest away. The grey bones of Tel-Avi were hewn from the petrified bodies of these demon kings. Or at least that’s what the 12 sisters will tell you.

At any rate, though masked and monstrous, the twelve sisters are respected in all nations. One of the sisters dwell on each of the twelve continents, often blending in to the local human cultures. One of the most civilized of the sisters, Eshrigel, has long lived in Vornheim.

If one of the twelve sisters is slain, all the statues she made will come to life. If the myths are true, about 1/12 of the stone on the planet (and 1/12th of the planet itself) should revert to flesh upon her death.

The d30 Rule

Once per session, each player may, for any reason, ask to use the DM’s 30-sided-die in place of any one other die when rolling. This can replace any die roll: attack roll, saving throw, skill check, damage roll, etc. All modifiers for the die roll apply normally.

Example: Regdar the Fighter has a Strength of 14 and is wielding a scythe (normal damage 2d4+3) against a creature with high damage reduction, but few hit points. Hoping to take the beast out quickly, Regdar invokes the d30 Rule, allowing him to roll 1d30+1d4+3 for damage against the creature.

Note that in the above example, the d30 replaces only one of the two dice used for damage. If Regdar had been wielding a shortsword, longsword, or any other weapon that dealt only a single die of damage, he would roll 1d30 + modifiers.


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