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3/22/2014 1:16 am  #1

Magician research

Hi, all,

Wrote this out first for AD&D but immediately also adapted it for AS&SH. Playing two games is confusing! Consider it another option besides the Drunkenness and Debauchery Table, which I love. Comments and criticism more than welcome. Also, I've been drinking, so editing is also welcome:

Many a Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore
A Library Research System for AS&SH Magicians and Subclasses
What is a magician to do when the fighters are off training or sunk eye-deep in the pleasure pits (which they also call training) or loading the ears of the Iron Alley whores with tales of their latest battles (which they also call training)? What task has the dignity, the intellectual heft, the chance to mix with fellow scholars of the arcane and forbidden, the flame-bright flash of discovery and the triumph of the individual mind? Why, research of course! Let thieves and clerics spend the time between adventures polishing the golden objects of their various devotions. In moments of relative peace, ancient archives and dusty tomes call out to those who meld their minds with books of ancient lore to change reality itself.
These research mechanics are meant mainly for those periods between adventures when the magician has the time to devote herself to investigating the various hints and rumors that often arise in campaign play. These might be adventure hooks, mysterious items, the locations of treasures or important artifacts, the nature of bizarre creatures, or the legends concerning dungeons or wilderness regions or beings of might. The possibilities are numerous, but both the research and the results can provide the Referee with adventure seeds or ways of introducing important areas, and they can advance any overarching campaign-spanning quests, if such are relevant.
I started thinking about this while talking with a friend about his one-on-one game, wherein the only PC is a magician. Obviously, combat cannot be the answer for everything for that character, so this is a good way in such a game to provide engaging sessions that aren’t all based around the fighting and the smashing. I wanted to bring in a mechanic a little like the Call of Cthulhu Credit Rating/Library Use style of investigation but without bringing a skill system into AS&SH since I don’t one has ever worked well in any version of the original game as conceived by E. Gary Gygax et al.
The basic mechanic is this:
Chance to glean information =  Magician’s Chance to Learn New Spells (from Intelligence Table I.4: Intelligence, ASSHPM p. 12)
—Subtract 1% from the die roll for each day after the first spent looking
—Subtract 1XCA% from the die roll
—Subtract another 5% for each Friendly reaction roll made while researching this piece of information
—Subtract an additional 5% for each Agreeable or Affable reaction roll (q.v. Table III.15, ASSHPM p. 63)
—Add 10% to the die roll for any member of a magician subclass who is researching in an archive not developed by another member of that subclass; in any case, add an additional 10% for witches, legerdemainists, or warlocks
Allow a “critical” success at 1/5 of the needed % roll (after making the appropriate modifications). This should reveal an extra piece of information that makes what is found more immediately useful—something that includes timing, strength of guardians, nature of magical treasure, an even littler-known route, and so on—essentially, something that reduces the blood, time, and treasure the PCs will have to spend getting to the object of the research.
A couple of assumptions are built in here. First is that the library or archive or armatured hide of the Mnemosyne Wyvern of Lug or collection of ravings by the Eremite of Larchmere Yys actually has the information sought in it. This is completely up to the Referee, of course, but if she has determined that there’s no chance the PC can find the desired information here, a successful search should reveal where that information can be found, with a critical success increasing the specificity of this information.
Another assumption concerns location, location, location. Research into when the Unheld Center slouches roughly toward the Leng Plateau (it’s once a cycle on the night of the blood-dimmed tide; a critical success indicates that this night is the second Sky day of month VI, year of the Mammoth, or the Empty Feast of the Widening Gyre by the calendar of the Emerald Isle) really calls for large city, a center of learning, a university, the rookery of the Black Birds of Memory, a serpentarium of unmolted knowledge, or other concentration of lore from the dim ages of legend. For each level of remove—a smaller city, town, village, hamlet, thorp, hunting lodge, rude hovel, closet, water closet, corn field, puddle—the Referee should add 5% to the die roll. Khromarium is the baseline, but to navigate through its time-haunted towers also automatically adds a full day to the research (with no adjustment to the roll).
Money is not necessarily a component of research. PCs spend enough for training and monthly upkeep, but in specific instances, dropping 50 GP at the Thirsty Scholar to find out which don likes to brag about his one encounter with the Scolopendrine Queen or 25 GP at the Bear Essentials for two phials of tincture of cave bear hypothalamus in fortified Vikland mead might help with those reaction rolls or shave some time off finding the right archive—that is, if the player has a good idea, reward him for it:

After titteringly announcing that his favored cup bearer has perfected a new wafting technique, the Don Arthropoda invites the magician to an inhalation of new essences; afterward, he leads him down a narrow stair and unlocks a bone door: “The notes of the Poisonade are said to be recorded here.”

The rotund archivist, galvanic with ursine fervor, indicates that the sophisticated scholar ignores all records shelved under the sigil of the crab and focuses on those sub vespertilionis; indeed, it is the thousand-year plan of the Mordezzan’s Bat that the party seeks to thwart.

Charisma and intelligence have their own rewards.
This mechanic, then, gives a magician something to game if she happens to be at liberty in town while the rest of the party trains or if the magician’s player is the only one to make it to a session—or when the party really needs to know something and ends up needing to turn to the nerd for help after all. A secondary use, though, is more directly applicable to in-dungeon situations.
When the party has penetrated to the necromancer’s sanctum and pulled back the dark shroud over his eldritch books, each bound in the hide of different sentient creature, some of which still whisper their wisdom a thousand years after their flaying—when the party stumbles from the haunted dining hall, where a barbarian king enacts his final bloody feast every night, into the insignificant nook where he let that strange priest scribble the hermetic doxology of his new god—when the bold text in the module says 32. Library—a quick adjustment of the above rule lets the Referee sort out what can be learned and how long it will take.
To separate the wheat from the chaff and realize that this volume bound in the humming wings of a race of immortal bees is of value only to the curious (100 GP) while that sheaf of oak bark stitched through with wires of raw copper contains the secret of thrice-yielding grain (5,000 GP in any farming land)—that’s a job for the magician. With one roll, the magician (assuming she is competent in the appropriate languages or has the necessary spells prepared) can either separate the valuable books from the junk or determine the goal of library’s original collector, with some measure of specificity. That is, a successful roll can tell the magician which books are the most valuable and what kind of collector would be most likely to pay for them, or it reveal to him an outline of the treasonous plot, nefarious scheme, deadly bargain, unhallowed compact, erotic adventure, necromantic doom cult, alien bargain, or ultraplanar itinerary the library builder was working toward. Critical success should reveal specific worth or collectors or details about coconspirators and so on.
Use the same mechanic:
Chance to glean information =  Magician’s Chance to Learn New Spells
But adjust as follows:
—Subtract 1% from the die roll for each hour after the first spent perusing the library
—Subtract 1XCA% from the die roll
—Subtract another 5% for each assistant (an assistant can be another magician, a member of any magician subclass, a legerdemainist or warlock, or a thief or bard of 3rd level or higher; always use the base % chance of the most competent character—unless the PCs insist on placing another in charge)
If a roll fails, the magician, of course, can repeat the process while the fighters admire their muscles or roast giant rats or whatever it is that amuses them most.
Take heart, magicians! No longer must you cast your magic missile at the darkness and then wait until tomorrow to exert your will on the scroll of legends. Now you get to read, too. And that has made all the difference.

Last edited by Handy Haversack (3/22/2014 1:33 am)


3/22/2014 2:06 pm  #2

Re: Magician research

Very cool Mr.Haversack!
 I like these rules a lot and i think i will use them if a suitable occasion arises in my campain. I will probably adjust the modifiers add hoc to fit in with the specific research in question, but the adaptability really is what is so great.

BTW Do you have any ideas for using a research assistant hireling? I suspect at least one of my players will have that idea. I'm thinking a flat 10% modifier for a reasonably competent one but i would love to hear your thoughts?

Níu man ek heima, níu íviðjur,
mjötvið mæran fyr mold neðan.
(Nine worlds I knew,the nine in the tree with mighty roots beneath the mold)

3/22/2014 3:31 pm  #3

Re: Magician research

Well, a couple of thoughts--first, the sages might get pretty mad at anyone hiring himself out as a research assistant! So I think that hireling would probably charge something like 50-100 GP a day to make the risk worth it. Then I'd subtract 5% base, +1%/day from the roll, I think (with a very good reaction roll during the hiring earning another 1-6%). And the hireling would have to be a maigician, bard, higher-level thief, or some kind of freelance sage--that is, the linkboy can't moonlight in the library!

Glad you liked it. Thanks!

     Thread Starter

3/22/2014 6:35 pm  #4

Re: Magician research

I like what you've done here, Handy. I finally took the time to read through it, and I think, more importantly than the mechanical considerations, is that you've come up with some interesting, flavorful activity for sorcerer types bewtween the adventures. There is the potential for such research to lead to some great adventure hooks. The piecing together of dissociated knowledge, as it were.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea - A Role-Playing Game of Swords, Sorcery, and Weird Fantasy

3/22/2014 6:38 pm  #5

Re: Magician research

Thanks! I find that more so than I have done in AD&D, I'm dropping maps and hints and location ideas for my players--probably because the world is already there so all I have to do is populate it. So I figure at some point they're going to want to know what the heck "death yeast" is--possibly before they go to that X on the map.

     Thread Starter

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