Role-playing design notes

Random notes on the design of Gods & Monsters, and maybe even Men & Supermen if I can remember what I was drinking when I wrote it.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

How much do spell ingredients cost?

Jerry Stratton, February 26, 2006

I want to congratulate you on great system here, it is well thought out and complex enough to be interesting but simple enough to use. I do have a question though that I was unable to figure out.

Rule questions

  • You list prices for standard equipment and weapons but how do you determine prices for equipment used in the manufacture of spells? For instance in the order of the astronomers it is clear that Gralen started with a tiny carved arrow with which to cast mage bolt but how much of his starting gold did he use to acquire this item?
  • Also, when it is not explicitly stated (as in the case of mage bolt) do the ingredients to the spell disappear from a player’s inventory or can you use the same tiny carved arrow repeatedly?
  • Furthermore what kinds of limitations on spell ingredients do you usually place on players. I.e. can a sorcerer with a knife carve his own tiny arrows?
  • Can they be readily purchased somewhere in a town? Are there certain ingredients you do not allow sorcerers to start the game with?

I’m a new GM and so am trying to figure out all the ins and outs of the system before I lead my first adventure and this was an area of gameplay I was confused by. Thanks for any help you can offer in resolving these issues.

How much do spell ingredients cost?

For more expensive items, the price is usually listed in the spell description. For other items, such as the arrows, I’ll generally just make a ruling based on where the characters are and what the item is.

Carved items are common enough, though, that they warrant a listing in the equipment section, even though their prices are likely to vary even more widely than other items. While I’m at it, I’ll add herbs and animal parts to the equipment list also. Here’s what I’m currently thinking about for pricing and bulk:

  • Simple, small wooden carvings: .5 monetary units, bulk .1
  • Complex, small wooden carvings: 2 monetary units, bulk .5
  • Common herb: .1 monetary units, bulk .1
  • Uncommon herb: .5 monetary units, bulk .1
  • Rare herb: 1 monetary units, bulk .3
  • Common animal part: .3 monetary units, bulk .3
  • Uncommon animal part: 1.5 monetary units, bulk .3
  • Rare animal part: 4 monetary units, bulk .3

Gralen, then, used at least one and a half shillings, as he used Mage Bolt once during the course of that adventure and was prepared to use it at least twice more. Most likely he actually used four or more shillings, so as to have at least eight of those arrows on hand. They’re not something a sorceror wants to run out of.

That’s not the only ingredient Gralen carried, of course. He also carried mandrake root for Understand Languages. He probably didn’t pay anything for that. Mandrake is a common plant throughout Highland. If he needed it in a hurry, he might want to buy some from an herb or plant merchant, but as long as he’s willing to wait until he sees some in the wood, he’ll be able to harvest his own mandrake root for free. As Adventure Guide, I’d have Gralen’s player (Sandy) make a Perception roll with a penalty or bonus depending on how common mandrake root is in the area and how long Gralen is searching. Around the area between Hightown and Kristagna, over a couple of days, I’d say it’s easy, so Sandy will need to make a Perception roll at a bonus of two.

If he had the herb skill or forestry or some other skill, this would make finding mandrake root easier and more reliable, since it would give Gralen a bonus to his Perception roll.

As a first level character he wants to save his money, but if he wanted to buy it it’s pretty cheap: .1 monetary units per use, or about one penny in Highland.

Gralen also carried flint and steel for his Light spell. He paid the standard price for that. Flint and steel is not itself an ingredient for Light, but the spark it creates is. For that reason, he only needs one set (although it might make sense for him to carry two just in case). The flint and steel cost him one half monetary unit, so in total I’d guess that Gralen spent about four shillings and six pence on spell ingredients for that adventure, perhaps up to five shillings.

Do spell ingredients disappear after use or can they be re-used?

They disappear. Hopefully that’s stated somewhere. Ah, here we go. Spells, in Arcane Lore:

Spells which require ingredients usually result in the destruction of those ingredients. Unless otherwise noted, ingredients may only be used once for any spell which requires them.

I’m not surprised you didn’t see that. That section has become a huge mass of text. I’ll break it up for the next version (which should be going on-line in a few days).

Can a sorceror carve their own arrows?

Absolutely. They’ll need some sort of skill in carving or sculpture, and they’ll need wood and a knife. I’d say that carving tiny arrows is a difficult, specialized task, so someone with a carving skill will need to roll against their agility with a penalty of one. (Someone without a carving skill will need to roll against half their agility, with a penalty of one.)

The difficult issue is how much time it takes. The amount of time a task can take varies so widely that you pretty much have to decide on the fly for any particular task. I’d say about four hours for a tiny carved arrow suitable for use as a spell ingredient.

Can they be readily purchased?

Whether or not spell ingredients can be readily purchased in a town will depend on the ingredient, the town, and your campaign world. Are sorcerors common enough to justify a market for them? Is the ingredient only useful for sorcerors?

In Highland, as you get out into the hinterlands, sorcerors are feared, distrusted, and disliked. But there are (barely) enough of them to make for a market of the lower-level ingredients. This ends up resulting in a sort of black market for magical ingredients.

One of my players whose character found himself in Weaving during moon-day market needed some ingredients. He knew that he couldn’t go around asking for magical ingredients, but he also suspected that, being a relatively large town on the High Road, Weaving did have merchants selling at least low-level ingredients.

He, like your potential players, wanted some of those small arrows--Mage Bolt is a very useful spell and he was about to run out. So he looked around for carvers, and sure enough found one that sold tiny arrows. He and the carver both knew what they were up to, and as I recall did a little hinting around to be sure, but neither actually came out and talked about sorcery.

In general, lower-level ingredients will be more readily available than higher-level ingredients. Ingredients with other uses will be more readily available than ingredients that are only useful for sorcerors. And ingredients that come from common sources will also be more readily available. Even though only sorcerors can use wing of bat, whereas anyone would love to have a gold statue, the wing of bat will be easier to acquire than a gold statue in most places. Bats are more common than gold.

As far as not allowing some ingredients at first level, I don’t see any such ingredients in the first level spell list. The worst ones are probably the silver ring needed for Charisma, the precious metal or gem needed for Inscription, and the prism needed for Rainbow Fan. I can’t see a first-level character wanting to spend the money necessary for the Inscription ingredients, but if they want to, I’d have no problem with it.

Further thoughts on skill use

The use of general skills in a role-playing game is one of the easiest places to get bogged down; it is difficult to make simple rules (or even complex ones, I’d wager) that can reasonably cover all of the tasks a player is likely to have their character try to perform. The introduction of mojo is one of the ways I’m trying to simplify this, but for the most part you as Adventure Guide will need to make rulings as they’re needed about the time it takes to perform a task and the difficulty of peforming a task. Don’t worry (too much) about it. That sort of thing is usually a lot easier during the game than during the rules.

  1. <- 2005 Mojo Update
  2. Example Characters ->