Combat as Sport and War

Combat Engineers

Well of COURSE I take it more seriously than Superman! He’s bulletproof!

For today, it’s another question…

So how would the (THIS) article relate to the debate regarding Combat as Sport vs. Combat as War? (I’d link to the original post on EN World, but they’re down right now.)

– Alzrius

For convenience, I’ll quote the basic definitions that that article provides:

People who want Combat as Sport want fun fights between two (at least roughly) evenly matched sides. They hate “ganking” in which one side has such an enormous advantage (because of superior numbers, levels, strategic surprise, etc.) that the fight itself is a fait accompli. They value combat tactics that could be used to overcome the enemy and fair rules adhered to by both sides rather than looking for loopholes in the rules. Terrain and the specific situation should provide spice to the combat but never turn it into a turkey shoot. They tend to prefer arena combat in which there would be a pre-set fight with (roughly) equal sides and in which no greater strategic issues impinge on the fight or unbalance it.

The other side of the debate is the Combat as War side. They like Eve-style combat in which in a lot of fights, you know who was going to win before the fight even starts and a lot of the fun comes in from using strategy and logistics to ensure that the playing field is heavily unbalanced in your favor. The greatest coup for these players isn’t to win a fair fight but to make sure that the fight never happens (the classic example would be inserting a spy or turning a traitor within the enemy’s administration and crippling their infrastructure so they can’t field a fleet) or is a complete turkey shoot. The Combat as Sport side hates this sort of thing with a passion since the actual fights are often one-sided massacres or stand-offs that take hours.


Now definitions are good, but they only really help if relate them to design decisions.

Combat as Sport only works in a character-based game if you either…

  • (A) Assume that the characters involved care little or nothing for their own lives. Look around you… baboon gangs, wolf packs, and human societies all contain a wide variety of mechanisms to settle disputes without seriously risking life and limb. Sure, they might be seeking fabulous rewards – but if they’re that good, why don’t they get their rewards and retire?
  • (B) Place the characters in a situation – such as a gladiatorial arena, or being ordered about by gods, emperors, military commanders, or other powerful figures – where they are being forced into “fair fights”.
  • (C) Ensure that the characters are very sure of surviving – or of being resurrected if they die, which amounts to the same thing.

So what are the consequences of those three options?

(A) Kills off most role-playing, leaving the characters as playing pieces who disdain pain, and personal risk, and see combat as a goal rather than a tool. Sure, the players may state that their characters are death-or-glory types who don’t care about the pain or death – but should that really apply to all of their opponents too? There’s nothing wrong with that in a tactical wargame – but once you discard realistic motives you’re no longer playing a role-playing game.

(B) Kills off player-character decision-making (and is also known as “railroading”). There’s nothing wrong with that if the railroad goes to what the players want to do and the GM is simply providing an in-character excuse for the characters to be doing it – but it’s worth noting that actual gladiators were quite creative about finding ways to “cheat”.

That leaves (C) – Which is why death is a simple temporary inconvenience in most computer and video games. I died? Who cares? Just wait a moment while I go pick up my stuff, or put in an extra token, or hit the replay button…

In most tabletop role-playing games the classic answer to “being fairly sure of survival” was a bit of GM warning of especially tough or dangerous opponents, ablative combat, scouting out the opposition, and having the characters be prepared to escape and heal themselves if things seemed to be going badly. As characters became more powerful, they tended to acquire special methods of escape – ranging from smoke pellets and skill at hiding on up to cloning systems, limited-use teleportation devices, and resurrections. Sometimes – in desperation – they would even resort to bargaining or surrendering…

The World Tree game – where even basic starting characters and ordinary folks can easily be equipped with short range teleportation powers, a small supply of “automatically heal me from death” devices, and are usually pretty tough into the bargain – is the logical end point of this progression. On the World Tree most fights against intelligent opponents are not to the death; they’re “until keeping going starts becoming seriously risky or expensive and I use an escape effect” – or they’re social or political or some such to start with.

Now World Tree can be a lot of fun – but a lot of players will find it really annoying when their opponents escape. A fair number of them hate to retreat even when they should. Worse, living through truly serious World Tree combat when it comes up, even if it is pretty rare, involves quite a lot of careful forethought, planning, and resource management.

A lot of players don’t like that – and the solution was “Balanced Encounters”.

Of course, “Balanced Encounters” are a lie.

Lets think about that. Is Chess “balanced”? It may not be entirely perfect – there is the first-move advantage – but that’s why most people choose who goes first at random, which restores perfect parity between two random players sitting down for a game.

Chess is fair and balanced – and pretty much comes down to player skill and intuition. One or the other player may win or it may wind up a draw – the equivalent of “one or the other side falls back and escapes” in a RPG – but the odds are pretty much equal.

But WOTC had a stroke of genius – and in a bit of doublespeak worthy of substituting “ethnic cleansing” for “genocide” – redefined a “balanced (combat) encounter” as “one where the player characters are expected to win quite readily – without needing to bother with scouting or special preparations or even any really complex tactics – at the cost of about 25% of their daily resources”.

Funny, I thought that “Balanced” meant “Both sides are more or less equal and have fairly equal chances”. That’s what it means in Chess – and in Monopoly, and Poker, and Scrabble, and Tennis, and Baseball, and pretty much every other game. The few where the two sides really are grossly unequal are usually played in rounds where the players switch sides – like baseball innings.

You could do that; make it a genuine test of player skill; run through your “balanced encounter” as usual – and then switch sides and replay it. To get any rewards for it, the players have to win both times.

Not going to be popular using WOTC-style “balanced encounters” is it?

Still, despite the irritating-to-me doublespeak, “Balanced Encounters” really do work perfectly well from a gaming point of view and a game using them can be lots of fun. It does, however, require throwing out any pretense that the setting makes sense on its own, rather than revolving around the player-characters. A lot of players and game masters won’t mind that – after all, it’s basically true – but it will drive others (mostly the “deep immersion” players) right up the wall.

Combat as War only works in a role-playing game that… (A) supports a fair level of world detail as opposed to mechanical detail, (B) has players who are ALL willing to invest a great deal of time and effort in both role-playing and in planning and preparation, and (C) is run as a simulation of a fantasy reality, with an emphasis on the physics of the fantasy universe – how things work instead of what they do – and the motivations of the characters (both PC and NPC) involved rather than as a “game”.

Please note that this isn’t a “pick one” situation like Combat as Sport. This is all or nothing.

(A) isn’t entirely a matter of rules; the game may help by telling you HOW things work in the setting, and even by providing a certain amount of random background (Percent in Lair, Morale Table, etc, etc, etc…), but it can be a lot of work for the game master to make sure that the background makes sense, to keep track of time, and to have intelligent opponents make sensible preparations. (B) is required – since if some of the players aren’t willing to invest a lot of time in role-playing and planning they will be horribly bored and will soon rebel. Finally, of course, (C) requires making sure that the players have a reasonable idea of how things work in the setting and are willing to restrict themselves to what their character’s know.

Either style can lead to an enjoyable game as long as the people playing are all willing to go along with the assumptions and behaviors involved – but when someone isn’t, you get problems.

Not entirely by coincidence, Chess IS about perfect as a combat-as-sport game. It’s about as rules, setting, information, and terrain equal as you can get and no one worries about the motives of the individual pieces (outside of a few short stories) – and thus it doesn’t even need a game master. Guided Freeform games are about the epitome of Combat-as-war; they rely heavily on rules that may be in the game masters head but are unknown to the players, the advantage goes to creative use and interpretation of the setting, and anything else may be wildly unequal to the point where many combats will jump straight to the foregone conclusion.

My personal observation is that combat-as-sport is better for episodic games, if players may or may not be able to make it to any given session, and for shorter campaigns. Combat-as-war tends to require greater committments and longer games. When players come and go, it can really disrupt a combat-as-war game since a single “battle” may span multiple sessions.

It’s still possible to mix the two of course. As an example the last d6 Star Wars campaign ran for a bit over a hundred sessions – and did indeed lean towards “Combat as War”. There were a few roughly “balanced” battles (The weaker, but well-prepared, Bounty Hunters have caught up with you!), and plenty of grossly unbalanced battles – but they were fun anyway when the objective on one side was “Capture” and the other was “Impress these men enough to recruit them”, or “let them escape believing that they just fought a battle with the people we are trying to frame”, or “stall them and keep the damage to an absolute minimum while our negotiators slip through to try and settle this”.

When the objective was “rescue several thousand civilians who think that half of the party are legendary villains from bioengineered flying jellyfish-monsters who’s touch induces berserker madness, get them to the spaceport, take the spaceport away from a fanatical defending force with starship weapons who also think that the party is full of legendary villains without damaging the defenders or the ships, and get everyone offworld” things got complicated – but there was a mighty string of exciting battles and tense negotiations during which very few people (there were a few civilians that the party didn’t manage to rescue from the jellyfish-things) actually got killed.

To mix combat-as-war and combat-as-sport more readily, simply ensure that…

  • (A) The players do a lot of their planning in their personal time – such as picking out and upgrading their equipment, training in their special options, and coming up with pre-planned maneuvers – rather than before fighting. The good old “Next week we’ll be dealing with these problems… you might want to plan ahead” at the end of the session works beautifully. The players who want to plan will come with plans, the ones who don’t want to bother will simply ride along with the ones who did.
  • (B) Most battles are not to the death. This cuts down ENORMOUSLY on the frantic efforts to plan for every possibility and allows a lot more spontaneity since the players can afford to lose occasionally – and may well be quite happy with a partial win if there are multiple goals (which takes us to…)
  • (C) The goals are usually more complex than “defeat the opposition”. If your goals are “Kill the enemy and take their stuff” things are a lot simpler – and more one-correct-tactic oriented – than if your goals are “capture the bandits, find the rare item we want, impress the sheriff so he’ll owe you a favor, cover up the involvement with the bandits of one character’s idiot nephew, and get some information on the guy who drove the bandits out of their usual haunts”.

Thus, over the course of several battles in that d6 Star Wars campaign the bounty hunter D’arc went from Captor (goals; escape and steal his ship!) to Menace (goals; escape, find out how he found them again, try to keep the reward on them down), to Comedy Relief (goals; knock out D’arc and his henchmen, steal D’arc’s NEW ship, and persuade the locals that the group was NOT a major menace), to Stalker / Leader of a menacing enemy team (goals; keep him from revealing their location, try and persuade him that they were currently the good guys and should be helped, rather than hindered, and recruit him) – and finally to Ally.

There are more discussions along these lines in several other articles on the site – such as Battling the Balanced Encounter and the Ridmarch series on flexible adventure design (Part I, Part II, and Part III).

Unfortunately, none of that is precisely related to the original article, which is about players who attempt to import real-world tactics into games where they don’t work (and so their characters would not be familiar with them except, perhaps, as “things that don’t work”) and then get upset about it when they fail – although there is a relationship to the article you mention.

That article does make a good illustration though: the combat-as-sport side is presented fairly – but the combat-as-war side is not.

First up, a combat-as-war group generally IS going up against targets that they cannot defeat in a straight fight (and would need to run to survive without preparations), whereas the article implies that the groups are equivalent and the combat-as-war group could win if they just jumped in. That’s rather unfair since that’s generally not how it works.

Secondarily, the combat-as-war PC’s are presented as expecting benefits from trying to use obviously silly stratagems. A couple of layers of clothing and some mud are good against ordinary bees. Against giant bees with stingers the size of short swords? Not so much; that’s just “padded armor” (which monks were not allowed to use). Similarly, the “sneak attack with a ballista in a bag of holding” example is rather blatantly chosen to look like a silly rules exploit. Now if it had been “lure them into a corridor and use Stone Shape to collapse the ceiling on them” that would pretty obviously be clever tactics – albeit just as much an exploit and just as likely to be a cheap way to end an encounter with very little fuss.

World Tree – Ardenharius Sen Thrachten Philosos

   Male Rassimel, 33

   Theofin Sen Philosos Machia had heard that his young nephew had started using magic precociously early – by several years – and had stopped by to see what the boy would like for his birthday. After all, once children started using magic – especially precocious children – it was all too possible that they might not see many more birthdays. The inherent power of the Prime Races had it’s price.

   Well hello Arden! You’re… not quite four yet, and already using magic? That’s very, very, good at your age! Your parents must be very proud! (I hope he doesn’t kill himself). So what would you like for your birthday?

   I want a real spell! One that’ll work right all the time, and that I can use whenever I want!… Uhhhmmmm… I’ve got 18 tersh if that’s too `spensive.

   There was some discussion around the table that night… Theofin was willing enough – a cantrip from the shop was an easy enough present for a spellseller – but Arden’s parents were a bit doubtful. They finally agreed on a modest healing cantrip. The boy should be able to manage to cast it easily enough, and he could use it on the other kid’s bumps and scrapes. It’d be good practice. and much safer then spontaneous magic. Uncle Theofin gave Arden a “Heal The Bruise” spell for his birthday, and jokingly told him that if he made a copy to put back in the shop he’d give him another spell.

   There were a few old spell-boxes in the family storeroom.

   It’s just like a jigsaw puzzle! A bit here, a bit there… Is fun!

   Uncle Theo? I made TWO copies… Can I have TWO more spells?

   Over the next eleven years Arden hung around uncle Theo’s shop quite a bit – acquiring and copying quite a few spells along the way. He also acquired enough minor healing magic – and practice in using it – for his mother to start him on the healer’s guild training.

   Arden learned even faster then a Rassimel usually would. He got into the university early, but this left him pretty isolated socially…

   He turned his attention to study instead, paying for the extra texts and courses by copying the occasional spell and moon- lighting as a feather mage. He did take fencing lessons – mostly for the exercise – but never did make many friends.

   He graduated after a mere eight years, a year faster then usual even for a Rassimel, and spent the next year or so working with uncle Theo – adding spellbinding, spellweaving, healing and the copying of advanced spells, to the array of services offered by the shop.

   Uncle Theo retired a bit later, turning the business over to Arden, who spent the next year getting the place running satisfactorily.

   The shop routine runs something like this; One or two of the slaves get up early to get breakfast ready and then wake everyone else. Arden gets up and works on special projects (Enchantments, research, etc) while the slaves mind the shop, copy some minor spells, shop for supplies and new spells, handle mundane details, run the soup kitchen, and provide extra cley via Transfer Cley if it’s needed… Later in the evening Arden will restock, binding useful spells, and giving them to the slaves, who get a modest commission on sales. While Arden himself makes a bit less per spell this way, this permits him to keep a larger stock, sell more, doesn’t deplete his cley as much – and keeps the slaves fairly happy. They get spending money, new spells – and a comfortable lifestyle.

   Arden, now 33, is becoming a bit dissatisfied. His studies aren’t progressing fast enough to suit him, he still owes a fair amount of money to uncle Theo, and many of the ingredients for his enchantments are VERY hard to get. Some adventures might be in order…

   World Tree characters are generally fairly powerful to start with; they’re difficult to kill, they all have magic, and – at least normally – they all have prior experience in several useful fields before they go off adventuring and relatively easy access to basic magical gear, such as healing spells that go off automatically when they’re badly hurt. In terms of most other games, these are skilled professionals from powerful species at a reasonable technological level. They usually don’t grow in power all that quickly – but they also usually don’t need to do so.

   Arden, however, is massively focused on magic, with just enough other talents to let him take care of himself reasonably well on an adventure – which means that he’s starting out as an expert sorcerer-healer, with a tremendous variety of spells available and decent defenses. Worse, in many ways, he had a technical mindset, and was determined to find ways to make his magic do things that really ought to be beyond him – which led to him enchanting numerous “booster” items designed to enhance his magic in a wide variety of ways on command. Even as a starting character – the version presented here – he was fairly impressive.

   There is one restraining factor; he still can’t cast a lot of the best spells he knows. He’s working on that though.


Attributes : Racial








Strength   0 0 -1 0*
Stamina   +1 +1 0 +3*
Dexterity +2 -1 +1 0 +3*
Agility   0 0 -1 0*
Perception   -1 0 0 0*
Faith   +2 +2 0 +4
Memory +1 +3 +1 0 +6*
Wits +1 +1 0 0 +3*
Will   +2 +1 0 +4*
Charisma   0 -1 0 0*

   * +1 Via woven Splendid Gift spells

   Racial Advantages :

  • Fast Learner; Gain 1/3’rd extra EP.
  • Extra Credit; +40 EP in each of four skills. One is a hobby – likely an unrelated craft or knowledge.
  • Poison Resistant. Reduce Str of any poison affecting him by 1 per 10 minutes.
  • No Circadian Rhythms. Must sleep per week, rather then per day.
  • Stay Awake; Needs (Skill / 3) hours less sleep per night then other species.


Skill XP Pool XP from Race XP From Advantages XP Spent Skill Level
Magical Skills 2        
Cley Base   46* 97 47 19
Concentration   36 125 8 18
Feather Casting     79 -1 12
Finesse   15 148 8 18
Hammer Casting     33 22 10
Magic Analysis     134 2 16
Magic Resistance   10 50 18 12
Magic Theory     74 17 13
Meditation     8 2 4
Ritual Magic     16 -1 5
Spellbinding     65 13 12
Spontaneous Force     15 0 5
Noun Skills 1        
Airador     8 13 6
Aquador     2 18 6
Corpador   40* 98 -2 16
Durudor     18 3 6
Herbador     30 -2 7
Illusidor     10 11 6
Locador     12 9 6
Magiador     19 2 6
Mentador     17 4 6
Pyrador     46 9 10
Spiridor     17 4 6
Tempador     17 4 6
Verb Skills 4        
Creoc     14 41 10
Destroc     19 26 9
Healoc   10 95   14
Kennoc     14 31 9
Mutoc     45   9
Ruloc     14 31 9
Sustenoc     17 28 9
Fighting Skills 4        
Claws and Teeth          
Combat Stance       36 8
Fencing   40*   5 9
Knives       1 1
Life Base   6   72 12
Pole and Staff       36 8
Throwing       10 4
Social Skills: 1        
Bargain   40*   15 10
Command       36 8
Etiquette     20 1 6
Flirting       3 2
Friendliness 15       5
Guile       3 2
Interrogate       3 2
Athletic Skills: 1        
Climb   28   8 8
Dance       3 2
Dodge   6 20 40 11
Hunt       3 2
Jump       1 1
Ride   6   4 4
Run       3 2
Swim       10 4
Track       1 1
Craft Skills: 5        
Animal Handling          
Armor Repair          
Enchantment     50 86 16
Medicine     45 10 10
Music       1 1
Spellweaving     48 123 18
Wilds Survival          
Stay Awake   6   9 5
Glass Working       6 3
Rogue Skills: 1        
Alertness       28 7
Disguise       1 1
Make/Pick Locks       3 2
Pick Pockets   10     4
Search   6     3
Set/Disarm Trap       3 2
Slight Of Hand   10     4
Sneak       28 7
Knowledge Skills:          
General 6 21 10 11 6
God’s Tongue     47 -2 9
History & Literature   15 15 6 8
Judge Value   6 20 10 8
Languages   6 25 -3 7
Law     20 1 6
Natural Science   15 45 18 12
Social   10 20 15 9
Teaching     25 3 7
Theology     30 6 8

   Racial Knack : Healoc +4

   Basic Combat Information :

Life [3x (Stamina + Life Base)] 45
Bad Injury (Trouble-3) = ½ 22
Awful Injury (Trouble-6) = 1/4 11
Incapacitated 0
Dying -(Will + Life Base) -15

   Daily Cley = Faith (4) + Cley Base (19) + 1d6, Rolled Daily at Dawn (as usual).

   Advantages :

  • Small Business (1)
    • Slaves (0, a)
    • Healer’s Guild Training (1, f)
  • Scholar (Healer-Mage) (0)
    • Cluster of +2 Knacks in Spellweaving, Medicine, and Corpador (0).
  • Lightning Spell Grafter (3)
  • University Mage (3, b)
    • University Education (0, c)
    • Advanced University Mage (4, b)
  • Cantrip Scribe x2 (0, b)
  • Mages Scribe x2 (0, d)
  • Wizards Scribe x3 (0, d)
  • Feather Mage x2 (2, b)
  • Expand +4 Racial Knack to include Cley Base and Enchantment (2)
  • Emergency Spell x2 (2, e)


    • a) -1 due to Small Business
    • b) -1 due to Scholar
    • c) -1 due to Scholar, 1 point base due to University Mage
    • d) 1 point base due to University Mage (5 Max), -1 due to Scholar.
    • e) Acquired via spellweaving with compensating disadvantage.
    • f) -1 due to Scholar, -1 due to Small business.

   Disadvantages :

  • Dependents (-3): Arden picks up strays, runs a soup kitchen for the street kids, and tends to go to the rescue in general.
  • Excessively Helpful (-4): Tends to give children bound healing spells and treat them for free if their parents can’t afford it, gives advice without charging, will explain dangerous magic without even thinking about whether it’s a good idea to give out such information, and takes at least a try at figuring out any problem presented to him.
  • Weakness For New Spells and Mystic Knowledge (-1) (He wants to get them all).
  • Overeducated (-1): Tends to think he can figure out anything, and will try to come up with a theory for every situation.
  • Reckless Magical Tinkerer (-1)
  • Debt (-2): Still owes his uncle a lot on the shop and slaves.
  • Strong Personal Scent (-2). Oddly, the lingering herbal smokes from weaving the spell to give himself the “Emergency Spell” talent seem to have incorporated themselves permanently into his own scent.

   New Advantages and Disadvantages :

   Small Business (1) : You own and run a shop or other small business. Your skills must suffice to support this enterprise, it will take up much of your time (and may be the focus of much of your adventuring), and leaves you with various lesser obligations (E.G.; taxes, guild dues, employing a stupid relative, fixing the road outside the shop, etc). People know where to find you and will know something about your major talents. Describe your business and routine. On the plus side, you gain a steady income (Typically 10-60 Lozens/Day, this may vary depending on how well you described your business) and may take one point each off the cost of any two advantages from: Guild Member, Slaves, Cash, Healer and/or Healer’s Guild, Merchant, Pattern Mage, Smith, Cantrip/Wizard’s Scribe, Spellbinder and Spellweaving.

   Scholar (0): You spent much of your youth buried in books and still prefer such pursuits. -1 Str, -1 Agi, a weakness for books, lore, and rare knowledge – and can’t take conflicting experience advantages (E.G. Guard, Officer, Weapons Master, Wilds, Mercenary, and Knight). On the plus side, you gain a cluster of +2 knacks (Magic Skills, Nouns, Verbs, Knowledges and Crafts are eligible) and a -1 on the cost of “Spell” and relevant (Feather and Pattern Mage, University Education/Mage/ Advanced University Mage, Spell Binder and Spell Weaving, Healer’s Guild Training and Priest) experience advantages.

   Lightning Spell Grafter (3): A triple dose of Fast Spell Grafter. This reduces the time and cley requirements to graft or copy spells to 20% of normal and doubles the number of spells received from the Cantrip or Wizards Scribe advantages. They may also have taken a lot less then the usual time.

   Mage’s Scribe (2): As per Wizards Scribe, but spells are limited to complexity 20 or less and you get 9-12 of them.

   Known Spells: (New spell discriptions can be found under Arden’s Spells).

   Complexity 15-20 :

  • Bright Winged Messenger
  • Cloud On A Spindle
  • Armor Of Air
  • Strangling Sleet
  • Cruel Ice Fairy
  • Find The Well
  • See The True Form
  • Guide The Warriors Hand
  • Watch The Distant Friend
  • Cloak Of Another God
  • Know The New Herb
  • Flower Into Glirry
  • Strange Fruit
  • Mighty Archer
  • Images Of Thought
  • Invisibility
  • Write The Moments Story
  • Nowhere Prison
  • Shrink The Road
  • The Invisible Maid
  • Go Home
  • Mirror Armor
  • Follow On Hidden Paths
  • Ward That Evades
  • Ring Of Nothing
  • Burn All The Cages
  • A Wizard Never Stumbles
  • Find All The Bound Spells
  • Explain The Binding
  • Wizard’s Lens
  • Inquisitor Of Spells
  • Rewrite The Bound Spells Orders
  • Cage The Bound Spells
  • Force The Bound Spell
  • Foil The First Trap
  • Hammer The Spell Home
  • Fetters Of Faith
  • Fire Everywhere
  • Fire Kitten
  • Exchange The Heats
  • Spirit Reunion
  • Find The Hidden Monsters
  • Control The Mindful Spell
  • Instant Out Of Time
  • Extra Sleep in The Morning
  • Quick Hour
  • Faster Then Time
  • The Longest Battle
  • Triune Armor
  • New-Grown Rain
  • Hear The Winds Song
  • Air Like Tar
  • Find The Sailors Grave
  • Lizards Envy
  • Veterans Blessing
  • Lift The Dangling Puppy
  • Don’t Move
  • Fly Like A Bird
  • Taste Of Invulnerability
  • Frustrate The Archers
  • Wall Of Pitch
  • Leaden Mist
  • Edge Of The Air
  • Slippery Trail
  • Pond In My Pocket
  • Shape Of The (Hawk)
  • Shining Splendor Of Strength
  • Levitate Others
  • A City In The Jungle
  • Circle Against Foes
  • The Aristocrat Felon Bound
  • Make A Boulder
  • A Tinkers Blessing
  • Sprout The Astounding Tree
  • Net Of Vines
  • Mages Disguise
  • Absence Of Blade
  • Page Of Secrets
  • Lies Of The Magerium
  • Maintain The Demanding Spell
  • Find The Minds
  • Silent Question
  • The Instant Interview
  • Swift-Burning Spear
  • Eternal Flame
  • Pretense Of Health
  • Heal The Awful Wound
  • A Days Labors
  • Focus Of The Englightened One
  • Divine Word (Com-20, d12)
  • Permanence (15)
  • The Wizards Inner Fire
  • Flokins’ Garden

    Complexity 25-50

  • Death Bone
  • The Gift Of Seven Years
  • Wizards Double Armor
  • Strength Of The Ancient Wizard
  • Mage Door
  • Angry Dragon
  • The Bird Of Distant News
  • An Angels Helpful Wings
  • Personal Geyser
  • Armchair Explorer
  • Heal Truly
  • Breath Of Life
  • Rejoin The Severed Head
  • Knit The Broken Bone
  • The Many-Fanged Storm
  • The Surprisingly Complicated Spells
  • Spider Horror
  • The Spilling Of The Life
  • Circle Against Foes
  • Forge The Expensive Dagger
  • Create A Gem
  • Stupid Thing To Do
  • Shining Salamander
  • Pheonix Egg
  • Magic Resistance Of Iron
  • Shatter The Triune Being
  • Dance Of The Thrice-Great Orren
  • The Grand Banquet
  • Personal Geyser
  • Flushing The Emperor’s Commode
  • Lightning Hounds
  • Iron Carapace
  • Sir Glass
  • Make It Not So
  • Shape Of Air
  • Form Of Fire
  • Grand Illusion
  • Shield Of Invisible Fire
  • Maniacs Club
  • Mirror Armor
  • The Thread That Is Flesh and Blood
  • Eternal Lightning
  • Double Mind
  • The New Slave
  • Wave Of Dread
  • Essence Extraction

Anything in Italics he doesn’t sell (or usually admit to knowing).

World Tree – How to Drown an Orren

   First up for today, it’s something from the files – some World Tree spells. In this case, we have a list designed around a particular special-request theme; “How to drown an Orren”.

   In World Tree, Orren are otterlike creatures, and are noted for being extremely good swimmers. Drowning them really isn’t easy, but it probably is about the most embarrassing possible way for an Orren to die – so here are some of the new spells for the purpose that occurred to me when the question was asked. The list is heavily biased towards spells with more general applications as well. The complexity ratings are a bit off-the-cuff though; if anyone wants to make these generally available you might want to consider a few of them a bit more carefully.

   “Down The Wrong Pipe” (Ru Aq 5). This simple cantrip must be cast when S is taking a drink – or at least has their mouth open within a foot or so of a source of liquid – whereupon up to a gallon of the relevant liquid will abruptly pour itself into the S’s lungs. Resembles “Breath Of Cool Water”, but the effectiveness will be reduced by less liquid, and enhanced by more – or more dangerous – liquids. Range; short, Speed; fast, Dur; real, Resist; MR .

   While boiling, corrosive, or toxic, liquids are the first to come to mind, something like glue or honey is probably just as dangerous… A somewhat more complex version (“Water Weird“, Cr Ru Aq Sp 10) creates a very minor elemental which will keep trying to get into S’s lungs for a bit. It’s rarely too effective unless the initial attack succeeds – unless it’s made from some inherently dangerous liquid – but it can definitely be an annoying distraction. It’s far more dangerous to swimmers, since it’s effectively invisible in the water).

   “Need Of Breath” (Su Ai 5). Makes the air in S’s lungs difficult for them to absorb. At it’s base level this hinders violent activity; S will accumulate 1 point of trouble per action (P/10 Maximum) until S rests for a minute or so. At complexity 10 the maximum is P/5, at complexity 15/20/25 S also takes 1/2/3 damage/action. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; d6 minutes, Resist; MR.

   “Sunstroke” (Cr Py 5). Induces a high fever (No effect on cold-blooded, Py-based, etc, creatures). Victims must roll (Life Base + Stamina + s20) > Power/2 to act coherently each action – although they still suffer trouble d6. On a failure roll d6; 1-2) S can do what they wanted to anyway, 3-4) S. is confused or delirious, no action, 5) S. suffers uncontrolled convulsions, 6) S. hallucinates or otherwise acts randomly. Appropriate mundane or magical countermeasures – cold drinks, etc – will help. “Hypothermia” (De Py 5) has somewhat similar but rather less serious effects, and is rarely used. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes, Resist; MR.

   OK, it doesn’t directly drown people – although it easily could if you use it on someone in the water. Only a few more-or-less practical ideas for using Cr Py to drown someone occurred to me.

   “The Drooling Fool” (Mu Aq 5). Increases S’s salivation by P times. Unlikely to cause serious problems unless S cannot open their mouth or is in an awkward position, but can be quite embarrassing. Potentially fatal if S is gagged or something. Range; medium, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 actions, Resist; MR.

   “Adjust The Grasp Of Reluu” (Mu Ru Ma 10). Adjusts gravity as far as S is concerned, adding or subtracting up to (10 * P)%. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes , Resist; MR half..

   “Airy Armor” (Cr Su [Ru] Ai [Sp] 10). Creates a normal-pressure air bubble around S. up to P inches thick. If cast with Ru the shape and thickness can be manipulated, even to leave parts of S’s body uncovered – or to enclose and protect up to one additional character. If cast with Sp it can do this mindfully. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P minutes, Resist; MR.

   This is rarely useful offensively – but it’s possible. If you cast the mindful version on someone who’s swimming and instruct it to keep an air bubble under them but not to help them breathe, they’ll fall to the bottom and be pinned there by the weight of the water above. Practical people usually use if for working underwater, protecting themselves from smoke and gas, and so on.

   “Breathe Deeply” (Ru Me 10). S. Suddenly takes a couple of deep, chest filling, breaths – whether or not this is reasonable at the moment. While this depends on an appropriate environment or the presence of a toxin, the effect when one is present is about 50% better than spells such as “Breath Of Cool Water”. Range; medium, Speed; fast, Dur; next S action, Resist; MR.

   “Breath Of Fire” (Mu Ai Py 10); Resembles “Breath Of Cool Water”, but results in a breath of fire instead… Given the fragility of the lungs this does (P/5+2s6) damage and causes trouble s6 until healed – however a successful MR roll provides complete protection. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 actions, Resist; MR.

   Now this doesn’t exactly cause “drowning” unless the victim happens to leak excessive amounts of blood or other fluids into his or her lungs – or inhales/creates water in an attempt to extinguish the blaze – but an upset Orren might well do this.

   “Flesh Of Lead” (Mu Co 10). Makes target heavier. In general this causes S trouble P/10 (Maximum 6) on anything involving physical movement, P/2 (Maximum 30) on swim rolls. There’s a He version (The Leaden Shroud) which is usually targeted on clothing; it’s a bit less effective in some ways (Maximum trouble 4), but often leads to portions of S’s gear falling off and MR only halves the effect. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P minutes, Resist; MR.

   “Pneumonia” (Su Aq 10). S. cannot expel fluid from S’s lungs. This is deadly dangerous if S. is in the water or it’s raining, serious in a humid environment, and nasty even in a desert thanks to the continuous secretion of mucus in the lungs. Most primes total unfamiliarity with the symptoms of chest congestion and anoxia compounds the problem. The “Secret contagion” version adds the “Forgotten” modifier, for (De Su Aq Me 15), and can be fairly deadly if no one recognizes the problem in time. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 hours, Resist; MR.

   “Fatal Forgetfulness” (De [Su] Me 15). S. forgets a skill specified by the caster, losing (P/3) levels from it while the spell endures. Perhaps fortunately, the effect cannot be made permanent. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes, Resist; . MR Half.

   This is especially nasty if it’s used against skills like “Life Base”, “Climbing” while halfway up a tree, or “Swimming” while in the water.

   “That Sinking Feeling“. (Ru [Su] [Any one of Ai, Aq, Co, Du, He] [Sp] 15). Applies a force sufficient to lift a weight of Px10 “pounds” to S. If cast with Su the user need not concentrate on the spell, although it will then push in one direction only. If cast with Sp the spell pushes on S mindfully for you. Most GM’s will probably want a different version of this spell for each noun. Range; medium, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes, Resist; MR.

   “Double Pneumonia” (Mu Ai Aq [Py] 15). Related to “Stolen Breath”, transforms the air in S’s lungs to water instead of destroying it. With Py the water can be boiling (P/5+s6 damage, plus ongoing problems…). Very, very, deadly for its complexity. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 actions, Resist; MR.

   “Maze Of The Mind” (Ke Mu Il Sp Me 15). Reads S’s mind and mindfully confuses their sense of direction so that whenever S. moves he will wind up moving in the direction C. desires. Range; medium, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes, Resist; MR.

   Extremely annoying – especially if you keep sending a swimmer deeper… There’s a version – “Labyrinth Of Here” (Ru Lo Sp 30) – which actually alters space around the S to direct any movements he makes according to the C’s desires. This does not affect S. directly, and so does not allow resistance.

   “Skin Of Water“. (Cr Mu Su [Ru] Aq [Sp] 15). Creates mass of water about S. and holds it there. A successful MR roll means that the water is created nearby. With Ru C. can move the water around or even use it to attack a different S. With Sp the water can flow about on its own. (Life = P, MR = P/2, Defense Base = 0, Soak = 6, Attack = 15).Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/2 minutes, Resist; MR.

   “Water Lungs” (Mu Co Sp 15). Alters S’s lungs to breathe water. S can no longer breathe air while this spell is in effect. Unless its cast with Sp it’s wise to have another spell ready to get the water out of S’s lungs when the spell wears off. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 hours, Resist; MR.

   This spell offers you the unusual option of drowning people in air… Note that “holding your breath” will not help a bit when your lungs can’t absorb it.

   “Waters Of The Void” (Mu Aq [Sp] 15). Decreases water viscosity and pressure under the S to zero, so that it no longer offers support or resists downward motion. S will fall to the bottom and be pinned there by the full weight of the water above. With Sp the effect can follow S mindfully, rather than having to be anchored to them – and hence the spell no longer allows MR. There is a (De Aq 25, “Hand Of The Hag”) version of the same general effect; it relies on an ongoing destruction of the water under the S, but is otherwise about the same. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/2 minutes, Resist; MR.

   A more complex area-effect version (“The Hungry Waters“, (Mu Aq Sp 45), affects P*1000 square feet of the water surface) manifesting such “water hazards” as needed… The spell cannot literally affect the entire area; it relies on water flowing out from under solid objects – and it can’t flow outwards from everywhere at the same time.

   “Hemorrhagic Pneumonia” (De Co 20). Causes severe damage to S’s lungs. This causes P/10+s6 damage initially plus internal bleeding for 2 points of damage per (caster) action until healing is applied or P additional damage has been done. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; real, Resist; MR.

   “Induce Phobia” (Cr Ru Me 20). Gives S a nice new phobia – however absurd – and a full-blown panic attack. S. will usually do his absolute best to get away from whatever S. is now afraid of… Range; medium, Speed; after conc., Dur; attend hourly, Resist; MR.

   If you want to drown people, the sky or air is a good choice.

   “Shoulder The Mountain” (Mu Lo 25). Warps space, so that some heavy object within range is effectively sitting on top of S, rather than on whatever’s under it. Often targeted on the ground and used simply as a means of shifting heavy items, since the object remains fully supported – and hence effectively weightless, if not massless – even if it’s lifted or moved around within range. Affects a “footprint” of up to (P/2) square feet. Range; medium, Speed; build, Dur; attend, Resist; MR.

   “The Executioner’s Cell” (Cr [De] [Su] Mu Ai Lo [Any other noun] 25). Similar to “Nowhere Prison” (QV), but filled with either nothing at all (With De) or with some element of C. Choice. Fairly nasty. May deserve an even larger boost in complexity on the grounds that the purpose of universes is to support life; hence it’s very difficult to create one with an environment hostile to its sole inhabitant. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 actions [P/5 minutes], Resist; MR.

   “Event Horizon” (De [Su] Lo 30). Eliminates a particular direction within a simple volume of P*1000 cubic feet. The “event horizon” can be given any simple shape desired. Unfortunately, of course, light cannot travel in a non-existent direction; so you can’t see what’s going on beyond the Event Horizon – although those beyond it can see out. Range; medium , Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes [P/5 hours], Resist; N/A.

   If you want to drown people with this use it to create a “ceiling” just under the surface of the water and eliminate the direction “up”.

   “Put Out The Lights” (De Co 30). Destroys the victim’s lungs. Usually causes massive internal bleeding plus, of course, inability to breathe. Damage of (P/3+s6) plus s6 per S. action, causes unconsciousness in d6 S. actions, is fatal shortly thereafter. Range; medium, Speed; build, Dur; real, Resist; MR.

   “Sargasso Summons” (Cr Ru [Su] He [Sp] 30). Creates tough tendrils of seaweed, which grasp anyone within the area or, with Sp, only those C wants grabbed, and try to tie them up and drag them under. S’s must roll (Agility + Swimming + s20) > P to avoid being grabbed, those caught suffer trouble d8+2, which is rolled each action – but never goes down. S’s may break free with a roll of (Str+Swim+s20) > P/3+Trouble. S’s who break free will be attacked again unless they leave the area. Works on a simple-shaped watery area of about 10*P square yards. With Su the seaweed is permanent, although the animation still wears off. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes [P minutes], Resist; spec.

   “Total Paralysis” (Ru Co 30) OR (De Me 25, rare) OR (Mu Sp 35, extremely rare). S. cannot move any voluntary muscles or control semi-voluntary ones, such as breathing, etc. S can still cast spells or do anything which doesn’t require moving unless the (Mu Sp) version was used. Ru Co induces physical paralysis, De Me prevents the mind from giving orders to the body, while Mu Sp prevents the affected spirit from willing movement. Unlike simpler paralysis spells, S doesn’t get to keep making MR rolls. Range;short , Speed; build, Dur; P/5 hours, Resist; MR.

   “With Cream And Sugar” ([Cr] [De] Mu [Su] Aq Ai [He] [Py] 30). Transmutes up to P*10,000 cubic feet of water into whipped cream. You don’t need material to transmute with Cr, is permanent with Su, may be flavored, sweetened, or thickened with He, and may be made moderately hot with Py or chilled with De Py… Produces really odd rain when cast on storms. Range; medium, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 hours [Real], Resist; N/A.

   As a “weapon” this is really annoying; it’s too light to swim in, too stiff to move in easily, too slippery for crawling, you can’t see through it, you can’t breathe it, it won’t hold you up – and it’s incredibly embarrassing to have to admit that your mighty warrior was drowned in dessert…

   “Lake Of Fire” (Cr [Ru] [Su] Aq [Py] 35). Creates up to 10,000*P gallons (1337 cubic feet) of light, highly flammable, oil. This floats on water – although it is nearly impossible to swim in – and burns fiercely. If cast with Ru the user may opt to spray the stuff around over up to P/5 actions over ranges of up to 5xP feet. If cast with Py there is no need to light it. If cast with Su the stuff is real and permanent, which is handy if you need to provide heating oil for a small city. Range; short (May be projected with Ru), Speed; build, Dur; P/5 hours [Real], Resist spec.

   Having a holocaust raging overhead tends to encourage most people to stay underwater and makes it difficult to escape in any case. This may not directly drown people – but it comes close. An extremely dangerous and unpredictable weapon, since the oil tends to splatter, flow, and spread, as well as igniting other things…

   “The Irresistible Lure” (Cr Ke [Su] Me Il Sp 40). Probes S’s mind and creates an illusion that taps into S’s deepest desires. If S. fails to resist S. will follow the lure wherever C. sends it – no matter what the peril or risk. S. may, however, attempt to handle challenges and obstacles along the way intelligently. Range; short (But may move thereafter), Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes [P/5 hours], Resist; MR.

   This is very useful for getting things out of the way, getting a monster to lead your attack on something, or for luring targets into danger – such as deep under a lake.

   “Mind Of The Newborn Babe” (Hl [Su] Me 40). Restores S’s mind to what it was as an infant. Even with Su S will “grow up” again with startling speed (One “mental year” per week) and will quickly regain skills and knowledges – although this is a very good way to domesticate a wild animal. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 hours [special], Resist; MR.

   This is a nasty thing to do to someone in a dangerous situation.

   “The Wizard’s Fishing” (Cr Ru [Su] He 40).Creates a very large (P*P feet), tough (P/2 damage to create an average prime-sized hole), net which the C. can send hurtling about to pick up, pin down, entangle, or transport, things. Victims suffer trouble of up to 8 and can be moved about, getting free requires at least one action and a roll of (Str + Dex + s20) > P/2. Adding Su doubles the damage which must be done to break the net and makes it real even after the animation wears off. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes, Resist; spec.

   “Chains Of Iron” (Cr [Su] Du 50). Creates massive (5P Lb) amounts of metal plating partially or wholly engulfing S. Up to trouble 50 on appropriate physical actions. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 hours [Real], Resist; MR (Material is usually created near, but not on, S). .

   A possible – if unlikely – offensive spell for a powerful smith-mage.

   “Waters Of Doom” (Mu [Su] Aq 60). Renders Aq intangible to Co and “overlapping” substances (EG; Blood, Saliva, Mucus). Swimmers and fish in the affected area will fall to the bottom, while the water pouring through their flesh sweeps the air out of their lungs. Range; short, Speed; build, Dur; P/5 minutes [P/5 hours], Resist; N/A (Affects the water, not the people and fish in it). .

   Attempts to use variations on this effect defensively – rendering S intangible to various forms of attack – have been disappointing. Rendering yourself immune to He is a very bad idea (You fall through the ground), immunity to Co causes your body to fall to bits, Du is very hard to manage, Ai suffocates you, it just seems to make you even more vulnerable to Py, and there aren’t really all that many common attacks based on Aq. Everything else is already pretty much intangible anyway.

   There are some existing spells which would probably work too.

   If you cast “Stolen Breath” (a spell which destroys the air in someone’s lungs, causing them to spend the next few moments gasping for air) on someone who currently has their head under water they’re very likely to wind up with their lungs actually full of water – instead of just inhaling water in place of the usual tidal volume of air. Without more magic to get that water out this is going to be almost 100% fatal. Worse, a spell to fix it is going to be fairly tricky. You’d need a moderately complex spell to do that without either tearing up the inside of their lungs pulling it out (Ru Aq) or destroying their blood while removing water from their bodies (De or Mu Aq). “Breath Of Cool Water” (a spell which turns the next breath of air the victim takes into water) would be pretty hard to recover from, and might prove fatal, when you can’t bend over to cough it out without putting your head under water again. “Freeze The Lake” can be a nuisance, while “Boas From Below” (a spell that causes plant roots to grab people) could be nasty near the bottom. “Puppet Will” (a spell which grants you control of the victim’s body) will work nicely if you can hold it long enough, as will “The New Slave” – although there are certainly much easier ways.

   There are a lot of other ways of course – but most of the ones that come immediately to mind are, to quote Zacharias, Professor of Magic Theory (Pg 172), “Dead Stupid”.

Once More Updating Links

   Well, today it’s time to update some links again: I’ll put them all into this entry and start getting the index tabs updated later tonight, but here’s a quick listing of the material from the past few weeks.

Legend of the Five Rings:



  • Ilarion Drake, one of the young Celestial Dragons currently helping out. A corporate raider.
  • Jamathial, a young Celestial Dragon, Thrillseeker, and Rock Musician.
  • Stranglevine, a plant elemental of obscure motivation.
  • The Session 38 Log. The logs are badly behind, but this is still the latest entry.



  • Archetypes and Roles – Power Packages to suit a variety of character types for Eclipse: The Codex Persona classless d20.  Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and the How-to-use-them guide.
  • The Ri’aal: A change-of-pace nonhumanoid player-character species for d20 games which has innate magical powers instead of the ability to use tools and equipment.
  • Lingering Smoke: A quick conversion of a Sidereal Exalted character to Eclipse classless d20,  a minor favor for a friend.
  • Small Changes: An essay on the impact of relatively small racial changes on cultures.
  • Factions of the Manifold: An updated Faction list for the Federation-Apocalypse setting. 
  • The Federation-Apocalypse Game Session Logs for Session 21 and Session 22.


World Tree

  • Advanced Spellbinding is for when those pesky player character just have be experimentive, and start asking “What happens when I try (doing something weird)?” At least for Spellbinding, here are some rules for telling them.
  • Here’s a (severely condensed) version of the old Campaign Log. If anybody wants any more details on particular events, ask: I’ll look in the old notes and see what I can recall.

Advanced Spellbinding

   Today it’s a little something for World Tree: some information from my notes on Advanced Spellbinding.

   World Tree Spellbinding is – as befits a branch of Pattern Magic – fairly straightforward: It still has a quirk or two even in its base form (most notably, you can bind spells that you cannot cast otherwise), but not very many.

   Still, there are some variations:

   Binding a pattern spell cast by someone else is possible – and you don’t even have to spend the Cley you’d normally have to spend to cast the spell, reducing the effective cost by one. Unfortunately, the power level is invariably halved and there are some nasty modifiers to the effective complexity.

  • Attempting to bind a spell cast by someone else adds +10 to its effective complexity.
  • Attempting to bind a spell cast by someone else without having had a chance to study the details of how the actual caster casts it adds another +10 to the effective complexity.
  • Attempting to bind a spell cast by someone else without the caster’s active cooperation – trying to form a cage from cley and trap the spell on the fly – adds another +20 to its effective complexity and requires that you have been delaying your action so as to be ready to do so.

   You can also bind pattern spells cast with advanced modifiers or in other fashions.

  • Hammer-Casting: Attempting to bind a Hammer-Cast spell cast by someone else adds +5 to the effective complexity per extra cley and – if the hammer-cast botches – will almost certainly go off in your face. Attempting to Hammer-Cast and bind a spell yourself requires splitting your concentration, adding +10 to the effective complexity per extra Cley used. Other power-boosting effects – whether from additional spells, innate abilities, or enchanted items – also add +5 to the effective complexity per Cley or equivalent.
  • Feather-Casting: Attempting to bind a Feather-Cast spell halves its power as usual, fails 50% of the time due to the fragility of such spells in any case, and automatically fails if the net power drops below 5. It it’s being cast by someone else, Feather-Casting increases the effective complexity of the spell being bound by 5. If you’re trying to do it yourself, it’s +20.
  • Flicker-Casting: Flicker-Cast spells cannot be bound unless you have one binder ready for each iteration – and even then you simply wind up with a bunch of separate, weak, bound spells.

   There are tales of a few of the Elder Zi Ri and other mighty wizards protecting themselves by binding incoming spells, but that sort of thing is pretty unlikely: anyone capable of binding a spell with an extra +40 complexity modifier applied probably has better things to do with their actions – unless they’re just showing off.


   Spontaneous Spells (including those from innate magical gifts or monstrous powers) may be bound. This works exactly like binding a pattern spell, except that:

  1. Spontaneous spells are wild, powerful, and unpredictable. This adds +2 Cley to the cost of binding them.
  2. The Cley “Cage” must be set up to accommodate the likely variations in the spell. Predicting these requires a Magic Theory check at a difficulty of (3x Improvisations Complexity). Failing that means a 50% chance of the whole thing going off in your face with, as usual for improvisations, unpredictable results.
  3. There’s no way of studying the details of the spell in advance, so the +10 complexity modifier for missing out on that always applies.
  4. There’s a +10 modifier to the effective complexity, simply due to the randomness inherent in spontaneous magic.
  5. Each additional Cley used in a Spontaneous Spell beyond the first adds +5 to the effective complexity.
  6. If you’re trying to bind your own spontaneous spell, there’s another +20 complexity modifier for having to split your concentration. Spontaneous magic is difficult enough anyway that trying to bind a spontaneous spell cast by someone else is actually easier.

   Spontaneous magic is nearly impossible to bind: a complexity-5 improvisation cast by someone else who’s cooperating with you has a minimum effective complexity of (5 + 10 [external caster] + 10 [spontaneous spell] + 10 [no chance to study]) = 35. Plugging that into the general formula for Spellbinding – (Will + Spellbinding + Noun + Verb)>= Complexity + 10 tells us that binding a complexity-5 improvisation will require a pretty powerful mage – and will cost him at least three Cley. Mages that powerful usually have better things to do with their Cley than bind cantrips.


   Spellweaves cannot be bound, simply because they have are built up gradually and have already been starting to work for some time when they’re finally completed. Here simply isn’t any point at which they’re ready to go but not yet active to bind them at. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do some things with Spellweaves that have a similar effect; you just can’t use spellbinding on them.

   I’ll see if I’ve got enough additional information on that to put something up later.

Sparky, a resident of the World Tree

   “Sparky” was a character belonging to Clint Thomas Walker (1980-2008). In a world where “dragons” were tiny, delicate, ageless creatures who wielded complex and precise spells, collected lore, and stretched their memories across the centuries, “Sparky” insisted that dragons should be huge, that magic should be pure and spontaneous, and that he couldn’t remember any details of his past. He tended to push the limits of his spontaneous magic rather recklessly. Thanks to the immense power of his spontaneous spells, this often turned into something of a disaster. Every other Zi Ri they encountered thought he was quite crazy – and very young to be out on his own.

   The groups general theory was that “Sparky” had blown himself off a higher branch with some ill-considered over-powered improvisation, and his memory problems were some sort of side effect. They certainly never found any effective way to treat him.

   Sparky eventually elected to stay with Arden for a century or two: between them they could play with pretty much every kind of magic there was – plus he got a very comfortable lifestyle, a big heap of lozens to sleep on, servants to order around and play with, a chance to participate in all kinds of magical activities, the occasional personalized enchantment, and someone who was better than he was at explaining to help him out when some improvised spell went drastically wrong. All in all, more than fair pay for acting as an assistant.

   The copy of his character sheet I had on file was nowhere near being up-to-date. I’ve added on a few things from my notes – mostly the list of Knacks and the Soak increase he’d acquired through the end of the quest to visit all the gods – but an up-to-date version would include a good many more skill boosts (despite his habit of keeping all his noun and verb skills equal to save calculation). Note that – in combat – his usual tactic was to hide on or behind a melee specialist and provide spell support – unless he’d managed to get some major melee enhancements running and gotten larger.


Name: “Sparky” (Refuses to use any other name)

  • Race Zi Ri
  • Sex: Herm
  • Age: Unknown. Presumed fairly young – and likely preadolescent.
  • Cley Refresh Time: Dawn.

Racial Modifiers:

  • +4 Knack in Magic Resistance, +7 knack in Sustenoc
  • Fly; Superb control, modest speed.
  • Scales; +1 Soak, +12 Defense, most other armor and shields unusable. Can use a buckler if not flying.
  • Fire Breath (Not very impressive).
  • 3+d6 Extra Com-10 Spells
  • Flame Resistance; -6 damage.
  • Meditation Bonuses when in fires.
  • Does not age and will not die of natural causes.
  • Can only use very small equipment

Personal Advantages:

  • Self-Taught Mage (3)
  • Reserves Of Strength (Variant; he gets much larger. This is less tiring than usual, 3)
  • 20 points worth of Unknown Advantages (10)
  • Sparky’s “Unknown Advantages” were eventually discovered to be:
  • Adept; +10 on on Art rolls and power of spontaneous magic (8)
  • Mystic (Doubled Adept, 4)
  • Emergency Spell x3 (3)
  • Living Magic (3)
  • Cluster Of +2 Knacks (2): Cley Base, Magic Resistance, and Spontaneous Force

   Thanks to the groups adventures – including spending many years on a grand quest to visit all the gods, apologize for their various messes, and get them to sign off on raising the Cyarr to prime status – they acquired quite a few additional advantages. The more notable ones included a selection of Knacks (+4 Aquador, +3 Herbador, Durador, Illusidor, Magiador, Mentador, Creoc, Ruloc, Healoc, and Mutoc, official membership in the Smiths Guild, and increasing several attributes by +1. Sparky also accidently infused his scales with some of the substance of the Silver Moon, spreading out the damage from attacks across time, and thus raising his natural Soak to 4 against all attacks). While zie did manage to arrange to get bigger (and stronger and tougher) eventually, thanks to having some of the upper limits on Zi Ri growth removed, zie only seems to be adding an inch or two a century.


  • Believes Zi Ri “should be” huge creatures (-1)
  • Greedy/Wants a huge horde (-2)
  • No Default Equipment (-1)
  • Trouble Grafting Pattern Spells (-5)
  • Optimistic (-1)
  • Naive (Partial Memory Loss, -2) (Effectively half value, due to going over 10, for -1).

Combat Basics:

Life Base [3x (Stamina + Life Base) 60
Bad Injury (Trouble-3) = ½ 30
Awful Injury (Trouble-6) = 1/4 15
Incapacitated (—0-) 0
Dying -(Will + Life Base) -16
  • Cley: Faith + Cley Base + d6 Daily = 26+1d6+up to 22 from Living Magic.
  • Defense: 33
  • Soak: 5
  • Combat Maneuvers: Vary Stance, Pull Punch, Expert Wild Parry, Expert Careful Retreat.

Spontaneous Magic:

  • Art Rolls (roll once per art involved): s20 + 35 + Relevant Noun/Verb Knacks versus (2x Complexity). One botch die per art.
  • Power Roll: 69 + 3s8 + Relevant Knacks + Mundane Skill Modifier + s20 per cley. Usually at least 100. +20+s20 if using one of his three daily Emergency Spells.
  • Cley Use: s20 + 29 + Relevant Knacks. If <35 use 2d3’s or 1d4. If 35-49 use 3d3’s, 2d4’s, or 1d6. If 50+ 4d3’s, 3d4’s, or 2d6’s.


Attribute Score Boosts
Strength -1  
Stamina +3*  
Dexterity +2  
Agility +5*  
Perception 0  
Faith +4  
Memory +2  
Wits +5*  
Will -1  
Charisma -1  

   *These attributes have been improved by +1 in various ways.


Magical Skills  Level Knacks Boosts Net
Cley Base 20 +2   22
Concentration 6     6
Feather Casting 5     5
Finesse 6     6
Hammer Casting 5     5
Magic Analysis 5     5
M. Resistance 14 +6   20
Magic Theory 5     5
Meditation 8     8
Ritual Magic        
Spellbinding 3     3
Spontaneous Force 22 +2   24
Noun Skills     

Level Knacks Boosts Net
Airador 10     10
Aquador 10 +4   14
Corpador 10     10
Durudor 10 +3   13
Herbador 10 +3   13
Illusidor 10 +3   13
Locador 10     10
Magiador 10 +3   13
Mentador 10 +3   13
Pyrador 10     10
Spiridor 10     10
Tempador 10     10
Verb Skills  Level Knacks Boosts Net
Creoc 10 +3   13
Destroc 10     10
Healoc 10 +3   13
Kennoc 10     10
Mutoc 10 +3   13
Ruloc 10 +3   13
Sustenoc 10 +7   17
Fighting Skills  Level Knacks Boosts Net
Claws and Teeth 5     5
Combat Stance 10     10
Life Base 17     17
Pole and Staff        
Social Skills  Level Knacks Boosts Net
Etiquette 4     4
Flirting 4     4
Guile 6     6
Athletic Skills  Level Knacks Boosts Net
Climb 5     5
Dance 3     3
Dodge 16     16
Hunt 3     3
Craft Skills  Level Knacks Boosts Net
Animal Handling        
Armor Repair        
Enchantment 9     9
Medicine 12     12
Music 6     6
Spellweaving 3     3
Wilds Survival 5     5
Rogue Skills  Level Knacks Boosts Net
Alertness 6     6
Make/Pick Locks        
Pick Pockets        
Search 3     3
Set/Disarm Trap        
Slight Of Hand 1     1
Sneak 8     8
Knowledge Skills  Level Knacks Boosts Net
General 8     8
God’s Tongue        
History and Literature 9     9
Judge Value 5     5
Natural Science 4     4
Social 4     4
Theology 3     3


Pattern Spells:

   Sparky was never big on pattern spells – but zie did know a few, presumably because zies parents insisted. Zie tended to prefer to improvise unless he was worried about spending too much Cley for some reason.

  • Com-5: Carry the Log (Ru Hr 5, Base 28), Extinguish the Fire (De Py 5, Base 22), Hide the Gaping Pit (Cr Il 5, Base 28), and Tasty Treat (Mu Il 5, Base 28).
  • Com-10: Barrage of Baffling Bats (Cr Il 10, Base 28), Heal Once (Hl Co 10, Base 25), Hiding in Nowhere (Cr Lo 10, Base 25), Quiet Veil (De Il 10, Base 28), and Saved Glimpse (Su Il Hr 10, Base 35).
  • Others: Heal the Awful Wound (Hl Co 20, Base 25) (Arden insisted on this one), and Breath of Life (Hl Ru Co Sp 30, Base 28) (Arden also insisted on making him graft this one – although he can’t quite cast it yet).


Enchanted Rings: These are mostly creations of Ardens.

  • (1) Casts Remedy for Magiador with Sp on the wearer (healing 1d6+Users Medicine Skill/3) damage using the wearer’s own Medicine skill, whenever the wearer takes damage. While this works against most spell damage, it most notably works against the damage he takes from using Living Magic – which he habitually uses to keep his reserves up.
  • (2) Casts Transfer Cley (Com-5) when called upon, allowing the user to losslessly transfer up to 3 Cley to a target within short range.
  • (4-6) Casts Divine Word at Com-10 (adding +s8 Power) to assist each spontaneous or pattern spell the user casts when called upon.
  • (7) Provides Sleeth Eyes (See in the dark, Com-10) continuously.
  • (8) Provides Toughen the Flesh (Com-10, +1 Soak) continuously.
  • (9) Provides Heal Once (Com-10) at Power 20 12x/Day using the wearer’s medical skill. This normally heals (4+ Users Medicine Skill) wound points but only works once per day per target.
  • (10) Reduces the power of incoming hostile spells by d6+5 (Wimps Cantrip with Sp at Power 25).

   Bound Spells (up to 22): Arden normally keeps Sparky supplied with 6x Heal the Awful Wound, 4x Pretense Of Health, 4x Faster then Time, 2x Change Place, 2x Spell Shunt, 2x The Quick Escape, and two of choice – normally all bound with reasoning. There isn’t usually much call for these in town, but you never know when something will come up.

   For other gear, Sparky normally uses an assortment of ornaments, a small pack/satchel (charmed as a Big Bag), with some snacks, a Talisman of the Rolling Wheel, a scarf that allows him to reroll any three rolls per day (obtained on the Silver Moon), a very small metal buckler, a very small metal knife (as a tool rather than for combat), and an assortment of minor supplies.

   Sparky may have acquired more recipe enchantments since retiring: given that the characters spent a great deal of time towards the end of their careers roaming the tree far from prime civilization, their opportunities to acquire such things were fairly limited.

Adventures in Arborology

   The last World Tree campaign ran for about two years. Most of the group had never heard of the game, but everyone was up for a few sessions of almost anything I recommended. World Tree is a very good game, hence that brief experiment ran for longer than most of them expected. It only really closed down because one of the major players was moving away and another would be unavailable for quite awhile – and because a hundred sessions worth of experience, along with two in-game decades worth of the party training each other in their best skills, was stretching the limits of the game system – so we closed it out with a bang. One of these days, we’ll start a new campaign. Until then, here’s a quick summary of how things went. If any of the players remember a correction, I’ll put it in. I’ve got my notes, but the campaign was a while back.


The Main Characters:

   “Harry Otter”: A constantly self-narrating Orren “Thief “who generally referred to himself in the third person, as in “The stealthy orren crept forward, lurking behind the curtains to conceal his presence!”. He tended to defend his activities on the grounds that anyone who let him take their stuff while he was narrating his attempt to do so to them obviously was willing to let him have it. He was usually regarded as street theater.

   Zerech Cassinarius Sarsarah Kai: A Rassimel “specialist in handling problem individuals”/occasional assassin. Emirion generally preferred to deal with “problem individuals” (anyone he was paid enough to deal with) by persuading them (in whatever fashion was required) to go somewhere else, but was not averse to combat if problems arose.

   Benthor Orrkimara, a.k.a “Benthor Worldsplitter”, a Gormoror berserker. Unfortunately, Benthor was completely psychotic. All you needed to do was point him at a target – a monster, a village, a building, a detachment of troops, or a section of the landscape, say “Kill!” and he would either destroy it or die in the process. The only problem was the occasional accidental misfires… He eventually wound up on indefinite “time out” when he attempted this tactic on Iraz Halix after dying on a quest to reach her.

   Marentari Pellhamer, a Khytosis Spellbinder and gang leader, was surprisingly “sophisticated” for a Khytosis (having actually managed a university education), but – thanks to a bit of legal trouble – was more than happy to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

   “Sparky” – a young Zi Ri specializing in spontaneous magic – simply attached himself to the group, apparently on the grounds that they were going adventuring and he wanted to have some adventures. On the theory that – however young he seemed – a Zi Ri spellcaster would probably be an asset, the group took him along.

   Damethallis Tolrickstannel: a Rassimel Healer in search of a better location, who accompanied the group for a time (the player soon switched to a Zi R smith resident in Shivolin, with a name I cannot either find in my notes or recall: If I do, he’ll get his own entry since he was a very high-powered durador mage).

   Ardenharius Sen Thrachten Philosos: A Rassimel sorcerer-spellbinder, obsessed with magical research and development. Arden tended to immediately come up with ten theories in response to any question – and then to gladly explain, and attempt to test, all of them, regardless of how poor an idea an objective observer would feel that this was. (Arden did not join the group until after their arrival in Shivolin).

   Orkan Varell, a.k.a “Quiggles”: a Kythosis Brewer, Winemaker, and Master Smith. Quiggles was happily violent, brutal, cheery, and obliging, and was responsible for numerous sidequests, since he could never refuse a plea for help, a chance to crash a party or other celebration, or a good fight.

   Other characters included Azriel, a Zi Ri knight-mage who liked melee combat (a very odd choice indeed), the aforementioned Zi Ri Smith (who was a major character, but who’s name I cannot place), Ivarell (a young Cani with a truly remarkable sense of smell), and several more who were briefly played.


Major Campaign Events:

   Having rendered themselves unwelcome in the city of Rilmond via variety of escapades – and Zerech having taken a sizable bribe to get them to go elsewhere – the group set off for the Duchy of Shivolin, where a power struggle between the local noble houses promised activities galore for free agents.

   While Shivolin was in a rough area of the bark, and quite near the Verticals, the group could readily have handled more external trouble than they found along the way. They had more than enough internal trouble to deal with anyway.

   In Shivolin the group got entangled with street chaos, festivals, low-status Cani burglars, disputes over upgrades to the city walls, organizing an improved farmers market, breaking up a kidnaping ring, smuggling high-end magical weapons from Ketheria (including the VenomStorm Ring), street children with mentador magic, and both smith guild and noble politics. They interfered in the local slave trade, fought other groups of mercenaries, worked as skyship guards, bodyguards, and as a strike team, competed in cookery, blew up the Smoking Cinder Inn (twice – not that this was unusual), and salvaged a fallen skyship after dealing with the monsters that were living in it.

   They eventually discovered the presence of a hive-minded mentador swarm-creature which hid its separate components in people’s minds and fed on new and unusual experiences. Chasing it out of Shivolin proved extremely difficult – and involved a near-civil war between the Noble Houses. While it hadn’t exactly been “hostile”, its expulsion led to a considerable reduction in the level of sheer random chaos in Shivolin, allowing the group to start a number of business ventures – such as a multiple-city newspaper (and the ensuing dispute with the criers, printers, and messengers guilds), wine-making, mail services, educational and medical programs for the local street-children, and numerous missions into the Verticals and to other cities nearby.

   They helped arrange a peace treaty and had quite a discussion about suppressing the introduction of a system of off-tree magic – but eventually concluded that it would weaken the magical superiority of the Primes, and that, out of sheer species loyalty, they could not allow. It took a great deal of work to seal off the dimensional weak point which was allowing the leakage of such off-tree knowledge into the realm, but they managed it eventually.

   Eventually, on one mission into the Verticals, they discovered that the Cyarr were quietly moving against the Sleeth and were intent on wiping out a village of Gormoror who were too near their current theater of operations. After the defense of the village, Arden attempted a social-engineering solution to the vulnerabilities of the Sleeth (a project that burdened the group with several Sleeth Kittens) – and the rest of the group concluded that all of them liked the individual Cyarr they’d met at least as well as they liked anyone else. They decided to negotiate and arranged that, in exchange for the Cyarr putting a hold on their attacks on the Sleeth and Gormoror for a time, they would attempt to reach a god and ask them what it would actually take for the Cyarr to achieve Prime status.

   That first involved a lot of talking with priests, then an attempt to reach Shax Shay Shazthrough a mighty illusory quest (with a subjective duration of several years), and then an attempt to attract the notice of one or more gods by pumping the a gargantuan cley overcharge into their best spellcaster and then dumping it all into hammer-casting a minor line-of-sight “laser” spell (with numerous special precautions against botches) in an attempt to ignite the sun a few minutes early. Unfortunately, they pumped so many hundreds of cley into the attempt that they actually managed to damage the sun – spewing an arc of burning sun-fuel that splattered across the top of the Tree and caused enormous damage before it settled down to cascading down the sky.

   This did get most of the gods to notice them, and at least one to intervene: Reluu sent down a fire elemental with some information how they could go about developing spells to work on sun-glass, orders to help them with fire-protection spells until they got the sun fixed, and orders for them to FIX THE SUN. NOW.

   That was quite a project – but they did manage to get a few more answers from the elemental while they were working; if the Cyarr were to achieve prime status, a delegation of primes would have to obtain approval for their petition from each god.

   The group decided to attempt the quest. After all, what made prime civilization great was the diversity of the prime races. Adding another would surely make it even greater… Of course, while getting organized for their quest, and gathering up their more reliable allies, and a couple of Cyarr, it was (dubiously) necessary to participate in the ice-dancing competition, a Khytosis wedding, enter a variety of competitions, teach a youngster to suppress his mentador talents, and judge competing fruit drinks (trust me: all of those seemed like perfectly sane decisions at the time). Besides: they needed to visit all the gods anyway. It seemed like it might be wise to apologize in person – and they also needed to be far, far, away from the rest of prime civilization. The rewards which were being put out for the heads of whoever’d damaged the sun were appalling.

   Fortunately, the priests could give them a fairly good idea of where to find most of the gods. Unfortunately, sheer travel time devoured years – despite their ongoing research effort into methods of even faster travel. Most of the gods tasked them with various errands – locating 23 plant and 11 animal species which had been created to be useful but were, as yet, undiscovered, developing and spreading spells to accomplish various tasks, fixing various social problems, distributing Birkozon’s books, establishing new orders, chasing down and eliminating off-tree menaces, visiting the past to chronicle it without disturbing it, cleaning out Iraz Varuun’s tower and the various flawed experiments therein, the development of a new system of combat maneuvers relying on magical manipulations rather than physical ones, and many more. Perhaps the easiest was the request of “Variohharsh the Standing Wave” – a water elemental who was managing things as best he could for Merklundum Harnipsundum the Dog who Killed a Fish while he slept – and wanted some public acknowledgment of that fact and a few shrines and statues. Most of the gods accepted the apologies. A number even took favorable notice (resulting in appropriate magical knacks) of the sheer gall of various characters – and most were willing to approve at one price or another. There were a few that looked like they might be difficult though…

   Along the way they fell off the tree (it took a LONG time to fall hundreds of millions of miles), adventured in other realms, encountered the civilization of anti-primes which was growing halfway down the trunk, battled their way through the realm of storms, experimented with higher-order aspects of the other nouns (mostly on Harry Otter, since he was both willing to try anything and constantly narrated the results) – after all, if there was world-tree wood and sun-material-durador, why shouldn’t there be similar higher orders of the other materials? – dealt with the Flokin’s Paw – an old military ship carrying doomsday devices left over from the Holocaust Wars – learned many magical secrets, researched yet more spells, trained each other in their various skills, and collected a number of Graces and Glories.

   During a battle against an extra-dimensional lich-mage, who’d been draining the life-force and magic from entire worlds to fuel his quest for godhood, Harry Otter managed to reach the mighty device he was using as a power accumulator – and reached out with his unsurpassed thieving skills (he was, by now, capable of stealing abstract qualities, thoughts from your head, and items that were many feet away in safes behind locked doors in sealed rooms) and stole that power.

   It combined with the enhancements he’d been given, with the elements of his body, mind, and spirit which had all been upgraded to “true” materials (as World Tree wood is “True Wood”), and with his incredible skills (the result of many many sessions worth of XP and years of inter-party training) to push him into Transcendence. In a timeless moment he absorbed the essence of the entire orren species and became ORREN, childe of Pararenenzu, the infant god of “Stealoc” (a verb which could substitute for certain other verbs in some spells – or when spells were used for particular purposes).

   That hadn’t been supposed to happen for tens of thousands of years. All of prime civilization reeled and the tree trembled. An epidemic of panic and hysteria spread. As a final favor – in the last moments before his will was swallowed up into the slowly-maturing combined mind of ORREN – Harry quietly stole all traces of the identities of the people who’d damaged the sun from the Tree, freeing his remaining friends from pursuit – or at least from pursuit based on that particular escapade.

   Now that the Primes were short a species, there was definitely room for the Cyarr. The group also had a bargaining point of sorts with the remaining gods: they didn’t want any more information about the “True Elements” or “Ascension” to leak out. ORREN was in for a long and confused childhood; it would be thousands of years before the spirits of the prime species were truly prepared for such transcendence – and, while the gods would be taking precautions, they were no longer so sure that individual Primes would not manage it early, or at least use the secrets of the True Elements to attain excessive levels of personal power, if such information was spread about. Yet another group would be needed to keep an eye on things – and this group already knew such secrets and was powerful enough for the job. Besides, if the Cyarr were joining the primes, someone had better be ready to help handle the transition period.

   The group had created the problem, they might as well be made responsible for managing the consequences and soothe civilization. Fortunately, they now had the resources to found their own organizations and orders for doing so – and the extended lifespans to manage them. In the distant future, the Primes and Antiprimes would meet – but that was a problem for another era.

Campaign Logs and Material for Today

   The Legend of the Five Rings campaign log page has been updated to the current session – the Night of a Thousand Knives – and the Champions Campaign Log is already current. The width problem on the various character pages has been corrected, and I’ve added a collection of Arden’s World Tree Spell-Manipulation Effects to the “Other Games” tab, as well as the archives of the old Yahoo World Tree Group, since it looks like it’s pretty well died – and there was some interesting stuff buried in it. I’ll see what else I can add today since it’s still very early: if there are any specific requests, put them on the requests tab.

   Hmm. This blog is now a month old.

   Well, all there was time for was a few new pages – the character sheet for the Demon Cultists, the Prepackaged Spells listing, and the Exile Campaign Package Deals. For ease of use, the Prepackaged Spells and Exile Campaign material is also available in the download box, they’re a part of the Metacreator Files Set 1 package.

   The Champions game tonight will be at 7:00 or thereabouts at the University of Tennessee library, as usual.

World Tree and other material

   Since there seems to be some interest, I’ve put up four additional Magical Techniques, Advanced Great Enchantment, and Vancian Magic for the World Tree (as a .pdf download) in the “Other” games tab (above) and the download box (for the .pdf files) on the lower right. I’ll try to put up some of the spell research and physics pages later on.

   In other news, the White Necromancers player blog went live yesterday, and quite a nice one it is too! It’s linked on the blogroll or you can reach it directly here.