We had another playtest of the Dragon Heresy RPG. It was a surprisingly challenging session in terms of personal interaction. The productive way to look at this is in terms of how the rules and text of the game can attempt to deal with what is usually one of the only real problems in RPG play, which in my opinion is expectations management.


That is, players conflict with each other, and the GM, when their view of what the game world, rules, or (for lack of a better word) mission or purpose of the game is differs from others.

Some of this, in the case of a game that is still being written, with a setting that is being defined, is clearly because the ground rules are not yet fixed. Some of this was not.

Gods and Men, Men and Men

For Dragon Heresy, and specifically the pseudo-Norse setting that is being worked up, I very much need to say something about certain things. These include the Aesir – the Norse gods – and their relationship with humans and dwarves in the setting, and also the relationships that their clerics have with the Aesir, their “flock,” as well as other Clerics. 

The Aesir, the Norse pantheon, is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is that there are people walking the world that have personally had relations with these deities. Some of those relations are of a very intimate nature – when someone says “I got to know Odin personally,” or especially Loki, one might be implying a certain amount of superposition.

So there’s really no “whose God is real” sort of thing. They all are, at least within the Norse pantheon. My setting is silent on whether other pantheons even exist, much less influence this world – that’s a GM decision and could go either way.


But at least the default assumption in my world is that people will feel a calling, or kinship, or affinity for one or some of the Aesir, and will tend to associate with them, pray to them, and try and bolster the strengths that that particular deity embodies. Using the more-common names, if you believe in Fate and Destiny as paramount, even over the gods, you probably follow the Norns. If you will be bound by no man or contract, but uphold dignity, honor, and delight in righteous conflict and equally-righteous hangovers, Thor’s your man. If you believe in a form of righteous vengeance that is both ice-cold and white-hot, but still justified, you are in the province of Skadi, who is basically Elsa when she’s pissed off.

But none of that means that you are going to, as a Cleric, be converting people. You don’t proselytize from one god to another, though certainly if a person is uncertain about where their affinities lie, a cleric or druid or paladin or strong follower from another class, might encourage a deliberate choice, especially if the interlocutor discovers traits in the undecided person that might be amenable to the way their deity approaches things. 

That’s how I see it, at least. And you certainly don’t say “Believe in Thor, abandon Odin, because Odin doesn’t exist.” Because that’s a great way to get on the bad side of lots of people. The Aesir are a family show, so to speak. And they do have their strife, of course:

Bruce Banner: I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him. 

Thor: Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother! 

Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.

Thor: He’s adopted?

Now, my setting doesn’t have the Marvel version of Thor (Donnar in my setting) in it – though I do think that it’s marvelous (see what I, oh, nevermind) and Hemsworth does a great job. But even when dealing with Loki, it’s love-hate. Well, unless you’re Freya (Valfreya in my setting).  Then it’s just hate-hate. So there’s not exactly competition for believers in a way that makes people stand on street corners asking “Have you bathed in the presence of Odin today? You really should convert to serving his Glory!”

But I didn’t make that terribly clear, and it caused an issue. So: lesson one learned about the importance of setting for establishing expectations.

Lesson two, and I really, really should have known this from before. Medieval, or even faux-medieval, social structure is ridiculously structured. When dealing with your social betters, you are mostly considered somewhere between clearly inferior but allowed to speak, to worthless slime that is lucky to not be decapitated on sight. 

OK, that’s extreme. And the right to kill and depart was mostly a Japanese thing. But after our group of 1st-level characters dealt rather effectively with a bandit problem, I had the town Constable approach them through an intermediary about helping to solve a problem that the jarl of Midgard (one of the big towns along the north of Audreyn’s Wall) had with a relative’s son. They challenged the right or even the fact that the Constable was actually representing the jarl’s interests. 

That got a bit testy, as the relative social standing of first-level characters is not always clear in SRD5.1 games. During the discussion, I likened it to a new college grad demanding to go over the head of their Senior Manager and speak directly to an Executive VP. At worst, it’s a grave breach of protocol. I would guess that this guy – the constable – was something like an 8th to 12th level Fighter or Barbarian, possibly a Ranger, now that I think of it. He was the local captain of the guard and ran the jarl’s messenger service – very important posts. Anyway, I didn’t make it clear enough where this guy was in both the hierarchy of power, and the relative social standing of characters of a given level. Players will tend to think that the world is more egalitarian than it is, and that the nobles and administrative functionaries are lower level and weaker than they are. This was almost my party’s undoing in +Rob Conley‘s Majestic Wilderlands campaign, where we got somewhat lucky and managed to not get killed and burned by the 15th level Fighter we challenged the authority of. 

What I learned


I was viewing the roleplaying exchange from three points of view, all of which were negative from my perspective.

  1. The cleric involved was taking a very tough tone with the Constable, in terms of trying to convert him from Tyr (Ziu, in my setting) to Sol (brother sun, the lord of light). When the Constable noted he had his own beliefs, the conversation persisted, which violated my view of how the setting’s clerical domains worked. That is basically hidden from the players, for whom the only words of guidance are in a reasonably recent version of the manuscript – fluff text that post-dates when these guys made characters:

    “The pantheon of the Aesir is broad, and to follow one patron does not, cannot, preclude the others. A cleric that hews to the path of the Storm Domain will not deny the actions or validity of the followers of Skadi (Winter) or Ziu (justice and war), but prefers or favors a certain way of looking at, and solving, problems. When any Aesir speaks, the clerics of Torengar are wise to listen, though it is far more likely that such a message from Donnar will be delivered to a cleric of Donnar, of course.”

    I should have made this more clear. If I did make it clear, I would look to the players to respect that distinction – or be prepared to suffer the consequences, up to and including the Constable delivering a mighty beat-down.

  2. The party was engaging in spectacular disrespect of the Constable’s position, behaving as if he was a mere flunky for a low-ranking noble, and they wanted to deal directly with the jarl.

    That’s on me, in that the relative power level and social strata are not established. So the vast impropriety of the suggested direction was not apparent to everyone. This is what happens when rules come before setting in the writing process, and also when modern sense of egalitarianism and the expectation that noblesse oblige is expected because the parties are equal, rather than the expectation that the much-superior noble will condescend to have congress and treat with honor those of lower station.

    There will definitely be a social interactions mechanism – or suggested mechanism – that will be invoked here. I’m thinking of both mechanical help – setting the DC of a particular die roll, such as Persuasion or Deception – based in part on the difference in level of the two parties. Not the difference in proficiency – social strata differences are wider than that.

    But also, just a general level of how the society works and the adventurer’s place in it, as they will frequently be outsiders to a given town, and maybe outside most other societal boundaries. They might belong to no guild, have no association with the locals, and basically be tolerated because the King has this writ thing going on where he’s encouraging people to go North and conquer the lands.

    None of this was made explicit, and there needs to be some level of “careful here” in the text. The “good” news is that the Norse structures were fairly, as they say in corporate speak, “flat.” So there were basically three (broad – very broad) classes. Slaves, freemen, and jarls. The king basically being first among equal jarls. But of course, there were myriad informal strata, and not all jarls were of equal power, respect, and influence. And my world is not Scandinavia, but influenced by those cultures. So I’ve got some writing to do, and soon, on this topic.

  3. Lastly, game expectations. This is a playtest campaign. So while it’s not a series of unconnected fights or conflicts designed to test one or another parts of the rules, it’s designed to put the rules through their paces, and I’ve been so busy writing these last few weeks that I really didn’t have a ton of “choose A, B, or C” options prepared. I’d toyed with dropping these guys into a dungeon from the OSR, but looking through my options, I saw that would actually be a bit of work to convert, so I was out of time. So I whipped up a depopulated village, re-populated it with four encounters worth of bad guys, and tried to drop a job in the PCs lap. That was of mixed success, as one may have gathered.
The Play of the Game

The job itself? 5gp per adventurer to bring back simple word of what happened. An extra 20gp per person if they solved whatever problem caused the issue, and they managed to negotiate for a bit more if they brought back proof of the jarl’s cousin’s son’s fate. Plus, the implicit “plus whatever loot you can find” that always exists in these things. 
They were given three days worth of food, and were given the use of a riding horse each – worth 75gp (about $5,000 USD!) each, but to be returned. 
What if we steal them? Well, then you’re outlaws and not welcome south of the wall. Ever. Oh, just checking.
So north they ride, and the Ranger kept them fed and watered. They approached the village from the south, at mid-morning. 
Long story short, they checked out the buildings, found signs of blood and death but no bodies, and eventually checked out the tavern (2).
(The map was generated using the Inkwell Random Village Generator, which is entirely awesome).
The tavern had bodies in it, plus four kobolds – two regular and two winged. They don’t like sunlight and so were inclined to stay inside, and the players pulled off a sweet, sweet surprise attack, killing all four quickly. Bodies inside were stacked like cordwood, being rendered down as food for the bad guys. Eww. But they did quickly locate the jarl’s (deceased) relative. So, evidence obtained.
They then realized that when they scouted the smithy (9), they never did clear it, only looking inside for a threat but not finding any. So (wisely) they decided to clear the building. Inside was a lizardfolk magic-user, who rolled a 20+ on the Perception check vs the rogue’s relatively modest stealth check the first time around, and was ready for them – when the rogue came to the door, entangling vines sprouted in front of it, but I made a mistake in placement and left a clear space in front of the door. So the grappling attack on the rogue failed, and he was able to roll a natural 20 on an acrobatic dive into the room, which was entirely awesome.
The fight was hard, but the shaman rolled fairly poorly, saving throws were made, and many-on-one always works out poorly for the one, especially in Dragon Heresy, which indulges in GURPS-like death spiral behavior at times, by design. So the shaman was overcome. 

It should be noted that I missed something important – the lizardfolk have natural DR 3, which takes 3 points of damage off any potential injury that gets by his defenses. I really need to print out my new monster section, or get +Rob Muadib to lay it out so it compresses into a smaller book, so I can look at natively Dragon Heresy stat blocks. Fewer mistakes would be made with this expedient.

By that point, it was nearly midnight, so we called it. The silent village was beset by at least one lizardfolk shaman, plus some kobolds. They still have not yet explored the houses to the northeast. That will be next time.

Parting Shot

The point of these playtest campaigns is for me to see what a group of players might do with the setting. Well, like it or not – and at the time, I did not – I found out. Some of this is expectation management, and some is that I need to write down the soft rules of the setting in an absolutely clear way. 

If I can’t express the expectations for social strata and interaction in five or fewer guidelines that could appear on a 3×5 card as guidance, I will have failed my readership in terms of providing simple, digestible guidance for how such things work. So there’s an important part of the setting that is basically “how to live in it.” Good learning there.

Another is way more explicit guidance on how holy men are expected to act. 

The combat system also needs a flowchart or a series of steps, laid out explicitly. This is present in one form already, but needs to be expanded by a few steps because even I, as GM, tend to forget a few things – but that’s because the rules have changed from the first iteration to the final one.

Explicitly: Armor Class is now two quantities. Threat DC and Hit DC. If you exceed Threat DC, something happens. If you exceed Hit DC, you are assumed to bypass all footwork, parries, and normal defenses such as shields and strike the target. From there, you have to punch through armor DR to cause injury.

Very early incarnations of the rules had an attack that meets Hit DC just inflict wounds. Then I introduced Frantic Defense, a way of turning wounds into vigor loss as an option, and then that turned into the default way of doing things. But sometimes I revert to the olde ways.

Anyway: combat flowchart. Which again will be short, few special cases, and easily internalized. It will fit on a 3×5 card or smaller in easily-readable font.

I need to write a GM advice/Running the Game section/chapter, which will have some guidance on when the PCs will be powerful enough to expect to strike out on their own and make a play for establishing a land-hold of their own. Before that, the players will be taking odd jobs and basing themselves out of a city, or even perhaps joining a more-powerful adventurer as retainers. I have a few ideas on how to make that viable.

Finally, I had a dialog with a well-known name in the OSR community about some rules he wrote that I wanted to borrow, and he agreed to let me take and modify them. This was fantastic news to me, but more on that later, perhaps.

So a lot learned this time, but very little of it had to do with combat mechanics or the hard-style rules material. Even negative experiences – or even especially negative experiences – can drive learning, and last night’s game was a case in point. I got a lot of soft-style setting learning, which is timely, since my remaining tasks are:

  • Finish the fluff text and editing of the monsters section. This is non-trivial, since there are 250-300 monster entries and there will be both fewer (as we decide that, say, an ancient Egyptian monster or ancient Mayan monstrosity or Celestial has no place in the setting) and more, since there are scarce-few good fey in the SRD, and my setting needs to be lousy with them. Plus a lot of re-skinning. Sure, crocodiles would not be found in the northern parts of my setting . . . but swamp ormr? Sure. What are they? Ahem. Crocodiles with the name changed, and the lineage/monster type set to “dragon” instead of “beast.”
  • Write the setting information. My notes have been growing on this, and my own mental understanding of the setting and world. But I have to put them into the manuscript. I know how I’m going to do it, too, for the main.
  • Write the outline for the GM book, which will include sections on the setting, general adventuring guidance, rewards and treasure, magic items, and specific guidance on expectations management and running the game for GMs.

Stuff like:

  • A foe with no armor and no shield is going to be easy meat for PCs, almost regardless of wound/vigor capacity. 
  • Conversely, foes with a shield or DR X or higher armor are going to be tough nuts to crack. In my playtest games, archers simply stopped shooting at guys with shields. There are ways to beat this, but they require a line of disciplines archers acting in concert. This has not yet occurred.
  • How to use the morale rules so that every encounter does not end in a TPK for one side or another. 
  • When to insist on using passive scores for certain tasks. I already have a “no fishing” boxtext and thought of a simple alternative for GMs and players that like to roll dice that works equally well.
  • Other tidbits that came up during the playtest campaigns that can be turned into general guidance. 
But here we come to the crux of it all. The game’s quite nearly done, quite playable, and offers some benefits to lots of different groups of gamers. I was hoping to be able to publish one book instead of two, but I’m not going to make a tome that’s a single 550-page volume. I may, however, go the GURPS route of having (for example) the book mostly concerned with characters and basic game play be page 1-275, and the campaign and setting book start at p. 276 and go to p. 525. We’ll see what my playtesters think of that.

A sample NPC/Monster writeup from the Dragon Heresy draft. This started life in the SRD5.1, but has been modified for the new game rules.
Archmage
Medium humanoid (any race), any alignment
Speed 30 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
10
14
12
20
15
16
0
+2
+1
+5
+2
+3
Defenses
Wound Thresholds
Threat DC
12
Morale
Injury
KO
Death
Hit DC
24
0-3
4-6
7-12
13+
DR
0*
Control Thresholds
Vigor
99
Grab
Grapple
Restr.
Incap.
Vigor Dice
18d8+18
0-3
4-6
7-12
13+
*mage armor adds DR 1 per spell slot level

Proficiency +4

Saving
Throws.
Int +9, Wis +6
Skills.
Arcana +13, History +13
Damage
Resistance.
damage from spells; nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing, and
slashing (from stoneskin)
Senses.
passive Perception 12
Languages.
any six languages.
Challenge
12
(8,400 XP)

Magic Resistance. The
archmage has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical
effects.

Spellcasting. The
archmage is an 18th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Intelligence
(spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). The archmage can cast
disguise self and invisibility at will and has the following wizard spells
prepared:
•  Cantrips
(at will): fire bolt, light, mage hand, prestidigitation, shocking grasp
•  1st
level (4 slots): detect magic, identify, mage armor*, magic missile
•  2nd
level (3 slots): detect thoughts, mirror image, misty step
•  3rd
level (3 slots): counterspell, fly, lightning bolt
•  4th
level (3 slots): banishment, fire shield, stoneskin*
•  5th
level (3 slots): cone of cold, scrying, wall of force
•  6th
level (1 slot): globe of invulnerability
•  7th
level (1 slot): teleport
•  8th
level (1 slot): mind blank*
•  9th
level (1 slot): time stop
*The archmage casts these spells on itself before combat.
Actions
Dagger. Melee or
Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target.
Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage.
Archmages are powerful (and usually quite old) spellcasters
dedicated to the study of the arcane arts. Benevolent ones counsel kings and
queens, while evil ones rule as tyrants and pursue lichdom. Those who are
neither good nor evil sequester themselves in remote towers to practice their
magic without interruption.

An archmage typically has one or more apprentice mages, and an
archmage’s abode has numerous magical wards and guardians to discourage
interlopers.

This is a shout-out to +Emily Smirle .

I fretted about my monsters chapter for Dragon Heresy. It was 91,000 words long, and a whole lot of problems.

Well, I chatted with Em and +GodBeastX , and they noted that the best way to do this was probably a brute scrape of a text file. Turn it into an HTML table.

Well. I thought about that, and how I would do that if I knew how to write code well (I used to know FORTRAN, PASCAL, a bit of MATLAB scripting code, and dabbled in Visual Basic, but not any of the newer languages).

So I used Word’s wildcard files to look for all instances in my Monsters and Foes file that used the “Sub-Topic” style (which is how almost all monster entries are titled), and then replace the monster [Name] with MONSTER – [Name].

That gave a tagged file. I gave Em a format, some rules for conversions based on information contained in the data already (Armor Class converts to Dragon Heresy concepts like so; Hit Points become Vigor; Wounds are calculated like so; etc.).

She went to town, and converted this:

ANCIENT BLACK DRAGON
Gargantuan dragon, chaotic evilArmor Class: 22 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 367 (21d20 + 147)
Speed 40 ft., fly 80 ft., swim 40 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
27 (+8) 14 (+2) 25 (+7) 16 (+3) 15 (+2) 19 (+4)
Saving Throws Dex +9, Con +14, Wis +9, Cha +11
Skills Perception +16, Stealth +9
Damage Immunities acid
Senses blindsight 60 ft., darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 26
Languages Common, Draconic
Challenge 21 (33,000 XP)

Into this below, with a bit of Excel nudging from me. Ultimately, she has taken days of work and turned it into hours. 

I did a lot of writing last week, and was up until just shy of 4am on Saturday night trying to finish editing the magical items, treasure, and rewards chapters.

For those that come to these pages looking for tons of GURPS content, especially my semi-regular features such as The Reloading Press or even the Firing Squad, I can only apologize. I’ve been pretty laser-focused on Dragon Heresy since it became a real thing in Feburary, and I’ve come a long way since then.

So, where’s the game right now?


Dragon Heresy RPG

One of the things that happened last week was a major reorganization of all of the material that I’ve written to date, plus some things that I’d forgotten to include that are pretty key from SRD5.1. That’s done, and while I still think that there are some sections that could usefully be wrapped into their own chapters, the rest of the material now flows a heck of a lot better.

The Introduction got a long-ago rewrite to not mention certain game names, even as an acknowledgement, nod, homage, or a respectful comment. Alas, because while I don’t wish to claim compatibility with anything or camp out on a brand, the roots of the game are clear and SRD5.1-derived.

The Core Concepts chapter then introduces all of the things you need to know that are the same, and more importantly, the few things that are different, to play the game.

The Combat chapter comes next, with the new SRD sections smoothing out the flow, and making it more readable. Grappling is now four pages (well, MS Word pages) and it’s a lot more interesting. It’s been used quite a bit by both monsters and PCs in the test campaigns I’ve played, which has been fantastic. Damage Types have rules associated with them now, too. Getting slashed and getting burned are now different and flavorful.

Then Injury, Rest, and Healing, which details how the new rules for wounds and vigor interact with long and short rests, and the much-longer requirements to heal wounds than vigor. The emergent behavior out of this split system has been wonderful to behold, and is, I think, going to be a strong point in favor of Dragon Heresy for those that like it.

Then there are a bunch of sections on the adventuring environment that really need to be folded up into their own chapter. Probably need to create an Adventuring and Campaigning chapter that will be a natural place for all of this stuff.

Then the Characters set of chapters, which are everything you’d expect. All the classes, and sub-classes, backgrounds unique to the game, advancing beyond first level, feats, spellcasting, and the fully-adjusted spell lists, tweaked to incorporate the new Dragon Heresy concepts.

And the rewards and treasure section, which has personal and hoard loot, a new gemstone table, and the section on magical items, which again have been tweaked to fit Dragon Heresy. I do the work so you don’t have to.

What’s left to do?


I’ve got several chapters/sections left before I can confidently say “this is a complete draft.”

Monsters and Foes.

This is a big section – porting in from the SRD reveals it to be 90,000 words by itself, which could be as much as 140 pages. That’s in addition to the 215,000 words that’s already written above. 

So that’s just too long. It’s long to the point that I might just split the entire project into three books – that’s a model we’ve seen before – one for players, one for the campaign, and a bestiary. The imported monsters are fun, but some of them aren’t terribly setting-relevant, and there are others that need to be there – such as a monster based off of Grendel – that aren’t, that I know of. 

Plus, I’m going to have to go through every monster that I keep and rewrite it in terms of wounds, vigor, new attack and damage modes, damage reduction for armor . . .

It’s grunt work, but it’s 90,000 words of grunt-work.

Setting


I’m working with a pro cartographer on maps, and I’ve got a final map of my continent and starter maps of the sandbox. That’s helping define some of the setting details.

I have a brief history and some major events defined, which provides flavor.

I’ve got a reasonable start on a defining culture, and I think I can bang this out in short order. The real work is in the adventuring area, which will have sufficient defined areas to inspire, and sufficient “the GM puts whatever here” to keep it a sandbox.

There’s enough “kingdoms far away” that enterprising players and GMs can play the “outsider” if they want, because someone always wants to.

GM Advice


Some of the things that have come up in playtest – “watch out for X,” and “be aware of Y” will go here. So will suggestions on starter adventures and ways to kick the game off.

Dragon Heresy is, flat out, potentially more deadly than the SRD5.1 basis from which it derives. That’s not a bad thing. In fact it was a design goal, to take enhanced lethality and combine it with a certain amount of additional narrative cohesion.

But it makes the game play differently, and at least the GM should be aware of how. So I’ll be writing a bit on that.

Schedule

My personal goal is still to finish a complete publishable text draft this month – that is, in the next 13 days. The Monsters chapter is what really stands in the way of that, as it’s the most time-intensive and fiddle-intensive. Plus the length, which is a problem by itself.

But with a finished draft, even if I don’t have the monsters done but if I do decide to put them in their own book, I can start layout and defining holes for art. 
Then August will be “find public domain art to fill the holes.”
September would be “launch a Kickstarter to take the book to ever-higher quality levels.” Things like, and in rough order:
1. Indexing. Probably wind up needing $2,500 for this, as I’ve seen budgetary estimates for pro indexing at $10 per 1,000 words.
2. Editing. I want to work with an established professional, and that means about $6,500 in the budget so that someone can look over my work and fix it. 
There are also some expenses I’ve already incurred such as the map, and I’ll need to bring the websites for the RPG and my notional publishing company online. 
I suspect that the prior two items will define the first goal: $12,000 to fund the Kickstarter, with backers potentially having access to a laid-out PDF with public domain art that’s already written as soon as the project funds (if, after consultations, it seems wise to do that; I’m going to be chatting with lots of folks who have run both successful and unsuccessful Kickstarters before I commit to anything), so there’s no risk there. That means I’ll need 300-400 backers just to cover the basics. 
3. Black and White Art. If the book is 250,000 words long, that’s probably 130 pieces of art. Figure that’s 30-40 full pages equivalent, and I’ll need something like $4,000-5000 for B/W art to replace the public domain art.
4. Color Art. That’s about an extra $10,000 right there. Some of that might be “the same as B/W, but color,” but I won’t necessarily constrain my artists that way,

5. Stretch Goals. The separate monster book is probably best left as a stretch goal. So would be additional setting material for Torengar (the country adjacent to the setting sandbox) to allow internal adventuring rather than just external. I’d love to have enough backers and money to do a hard-cover, full-color offset print run at high quality, but that’s a massive risk to all parties and involves me having tens of thousands of dollars of backing beyond the above, in order to afford both the printing and (more importantly) the shipping, which is where a lot of Kickstarters seem to go wrong.

But that means if things don’t go wrong, October-November would be the ideal cases for getting all that art in, and having the thing on sale by Christmas. That in itself is a stretch goal, because I suspect timing will not be that kind – real life tends to interfere. So Q1 of calendar 2017 might be the best date to look for a Dragon Heresy release.
Assuming it funds at all. But I think people will be pleased with the game for what it is, and I hope that I can scare up enough interest to do this project right, all the way to the finish line.

Got questions, suggestions, comments, or helpful advice? Please leave a comment!

A while back, I asked for help on choosing arcane traditions for the Wizard for the Dragon Heresy RPG. I created four schools of magic – doors, essences, might, and mischief, which are themselves combinations of two of the spell types from SRD5.1.

Since the game’s launching zone is Norse-flavored, the schools are flavored by futhark runes, with the following associations:

Magic and the Runes of Power

Magic flows through the world in many forms, and some forms have been studied and refined such that particular flavors or applications of power can be manipulated. These are described by the meaning of some of the runes of power. There may be other schools or methods of magic in other lands, but the mages of Torengar classify them this way – it is very likely as much a case of the tools (the runes) shaping the thought patterns of the arcane practitioners, which thus shapes the spells themselves.
As such, these runic categories are applied to all spells, in the belief that all magic functions in essentially the same way, whether it derives from rigorous study or is bestowed by a deity.

The runic names help describe spells; they have no rules of their own, although some rules refer to the runes.
  • Algiz (Abjuration). The rune magic of Algiz is protective in nature, though some spells have aggressive uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm trespassers, or banish creatures to other planes of existence. The rune Algiz means protection, or a shield, used defensively.
  • Ansuz (Divination). The magic focused through the Ansuz rune reveals information, whether in the form of secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden things, the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places. The meaning of Ansuz is a revealing message or insight, and (not coincidentally) is also the rune of Woden, who specializes in far-seeing and deep knowledge.
  • Dagaz (Illusion). The rune magic of Dagaz is invoked to deceive the senses or minds of others. These spells cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that are there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened. Some illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature. The meaning of Dagaz includes both awareness and blindness.
  • Ehwaz (Conjuration). The spells of Ehwaz involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster’s side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location. Some Ehwazs create objects or effects out of nothing. The rune Ehwaz represents a horse or horses, and connotes travel and journeys.
  • Gebo (Transmutation). Spells invoked with the knowledge gained through study of the Gebo rune change the properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy into a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move at the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to rapidly recover from injury. Gebo has the connotation of a gift, sacrifice, or fair exchange – giving up one thing to gain another of equal or higher value.
  • Jera (Necromancy). The rune Jera signifies the life cycle and the harvest. Jeran spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life. A complicated rune, Jera’s association with necromancy is only part of its meaning, and the rune magic of Jera includes birth, life, death, and life-from-death (which can be as broad as ‘resurrection’ but is also ‘fertilizer’). Creating undead through the use of Jeran rune magic is not a good act, and only neutral or evil casters use such spells frequently.
  • Mannaz (Enchantment). Spells cast with the Mannaz rune affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a friend, force creatures to take a course of action, or even control another creature like a puppet. Mannaz means “mankind” or “people,” and has a particular connotation relating to the attitudes of others to you and relationships in general.
  • Thurisaz (Evocation). The primal energy of magic, the directed force of destruction and defense, is symbolized by Thurisaz. Such spells manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds. Thurisaz has many connotations, all of which derive from power used with consciousness and wisdom in matters that must be resolved using force, violence, or physical compulsion.

With that introduction, I wanted to list out the current ideas for the schools of magic, to provoke comment and discussion. Appropriate abilities per level are a bit of an art form, so a broad commentary will save angst later. Any and all commentary is appreciated, especially suggestions to modify or replace abilities. 

One caveat: this will be an OGL/SRD5.1 game, so avoiding abilities from official material is a good thing. Not only for the usual reasons, but keeping the flavor of the game unique makes it more interesting!

ARCANE TRADITIONS

The study of wizardry is ancient, stretching back to the earliest mortal discoveries of magic. It is firmly established in fantasy gaming worlds, with various traditions dedicated to its complex study.

The most common arcane traditions in the multiverse revolve around the schools of magic. Wizards through the ages have cataloged thousands of spells, grouping them into eight categories called schools. In some places, these traditions are literally schools; a wizard might study at the School of Illusion while another studies across town at the School of Mannaz rune. In other institutions, the schools are more like academic departments, with rival faculties competing for students and funding. Even wizards who train apprentices in the solitude of their own towers use the division of magic into schools as a learning device, since the spells of each school require mastery of different techniques.

Savant

No matter which tradition you select at 2nd level, the gold and time you must spend to copy spells with the runes incorporated by that tradition into your spellbook are halved.

SCHOOL OF MISCHIEF

The school of mischief delves deeply into the workings of the minds of all creatures, the better to deceive and fool them. It is the school of illusion and deception, of keen and dull senses. With deep study, the control of others can be accomplished, both in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The mischief school focuses on the runes of dagaz and mannaz.

Verisimilitude
When you cast cantrips or 1st-level spells using dagaz and mannaz that are only meant to convince or fool a single sense (such as minor illusion or silent image), you may add a low-fidelity second layer to the illusion or deception, such as a sound or a coarse feeling.

Subjects trying to see through or otherwise detect the presence of unreality due to these spells will, instead of automatically discovering the illusion, make a Wisdom saving throw, with advantage, against your spell save DC.

Mind Lock
Starting at 6th level, you gain the ability to fascinate and trap the mind of a single targeted creature, who will tend to fixate on your gaze, distracted. Use your action to stare at your target, and if the creature (who must be able to see your eyes) fails a Wisdom saving throw versus your Spell Save DC, it gains the Demoralized condition.

So long as the wizard spends his action to maintain the mind lock, the target creature’s attempts to shed the demoralized condition have disadvantage. If the wizard chooses to break the lock by looking away, or cannot main concentration on the target, the effect ends immediately.

Mischievous Hellion
Beginning at 10th level, your usage of the magic of dagaz and mannaz is so sophisticated that creatures targeted or influenced by these spells have disadvantage on attempts to resist, disbelieve, or detect them.

Strength of Mind
Starting at 14th level, your mind and sense of self are so strong, you gain the following benefits:

  • You have advantage on all saving throws to resist spells that use dagaz or mannaz rune magic.
  • You have resistance to psychic damage from any source.

A while back, I asked for help on choosing arcane traditions for the Wizard for the Dragon Heresy RPG. I created four schools of magic – doors, essences, might, and mischief, which are themselves combinations of two of the spell types from SRD5.1.

Since the game’s launching zone is Norse-flavored, the schools are flavored by futhark runes, with the following associations:

Magic and the Runes of Power

Magic flows through the world in many forms, and some forms have been studied and refined such that particular flavors or applications of power can be manipulated. These are described by the meaning of some of the runes of power. There may be other schools or methods of magic in other lands, but the mages of Torengar classify them this way – it is very likely as much a case of the tools (the runes) shaping the thought patterns of the arcane practitioners, which thus shapes the spells themselves.
As such, these runic categories are applied to all spells, in the belief that all magic functions in essentially the same way, whether it derives from rigorous study or is bestowed by a deity.

The runic names help describe spells; they have no rules of their own, although some rules refer to the runes.
  • Algiz (Abjuration). The rune magic of Algiz is protective in nature, though some spells have aggressive uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm trespassers, or banish creatures to other planes of existence. The rune Algiz means protection, or a shield, used defensively.
  • Ansuz (Divination). The magic focused through the Ansuz rune reveals information, whether in the form of secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden things, the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places. The meaning of Ansuz is a revealing message or insight, and (not coincidentally) is also the rune of Woden, who specializes in far-seeing and deep knowledge.
  • Dagaz (Illusion). The rune magic of Dagaz is invoked to deceive the senses or minds of others. These spells cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that are there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened. Some illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature. The meaning of Dagaz includes both awareness and blindness.
  • Ehwaz (Conjuration). The spells of Ehwaz involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster’s side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location. Some Ehwazs create objects or effects out of nothing. The rune Ehwaz represents a horse or horses, and connotes travel and journeys.
  • Gebo (Transmutation). Spells invoked with the knowledge gained through study of the Gebo rune change the properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy into a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move at the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to rapidly recover from injury. Gebo has the connotation of a gift, sacrifice, or fair exchange – giving up one thing to gain another of equal or higher value.
  • Jera (Necromancy). The rune Jera signifies the life cycle and the harvest. Jeran spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life. A complicated rune, Jera’s association with necromancy is only part of its meaning, and the rune magic of Jera includes birth, life, death, and life-from-death (which can be as broad as ‘resurrection’ but is also ‘fertilizer’). Creating undead through the use of Jeran rune magic is not a good act, and only neutral or evil casters use such spells frequently.
  • Mannaz (Enchantment). Spells cast with the Mannaz rune affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a friend, force creatures to take a course of action, or even control another creature like a puppet. Mannaz means “mankind” or “people,” and has a particular connotation relating to the attitudes of others to you and relationships in general.
  • Thurisaz (Evocation). The primal energy of magic, the directed force of destruction and defense, is symbolized by Thurisaz. Such spells manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds. Thurisaz has many connotations, all of which derive from power used with consciousness and wisdom in matters that must be resolved using force, violence, or physical compulsion.

With that introduction, I wanted to list out the current ideas for the schools of magic, to provoke comment and discussion. Appropriate abilities per level are a bit of an art form, so a broad commentary will save angst later. Any and all commentary is appreciated, especially suggestions to modify or replace abilities. 

One caveat: this will be an OGL/SRD5.1 game, so avoiding abilities from official material is a good thing. Not only for the usual reasons, but keeping the flavor of the game unique makes it more interesting!

ARCANE TRADITIONS

The study of wizardry is ancient, stretching back to the earliest mortal discoveries of magic. It is firmly established in fantasy gaming worlds, with various traditions dedicated to its complex study.

The most common arcane traditions in the multiverse revolve around the schools of magic. Wizards through the ages have cataloged thousands of spells, grouping them into eight categories called schools. In some places, these traditions are literally schools; a wizard might study at the School of Illusion while another studies across town at the School of Mannaz rune. In other institutions, the schools are more like academic departments, with rival faculties competing for students and funding. Even wizards who train apprentices in the solitude of their own towers use the division of magic into schools as a learning device, since the spells of each school require mastery of different techniques.

Savant

No matter which tradition you select at 2nd level, the gold and time you must spend to copy spells with the runes incorporated by that tradition into your spellbook are halved.

SCHOOL OF MIGHT

You focus your study on magic that creates powerful elemental effects such as bitter cold, searing flame, rolling thunder, crackling lightning, and burning acid, and specializes in both aggressive (thurisaz) and defensive (algiz) magic. Some from the school of might find employment in military forces, serving as artillery to blast enemy armies from afar. Others use their spectacular power to protect the weak, while some seek their own gain as bandits, adventurers, or aspiring tyrants.

Sculpt Spells
Beginning at 2nd level, you can create pockets of relative safety within the effects of your spells. When you cast a thurisaz spell that affects other creatures that you can see, you can choose a number of them equal to 1 + the spell’s level. The chosen creatures automatically succeed on their saving throws against the spell, and they take no damage if they would normally take half damage on a successful save.

Arcane Ward
Starting at 6th level, your understanding of the protection runes has grown such that you may create a magical barrier, which can absorb any kind of damage by absorbing wounds or vigor caused by the attack. You may absorb damage up to your wizard level plus your Intelligence modifier. You may divide this protection among any number of targets within 30’ of your position, including yourself.

The ward can be replenished so long as it has even a single point of protection remaining, either by casting an algiz-rune spell (which increases the strength of the ward by an amount equal to the spell’s level) or by spending a spell slot simply to repower the ward, which adds points equal to triple the spell’s level.

Augmented Spell
Beginning at 10th level, you can add your Intelligence modifier to one damage roll of any spell with the thurisaz or algiz rune that you cast, or boost the defensive abilities of a magical shield by the same amount.

Penetrating Spell
Starting at 14th level, your abilities to channel your spells’ energies has increased to the point where you halve the damage resistance of any defenses in place. This includes magical defenses (spell-based shields and arcane wards) as well as non-magical barriers (armor). This only works on spells up to 3rd level.

A while back, I asked for help on choosing arcane traditions for the Wizard for the Dragon Heresy RPG. I created four schools of magic – doors, essences, might, and mischief, which are themselves combinations of two of the spell types from SRD5.1.

Since the game’s launching zone is Norse-flavored, the schools are flavored by futhark runes, with the following associations:

Magic and the Runes of Power

Magic flows through the world in many forms, and some forms
have been studied and refined such that particular flavors or applications of
power can be manipulated. These are described by the meaning of some of the
runes of power. There may be other schools or methods of magic in other lands,
but the mages of Torengar classify them this way – it is very likely as much a
case of the tools (the runes) shaping the thought patterns of the arcane
practitioners, which thus shapes the spells themselves.
As such, these runic categories are applied to all spells, in
the belief that all magic functions in essentially the same way, whether it
derives from rigorous study or is bestowed by a deity.

The runic names help describe spells; they have no rules of
their own, although some rules refer to the runes.
  • Algiz (Abjuration).
    The rune magic of Algiz is protective in nature, though some spells have
    aggressive uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm
    trespassers, or banish creatures to other planes of existence. The rune Algiz
    means protection, or a shield, used
    defensively.
  • Ansuz (Divination).
    The magic focused through the Ansuz rune reveals information, whether in the
    form of secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden
    things, the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places. The
    meaning of Ansuz is a revealing message or insight, and (not coincidentally) is
    also the rune of Woden, who specializes in far-seeing
    and deep knowledge
    .
  • Dagaz (Illusion).
    The rune magic of Dagaz is invoked to deceive the senses or minds of others.
    These spells cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that
    are there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened.
    Some illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most
    insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature. The
    meaning of Dagaz includes both awareness
    and blindness
    .
  • Ehwaz (Conjuration).
    The spells of Ehwaz involve the transportation of objects and creatures from
    one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the
    caster’s side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location.
    Some Ehwazs create objects or effects out of nothing. The rune Ehwaz represents
    a horse or horses, and connotes travel
    and journeys
    .
  • Gebo (Transmutation).
    Spells invoked with the knowledge gained through study of the Gebo rune change
    the properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy
    into a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move
    at the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to
    rapidly recover from injury. Gebo has the connotation of a gift, sacrifice, or
    fair exchange – giving up one thing to
    gain another
    of equal or higher value.
  • Jera (Necromancy).
    The rune Jera signifies the life cycle
    and the harvest. Jeran spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such
    spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from
    another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life. A
    complicated rune, Jera’s association with necromancy is only part of its
    meaning, and the rune magic of Jera includes birth, life, death, and
    life-from-death (which can be as broad as ‘resurrection’ but is also
    ‘fertilizer’). Creating undead through the use of Jeran rune magic is not a
    good act, and only neutral or evil casters use such spells frequently.
  • Mannaz (Enchantment).
    Spells cast with the Mannaz rune affect the minds of others, influencing or
    controlling their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a
    friend, force creatures to take a course of action, or even control another
    creature like a puppet. Mannaz means “mankind” or “people,”
    and has a particular connotation relating to the attitudes of others to you and
    relationships in general.
  • Thurisaz (Evocation).
    The primal energy of magic, the directed
    force
    of destruction and defense, is symbolized by Thurisaz. Such spells
    manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of
    fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds. Thurisaz has
    many connotations, all of which derive from power used with consciousness and wisdom
    in matters that must be resolved using force, violence, or physical compulsion.

With that introduction, I wanted to list out the current ideas for the schools of magic, to provoke comment and discussion. Appropriate abilities per level are a bit of an art form, so a broad commentary will save angst later. Any and all commentary is appreciated, especially suggestions to modify or replace abilities. 

One caveat: this will be an OGL/SRD5.1 game, so avoiding abilities from official material is a good thing. Not only for the usual reasons, but keeping the flavor of the game unique makes it more interesting!

ARCANE TRADITIONS


The study of wizardry is ancient, stretching back to the earliest mortal discoveries of magic. It is firmly established in fantasy gaming worlds, with various traditions dedicated to its complex study.

The most common arcane traditions in the multiverse revolve around the schools of magic. Wizards through the ages have cataloged thousands of spells, grouping them into eight categories called schools. In some places, these traditions are literally schools; a wizard might study at the School of Illusion while another studies across town at the School of Mannaz rune. In other institutions, the schools are more like academic departments, with rival faculties competing for students and funding. Even wizards who train apprentices in the solitude of their own towers use the division of magic into schools as a learning device, since the spells of each school require mastery of different techniques.

Savant

No matter which tradition you select at 2nd level, the gold and time you must spend to copy spells with the runes incorporated by that tradition into your spellbook are halved.

SCHOOL OF ESSENCE

The school of essence concerns itself with how things are, and how they might be. Practioners develop an affinity for the runes of ehwaz and gebo, which allows for the creation and transformation of many types of matter and beings.

Control Essences
Starting at 2nd level, you may subtly manipulate the effects of your spells, as well as performing minor workings of ehwaz and gebo rune magic.

  • When you cast a spell that usually has an effect in a symmetric area, you may instead shape the area so that it occupies an equivalent area, so long as it is contiguous. The smallest increment is 5’x5’. This does not work on spells that impact a volume (such as a 20’-radius sphere).
  • You may create a simple object weighing not more than a pound that has no complicated moving parts and is made essentially of one material. Iron pliers, a wooden rod, or a pound of water would all qualify. This construct will detect as magical and exudes a weak magical aura (but is not a magical weapon!) and will disappear in 10 minutes. Created water could thus be used to put out a small fire or wash one’s hands, but cannot provide hydration.
  • You may also alter the properties of a simple object weighing not more than one pound, changing it from one material to another. This could include valuable metals, such as turning a wooden ring into gold, but again the object exudes a faint magical aura and will revert back to its true form in ten minutes.

Skinchanger

When you reach 6th level, your understanding of the fundamental nature of creatures has increased to the point where you can bestow some of the abilities of one creature upon another.

By taking the pelt of a person, creature, monster, or animal and spending a day and 100 GP, you can construct a Skin. A Skin can be used by anyone whose size class is not less than one level below that of the being that gave the skin, and who has spent the time to become attuned to the skin.

When you don a Skin, you take on some of the the physical attributes of the being whose pelt was used for as long as the Skin is worn. To change back, you have but to remove the Skin and you return to your original form.

When using a Skin, you have the speed, DR, vulnerabilities, resistances, and immunities, senses, and skills, of the being whose skin was taken. You also gain the being’s Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores, but retain your Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. Using a Skin’s form, you cannot speak if the original form could speak; cannot wear your armor if the original form could not fit into it; and cannot hold items, wield weapons, or use equipment if the original form could not do these things. If you cannot speak you cannot cast spells with verbal components; if your Skin form does not have grasping hands you cannot cast spells with Somatic components.

The Skin is exactly that – a skin. You retain your own wounds and vigor.

Destroying the Skin. The Skin is subject to Dispel Magic, and behaves as if it is a 3rd level spell. It may also be physically destroyed, and it takes damage along with the wielder – treat it as having a wound maximum equal to the creature whose skin was used to make the device. Healing magic, rather than the mending cantrip, is required to restore wounds on a Skin.

Durable Essence
Beginning at 10th level, any spells cast using ehwaz or gebo have their duration extended by 10×, though of course such spells can be dismissed at any time. Spells that require concentration to maintain still require concentration, though you have advantage on attempts to maintain your focus for these spells.

Dismissal

When you reach 14th level, you can recognize and overwhelm or dismiss lesser ehwaz and gebo effects. When casting Dispel Magic and the spell or effect you are trying to dismiss was created by an ehwaz or gebo rune, the spell slot you must expend is two levels lower than the spell you are trying to dismiss. Note that you may not have a dismissal effect higher than 9th-level – while it will only cost you a 7th-level slot to attempt to dismiss a 9th-level spell, spending an 8th- or 9th-level slot will not automatically dismiss a 9th-level target spell.

Example: you wish to dismiss a 4th level spell, so you must usually expend a 5th level spell slot to automatically dismiss the spell, or a lower-level slot which requires a saving throw. If you are trying to dispel ehwaz or gebo rune magic, you expend a 3rd level slot to achieve a 5th-level effect.

A while back, I asked for help on choosing arcane traditions for the Wizard for the Dragon Heresy RPG. I created four schools of magic – doors, essences, might, and mischief, which are themselves combinations of two of the spell types from SRD5.1.

Since the game’s launching zone is Norse-flavored, the schools are flavored by futhark runes, with the following associations:

Magic and the Runes of Power

Magic flows through the world in many forms, and some forms
have been studied and refined such that particular flavors or applications of
power can be manipulated. These are described by the meaning of some of the
runes of power. There may be other schools or methods of magic in other lands,
but the mages of Torengar classify them this way – it is very likely as much a
case of the tools (the runes) shaping the thought patterns of the arcane
practitioners, which thus shapes the spells themselves.
As such, these runic categories are applied to all spells, in
the belief that all magic functions in essentially the same way, whether it
derives from rigorous study or is bestowed by a deity.

The runic names help describe spells; they have no rules of
their own, although some rules refer to the runes.
  • Algiz (Abjuration).
    The rune magic of Algiz is protective in nature, though some spells have
    aggressive uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm
    trespassers, or banish creatures to other planes of existence. The rune Algiz
    means protection, or a shield, used
    defensively.
  • Ansuz (Divination).
    The magic focused through the Ansuz rune reveals information, whether in the
    form of secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden
    things, the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places. The
    meaning of Ansuz is a revealing message or insight, and (not coincidentally) is
    also the rune of Woden, who specializes in far-seeing
    and deep knowledge
    .
  • Dagaz (Illusion).
    The rune magic of Dagaz is invoked to deceive the senses or minds of others.
    These spells cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that
    are there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened.
    Some illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most
    insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature. The
    meaning of Dagaz includes both awareness
    and blindness
    .
  • Ehwaz (Conjuration).
    The spells of Ehwaz involve the transportation of objects and creatures from
    one location to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the
    caster’s side, whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location.
    Some Ehwazs create objects or effects out of nothing. The rune Ehwaz represents
    a horse or horses, and connotes travel
    and journeys
    .
  • Gebo (Transmutation).
    Spells invoked with the knowledge gained through study of the Gebo rune change
    the properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy
    into a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move
    at the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to
    rapidly recover from injury. Gebo has the connotation of a gift, sacrifice, or
    fair exchange – giving up one thing to
    gain another
    of equal or higher value.
  • Jera (Necromancy).
    The rune Jera signifies the life cycle
    and the harvest. Jeran spells manipulate the energies of life and death. Such
    spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain the life energy from
    another creature, create the undead, or even bring the dead back to life. A
    complicated rune, Jera’s association with necromancy is only part of its
    meaning, and the rune magic of Jera includes birth, life, death, and
    life-from-death (which can be as broad as ‘resurrection’ but is also
    ‘fertilizer’). Creating undead through the use of Jeran rune magic is not a
    good act, and only neutral or evil casters use such spells frequently.
  • Mannaz (Enchantment).
    Spells cast with the Mannaz rune affect the minds of others, influencing or
    controlling their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a
    friend, force creatures to take a course of action, or even control another
    creature like a puppet. Mannaz means “mankind” or “people,”
    and has a particular connotation relating to the attitudes of others to you and
    relationships in general.
  • Thurisaz (Evocation).
    The primal energy of magic, the directed
    force
    of destruction and defense, is symbolized by Thurisaz. Such spells
    manipulate magical energy to produce a desired effect. Some call up blasts of
    fire or lightning. Others channel positive energy to heal wounds. Thurisaz has
    many connotations, all of which derive from power used with consciousness and wisdom
    in matters that must be resolved using force, violence, or physical compulsion.

With that introduction, I wanted to list out the current ideas for the schools of magic, to provoke comment and discussion. Appropriate abilities per level are a bit of an art form, so a broad commentary will save angst later. Any and all commentary is appreciated, especially suggestions to modify or replace abilities. 

One caveat: this will be an OGL/SRD5.1 game, so avoiding abilities from official material is a good thing. Not only for the usual reasons, but keeping the flavor of the game unique makes it more interesting!

ARCANE TRADITIONS


The study of wizardry is ancient, stretching back to the earliest mortal discoveries of magic. It is firmly established in fantasy gaming worlds, with various traditions dedicated to its complex study.

The most common arcane traditions in the multiverse revolve around the schools of magic. Wizards through the ages have cataloged thousands of spells, grouping them into eight categories called schools. In some places, these traditions are literally schools; a wizard might study at the School of Illusion while another studies across town at the School of Mannaz rune. In other institutions, the schools are more like academic departments, with rival faculties competing for students and funding. Even wizards who train apprentices in the solitude of their own towers use the division of magic into schools as a learning device, since the spells of each school require mastery of different techniques.

Savant

No matter which tradition you select at 2nd level, the gold and time you must spend to copy spells with the runes incorporated by that tradition into your spellbook are halved.

SCHOOL OF DOORS


You focus your study on magic that transcends the here and now, opening up mystical doors through time, space, and dimensions to examine the past and the future, to heal and harm, and even to interact with the dead. You have mastered the study of the runes of ansuz (to divine the future and probe the past) and jera (life cycles from birth to death and back again).

Read Auras

Beginning at 2nd level, you gain the ability to read emanations of power. This ability has two uses, one active, one passive.

Your ability to read auras will automatically detect and identify any active auras that a creature is maintaining. This includes spells, aura’s induced by magical items, as well as abilities such as the paladin’s aura of devotion or the fear aura of a pit fiend. It will tell you the source and type of the aura, but not it’s range.

You may also attempt to deliberately discern an aura. By concentrating on a creature for one minute, you may attempt a DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check, and if that is successful, you may receive the answer to one of the questions below. You may also keep trying to read the aura, spending an additional minute per use. The GM will make these rolls for you – should you fail, you will gain no further information with more study.

If the creature is actually a projection from another realm of a powerful entity such as a god, this will become immediately obvious, with no roll required.

When you reach 8th level, instead of taking a minute of concentration, you may deliberately read an aura as an action.

The following information may be obtained through active study:

  • Creature Type. Dragon (usually obvious), aberration, fiend, undead, etc.
  • Magical Ability. Does the creature have the ability to cast spells, or is the creature innately magical.
  • Immunities and Resistances. Is the creature immune to a damage type? Roll once per immunity/resistance!
  • Vulnerabilities. Will the creature take extra damage from a particular damage type? This includes only being damaged by magical weapons.

Cycle Lore

Starting at 6th level, your understanding of the paths of life and death improve.

You may add your spellcasting ability bonus to the effect roll (a damage roll or a healing roll) for any spell using the jera rune.

If summoning or creating creatures using necromantic magic, you may increase the ability scores of your created beings – apply the full bonus to one statistic, but each created or summoned creature may have a different statistic increased. If you increase the target’s Strength or Constitution, the creature’s vigor and wounds may also increase.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Beginning at 10th level, you can pronounce the fate of others, whether a blessing or doom. Choose a creature that can hear and understand you, and loudly and confidently proclaim its fate. If the fate is beneficial, the creature gains a point of Inspiration; if baleful, the creature must make a Wisdom saving throw against your Spell Save DC or else gain the Demoralized condition.

If you wish, you can prophecy about your subject’s fate at a particular challenge (an upcoming battle or contest, solving a puzzle, or wooing a lady). In this case, the Inspiration or Demoralized Condition only applies to actions taken to complete the challenge. 

If the subject of your prophecy experiences dismal failure (if you prophecy success and greatness) or escapes grievous harm (if you prophecy doom and failure), the effects of your prophecy vanish. Thereafter, that subject will view you as a fraud. You get one chance to win a contest of your Charisma versus their Wisdom (“Of course you failed! You did not believe!”), and if you fail at this, then forever after that subject will be unaffected by your prophecies.

Once you make a self-fulfilling prophecy, you cannot do so again until you finish a long rest.

Command Undead

Starting at 14th level, your knowledge and power over the undead increases to the point that you may now use the command spell to attempt to rule their actions. You may choose one target or several, up to your Intelligence modifier (minimum 2), but if you choose more than one target, those undead have advantage on their Wisdom saving throw.

If you do not already know the command spell, add it to your spell list; it does not count against the total spells known. Using this ability expends a 1st level spell slot, as does casting command on non-undead.

This is a draft, not a final version, but here’s how the iconic Fireball spell from the SRD5.1 shakes out in Dragon Heresy:

Fireball*
3rd-level thurisaz rune

Casting
Time:
1 action
Range:
150 feet
Components:
V, S, M (a tiny ball of bat guano and sulfur)
Duration:
Instantaneous
A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you
choose within range and then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame.
Each creature in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on that point must make a
Dexterity saving throw. A target takes 4d6 wounds as fire damage on a failed
save, or as vigor on a successful one.
The fire spreads around corners. It ignites flammable objects in
the area that aren’t being worn or carried.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the damage increases to 5d6, and again to 6d6 using a 9th-level slot. The vigor taken on a successful save increases to 6d6 using a 5th level slot, 8d6 with a 6th level slot, 10d6 for 7th level, 12d6 for 8th level, and 15d6 for 9th level.

I have now finished all 39 subclasses for Dragon Heresy.

Thusly, I will drink wine.

Afterwards, I will soldier on and work on the 57,136-word spell list, since every spell in the SRD5.1, plus a few I and my playtesting team have invented, must be scrubbed to be consistent with the new rules concepts.

But the characters are at least at the first draft stage. My playtesters may well (and hopefully will) rip up the 16 abilities that I’ve written. But that will be replacing content with better content. Not “oh, gee, this isn’t done.”