Monday, July 4, 2016

Work In Progress: The Summoner

  As my players know, I like having NPCs with non-standard abilities. The idea of NPCs being different than PCs was born of lo, those many Dragon Magazine "New NPC Class" articles. My many years of thinking about NPCs, PCs, levels, and such was summarized in a series of posts that ended with this one explaining why 'good guy' NPCs are largely non-standard. My evil NPC clerics are also very different, as I mention here; in brief, they have fewer spells but access to special powers, like disease touch, or regeneration, or invisibility. I had a few weird PC classes, too, and allowed some from Dragon, like the Archer.

  One thing that really spurred me into going even further into making non-standard NPC classes (and PC classes) was playing in Lew Pulsipher's campaign.
  Aside: The first time I encountered Lew Pulsipher's Necromancer class was in a special game dungeon mastered in 1986 by this guy. It was one of the most terrifying games I've ever played. The entire party was wiped out in one fascinating encounter after another. And I now know - if sewers connect to the necromancer's Temple of Death just assume they are patrolled by a ghoul plesiosaur. 
  Lew likes experimenting with existing classes and making new ones that are intriguing and fun to play. My friend John loved the Staffmaster, I will eventually play his Martial Artist, and his barbarian is better than mine and I have stolen enough from him to know.
  His pyromancers are frickin' terrifying and I am still proud of how many of the jerks my mage Jonas has killed. I wrote up a cryomancer as a natural enemy of the balrog-loving fire mages, but they are always ready to spring out of the caverns and Fireball you.

  Lew has been working on a Conjuror for years but never quite sprang it on us. I have used specialist conjurors in 2e as foes in my Blackstone campaign, and they are fun.

  But I want a class like the Conjuror for my 1e campaign. I want evil summoners lurking about in the wild corners of the world, ready to spring Monsters from Beyond the Walls of Reality on unwary PCs.

  But - what should he look like?

  See, there are three main ways of doing this.

1) Make a list of spells like Unseen Servant, Monster Summoning, Cacodaemon, etc., assign them levels, and make it s a type of magic-user.
  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, especially if you can come up with some interesting, unique spells. Thing is, how weird is it, really?

2) Do what I call 'White Dwarf/Dragon Mag NPC class'. If you look up Lew Pulsipher's Necromancer you'll see that he doesn't have spells, he has abilities; stuff he can just do. As he increases in level he gains access to more abilities, and more powerful abilities, but they are NOT vancian spells that must be memorized and cast.
  This wasn't unusual Back In The Day. Dragon and White Dwarf would present 'NPC classes' and sometimes, like a Healer I remember and the Necromancer, they would have level-based abilities. This is nicely different than vancian magic and, since they are NPCs, not prone to breaking anything except the PCs' tactics.

3) I rip off an idea from another DM. As I mentioned, Lew has some NPC spellcasters called Pyromancers. He shared the rules with me, oh, 30 years ago. One of the spells Pyromancers can cast stuck in my head - Summon Fire Spirit. In short, the spells in this series allow the Pyromancer to 'beuild' a summoned creature by taking a base of Hit Dice, movement, Armor Class, etc. and then adding more HD, or improving AC, or making them faster, etc. At higher levels of spell (and spell caster) you can add breath weapons, etc.
  How frickin' cool is that idea? Yeah, how cool is that idea considering he wrote it up before Reagan was president?!
  Yeah. Pretty cool.
  So, how about this. Summoners have a pool of points and when they summon a creature they "build" a new monster. Want something with 3 HD, AC 5, 1 attack for 2-12, and a movement rate of 9"? That'll be 10 of your points, thank you. Same thing, but it also flies at 18"? 15 points. Want to tack on a breath weapon that, oh, does 3-18 points of cold damage, save for half? 25 points.
  You get the idea. Maybe put level limits on some things ('You must be at least 9th level to summon a creature with a Petrification attack', for example). Maybe just make things like regeneration expensive.
  Maybe toss in stuff like 'creatures take a full turn to arrive. For +3 points, it is one round. For +5 it is Right Now'. Or, you can summon more than one creature at a time (they must be identical?) but it is +1 per creature over 1 per creature [i.e., summon 1 10 point creature = 10 points total. Summon 6 10 point creatures = 90 points (each creature is 10 points + 5 additional creatures = 15 per creature, x 6 = 90).
  You can look at the various conjuring and summoning spells to get an idea of how monsters 'progress' and come up with some guidelines, too.

  Now, since this is for an NPC, lets make these points regenerate by week instead of by day. While this means the total points might need to go up, it leads to an interesting decision for the DM - shall the Summoner save or splurge? After all, the Summoner faces fascinating choices - one Really Tough monster, or lots of wimps? A lot of wimps at the same time, or a few middling-tough creatures from time to time? I mean, looking at the really hypothetical guy above, if he has 90 points he could do 1 x 90 point monster, and then have nothing. Or he could do 6 x 10 point monsters right now, and then have nothing. Or he could do a 30 point monster and have 60 left.

  But think of how this will look to the PCs;
What spell is this guy casting? First time we saw him he hit us with 6 creatures that did 2-12 each. Then he hit us with something makes a major demon look like a wimp. What is he doing today?!
  And that is another benefit - this guy is "Non-standard monsters, the class". If he has some control of the appearance of the creatures as well as their abilities this can get downright cruel when you hit the players with, oh, a 9' tall, winged, fire-breathing, orc. Or you can just go with the 'odd creature ripped from your nightmares' route. Either way, the characters won't be able to listen to the description and know what to expect.
What if the Wicked Witch was  Summoner and the winged monkeys were summoned?
  I will be sitting down to work on numbers, soon. Any feedback?