Archive for May, 2016

The Dark Young and the Restless

May 9, 2016

I mentioned several months ago how Overlord is one of my favorite light novel series out of Japan. This remains true, and with nine novels to date, I was quite excited to hear that the long-awaited tenth volume is releasing at the end of this month. To celebrate, I’m posting a conversion of one of the most powerful spells used in the series to date.

While I’ve tried to keep them minimal, please be aware that there are some spoilers here for later in the series.

My previous post on Overlord talked about how its magic system is heavily inspired by D&D Third Edition, having ten “tiers” of spells, metamagic, and even a skill-like “super tier” magic which is clearly epic-level spellcasting by another name. The story further clarifies that super-tier magic has certain rules and limitations for when it’s used. In effect, these are the world laws that are specific to using epic spells:

  1. Doing so is highly conspicuous, creating large rings of glowing sigils around the caster for several feet in every direction.
  2. The casting time for these spells is described as being lengthy (though there are cheap one-shot magic items that can make them near-instantaneous).
  3. After casting super-tier magic, there’s a “cool-down” period before another super-tier spell can be cast.
  4. This cool down period applies not only to the spellcaster, but to all allied characters as well.

This last point stretches suspension of disbelief, being rather “game-ist” in its lack of in-character reasoning for how it determines who an “allied” character is and why they can’t use super-tier magic because someone else in their party did. Amusingly enough, this is ignored due to the fact that, in the story, this magic is originally from an MMORPG anyway, making it something of a moot point.

In the Overlord anime, the only time we see super-tier magic being cast is when Ainz uses the spell fallen down (twice) during his battle with a brainwashed Shalltear. As far as spells go, it’s rather boring, simply being a massive-damage area-of-effect spell. While it’s strong enough to create a crater that’s several dozen feet in diameter, that’s about all that can be said about it.

A far more notable use of super-tier magic comes at the end of the ninth novel, when Ainz casts the spell Ia Shub-Niggurath – Sacrifice to the Black Harvest. With just that one spell, he kills an army of almost a quarter-million people.

More specifically, the spell causes 70,000 people to drop dead (actually more, if you count the horses), which serve as a “sacrifice” to summon five of the Dark Young of the Black Goat, which then begin rampaging unstoppably through the remaining soldiers. So what would such a spell look like in the d20 system? My guess is something like this:

IA SHUB-NIGGURATH – SACRIFICE TO THE BLACK HARVEST

Necromancy [death]

Spellcraft DC: 2,098

Components: V, S

Casting Time: 2 minutes

Range: 3,000 ft.

Area: 800-ft. radius burst

Duration: instantaneous and 20 minutes (see text)

Saving Throw: Fortitude partial

Spell Resistance: Yes

To Develop: 19,170,000 gp; 384 days; 766,800 XP. Seeds: slay (DC 25), summon (DC 14). Factors: change from target to area (20-ft. radius; +10), increase range by 900% (+18), increase duration by 900% (+18), increase area by 3,900% (+156), +37 CR creature (+74), aberration type (+10), four additional creatures (x8), increase casting time by 1 minute (-2), requires 10,000 Hit Dice of creatures to be slain for each creature summoned (ad hoc -500).

When this spell is cast, each creature of 80 Hit Dice or less within the area of effect must succeed on a Fortitude save or die. On a successful save, a creature takes 3d6+10 points of damage instead. For each 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures slain by this spell, 1 Dark Young of the Black Goat will be summoned, to a maximum of 5 Dark Young.

A Dark Young is a mountain-sized conglomerate of mouths and tentacles that moves on five stubby legs. It cannot speak, but makes a bleating sound from its many mouths. It has the statistics of a devastation centipede, with the following changes:

  • The creature type is aberration.
  • Instead of one bite attack it may make up to 6 slam attacks per round, all as primary natural attacks that deal 20d10+11 damage.
  • Reach 60 ft.
  • Intelligence 3.
  • Replace the poison special ability with trample (20d10+16 damage, DC 85).

Figuring out the base statistics to use for the Dark Young took some eyeballing. In the novels, the level system for characters tops out at level 100. At this level, characters that use super-tier magic can cast four such spells per day. In the d20 system, where you can cast one epic level spell per day for every 10 ranks in the correct skill (and can have total ranks equal to your level +3), this means that level 100 characters, such as Ainz, are somewhere between levels 37 and 46. Normally I’d presume that Ainz’s incredible prowess would put him near the top of this range, but it’s more convenient to place him at level 40, since that sets a baseline of dividing the levels by 0.4 to come up with their d20 equivalent.

In the novel, the Dark Young are described as being creatures that are “above level 90,” and that have no powerful special abilities but are extremely tough. Given that, devastation vermin in general, and the CR 39 devastation centipede in particular, seemed like a perfect fit (albeit after a few changes).

Of course, the casting DC for this spell is eye-poppingly high to the point where it’s essentially impossible to cast. Even positing that Ainz is a level 40 character, this spell is likely far beyond his reach. While we could tweak the spell’s parameters (likely dumping a lot of the extended range, as well as some of the extended duration, and piling up more mitigating factors), it’s probably far easier – and more effective – to convert the entire spell.

More specifically, we’re going to use Eclipse: The Codex Persona and The Practical Enchanter to rebuild this from the ground up as a high-level spell.

In order to do that, we’ll want to take a look at each of the spell’s components separately. Luckily, the epic-level writeup above nicely lays out (via the two spell seeds used in its “to develop” line) that there are two basic effects going on here: the sacrifice, and the summons.

The sacrifice is essentially a finger of death (level 7) spell whose area can affect an entire battlefield (+8), and its range extended from close to extreme (+3). That’s +11 levels of metamagic, but since they’ll be built into the spell we can subtract 20% of that cost, for a +9 modifier, making a level 16 spell.

The summoning is an instance of grandiose summoning (Eclipse p. 125). Since this spell is summoning specific creatures, rather than having a list of creatures that the caster can choose from – and since said creatures are CR 39 – that makes this a 21st-level spell. We’ve already paid to extend the spell’s range (e.g. when we combine the sacrifice part of the spell with this one), so we don’t need to do that again. Finally, we can lower the spell level by 1 due to changing its 1 round casting time to 1 minute.

So that leaves us with a 16th- and a 20th-level spell. As per Lerandor’s Rule from page 116 of The Practical Enchanter – it takes 2 spells of level “N” to equal 1 spell of level “N + 1” – combining these gives us a 21st-level spell. Finally, we’ll throw back in the limitation that you need to slay at least 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures for each Dark Young summoned, presuming that that’s worth another -1 spell level (that might seem far less generous than the -500 to the Spellcraft DC in the epic spell writeup above. However, the net effect is the same; both are an overall minor reduction to a stratospheric requirement to cast).

As such, we end up with a 20th-level spell which looks like the following:

Ia Shub-Niggurath – The Sacrifice to the Black Harvest; conjuration, necromancy, transmutation (summoning) [death]; level 20; components V, S; casting time 1 minute; range extreme (800 ft. + 80 ft./level); Target 1 battlefield and 1d4+1 Dark Young (see below); duration instantaneous and 1 min./level (D) (see below); Saving Throw Fort partial; Spell Resistance yes.

When this spell is cast, each creature within the area of effect must succeed on a Fortitude save or die. On a successful save, a creature takes 3d6+25 points of damage instead. For each 10,000 Hit Dice worth of creatures slain by this spell, 1 Dark Young of the Black Goat will be summoned, to a maximum of 1d4+1 Dark Young.

One its face, this doesn’t seem like it’s done very much to make this spell more feasible for actual use. After all, what’s the practical difference between a Spellcraft DC in the low thousands and a spell level that’s in the low twenties? For an epic-level character, however, the latter is going to be far easier to reach than the former, particularly if using the Eclipse rules rather than a strict 3.0/3.5 build.

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