Archive for November, 2016

Relic: Palindromic Agimat

November 25, 2016

One of the breaks from D&D tradition that Third Edition made – a break that has since become standard – was the loss of reversible spells.

Reversible spells were those spells that could be prepared “backwards,” allowing you to use a spell effect that was the opposite of what the normal spell would be. If you had haste in your spellbook, for instance, then you could choose to prepare it backwards, which meant that you were preparing slow instead. You could only make that choice when preparing the spell (spontaneous conversion wouldn’t be a thing until Third Edition, though I’m sure there were a few isolated instances of it out there before then), essentially meaning that there were certain spells that, when you acquired them, gave you a “buy one get one free” bonus.

It’s not that hard to see why Third Edition dumped reversible spells (though I admit I’m just speculating about the designers’ motives). They had no real bonus to offer clerics, druids, and other spellcasters who could already prepare their spells from their entire spell list. For wizards and other spellcasters who needed a spellbook, reversible spells saved a few gp on acquiring and inscribing the second spell, but that was so minor that few groups ever even bothered to track that.

Really, the only group that would get a lot of mileage out of reversible spells are sorcerers and other spontaneous spellcasters. Since they don’t prepare spells, the only way that they’d be able to use reversible spells is to let them decide whether they’re using the normal or reversed form whenever they cast a spell. Essentially, a spontaneous spellcaster that knows a reversible spell gets an extra “spell known” for no cost.

I honestly don’t think that’s such a big deal, but given how much the designers saw fit to limit sorcerers (e.g. making them wait an extra character level to reach new spell levels, having metamagic’d spells require a full-round action to cast, etc.), they clearly thought otherwise. In other words, reversible spells were almost certainly judged to be more hassle than they were worth, and so were discarded.

Personally, I think that’s a loss. Given how little flavor D&D spellcasting has (just try explaining what a “resistance bonus” is from an in-game standpoint, let alone how it applies to all “saving throws”), the idea of reversible spells struck me as very thematic. It alluded to an idea from classical occultism, which was that you could reverse a magical effect by reciting its incantation backwards. Having D&D make use of that, even if only slightly, gave magic a bit more flair.

To that end, here’s a relic (made using the rules from Eclipse: The Codex Persona) that lets you add reversible spells back into your game…with a little extra!

Palindromic Agimat (1 CP)

This small amulet is inscribed with runes that loop back on themselves, creating a formula that has no beginning or end, regardless of how it’s read.

  • Privilege/the wearer can cast certain spells backwards, creating an effect opposite of their normal results. Preparatory spellcasters must prepare reversed spells to make use of them in this way, whereas spontaneous spellcasters who know a reversible spell may choose which version to cast at the time of casting (3 CP).
    • Major upgrade/the wearer can choose to make use of reverse spell effects from spell completion, spell trigger, and command word-activated magic items (3 CP).

Using Privilege to allow for reversible spellcasting – a very cheap option, especially if you’re not worried about taking the upgrade so as to be able to reverse magic items – is because the GM is the arbiter of what spells are reversible and what aren’t. Below is a suggested list, based on AD&D Second Edition (note that “mass” or “communal” versions of spells are also reversible to their “mass” or “communal” counterparts, respectively, e.g. mass cure light wounds is reversible to mass inflict light wounds).

  • The reverse of comprehend languages is aphasia.
  • The reverse of bestow curse is remove curse.
  • The reverse of bleed is stabilize.
  • The reverse of bless is bane.
  • The reverse of bless water is curse water.
  • The reverse of blindness/deafness is remove blindness/deafness.
  • The reverse of cause fear is remove fear.
  • The reverse of chaos hammer is order’s wrath.
  • The reverse of circle of death is undeath to death.
  • The reverse of cloak of chaos is shield of law.
  • The reverse of consecrate is desecrate.
  • The reverse of contagion is remove disease.
  • The reverse of each of the cure spells is the inflict spell of the same level.
  • The reverse of detect chaos is detect law.
  • The reverse of detect evil is detect good.
  • The reverse of discern lies is glibness.
  • The reverse of dispel chaos is dispel law.
  • The reverse of dispel evil is dispel good.
  • The reverse of dream is nightmare.
  • The reverse of enlarge person is reduce person.
  • The reverse of flesh to stone is stone to flesh.
  • The reverse of freedom is imprisonment.
  • The reverse of hallow is unhallow.
  • The reverse of haste is slow.
  • The reverse of heal is harm.
  • The reverse of holy aura is unholy aura.
  • The reverse of holy smite is unholy blight.
  • The reverse of holy word is blasphemy.
  • The reverse of knock is arcane lock.
  • The reverse of locate object is obscure object.
  • The reverse of  magic circle against chaos is magic circle against law.
  • The reverse of magic circle against evil is magic circle against good.
  • The reverse of neutralize poison is poison.
  • The reverse of protection from chaos is protection from law.
  • The reverse of protection from evil is protection from good.
  • The reverse of purify food and drink is putrefy food and drink.
  • The reverse of raise dead is slay living.
  • The reverse of resurrection is destruction.
  • The reverse of sympathy is antipathy.
  • The reverse of transmute rock to mud is transmute mud to rock.
  • The reverse of water breathing is air breathing.
  • The reverse of word of chaos is dictum.

It’s worth noting that neither spell is the “real” or “correct” version of its reverse. It’s entirely possible for players to find a neutralize poison scroll (which can be reversed into poison) and later on find a poison scroll (which can be reversed into neutralize poison). Both can be the “default” listing for the spell, though this classification is little more than semantic.

A spell can always counter and dispel its reversed form.

D&D Did You Know’s: Comeliness in AD&D 2E

November 20, 2016

Charisma measures a character’s personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance.

With this sentence, printed in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, Paizo inherited one of the great debates in D&D: Should appearance be something that Charisma measures?

The issue of measuring something that’s highly subjective wasn’t necessarily the problem. After all, things like “willpower” and “intuition” are also incredibly difficult to measure, and yet no one has any problem assigning those to a character’s Wisdom score. Rather, the problem is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the beholdee (insert obligatory jokes about eye tyrants here).

Having an objective statistic for something that would vary wildly based on the attitudes and beliefs of other characters tended to be more than a lot of role-players were willing to accept. While the attitude of “low Charisma means being ugly” – and its reverse with regards to high Charisma being beautiful – is still thoroughly enmeshed in the gaming community today, it’s largely treated as a vestigial attitude.

Instead, Charisma is more and more being treated solely as a measurement of force of will and personal magnetism. In fact, the Pathfinder stipulation that it was related to appearance was really the last gasp for the “Charisma is beauty” idea. D&D Fifth Edition struck all references to physical appearance from the entry for Charisma entirely.

Of course, this wasn’t the only attempt to resolve the disparity, however. For many people, the answer was to attempt to break beauty away from Charisma and instead make it its own ability score. This tended to be a bad idea, simply because there were few places to implement the impact of a seventh ability score; for the most part, the game engine already had the main six ability scores apply where they needed to, leaving any new one struggling to define itself.

That said, attempts were still made. E.N. Armoury – Chainmail Bikini added a “Beauty” score, while the infamous Book of Erotic Fantasy had a seventh ability score called “Appearance.” But these third-party products aren’t the attempt that most gamers remember. For that, we turn to the classic AD&D 1E product Unearthed Arcana, which was where most old school gamers came across Gary Gygax’s attempt to resolve this dilemma with a new ability score: Comeliness.

Comeliness was quite wacky, as far as ability scores went. Instead of the usual 1-25 range for AD&D 1E ability scores, it could go as high as 30, and plunge as low as -16 or even further! It also had odd effects, such as acting as an auto-charm on the people around you if high enough, to the point where many of them would start to follow you like love-sick puppies.

The Comeliness statistic didn’t originate in Unearthed Arcana, of course. Like so much of that book, it was compiled from Dragon Magazine, issue #67 in this case. Still, UA was where it reached its widest audience. But for all the attention it drew – a new rule from the co-creator of D&D! – it ultimately failed to find an audience, and by the time AD&D Second Edition came out, Comeliness had been forgotten and quietly slipped into the annals of gaming history.

Or did it?

In fact, Comeliness managed to survive into AD&D 2nd Edition, thanks to the RPGA. You can find intermittent instances of NPCs having Comeliness scores in various issues of Polyhedron Newszine well into the AD&D 2E years, such as in “The Living City: Misti’s Moonlight Pawnshop,” from Polyhedron #105 (March, 1995).

While it would be easy to write this off as a few holdovers from 1E that were being translated into 2E, that wasn’t the case. In fact, rules for the Comeliness score in 2E were tucked away in Polyhedron #89 (November, 1993) in an addendum to the adventure “The Ugly Stick.”

In fact, the 2E Comeliness rules are quite brief, consisting of only three paragraphs and a table:


Much of this scenario relies on the Comeliness rules from the Network’s Living City tournaments. The DM can institute this rule, or the DM can simply substitute Charisma wherever the scenario mentions Comeliness. Here are the Comeliness rules:

Comeliness reflects a character’s physical attractiveness. It can influence the initial reactions NPCs have to a character. Comeliness is not Charisma. The latter score represents a character’s force of personality.

Unlike the original edition of the AD&D game, a character’s Comeliness score is not adjusted based on Charisma, nor can characters with a high Comeliness score “fascinate” others. Comeliness in Living City play affects reaction bonuses that are tied to Charisma. Therefore, a character with a high Charisma and a high Comeliness has a significant reaction bonus.

Comeliness Reaction Adjustment
6 -2
7 -1
8-12 0
13 +1
14 +2
15 +3
16 +5
17 +6
18 +7

That’s all there was. While this doesn’t go below 6 or above 18, it’s fairly easy to calculate what the reaction adjustment would be for such extreme scores; the reaction adjustment listings are identical to those for a Charisma of the same score in the AD&D 2E Player’s Handbook.

While reducing Comeliness to a cut-rate bonus or penalty to one aspect of Charisma might be rather prosaic, it’s also a fairly easy thing to implement. Since reaction adjustment largely only applies to NPCs whose attitude the PCs cared about interacting with, that helped to self-limit the problems of applying beauty to creatures with truly alien standards; such creatures tended to be monsters to be killed, rather than people to be parleyed with.