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Retro hack: Spell Accents

May 3, 2008

(A game hack for D&D-ish games before 3.0)

Spell Accents 101

A Spell Accent is a variation on a normal spell which uses a different material component, one which is rare, expensive, or more difficult to acquire in order to produce a different, additional effect to a spell. This is a slight shift from some ideas toyed with in 3.X expansions- instead of simply adding metamagic feats or changing damage types, I’m thinking of completely extra effects.

In order to use a Spell Accent, you must know the Accent (having researched it or found it out some other way) and have the necessary material component. This component replaces whatever component the spell had before.

A memorized spell can be cast with or without the Accent- you don’t have to define it when you memorize it. This means if you have a spell memorized, and know several Accents for the spell and have the components available, you have a wider range of flexibility in what that spell can do.

Some examples:

Magic Missle

Accent Component: An animal horn
Magic Missle not only does damage, but also knocks the target back 1 foot for every point of damage inflicted.

Accent Component: The brain of a Mindflayer
Magic Missle dice increase to D10’s instead of D4’s. Target loses one memorized spell for each missle that hits, starting with the highest level spells first.

Accent Component: A crafted gauntlet of pure platinum
Magic missle dice increase to D6’s instead of D4’s. Target’s spell resistance is halved for the next 1D6 rounds.

Read Magic

Accent Component: A seashell worth 100 gp
“Read Magic” is cast in a new form, “Hear Magic” and you get a chance to make a roll to learn a spell as it’s being cast by simply hearing it.

Acid Arrow
Accent Component: Distilled essence of Gelatinous Cube
Acid Arrow also immobilizes the target each round it does damage unless the target is Huge or larger.

Researching and Learning Accents

First a player and the DM negotiate either what kind of Accent a given material component can do (“I’ve got Minotaur Horns! That’s got to be good for something…”) or the other way around (“I need my fireball to burn ghosts, what do you think I’ll need to make it happen?”). Obviously, players or the DM may have both in mind. Negotiation is basically figuring out an effect and a component that feels balanced and fair. This discussion is all meta- it takes no actual time in the fiction.

Once agreed upon, the wizard must research the Accent, which can only be for spell she already knows. This process takes 3 days/spell level. If the material component is already available, the research takes 2 days/spell level. The research can be put down and picked up again later with no penalty. The research automatically succeeds when the required time is put in. There is no limit to how many Spell Accents you can learn. (Up to 3 Accents can be put on a single page of a spellbook).

Components and Effects

What kind of components and effects make sense to put together? First, an Accent component must be more difficult to obtain than the spell’s normal material components. All material components can be broken down as such:

Time consuming

The component must be prepared in some fashion that takes time. This doesn’t have to be at time of casting, but it certainly can make it a hassle to get a lot of it. “Paint intricate sigils into the staff, then let it sit for a week.” “Sew together parts from 10 different corpses”, “Write a 100 page contract in Infernal languages”, etc.

Rare

The component is just hard to find or acquire due to rarity. “The fur of an albino wolf”, “A stone shaped like a hand.” “Phosphorescent moss from a mile below ground surface”, etc.

Expensive

The component costs a LOT to make or acquire. “A figurine of pure platinum”, “Chainmail made of silver”, “A gem studded crown”, etc.

Strange

The component requires weird, specific requirements or might be something abstract. “The howl of a dying wolf.” “The dirt of a fresh grave, taken under a full moon”, “The heart of a Fallen Paladin” etc.

Basically, these four factors tie into a general sort of resource management. Basically, useful but not overly powerful effects might just use common items (like the animal horn example above), while rare and powerful effects would require strange and difficult components (such as the mind flayer brain example).

Using Accents in your game

Isn’t this sort of a half assed spell research idea? Not quite. Because Accents work on existing spells, players can now take ho-hum spells they outgrew a while back and find ways to make them powerful and useful no matter what level they’re at.

As the PCs fight nastier and weirder monsters, the wizards are basically collecting more and more material components to fuel their spells. And of course, the rare and weird stuff is what is going to make spells -that- much more powerful. As a player, you should be looking for any kind of weird monster bit or object that might be a useful Accent component (“Oooh! The River Styx! I need the water!”).

Because Accents are component based, as a DM you can limit the access to how much it appears in your game. It’s also a great way to tweak spells that are less useful and give them potential to be more useful. In terms of the fiction, it also is another great way to spawn big quests and missions to find the right materials.

Addendum:

As a DM, realize that Accents are basically like charged magic items. The core question you have to ask yourself, is how often you want the players to have access to these?

The materials might be available anywhere, only at town or between adventures, only in certain areas (“Darkwood Forest”), only in certain areas with effort (“An eye of a beholder, unopened at the time of death”), or something you have to do an entire quest for (“The heart of a dragon”), or, perhaps something unique (“The Crown of Oberon”). The big thing to watch out for, is if it is a powerful effect, that the players might have a way to farm it outside of the effort (“We’ll just raise Griffons ourselves, cut off their talons then cast Heal to restore them!”)…

As players, you ‘ll want to pick several Accents so a single memorized spell has a lot of options, but also try to see if a single type of material component can be used for different kinds of Accents for different spells, so you’re carrying less stuff.

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