What are adepts?
First, a refresher of how the adept, and spellcasting in general, functions. To cast a spell, a character has to succeed on a spellcasting roll, which is a d10 + modifiers. The modifiers in the adept’s case include their spellcasting statistic (charisma or more often wisdom) and their current strata (up to 3, more on this later). The goal of all spellcasting rolls is to beat 10. If they roll a 10 or higher, the spell goes off and they continue on their merry. If they get a five or higher, they get the spell to go off, but usually lose something, most often a resource. Below that is a spell failure and minor complication or further loss of resources. Rolling a negative number or a 1 can easily lead to catastrophe, and always accompanies spell failure.
So, with my adept classes updated and the campaign stuttering along, I thought I’d take some time to explain what the deal with my class decisions/design is. I’m sure that I’ve done this before, but in a slipshod, incomplete, or scattered sort of way.
Digression: The d10 was chosen to represent the more chaotic nature of spellcasting, as the chance of rolling a critical mishap is effectively doubled, and the comparatively low modifiers means its hard to guarantee a safe spellcast.
In the case of the adept, the penalties for rolling under a 10 are, in order, lose 1 strata, lose strata equal to that of the spell being cast, or set your strata to 0. Comparatively tame when taken in with what can happen with wizards., but the adepts can run out of juice on their first cast.
But of course, you’re asking “what the hell is strata?” Strata is my answer to the clunkiness of spell point systems, which I quickly came to realize was an annoyance to most players. Granted, the player that uses adepts most often is averse to book keeping at any rate, but amazingly I’ve found that they’ve actually been paying attention to the new mechanic.
Basically, strata is a numerical value representing how much magical power, divine favor, or whatever your dude has stored up. As the adept advances, their “baseline” strata advances with them, from 1 all the way to 7. Strata can also be increased temporarily with drugs or meditation, and is lost throughout the day through casting, as explained above. Yes, a caster could theoretically go infinite, but it doesn’t always come down to resource management and I feel like I’ve prevented the propensity for it do so.
Spells also have a strata associated with them, which is pretty much a 1 for 1 stand in for spell level. To cast a spell, the adept needs strata greater than or equal to the strata of the spell.
Okay, but what *are* adepts?
So who the hell are these people? What place do they occupy in the world? Why is the class boundary drawn around this group of people, and not somewhere else?
Adepts are magic-users that don’t belong to one of the traditions of arcane magic, which is its own thing. Magic itself isn’t distinctly divided into arcane/non-arcane, but the method of studying and using magic is, and the arcane tradition happens to be comparatively ubiquitous one. So the adepts are very much a catch-all for all the not-wizards that can use magic, whether through study, innate ability, or the favor of higher beings. As such, the adept is the most varied of the classes in terms of specific cultural background and things like hitpoint or attack progression.
In the greater (fictional) world, adepts almost inevitably come to be associated with spirituality and religion. Chosen sons of god, paladins of the church, intermediates between the material and the beyond, that sort of thing. The organized church structure methodology of worship/religious organization is far from universal or all encompassing, but those that exist (and have adepts) tend to treat their god’s chosen as a combination of prized lap dog and special forces operator.
For adepts outside a church, their ties to religion still manifest. The spirit shaman (see below) slides in as a perfect stand in for the local holy man in rural communities, and most disorganized “pagan” belief systems defer to and respect the shamans. Sorcerers believe in no god but themselves, and are oft convincing enough to attract followers of their own to do their bidding and kiss their radioactive, holy feet.
The best way to hand this is to actually go subclass by subclass and explain the place they occupy in the game’s design, setting, and narrative. All the class documents are available online at this link, if you wish to follow along.
The inspiration for the sorcerer is pretty obvious if you read other blogs. Skerples’s (of Coins and Scrolls) take on the class was the direct inspiration. Add more powers, add a huge mishap table, and call it a day. I wanted to impart a notion of inherent deadliness to the sorcerer, and I figured the best way was to make their powers capable of altering the world directly instead of through spells, and also make them radioactive. I got that idea from Skerples as well, through his excellent Archaeans post. Radioactivity is one of the unplumbed depths of human fear, I think. It’s invisible, and near impossible to effectively defend against. Radiation poisoning’s effects on the human body are not as well understood as most other conditions, but we know that it is immensely painful, messy, and frequently fatal. A very powerful thematic tool, I think.
Sorcerers in my setting are all invariably mad on their own ego and power. You would be too, if you could think lightning strikes and solid gold statues into existence. Most kings and church fathers will send people to kill any sorcerer that gets too powerful, or give them a massive incentive to fuck off and not come back.
Mechanically, this class is meant to be a stand-in for the paladin. They attack as well as fighters, and have almost as much health. They have fewer spells, and most of them exist to help them in combat. For flavor, I decided to give them a very strict “equal exchange” rule for their light spells. Whenever they cast, they must roll or extinguish lights (though not necessarily heat or flames) They create light, but it is of a falser, cursed sort. The light they create is not hope or comfort, but harsh and punishing. They also gain power through darkness, and their additional talents allow them to get the better of their deprived enemies.
Setting wise, the wardens are all from an area of cold desert, roiling with political turmoil and managed by a related organization called the Oasis Wardens; see this post for details Their culture has very much to do with deprivation as a whole, usually of water. Sun Wardens fall very much in the lap dog category of adept.
The Monkey Disciple
The monkey disciple is probably the first class I wrote for this campaign, if you can believe it. My initial impetus was a kung-fu monk/paladin/cleric type thing. I feel like I hit that balance pretty well. Their spells deal with throwing shit, breaking shit, or being annoying; all in the noble primate’s portfolio. They function as tanks, and get armor and weapons to complement that. Not much else to say.
The place they occupy in the story is much more complex. In theory, they are the chosen dudes of a twinned church structure that rules/shares power with the state of the Zhylyr Empire, the other being the church of the crane (see crane disciple below). The monkey church serves the farmers, laborers, and general underclasses/mid-classes of the empire, and the monkey disciples are their champions. Again, in theory. The actual situation is that the Monkey Church (composed of mostly non-magical priests) nor the central government holds no official relationship with the disciples as a whole, who are basically organized into various monasteries for training. Some monasteries are friendly, others are indifferent, a few serve the church or state or both (but I repeat myself), and a few are actively antagonistic or proscribed. Some continue to serve their function as guardians of the humble commons, others are largely corrupt.
The Crane Disciple
The crane disciple is my attempt at a more traditional cleric class. They’re still effective in combat, but only get a light armor. Their spells also gear them more to support and utility. A lot of divination and buffing. Again, not much more to say.
Their place in story is as the chosen dudes of the Church of the Crane, the elite half of the twinned religions of the empire. The Church serves the upper classes that have gained membership through birth or merit, plus the mysterious Zhylyrs, and the disciples serve the church as bodyguards and agents. The structure of the church is sprawling, and the disciples are only a small part of it, but they are integral. If your character is a disciple, they need a good reason to be adventuring instead of working for the church.
Digression: I got the idea for the moietic church from reading about the Tangut people.
The Farm Sage
The nice druids. For flavor, I borrowed from the myth of Shennong in the chinese tradition, and gave them a heavy association with agriculture and fire. Not much else to say, although they have the most magical healing of any class.
The setting fluff around them is that in the big empire what everyone is from early magical/intellectual history was dominated by the Three Grand Schools. The first of these schools (called the First School) was the province of farm sages and their art.
The Spirit Shaman
My attempt at the “standard” divine caster, although I wrote this one last. In my setting, there is no defined heavenly cosmology or whatever, but there is the spirit world. The spirit world is indelibly linked to the human mind and dreams, and so the spirit shamans which draw their power from the spirit world invariably have powers relating to illusions, enchantments, and so on. The rainbows are mostly there for flavor, although in my own dreams all the colors are fairly vivid (if hard to describe). I also took some perverse joy in a class that can see great distances and predict the future but can’t reliably describe most objects in detail due to their constant minor hallucinations. Another inspiration from how I/most people dream; describing any object in the dream becomes impossible on waking.
As for fluff, these guys are also actually all descended from one common tradition of magic-users, almost as pervasive as various forms of wizard. They are both less unified (in terms of belief and religious practice) and more unified (in terms of what their magic can do) than the wizards.
image by Kory Cromie