Monday, January 28, 2013

Magic the Gathering and ACKS Summoners

Had a rousing round of draft Magic using a subset of Matt's cards last night.  I had never played any flavor of draft before, so the deckbuilding was an interesting experience; I grabbed Mephidross Vampire and Psychatog fairly early, and then build up blue / black from there.  Nobody else was using blue, since the cards there were fairly weak, so I was able to grab most of the blue cards, while Matt was building black / white zombies, so there was some competition for black.  Jared got green / white beasts, Drew played mono-red, and our other Matt, who had not played before, ended up with green / red kavus.  I lost to Jared and Drew, but managed to best zombie Matt before we decided to play a five-person free-for-all which took about two and a half hours. 

Jared and Drew had a feud going and I came down against Jared since he had a large number of creatures, some of which were effectively unblockable, and he had been attacking me with them.  Destroyed his hand, terrored his one flying blocker out of the way, and then managed to finish him with a Siphon Soul after Matt killed my flyer with a Zombie Assassin.  The life gain from the Siphon made me a target for a turn or two until Drew started to rebuild his force of hasty 4/4s and it was considered that he had a card in his graveyard which would let him take a second attack phase at the cost of discarding a land and removing it from the game.  Kavu Matt took him out with a massed frontal attack since he was only down around 5 life.  I drew and played Psychatog, which made me a target again, but soon after Zombie Matt drew the second part of an enchantment / artifact combo that would let him turn two mana into five life as many times per turn as he wanted, triggered during his draw step.  Since he was sitting on 10+ mana at this point in the game, Kavu Matt and I knew we had to finish him immediately or he would become unstoppable.  I cleared most of his creatures and snuck a little damage through, but he pulled a Second Dawn and brought his critters back, so Kavu Matt had to kill them all over again.  He did manage to take him out, though, and had even left a few blockers in reserve for when the game turned into one-vs-one.  The blockers were enough that I couldn't punch enough damage through to win, so I drew and played the Vampire and sat back.  I had two morphed wizards, some sort of 4/3 blue donkeyman, the psychatog (with one island in hand and six cards in graveyard), and the vampire, while he had nine creatures including an enchanted 3/4 Patagia Golem, a pair of 3/3s, three 2/2s, and some 1/2s and 1/1s.  It was late, and he decided to attack me with everything he had.  I blocked most of his small stuff, where I could find fights that would let my creatures survive and gain vampiric strength, and took about half of my health in damage, but since he was tapped out, I got him on my next turn.  I'm reasonably sure that if he hadn't attacked at all, I could've pulled some trickery with my morph creatures to eliminate his two half-flyers (the golem and a Thermal Navigator) with the vampire and win through air superiority, but if he had just attacked with his 2/2s+ and not given me low-hanging vampire fruit, I'd've been in a rough spot.

In sum, it was a fun and nostalgic evening, and I was pleasantly surprised at winning the Grand Melee with a tricksy deck rather than one full of giant creatures.

It got me thinking about summoners in ACKS again, along the old-school Magic lines.  I'm kind of liking the traditional notion of 'binding a creature to your service', which then allows you to summon it.  So I figure probably a spell-like ability available at 1st level which lets you 'mark' a creature for summoning.  Casting time of either a round or a turn, not sure how many times per day, and the creature must be willing (an unwilling version would probably be a reasonable application of Bestow Curse; a Bestow Curse version would either be once per 8 hours with a one-turn casting time, or once per day with a one-round casting time).  Note that deceived, drunk, and magically charmed all count as 'willing' for this purpose; many creatures (especially humans) will demand payment of some sort instead, and a creature which was marked while deceived may seek out a Remove Curse to release itself from service.  Once marked, the summoner can use the creatures to 'build' a summoning spell using the spell construction rules, which is immediately added to his repertoire.  A summoner may learn and cast mage spells as normal, but must research them or copy them from scrolls; he may not gain them randomly on leveling.  A summoner may also create summons too powerful for him to actually cast and store them in repertoire slots from high intelligence ahead of time (ex: a 7th-level party has a dragon on the ropes, and they agree to spare its life in exchange for its treasure and service.  If summoning the dragon would be a 5th-level spell, the summoner can build the spell and stash it in one of his int-bonus 5th-level repertoire slots until he gains spell slots powerful enough to actually summon it).  If a summoned creature is slain while summoned, it returns to whence it came with one hit point, and the mark is broken.  If a marked creature is slain while not summoned, the mark is likewise broken and it can no longer be called (unless raised from the dead and re-marked).

There are some issues with this approach.  I could see issues like "Well, if they're friendly enough to accept a mark, they're probably friendly enough to just turn into henchmen" and "Making monsters friendly is hard, and it's more efficient to just hire humans that we would want to summon."  Might just be easier to build a bunch of summon spells and some new wizard lists that are heavy with them, perhaps with a "summoning pact" spell somewhere in there that operates similarly to the ideas above.  I also have some fool notions about linking caster power to areas of land, a la both MtG and Sovereign Magic - I think this would be something very interesting to mix into a hex-crawling and domain-level game, but am not sure how to do it properly just yet.  Perhaps land areas providing access to specific bonus spells known (eg "He who controls the Mirkwood can summon its spiders")?  Midnight suggests an alternate approach with its places of power; there are places in the world which are saturated with magic of a particular type, and which might grant bonuses or 'arcane power' (like divine power, but naturally-generated) towards spell research and magic item creation in accordance with those themes.  Sounds like a good hook for a wilderness expedition ("We want to go to the magma vortex so the wizard can use it to research fireball on the cheap") or a good reason to build a mage's sanctum out in the middle of nowhere...  In any case, things to think about.


  1. That sounds really cool! The key, I think, is that you can only have so many henchmen, but you could have henchmen AND summoned creatures, which could be very useful. Plus there's less risk of death when being summoned, so some creatures might decide that's better than being a henchman. I really like the idea of defeating a monster without killing it, and then being able to use it later. That'd be awesome.

    The idea of tying magical power to hexes is also interesting. In Exalted, there are explicit places of power which you can find and attune yourself to to increase the amount of magic you recover over time. However, if you build a specific kind of building called a Manse on top of them in order to channel the energies of that land to a specific point, the building will cause the magic to crystallize into an item. The item allows access to the regenerative energies of the land (and increases them as well) and also has some kind of additional effect depending on the kind of land settled. For instance, a manse built in the middle of a desert might be attuned to fire, and generate a stone capable of protecting its bearer from flames, or a stone which allows its bearer to drive themselves into a fury. A manse built upon a seaside cliff might be attuned to water and generate a stone which ensures that the ship that bears it will emerge unscathed from all storms, or a stone that prevents the bearer from being restrained in any way. In Exalted, of course, these items are pretty trivial, but in an ACKS-like setting I could see something like that being really useful. The ability of a spellcaster to attune themselves to that land and gain access to some appropriate spells would also be interesting.

    Hmm... and in regards to your previous post as well, when the land is just land, anyone can attune themselves to it, but once a manse has been created on top of it all previous attunements are broken, which may cause some interesting people to start coming around to find out what upstart built a building on top of their place of power.

  2. About five and a half years ago I wrote an article exploring a similar idea, tyflec. was inspired by the Dance of the Rings series by Jane S. Fancher.