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Old Screeds

Psychopomp spells [19 Nov 08] Designed to give a caster new spells at every level, not just at half of them

In my new "3E Done Right" d20 game, Scurry, there will be five classes. Working titles are guardian, craphound, artisan, leader, and psychopomp. The last is a full-blown arcanist, and the subject of today's screed.

However, before I get too deep into game rules, I just can't pass up the chance to link to this. I'm liking "Scurry" as the name for my game more and more, LOL!

Now, to return to the topic at hand, taking your fifth level in the traditional wizard class is well known ("infamous," I would say) as the first true pay-off level ... and has been since back in first edition, when the class was called "magic-user." That's because at fifth level you get Fireball and Lightning Bolt, hallmark spells that really stand out. But what about taking your fourth level as a wizard, or your sixth? Not so hallmarky. In fact, all of the odd levels are exciting levels for wizards, seeing as those are levels that get you a new set of spells, while the even levels are just, well, kind of blah.

That's a flaw in the system. Philosophically speaking, every level of a class should be equally powerful, equally compelling. How many multiclass wizards take just four levels of wizard, or six, especially if they are not taking a PrC that also advances their spellcasting? Darn few, I say, and that's wrong. Well, Scurry aims to fix mistakes like this, and for caster classes, the answer I came up with is a "Spells Per Day" table that gives new spells every level.

I'm particularly pleased with this solution because it also fixes the lexical dilemma of why a fifth level mage casts third level spells! To the uninitiated, this makes no sense; surely a fifth level caster should cast fifth level spells! Well now, for the psychopomp, that's true! Yes, a tenth level psychopomp spell should be about as potent as a fifth level wizard spell. And yes, I'll have to revamp the standard spell save DC equation of DC = 10 + spell level + ability score modifier. I have ideas for that. But I'll leave that for another day, and instead present, without further ado, Spells for the Psychopomp!

In myth and fiction, a psychopomp is an animal or spirit-animal that guides a soul to the afterlife. By analogy, as a midwife is to birth, a psychopomp is to death. Stephen King's novel, The Dark Half, features psychopomps.

In Scurry, psychopomps are arcane casters who gain knowledge of magical arts by communing with the spirits of the dead. When a psychopomp sleeps, she sends her soul to the other-planar realms where spirits dwell. There, she seeks mentors who teach her and place spells that she requests into her mind.

Thus, unlike wizards, psychopomps do not need spell books. And unlike sorcerers and bards, they are not reliant on their own limited memories in determining the spells they can cast. Instead, a psychopomp can choose from any spell listed in the table below, rather as a cleric does, since the psychopomp depends not on a book or her own mind, but on the beneficence of the spirits to help her prepare the spells she desires each day.

If a psychopomp sleeps a full eight hours, she can prepare a full new complement of spells. If she sleeps for less time, she can prepare a proportionately smaller selection of spells; that might not be a problem if she has not cast all the spells she had prepared the previous day. Upon waking, the psychopomp requires no time to prepare, memorize, or pray for spells -- all that was taken care of by the spirits while she slept.

Psychopomp spells fall into five "houses," or categories. This classification does not replace a spell's school; Ray of Enfeeblement falls into both the Necromancy school and the House of Soultouch, while Restoration is both Conjuration and Soultouch. The five houses are described and color coded below:

Soultouch: Psyche-related spells that affect living things
Deathpower: Death-linked spells that affect spirits and the undead, summon spirits, or create ectoplasmic extensions of the caster
Esper: Spells that aid or enhance the sixth sense, communicate soul-to-soul, or contact spirits
Night-horror: Spells that tap primal fears, paralyze with terror, foster insanity, or inspire sleep
Mystery: Spells that disguise and hide

Please scroll down for notes on the spells that are highlighted in the table.

1 2 3 4 5
Daze Cause Fear Doom Augury Clairaud/voy
See Auras Confusion, Less Helping Hand Consecrate False Life
Detect Magic Deathwatch Restoratn, Less Daze Monster Halt Undead
Disguise Self Det Undead See Invisibility Invis Sphere Hold Animal
Disrupt Undead Hide from Und Seeming Modify Memory Illusory Wall
Lullaby Invisibility Sleep Scare Speak w/ Dead
Touch of Fatigue Ray of Enfeeb Status Spectral Hand Touch of Idiocy
6 7 8 9 10
Arcane Sight Arcane Eye Bestow Curse Comn w/ Spirits Hallow
Death Ward Awaken, Less Deep Slumber Confusion Hold Monster
Detect Thoughts Detect Scrying Discern Lies Crushng Despair Magic Jar
Fear Hold Person Divination Exorcism, Less Nondetection
Halluc Terrain Locate Creature Invisibility, Grtr Enervation Permanency
Ray of Exhaustn Restoration Spirit Ally, Less Prying Eyes Telepathic Bond
Reincarnate Vampiric Touch Remove Curse Scrying True Seeing
11 12 13 14 15
Anlyze Dweomer Feeblemind Arc Sight, Grtr Awaken, Grtr Discern Location
Atonement Find the Path Circle of Death Binding Exorcism, Grtr
Dream Legend Lore Eyebite Insanity Finger of Death
Mirage Arcana Spirit Ally Invisibility, Mass Scrying, Grtr Mislead
Raise Dead Undeath to Death Nightmare Slay Living Hold Anim, Mass
Restoration, Grtr Waves of Fatigue      
16 17 18 19 20
False Vision Antipathy Destruction Mind Blank Screen
Mom of Prescnce Energy Drain Hold Mons, Mass Power Word Kill Sleeping Soul
Power Word Stun Foresight Veil Pry Eyes, Grtr True Resurrect
Spirit Ally, Grtr Hold Pers, Mass Soul Bind    
Waves of Exhaust        


Divine Focus: A psychpomp ignores any requirement for a divine focus in casting spells and turning undead. A call for holy water can be met with clean fresh water, and a call for incense with anything that smells strong and sweet, like crushed flower petals.

Paralyze With Fear: Any Soultouch spell that stuns or holds a target functions through terror, and thus gains the Fear descriptor.

Notes on individual spells (highlighted in table above):
  • Awaken: This spell is like the tradtional druidic Awaken spell, except that Lesser Awaken can only be cast on newborns of the five races of Scurry; in them, it imbues the child with a soul, allowing play as a PC or NPC. Greater Awaken can be used for the same purpose, or in exactly the same way as the spell as written, but the Greater spell has no xp cost and the casting time is one minute. .
  • Binding: Note that only the slumber version of this spell may be used.
  • Consecrate : The spell requires clean water and 1 sp of powdered silver. This spell does not include the options for affecting areas with altars and shrines.
  • Deathwatch: The spell is not evil or foul.
  • Detect Scrying: The material components are not used up; they are actually focuses, not components.
  • Discern Location: Only creatures may be located.
  • Exorcism, Lesser: This spell is like Dismissal, but it affects incorporeal creatures (forcing them to the Ethereal or another plane for 1d4 weeks, with no manifestation possible) and the possessed (ending spells such as Domination and Magic Jar).
  • Exorcism, Greater: This spell is like Banishment and Lesser Exorcism, but it affects incorporeal creatures (banishing them for 1d4 years) and the possessed, and can be used to force the intelligence out of intelligent magic items.
  • Hallow: There is no material component; only the second and third effects of the spell as written apply.
  • Hallucinatory Terrain: The spell can disguise confined interior spaces as well as natural ones.
  • Hold Animal, Mass: This spell is exactly like Hold Person, Mass, but affects animals, not persons.
  • Invisibility: Sap from any tree can be used in place of gum arabic.
  • Permanency: This can be used for certain Esper spells (any first, second, or third level Esper spell as well as Telepathic Bond), the lesser ectoplasmic Deathpower spells (Helping Hand, Spectral Hand, Arcane Eye, Prying Eyes), and with a few Mysteries that disguise areas (Hallucinatory Terrain, Mirage Arcana, Screen). The cost is 100 xp per spell level.
  • Prying Eyes: Any small beads may be used for the spell.
  • Ray of Exhaustion: Note that rats and mice sweat, albeit to a lesser degree than humans.
  • Reincarnate: The spell is exactly like the druidic version (including the material components), but can only be cast on a dead sparrow, gecko, mouse, rat, or cockroach (the five Scurry player races), and returns the creature from the dead as one of the five, chosen at random.
  • Scrying: Any silver mirror will suffice.
  • See Auras: This spell is exactly like casting Detect Evil, Good, Chaos, and Law simultaneously.
  • Sleeping Soul: This spell is exactly like Trap the Soul, but the material body is left behind, an empty shell, seemingly in an unbreakable sleep.
  • Speak with Dead: This spell is like the cleric spell of the same name, but it calls the spirit to answer, not "imprinted knowledge stored in the corpse." Therefore, the spirit may be friendly or not, cooperative or not, and will remember if it is called again. The spirit gets no will save and must answer, but is not bound to tell the truth; it may be brief and cryptic or talkative and clear. A diplomacy check may be called for by the DM if the spirit's attitude is not obvious. It might also be possible to bargain with the spirit.
  • Spirit Ally: These spells are like the Planar Ally spells, especially insofar as bargaining for services and costs. Lesser Spirit Ally calls an incorporeal and invisible spirit whose main function is to spy and report back, since it cannot influence the material world at all. The more potent Spirit Ally spell can perform this function or can possess a magic item, making it into an intelligent magic item for the duration (roll randomly for capabilities). The Greater Spirit Ally can spy or possess an item or can possess a willing creature or any sleeping creature. The advantage to possessing a willing creature is that if the creature is mentally attacked or overcome, the spirit can take over. The advantage to possessing a sleeper is that the possessed creature can "wake," rise, and function as if dominated. The possessed wakes and is no longer possessed if hurt or clearly threatened.
  • Touch of Fatigue: Note that rats and mice sweat, albeit to a lesser degree than humans.

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