Saturday, December 7, 2019

Knave Spellcasting (and Clerics)

This is the third post in the series, where I try to develop my Knave hack. The ultimate goal is to have a ready to use modern interpretation of old B/X rules for play in my games. Even though Knave is brilliant in its simplicity, it also provides a solid foundation to start building and adding.

First I tackled Ancestries, and then decided to go for Class-like abilities called Knacks for Knaves.

Fighter/Thief/Magic-User/Cleric are a must options to be conserved in my game. Knave doesn't bother with these distinctions with the "equipment is all" philosophy. That's fair. But players tend to favor distinction and character customization. Hence the Knacks, to add options and distinctions. From the four, the first three are even covered in "vanilla" Knave. Not the Clerics though.

Magic-User spellcasting is intuitive and described by "vanilla" Kave in the following (Designer Notes removed):

The spell lists from any old-school RPG will work perfectly well in Knave, provided that they go up to 9th level. There are many free lists of classic spells available online.

In Knave, PCs may only cast spells of their level or less, so a level 3 PC could only cast spells of level 0 to 3. Spells are cast out of spell books, which must be held in both hands and read aloud. Each spell book can only be used once per day. Importantly, each spell book only holds a single spell, and each spell book takes up an item slot, so if a PC wants to be able to cast a wide variety of spells, they’ll have to fill most of their inventory with spell books.

PCs are unable to create, copy or transcribe spell books. In order to gain new spell books, PCs must adventure for them, by either recovering them from dungeons or looting them from other magicians. The higher the level of the spell book, the rarer and more valuable it is. PCs openly carrying high level spell books are likely to be hounded by bandits and wizards looking to “acquire” them.

When a spell allows for a save, make an opposed Intelligence save against the defender’s relevant ability, usually Dexterity for ranged attack spells, Constitution for life-draining spells, Intelligence for mind-altering spells, or Wisdom for Illusions.

Arcane Spellcasting

Magic-User spellcasting something easy to expand and adapt on. My take on Arcane Spellcasting:
  • Instead of the default list, I will be using spellcasting from GLOG, since my love for the Magic Dice (MD) mechanic is unconditional. This conserves the level-less spells from the original list in Knave, but adds depth.
  • Every spell can be cast as many times the MU wants, as long as they have a spellbook in their inventory, and available Magic Dice. Reputable wizards will fill their Item Slots quickly.
  • There are actually 3 ways a PC can cast arcane spells, and they all involve taking a Knack.
    • Student of the Arcane gives the ability to read spellbooks. This Knack will be the bread and butter of many PCs.
    • Spell Tattoos gives a signature spell.
    • Chaos Mage is a nice way to get a random spell per day. It could be useless, or a campaign-changer. 
  • The saves for spell effects are conserved pretty much from the original 4th paragraph above (from "vanilla" Knave).
Easy, just use GLOG arcane spellcasting for Magic-Users, à la Skerples.

What IS a Cleric?

A B/X Cleric usually has part or all of the following features:
  1. Decent HP. Better than Thief and Magic-User, worse than Fighter.
  2. Can wear heavy armor, wield shields, and use (blunt) weapons in combat.
  3. Very effective against undead. Either by a specific Turn Undead feature, or by means of Cleric spells.
  4. They can create holy water, very effective against certain foes. Consecrate sites too.
  5. Can cast divine spells. Usually up to a level or two less than the Magic-User. These include, unique to a Cleric:
  • Healing and curse removal spells
  • Bless/bane
  • Silence, dispel magic
  • Protection to different hazards (poison, certain alignments)
  • Divinations (detect evil, detect magic, locate object, commune, etc.)
  • Some "biblical" damaging hazard: insect plague, wall of fire, earthquake, etc.
  • Some include a regeneration/restoration resurrection spell. That restores lost level drains, limbs from the dismemberment table, or a brings back a dead character entirely.
Let's go ahead and list again the Knacks of Faith I wrote for Clerics, and see what is covered and how:
  • Blind Faith: Take a sacred oath with your faith/authority. You gain the ability to use Clerical Implements (bells, candles, herbs or similar), and gain one. You can use it with one hand to cast Prayers.
  • Turn Undead: Level# per day, force up to WIS bonus+Level HD worth of undead to make a morale check using your action. Apply a negative modifier equal to your WIS bonus to the check.
  • Pacifist: Whenever you get a reaction roll to resolve a situation that could end up in combat, if you and your allies remain calm, the roll is with Advantage.
  • Hammer of The Authority: Grant Advantage to any morale checks your retainers/hirelings/acolytes make as your below a holy litany and lay waste with your warhammer.
  • Sacred Feast: Out of combat you can bless Rations or Snacks that are meant to regain HP with your Clerical Implement. Creatures add your WIS bonus to their HP healed.
  • Witch Hunter: You smell the presence of Magic Users, Witches, or other Clerics.

1. and 2. are not explicitly covered. And probably don't need to. All Knaves already have the same HD size (d8), and can wear as much armor as they want. As always, the limiting factor are the Item Slots, and the hands carried. By allowing Clerics to cast spells by still holding a shield or wielding a sword, we make a clear distinction to the Magic-User.
3. Turn Undead has its own Knack.
4. These don't need a specific feature, and are better covered by spells (if at all).
5. The Blind Faith Knack covers spellcasting. Still need to check what these have to cover. But the other Knacks are also important (and probably not part of the B/X repertoire, but rather a more modern Paladin or Knight).
Pacifist and Hammer of The Authority focus on the social aspect of the Cleric. In my mind, a zealot priest is a holy warrior that leads with word and pose. Their usefulness is very campaign dependent, and if hirelings are a thing on your game or not.
Witch Hunter is a version of the Detect Magic spell, that can pin-point spellcasting individuals. It doesn't work on objects or places, so it is again useful on a specific type of game/campaign.

Spell selection will be key here, to have the iconic Cleric spells included, and roughly scale them by level. Contrary to Arcane spellcasting, Prayers should be reliable (no Mishaps/Dooms), but there should be a finite number of castings per day (some save?). My 5e past tempts me to make all spells available at a certain level, the same way cleric/druid/paladin work in that edition.

TL;DR: Enter the Knave Cleric

A Clerical Implement can take many forms... by Jens Kuczwara

Clerics, priests, paladins, zealots and holy individuals fuel their powers by saying Prayers to their deity, god(s) or authority. More reliable power than an arcane wizard could ever dream of. A PC that has taken a sacred oath, and taken the Blind Faith Knack, is able to use Clerical Implements (CI). These take the form of bells, candles, herbs or similar tools, and are the fuel of these divine Prayers. You could design some CI for your game this way.

CI are rare and obscure items. They can't be crafted or bought, but could be traded, found, or retrieved. To a fellow priest or scholar they are invaluable. To most peasants, useless trinkets.

Saying a Prayer requires an Action (unless otherwise specified), and the CI held on one hand when doing so. The rest of the CI can easily sit on the backpack and still be serviceable. Each CI takes up an Item Slot. The more CI carried, the more numerous and stronger the available Prayers become. Note that some Prayers require a Save during the saying (WIS Save, unless otherwise specified in the Prayer description).  In addition, the character level has to be equal or higher than the number of CI required for a certain Prayer. Otherwise, there are no restrictions and all Prayers are automatically available.

Example: Merrick the priest is Level 3 and has 4 Clerical Implements. They can use any of the 15 Prayers in the lists below up to and including "3 Clerical Implements".

After using any number of CI for a Prayer, do a WIS Save. On a fail, lose the ability to use those CI again until you rest for the night. If the number rolled on the save die is equal or lower than the number of CI used, the CI break completely (the bells crack, the incense rots, the candles melt, etc.), and you lose those items.

Spells marked with an * are reversible, and can be used in either form, separated with |. Some spells have a varying [Level] value of the Cleric saying the Prayer. A round is 10 seconds, a turn 10 minutes.

1 Clerical Implement

  • Bless*: Duration 1 min/[Level], Range: 40', Save: No|Yes
    • Creature of your choice gets +1 to hit and +1 to save vs fear effects (incl. morale)|Bane is opposite
  • Cure Light Wounds*: Duration: Permanent, Range: Touch, Save: No|Yes
    • Heal d6 + [Level] HP from a creature OR remove one temporary condition (stunned, deafened, blinded)|Deal d6 + [Level] HP to a creature. Double if undead.
  • Divine Ceremony: Saying time: 1 hour, Duration: Special, Range: Touch, Save: No
    • Choose one of the following. Each can only be done once on a creature:
      • Funeral: preserve a dead body for [Level] days from becoming undead.
      • Join: willing creature joins your faith. They gain advantage on next [Level] saves.
      • Wedding: marry two willing creatures. +1 to saves for next [Level] days as long as within 40'.
  • Purify Food & Drink*: Duration: Permanent, Range: 30', Save: No
    • [WIS bonus] portions of food & water edible|non-edible
  • Remove Fear*: Duration: Special, Range: Touch, Save: No/Yes
    • Subject on effect of Fear, can do a Save adding your [Level]|Touch a creature and cause them to do an opposed Save, or they run hysterically for [Level] rounds in Fear.

2 Clerical Implements

  • Augury: Duration Instantaneous, Range: 0, Save: No
    • Ask if particular actions will have good or bad consequences. 70%+ 1%|[Level] chance for answer. Event up to 2 turns in advance.
  • Command: Duration: 1 round/[Level], Range: 20', Save: Yes
    • One word command to a creature that can hear you. Opposed save their CHA vs your WIS. On fail they must follow command as best they can. No directly harmful words (e.g. die, jump (off cliff)).
  • Delay Poison: Duration: Instantaneous, Range: Touch, Save: Yes
    • Creature that was poisoned in the last 24 hours gets a Save to resist.
  • Resist Cold*: Duration: 1 round/[Level], Range: Touch, Save: No|No
    • Temporary immunity to minor cold|fire weather conditions (e.g. blizzard, dessert). +3 to saves against major cold|fire effects (e.g. fireball). Reduce [Level] damage from such sources .
  • Silence 15' Radius: Duration: 2 rounds/[Level], Range: 150', Save: Yes
    • 30' diameter area of absolute silence. No spellcasting possible. Stationary area if object targeted. If creature targeted, they get opposed save.

3 Clerical Implements

  • Dispel Magic: Duration: Instantaneous, Range: 120', Save: Yes
    • Save WIS for spell to work. Affects a 20' area. All spell effects in the area end. If spell is targeted at creature or object, they lose the ability to create magical effects for [Level] turns (includes magical potions). Creatures can do an opposed save to avoid.
  • Remove Curse*: Duration: Instantaneous, Range: 20', Save: Yes|Yes
    • Save to remove one curse from an object or creature. Does not remove the curse from the object, but allows a creature to take it off (shield, weapon, armor).|Bestow curse if creature fails opposed save. Referee has to agree on effects. Examples: -2 to Saves, -4 to hit, etc.
  • Sacrifice*: Duration: Instantaneous, Range: Touch, Save: No|Yes
    • Transfer any number of HP from Cleric to the target creature|Drain 1d6 + [Level] HP to the Cleric. The creature gets a save.
  • Summon Avatar*: Duration: 1 round/[Level], Range: 40', Save: Yes|Yes
  • Speak with Dead: Duration: 1 turn, Range: 10', Save: No
    • Corpse answers up to [Level] questions (sometimes cryptically) with knowledge it had in life. This is imprinted knowledge "stored" in the body.

4 Clerical Implements

  • Consecrate Land*: Saying time: 1 hour, Duration Permanent, Range: 300', Save: No|No
    • Choose an area [Level]x10' in diameter. It becomes holy land. +3 to any Turn Undead and +1 to saves against fear. Undead also suffer -1 to all rolls.|Opposite effect can neutralize an area, or desecrate it.
  • Create Water: Duration: Permanent, Range: 20', Save: No
    • [Level] gallons are created with the saying (1 gallon suffices for one day for 3 creatures). Containers are needed.
  • Cure Serious Wounds*: Duration: Instantaneous, Range: Touch, Save: No|Yes
    • Heal 2d6 + [Level] HP from a creature OR remove one condition (stunned, deafened, blinded, paralyzed)|Deal 2d6 + [Level] HP to a creature. Double if undead.
  • Detect Lie: Duration: Instantaneous, Range: 0, Save: No
    • Determine if any one statement made to you in the past hour was true or false. Honest mistakes are not detected as lies, nor are untrue statements made by charmed or bewitched individuals, for they know not what they say.
  • Spell Immunity: Duration: 1 turn/[Level], Range: Touch, Save: Yes
    • Make a WIS save. On success, target gains resistance against spell and spell-like abilities: Advantage to such Saves. On fail, it is Disadvantage. Duration can be divided with up to [Level] targets.

5 Clerical Implements

  • Commune: Saying time: 1 turn, Duration: 1 turn, Range: 0, Save: Yes
    • You get in direct contact with your authority. You get to ask [WIS bonus/2] (rounded up) questions with "yes" or "no" answers. During the spells duration, you are incapacitated in a trance. After you are done, Save or fall in a coma for [Level] hours.
  • Create Food: Duration: Permanent, Range: 10', Save: No
    • Create 3x[Level] rations that rot in the next 24 hours. Saying Purify Food & Drink extends duration by another 24 hours.
  • Insect Plague: Duration: 1 turn, Range: 300'+[WIS bonus]x10', Save: Yes
    • A 60' diameter swarm of locusts are summoned, which heavily obscure the area. 9HD creature with 3 attacks dealing d3 damage (double damage if unarmored). Creatures of 2HD or less in the area must make a morale check when this spell is cast. Every turn, do a WIS save. On a fail, the locusts turn to dust.
  • Raise Dead*: Duration: Instantaneous, Range: Touch, Save: Yes|Yes
    • Restore to life a deceased humanoid, that has been dead no longer than [Level] days. Soul has to be willing. They come back with 1 lost level (or HD). Undead can't be restored this way. Spell can't bring back someone who died of old. Do a WIS save. On a fail, the spell consumes a random life within 40' of the subject.|Opposed save against touched creature. If failed, they are killed instantly. Otherwise, they take 2d8 damage. Undead can't be affected this way.
  • True Seeing: Duration: 1 round/[Level], Range: Touch, Save: No
    • Target sees things as they actually are. See through normal and magical darkness, secret doors, illusions, invisible creatures, transmuted, etc.


  1. How do you use the MD for the Knave Spells? Do you need one MD for the casting and cast the spell at the level of the character or is it MD spend= spell-level?

    1. I'd say MD based on PC Level. Something like Level/2 rounded up sounds reasonable.

      Clerics advance faster, but their chances of breaking the Clerical Implements scale, so I'm not too bothered by that.