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Ars Magica hack for Tartary (Chargen)

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

So because I’m a lunatic I decided to try running Tartary in Ars Magica rather than the more obvious DnD route (also because I don’t want to deal with levels, at least for now). And then I hacked AM to look as much like DnD as possible.* Idiot.

Anyway: simplified Ars Magica chargen for Tartary.

1. roll characteristics,
2. choose a “class” – this is your major skill. Add 2 minor skills,
3. roll equipment.

Core Mechanic ie what you’re rolling against: 

D10 + relevant characteristic + situational modifiers against a target difficulty number. 1 is a botch (roll again – 1 confirms the botch, but there may be mods on that second roll depending on how risky the thing was you were doing). 0 is exploding – roll again, add to the previous result. (note this is the inverse of AM. Crazy huh?)

You can take “extra risk” and add +n to your die roll, but then you have to roll over n to avoid a botch.

AM has needlessly complex initiative and combat rolls. Here you just roll D10 + skill + sneaky roleplaying mods you fast talk me into, and try to get higher than the enemy. All combat is simultaneous except where there’s surprise.

Attributes (different from AM, sorry):
roll 1d6 -3 for each of these, yielding a range of -2 to +3. In order, natch.

Phy(sique = Str and Con combined), Dex, Int, Per(ception), Wis, Cha.

If you are not happy with your whole suite of rolls you can change the sign of all of them at once – all negatives become positives and vice versa. Attributes actually matter, so it might be worth it. Or just cheat completely: how would I know?

Hit Points

I do not use Ars Magica’s Body Levels. Instead there are hit points (which represent luck pure and simple and which recover after a night’s sleep) and a death and dismemberment table adapted from Trollsmyth, for when the hp run out.

To calculate HP: D6 + Wis + Phy + 4. Because wisdom is the art of doing what turned out to be the right thing after all (which sounds a lot like luck to me) and being big and beefy at least looks like it matters when you’re shrugging off minor damage.

If you take enough damage to reduce you to 0 hp, then roll on the The Death and Dismemberment Table (via Trollsmyth and Carjacked Seraphim). Roll 1d10 minus whatever negative hp you might be on.

1 confirmed by rerolling 1: Instant death (decapitated or other grievous wound).
1 but unconfirmed: Incapacitated/maimed. Die in 1d6 minutes unless medics beat difficulty target 9. Medics will be working on you for hours. Weak for 2d6 weeks, some lasting impairment.
2: Severed limb (DM’s choice or roll randomly) will die in 3d6 minutes unless tourniquet applied, cauterized etc. Then will die in 3d6 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Out for min. 1 hour.
3: lose something fragile – an eye, an ear, a finger, your memory/sense of self-identity. You’ll die in 3d10 hours unless medics beat difficulty 6. Beat 6 on d10+Wis or be stunned for rest of combat
4-5: broken bones, punctured lungs: roll over blow-through damage to stay conscious. You need medical aid or you will never be the same again. Also will die in d10 hours if you don’t stop the bleeding. With proper care you can recover completely. Meanwhile beat 6 on D10+Wis every time you try to do something strenuous or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+CHA or roll again on this table.
6: Knocked out and concussed. At -3 to do everything for 2d12 hours. Also you’re still on 0 hp. Beat 6 on D10 or you’ll black out. And if you do, then beat 6 on d10+Cha or roll again on this table.
7: Beat 6 on d10+Wis of be knocked out for d10 minutes.
8: Stunned and confused until someone snaps you out of it.
9: drop weapon, stunned for 1 round.
10: Adrenaline Surge. get back 1d3 HP. These go away again at the end of combat, at which point reroll. Another 10? permanently get +1 hp.

Abilities and Skills:

Everyone has 3 fields of ability: your class (a broad but ill-defined suite of skills, on which you get +6); your minor (a more limited skill area, like “bargain” or “athletics (ie run, jump, climb)” on which you get +4) and your hobby (same as minor but you only get +3).

If you want to specialise like crazy you can ditch your +4 minor and make ONE of your class’s core skills +7.
Everyone also gets Fight at +3 (unless they already have it at +6 because of their class, obviously. Sheesh.) – if you want you can trade this out for a different skill at +3 and be the one person around who can’t fight. Fight, by the way, covers all kinds of melee, brawling and dirty tricks bound up together.
Everyone can also at minimum ride a horse or camel well enough not to fall off on the trail, erect a tent, build a fire, climb easy rocky cliffs, walk quietly etc. without needing points in those things. BUT literacy, driving, repairing machines, swimming, medicine and shooting straight are not assumed.

Sample Classes (some extra class flavour here) – or suggest your own, natch.

Athletic/fighting classes – these guys all Fight, Shoot and Ride professionally (+5), but they have different societies, priorities and other skills.
Mamluk (Mamluk/pilot/ordnance officer) used to formal command systems, respectability and driving and field maintenance of heavy equipment, sapping etc.
Nomad (Turkmen horseclansman, pirate, steppe bandit, Mongol, barbarian) adds survival, tracking, animal handling and slaving contacts.
Green man (or Thark for the layman) unrivalled marksmen (automatically get +6 to shooting but no familiarity with bows), 4 arms allows multiple attacks, but almost universally outcast as rage-prone lunatics, stand out in a crowd, too big to usefully ride anything smaller than a thoat. May not have Wis above 0.

Sneaky, techie classes – in Tartary technology is always secret and academics need con-man skills, so there’s a large liaison between magic, tech and thief type skills.
Grease Monkey (hack-it-together mechanic, repairman and saboteur)
Scholar (or Apprentice Technomage/archaeologist – part Stalker, part Repo Man, and a large part knowledgable thief)
Merchant, Smuggler, Ambassador, Spy (same skillsets, reasons to keep moving on),

Charismatic classes – not clerics, but rabble-rousing talkers. Cha, obviously, but also Int, Dex, Phy can be important.
Lawgiver (respectable traveling Qadi or Mufti – eg ibn Battuta – more a Solomonic judge than a sheriff but both ideas are applicable)
Prophet, mystic or saint (shaggy-haired bushman or resplendently caparisoned spirit medium, the point is you have a strange hypnotic authority for some people)
Entertainer (be a bard if you like but you could be a veiled dancer, acrobat, or fakir)
Bollymecha Gladiator/Jockey (there are lots of ways you could’ve had a shot at the big time and fallen by the wayside. Now it’s comeback time. You have hands-on experience of surfing the dragon, but not necessarily any idea of what to do when it goes wrong. Somewhere you have a gaggle of die-hard fans. And sworn enemies. Note that to perform at the top you gotta be a triple threat – singing, dancing and whoopin’ ass in a giant fighting machine – but street brawling ain’t for stars)

NOTE: I am always interested in new classes that trade on Perception or Wisdom, or trades that favour less-traveled mixes of talents, like strong/wise or strong/charismatic: if you have an idea you’re excited about I’m unlikely to say no.

Sample minor skills. Where there’s a slash you get the combo: I just couldn’t think of an elegant name for it.

acrobatics/escapology (circus work, includes multi-person stunts)
athletics (parkour – climb, run, jump)
evaluate goods/bargain
etiquette/savoir faire
folk ken (applied psychology/empathy)
animal handling/whispering
direction sense (track, find your way in the dark etc)
radiation sense (aka detect magic)
concentration/iron will (useful for rocket surgeons, lookouts)
jimmy (pick locks, also fix machines with a kick or whisper)
read lips/gesture
weather sense
shoot – bow or guns or artillery
sleight of hand, 
law, beliefs
sail, drive, or fly vehicle

Experience and Character Advancement

is handed out at DM’s will and whim, but often comes down to 1xp per session of active participation, and sometimes an extra 1 if you do something awesome.

An xp is a skill point plain and simple. The cost to improve a skill by 1 point = the resulting bonus. SO to improve a skill of 3 to 4 costs 4 points. Then to improve that to 5 costs 5 points. In short, it’s a triangular number system.

Attributes can also be improved, but the cost is triple that for skills. So to improve DEXterity from 0 to 1 costs 3xp. From 1 to 2 costs 6xp, from 2 to 3 costs 9xp. It’s the same with negatives: -1 to 0 costs 3xp. -2 to -1 costs 6xp etc.

Equipment (reproduced from here)

First roll to see how desperate and starving you are – or talk me into agreeing to a specific social stratum via a really great character concept story.

Level of Destitution (d6)

1. naked and alone. You have exactly nothing. Save vs. INT or you’re also suffering from amnesia
2. where’d you get that? roll d6+14 twice on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
3. one good friend. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 3d8 on Table A and 1d12 on Table B
4. practically minded. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d12 on Table A and 1d6 on Table B
5. expert skip-dipper. You have the basic tool of your trade** plus 4d20 on Table A
6. Favoured urbanite with social contacts: roll 6d20 on table A, 2d12 on table B

** a melee weapon or a grease monkey’s spannerwrench or a grapnel/multitool or a primus stove and glassware or whatever.

Table A
1. crowbar
2. dagger
3. shield
4. food, drink and backpack
5. lamp and flasks of oil (3)
6. melee weapon
7. armour: leather or improvised equivalent
8. bow or crossbow with 10 arrows/bolts
9. handcart – doubles as a small raft
10. mirror
11. rope (50′)
12. grappling hook
13. pouch with 20 silver dirhams
14. musical instrument
15. hammer, chisel, pick + 8 iron spikes
16. writing box and seal
17. jezzail or blunderbuss + 10 shots
18. 10 radium shells for a jezzail/blunderbuss.
19. grease monkey’s spanner-wrench
20. 3 detonator charges, with timers

Table B
1 lucky medallion (re-roll 1 failed saving throw)
2 potion of healing (2d6 hp)
3 lockable iron-bound chest
4 guard animal (dog, calot or similar)
5 riding or pack animal (camel, pony, small thoat)
6 yurt or similar packable shelter
7 armor: chain or exotic
8 book – holy text or instruction manual or blueprints
9 map
10 loyal family retainer – a standard grog with a couple of charming quirks.
11 holy symbol or badge of office
12 radio

Also check out these name lists right here.

Sample Character: Armağan the Vagrant is a some time scholar and part-time bandit. Allegedly he has a prestigious apprenticeship waiting for him among the Seers of Otrar, but that’s conditional on him bringing something back from his “fieldwork” to form the focus of his research.
Phy -1, Dex 0, Int +2, Per +1, Wis -2, Cha 0. Scholar/archaeologist 5, smuggler 3, liar 2
Chemistry set and ancient mysterious instruction manual, crowbar (counts as club), lamp and oil. One flask of something he hopes is a potion of healing.

General statements about the setting:
Tartary has “technomagic” – a lot of stuff in Tartary obeys peculiar physical laws, functions unpredictably, is misunderstood and has some kind of superstitious traditions built around it.
Doing technomagic means building and using equipment or stuff in the environment. Nobody starts with magic on hand, it must be found through play – though scholars may recognise it when they see it and know where to learn more about it. There is most of all no equivalent to DnD’s one-spell-a-day magic user or cleric – there are guilds of scholars and mad archmages with plenty of mystique around them, but they mostly fight over physical resources. Even the great choreomancers, who clearly do honest-to-whizbang magic, work with physical tools.

All new characters are generated as “companions:” competent non-magic folk. Also, by default everyone can fight – but just being a fighter is boring, so folks are mostly distinguished by being able to do other things.

Common belief says there is an “overworld,” but that’s where consensus ends. Tartary has a hard time distinguishing between magic and engineering – it certainly does not draw any clear line between magic and religion. In place of clerics there are Those Who Hold The Law. There are various kinds of uncanny spirits, sprites and parasites, but whether they are undead or not is a philosophical matter: anyway nobody can turn them.

Tartary has no “home tech level” (like DnD’s home tech level is roughly 14th century but you might run across stuff that’s anachronistic/out of place), it’s the whole history of Turkestan, ancient to post-Soviet, simultaneously – flattened into a brick – plus “magic” and post-apocalyptic bits and Girl Genius and Arabian Nights shout-outs.
But real high-tech is rare: production quality is generally low – stuff is improvised, home-made. Bows are no more common than guns or slings or atlatls, but the guns are what you could cook up in the desert with simple tools: more like unreliable muskets than modern assault rifles. You use what you can. Technologies that have dependencies (like cars that need fuel and spare parts) are rarer and less reliable than those that don’t (like rocks and hide shelters). Real manufactured goods are the stuff of legend – and are to be found in dangerous, Roadside Picnic type zones.

Tartary also has no widespread cash economy – individual cities and some confederations exist that have common money, and the Armenian and Chinese trade networks have paper letters of credit that work something like cash (but must be certified), but most trade is barter and exchange rates for metals, rare stones, spices and other common cash equivalents are wildly variable.

Language is a mish-mash of Turkic/Uighur/Persian/Arabic/Pashto forming a pidgin “common” tongue – most people also have their “native” language spoken only by a small population in the local area, so kin/neighbours often have a kind of secret code among themselves. This effect is doubled for incoming flailsnailers, who are definitely gringos/farangs in a foreign land, but can communicate well enough to get by, when everyone wants to be understood.

Colour-coded Carcosans dropped in some years ago and have their own communities out in the wastes, but they’re a minority. If you play a Carcosan then you can speak Carcosan and bad common, you’ll be tolerated by most non-Carcosans, and you may be hunted by sorcerers or paint suppliers, but in recompense you get some natural radiation/magic resistance. Prejudice is so universal and works in so many directions that it’s hardly worth mentioning anti-Orange or -Teal* feeling. The exception, of course, is Bone men, who creep out the superstitious (ie most folks but not everyone) and Yellow men, whom the Mongols have decided are their natural enemies. Barsoomian Green Men are another matter altogether – they’re actively feared by many and the Turkmens, in particular, hate them. There are some places where Green Men are welcomed and they have powerful sponsors who use them as mercenaries, but on picaresque adventures they’re going to face general flak.

Tartary is supposed to be a flailsnails setting, but Ars Magica and Tartary don’t have levels. Weird, huh? BUT there is a  Reputation stat (REP) that records your fame and badassery on Tartary, useful in social combat and when asking for favours, recruiting redshirts etc. Tartary gets television from across the flailsnailoverse; when bringing a character from elsewhere, let me know about their greatest career highs and lows to date – there’s a fair chance someone out there has seen them on TV based on their fame.
Rep = your DnD level +/- a modifier based on your glorious pratfalls so far.

For more and confusing information, follow the Baikonur and Carcosa tags.

* changes from Ars Magica: no more “communication” – that’s up to you, player. Also no more Qikness (aka “initiative bonus”), Sta, pairing of stats. Pfeh. I like differentiating Int and Wis so there you are. Also allows me to give you common sense saves vs doing something stupid.

Also Virtues and Flaws are not included here. We may add these later but for session one don’t worry about it UNLESS there is something vital to your character concept.


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