This is a collection of modifications and ideas I've come up with in the few years I've been playing with the 4th edition Talislanta system. The list of my house rules is much shorter since the release of the new edition, because so many of them have been incorporated into the book. =)
This one is pretty simple. You can only increase a skill that you've used or trained. You can't collect a bunch of xp and use it to increase a skill you didn't even use during that game. This means that sometimes I'll hear a player say "Before going to bed, I'm going to practice my conjuring spells." or "During my watch I walk around the campsite, examining the plants and trees to see how many of them I can identify." Nothing wrong with that. More often players will simply advance in the skills they actually used in the course of the game.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous rule. To increase an attribute, you must have some valid in-game reason for it. Going to school to increase your Int, working 8 hours a day as a blacksmith to increase your Str, being a messenger, carrying written documents from city to city to increase your Con or Speed, etc. In my games, the most common reason is what I call the "extreme use" of an attribute.
"Extreme Use" means any activity that goes above and beyond the usual calls placed upon the body and mind. Some examples:
A mage encounters a truly mighty supernatural being, such as a Greater Elemental, or a Deity. Or perhaps he undergoes some other profound experience that relates to magic. At that point, he would qualify to increase his MR attribute.
A thrall is in a collapsing building, and dozens of innocents are in danger. There's no time to get them out, so he reaches up and grabs a support beam and stands there, keeping the roof up long enough for the innocents to escape. Assuming he survives, he would qualify to increase his Str attribute.
The rajan necromancer stands on the balcony, laughing as he threatens the populace below with a massive quantity of stolen Red Menace. The aeriad makes a called shot and fires a bow through the wrist of the madman in the hopes of causing him to drop the cask. Instead, it falls over the edge of the balcony towards the people below.
The aeriad's companion, a ferran, was waiting for this, and leaps from his hiding place to snatch the cask in mid-air. The GM tells the player to roll three acrobatics checks, at phenomenal penalties; one to leap from his hiding place, one to successfully catch the cask, and a third to land without jarring it too much. The ferran succeeds, and the threat is avoided.
At this point the aeriad would not qualify to increase his CR, since making a called shot isn't really an "Extreme Use" of his skill. The ferran, however, might qualify, at the GMs discretion. If this was his first "Extreme Use", then possibly. If he'd increased his Dex before, then probably not.
To increase an attribute, the player must spend 20xp to go up the first point, 40xp to increase the same attribute again, and 60xp to increase it a third time. Each time the in-game requirement also increases, although that's up to the GMs discretion.
It's probably not possible to increase an attribute more than three times, since by then the in-game requirement would have reached astronomical proportions. Besides the 80xp that would be required, the character would have to train for years, or else undergo such an "extreme activity" that overshadowed the three previous experiences. Not easy.
So for the thrall above, he could spend 20xp to increase his Str by one from +4 to +5. If he somehow found himself in the same situation again, holding a collapsing roof so others could escape, he might earn the nickname "Supporting Role", but he wouldn't qualify to increase his Str again. "The bar has been raised", so to speak.
The following house rules tend to complicate matters a bit, allowing for more actions in a round by fast and/or agile characters, but I think this is a good thing, as it means that not every warrior-type need be a mountain of muscle to be effective.
There are two ways one can act more than once in a round. Taking multiple actions and wielding two weapons.
First let's look at the Multiple Action rule, which states that for each action after the first the character suffers a cumulative -5 penalty. You may continue taking additional actions (and accumulating greater penalties) until you get a mishap result, at which time you cannot take any more more actions that round, even in response to an attack. A careful player will usually stop taking multiple actions before his total penalty (counting all modifiers) drops below zero.
If you take multiple actions, your penalty is modified by your Speed attribute. For example, if you have a Speed rating of +1, your penalty for taking a second action would be -4 rather than -5. Your penalty for a third action would be -9 instead of -10.
Initiative rolls (which are a Speed check) that result in a critical success give the character a +3 bonus on multiple action penalties for that round. Thus if you have a Speed rating of +3, and you get a critical success on your initiative, you would get to take two actions at no penalty, a third at -4 (normally -10), and a fourth at -9 (normally -15), and so on.
Note that at no time do the bonuses from Speed or critical initiative rolls act as a bonus to the die rolls. They merely serve to counter the penalties of multiple actions.
The standard rules say that if you use two weapons, the second attack from the off-hand weapon take a Multiple-Action penalty, which makes wielding a second weapon useless... you might as well attack twice with your primary weapon and save the second hand for a shield or keep it free.
If you use a second weapon, (discounting the Swordsmanship skill), you suffer the usual Multiple Action penalties, but Dexterity (as well as Speed, mentioned above) offsets the penalty when using the off-hand.
A character with ambidexterity (Thralls and Sindarans, for example) may be considered to have a Dexterity of +3 higher than normal for purposes of calculating penalties with the off-hand.
This can be a little confusing if you aren't familiar with it, so it's time for a couple of examples:
Marak, a Jaka Manhunter, has a Speed rating of +3 and a Dexterity rating of +4. He is fighting with a matched pair of daggers. On his first initiative, he gets a 15. He attacks once with his primary hand (no penalty), parries once with his second hand (-5 penalty from it being his second action, but his Dex and Speed more than reduce that to 0), and attacks once again with his primary hand (-10 penalty, reduced by 3 for his Speed, leaving him with a -7 penalty.) If he attacked or parried again, he would be using his off-hand, for a -15 penalty, offset by his Speed (+3) and Dexterity (+4), leaving him at -8.
On Marak's second round, he gets a 24 on his initiative roll, giving him a bonus of +3 to Multiple Action penalties. As before, he attacks with his primary (0 penalty), parries with his off-hand (0 penalty), attacks again with his primary (-10 for his 3rd action, +3 from Speed and +3 from his critical Init roll, for a total of -4), and once again with his off-hand (-15 for his 4th action, +4 from Dex, +3 from Speed, +3 from Init, for a total of -5). If he were to attack or parry again, he would be facing -14 (-20 for his 5th action, +3 from Speed and +3 from his critical initiative roll.)
Speed and Dexterity can be a lethal combination in a fight, even allowing a fast, agile fighter to win against a physically stronger opponent.
When a player asked me how he could create an item of superior quality, I came up with this rule. He wanted to make an item that was 4x the normal quality, in order to fulfill the requirement for enchantment. What should the penalty for that be?
Then I remembered the rules under Alter for magically changing an item's apparent quality... 3 spell levels per plus/minus. Since I always try to keep the rules internally-consistent, I decided to use this as a guideline, and came up with the following system for craftsmanship.
The quality of an item is the penalty the crasftman took when making it. Normal items have a quality rating of 3, meaning the craftsman took a -3 to his roll. For every quality rating above or below 3, the items increases or decreses in value 33%. So taking a -6 to the crafting roll will produce an item 2x the normal value. A -9 would, if successful, produce an item 3x the normal value.
K'ral, A Kang general wants a pair of battle-daggers to be made, using the finest materials. (K'ral plans to use them for ritual battle.) The quality rating is -15, making these daggers 5 times the value of a normal set. The craftsman must take a -15 to his craftsmanship roll.
The same system applies to traps, jewelry, armor, etc. The current rules state that the difficulty to disarm a trap or pick a lock is equal to the skill of the one who made it. But not every trap made by a trapsmith is going to be his best work. Working at less than optimum skill reduces the time involved, while working above your skill means you're taking extra time to do it better than usual.
Most craftsmen work at -3 penalty, making standard items, and increase their skill in order to reduce the time required (and thus the profitability of the item.) Apprentices often work at a -0 penalty, making worthless items until their skill rating is +3 or greater, to prevent mishaps.
Thus the quality rating of the trap or lock is used as the difficulty rating to disarm or pick it, which may be less than, equal to, or greater than the skill rating of the one who made it.
Rabban al Nahr, a Kasmirin Trapsmage of mediocre talent, is attempting to devise a locking mechanism for his diary. His Dexterity + Artificer is +7, but this is his private diary, so he spends an extra couple of weeks working on it and takes a -10 to his Action Table roll. If he succeeds, he will have a lock with a difficulty rating of -10 to pick. If he fails, he's wasted materials and time.
Later that year Rabban is hired by a Cymrilian to make a similar lock for his spellbook. Since the Cymrilian did not specify the quality of the lock, (relying on such vague, legally unenforcable terms as "one like yours"), Rabban does a quick job, taking a mere -3 penalty to the die roll, and collects his fee at the end of that same day.
This is less of a house rule and more of an extension of a previously published rule. Talislanta 2nd edition had rules for large-scale battles which were never reprinted in later editions. One of the rules there dealt with armies of differing sizes getting bonuses or penalties based on the difference. The rule was simple to use and memorize, and as far as I could see it worked just as well for small groups as it did for armies, thus the following:
When two groups are fighting, compare the total number of combatants in each group. If the ratio is 2:1 or higher (rounding down), the larger group gets a bonus to it's combat rating equal to the ratio. For example:
Forge, a lone Thrall, faces six grinning darklings. The darklings, emboldened by their greater numbers, attack. The ratio is six-to-one, so the Darklings get +6 to their Combat Rating. However, if Forge manages to get his back to a wall, only four of the diminutive creatures can get close enough to attack at once, reducing their effectiveness and limiting their bonus to +4. If he were to back into a corner, he might be able to limit their advantage to +3. (Common sense must dictate how many opponents can realistically attack a single foe, based on relative sizes and other factors.)
A band of travelers are beset by a pack of hungry omnivrax. There are four PCs and seven omnivrax. The ratio is 7:4, which is slightly less than 2:1, so the Omnivrax get no advantage for their numbers. Had there been one more, all would have received +2.
In the above example, two PCs get separated from the rest (far enough apart that they cannot help one another). Four of the omnivrax circle these two, snapping their jaws. The ratio here is 4:2 (2:1) so the creatures receive +2.
The current rules for critical hits can be stated thus:
When a critical hit is struck, the target must roll a Con check, with a penalty equal to the damage rating of the attack. On a full success or better, the target takes the usual damage but suffers no additional penalty. On a partial success, the target is severely wounded and suffers a -5 on all actions until the damage has been healed. On a failure or worse, the target is injured to such an extent that no actions can be taken at all until the damage has been healed.
That's a bit too wimpy for my tastes.
On a failure, there will be long-term repercussions from such a terrible wound. Depending on the location and other factors (such as the type of weapon used), there could be a permanent loss of hp, attribute points, mobility, or any combination of the above.
On a mishap result, the target will almost certainly die unless immediate medical treatment is available. If the target somehow survives, he/she will still suffer some permanent wound as shown above.
Use the CR+Skill of the attacker OR the damage rating of the attack (whichever is greater) as the penalty to the target's Con check. Thus even a dagger can kill easily in the hands of a skilled wielder.
Hilt, a thrall soldier, is disarmed by a lucky shot from a Beastman. Rather than stop to retrieve the weapon, he throws a rock-hard fist at his opponent's stomach, scoring a critical hit. The damage rating is only 5 (1 from a punch, +4 from strength) so normally the Beastman would roll a Con check at -5. Using this optional rule the Beastman would roll a Con check with a penalty equal to Hilt's CR + Tazian Combat rating, +10.
Cantrips are minor effects, less than level 1 effect. They have little or no game-mechanic effect, being intended primarily for roleplaying purposes.
Cantrips do not entail the usual exhaustion that comes with spellcasting, within limits. (Keeping a cantrip going for an hour might tire a mage as much as casting a full spell.)
A Cymrilian picks up his crystal wine goblet sniffs it, then blows on it gently, causing the liquid to chill to a pleasant temperature. (Alter mode cantrip.)
The Stryx necromancer sits alone in his eyrie, awaiting a messenger from the shadow realm. To amuse himself, he summons a wraithling, a mindless soul that can do nothing but experience pain and wail. His crooked beak almost seems to smile as he begins doing horrible things to the spirit. (Summon mode cantrip.)
The Zandir swordsmage sits in the tavern, drinking his third... or is it sixth?... cup of ale. The barmaid was winking at him earlier, but now she won't give him the time of day. "Buxom wench," he mutters "I'll show you to ignore Xanipher the Splendiferous!" and with a supreme effort of concentration, manages to recall a cantrip that causes her blouse to untie in the front, treating a group of men on the far side of the room to an unexpected bonus to their meal. (Move mode cantrip.)
Vidolar the Cymrilian Secret Agent rests in his tub of warm water, sighing in relaxation after a long mission to Aaman. Just then, a quiet knock comes at the door. It's Sasha, the sarista who helped him and fought with him these past three weeks. Vidolar smiles, then touches the surface of the water and whispers a single word, causing the surface to become reflective, like a mirror. "No sense in spoiling her surprise." he thinks to himself as he calls for her to enter. (Illusion mode cantrip.)
While I love the new magic system, one thing about which I am not pleased is the fact that spellbooks seem to have become worthless. The rulebook says that magicians protect their spellbooks for fear that others might steal their secrets, yet there is nothing in the mechanics to support this. In addition, the new rules take away any reason to hunt for New Age magic, since the PC can do anything that can be done, given the proper Mode. Only Archaen magic is worth the effort of finding.
The following rule changes all of that. Spellbooks have value. Secrets can be learned. Spell research is a worthwhile activity, and New Age spellbooks (Phaedran and modern) can hold the keys to greater power.
A mage can spend xp on any spell he knows, preferably one he/she has already cast a few times in the game in order to establish it as part of his/her repertoire. Individual spells can be improved exactly the same way as skills and modes, treating the spell as +0 rating to begin with. The result is that when that spell is cast, you add the spell's rating to the usual spellcasting roll, improving it's power or improving the caster's chance to succeed.
All the parameters of a spell (damage, range, area of effect, duration, etc.) but one are set when the spell is researched. Thus the mage could leave the damage of an attack spell variable and set the rest, or he could leave the duration of a fly spell variable and set the weight limit to 200lbs. Once the variable has been set it cannot be changed without researching a new variation.
Lenore, a Dhuna Enchantress, has been using a spell of her own devising, "Lanore's Lament", which causes the target to be overwhelmed with sorrow and regret for past misdeeds, often to the point of admitting them out loud, in chronological order. The spell is a 12th level Influence effect with a duration of 5 rounds. Using the existing system she can change the duration or level at the time of casting, but if she chooses to personalize it, all variables but one are set and unchangeable. She does the research for two weeks and spends 2xp. At the end, she has "Lanore's Lament" as a unique spell, a +1 to it's die roll, and all the variables set except the spell level.
If a mage teaches another mage (of the same order) a spell, the student may learn it (along with all the modifiers the teacher knows) at a fraction of the time and effort the original research required.
"Xanipher's Splendiferous Splash", a dazzling illusion that often causes temporary blindness in the viewers, has been researched up to a +8 skill. Xanipher has spent a total of 72xp and 72 weeks perfecting this spell over the course of his long career. If he were to teach it to a student, the student would learn it in a mere 8 weeks and at a cost of 16xp.
If a spellbook is found or stolen, the personalized spells within can be studied (if the mage is of the same order as the author of the spellbook.) The time required is greater, 2 weeks per plus of the spell, but the XP cost remains the same. A scroll does not contain as much information (research notes, warnings, etc) as a spellbook, so a spell cannot be learned that way, although it can be cast from the scroll as usual.
A mage must retain his spellbook if he plans to continue his research. If the spellbook is lost, no more research can be performed on his/her personal spells until the spellbook has been re-written. The time required to re-write a spellbook varies, depending on how many personal spells have been researched and how far the research has gone. To determine the time required, treat the re-writing procedure as if the mage were teaching a student the spells, although no xp need be spent.