Character ‘Backgrounds’ for Shadow of the Mage War Campaign Saga

I still don’t like the use of the word templates to describe this. For the upcoming campaign, I’ve decided to give my player characters an added bonus or two that fits in with their characters background, story, and pretty much how much they’ve fleshed it out. My plan is that this will offer not only an added instinctive to build on characters, but to offer a slightly flavorful push on things as well. My players are starting at level 1 despite the fact that they’ve already been studying in their chosen paths for some time. For now, let’s say Backgrounds.

I will also say that you can keep anything you gain in these backgrounds until it seems unreasonable for the character to do so. For example, if you choose to change to a different profession where you’ll start learning a whole new set of skills. Another example may be that you are simply no longer capable of a certain ability. However, once you start in something new, the previous past is lost. Over time, skills and abilities you once learned may be forgotten.

Blue Guard Trainee
So, you’re training to be one of the Blue Guard, ‘eh? Learned a few tips & tricks but aren’t there quite yet. Likely, you’re still working under a superior officer or receiving newcomer training at the Academy of Molir on the northern coast of the island. You may even be a seasoned character looking to start in something new. If any of these are the case, you may pick 2 of the following bonuses at level 1 and an extra bonus at level 5.

  • +1 DEX/WILL per 5 levels on path (Choose 1, Round up)
  • +1 MANA per 2 levels on path (Round down)
  • -1 Hour Rest Required
  • +1 SPEED
  • +1 Added spell resist per 2 levels.

This is an available selection for any spell-caster training at the Academy and concentrating on magical studies. You may pick 2 of the following bonuses at level one and an extra bonus at level 5.

  • +1 INT/WIS/CHA per 5 levels on path (Choose 1)
  • +1 MANA per 2 levels on path
  • +1 Radius to area spells
  • + 1 DMG FROST/FIRE/NATURE/HOLY/ETC spells PER LEVEL (Choose one)
  • +1 LUCK
  • +1 per level when rolling to recognize a spell
  • 1 extra spell per day from your list
  • +5 RESIST in FROST/FIRE/NATURE/HOLY/ETc. (Choose one. Must work with your strongest area of spell-casting)
  • SPELL:  MINOR HEAL – Heal a minor wound (2d4 dmg) at the cost of one mana point for 1 hour. RANGE 2 SQ

For those who seek knowledge above all. You may pick 2 of the following bonuses at level 1 and an extra bonus at level 5.

  • +2 History per level
  • +1 LUCK
  • +5 to finding information in library situations
  • +5 to one skill (May be taken again at level 5)
  • May reroll one knowledge check per day, taking the better result.
  • +1 Language
  • +3 to knowledge gathering

It’s not knowledge you seek but experiences and adventure. You live for danger and excitement, finding thrill at every turn. You may pick two of the following bonuses at level one and an extra bonus at level 5.

  • +1 to disabling and recognizing traps per 2 levels.
  • +2 to JUMP
  • +2 CLIMB
  • May reroll once per day on a save or situation which may otherwise kill you. Use better roll.
  • +5 Perception
  • +1 DEX/CHA per 5 levels (choose one)
  • SPELL/ABILITY: SPEED – +2 to move for 5 rounds. Usable once per day.

Mana Pool

Mana pool is an idea which allows for better channeling of magical powers as well as challenging the player by allowing them to use only so many (and so strong) of magical items at a time. This idea is borrowed, very vaguely, from the system which revolves around Vampire the Masquerade.

What to Pool Represents
The mana pool is a representation not only of spirit, but of willpower, determination, and very sense of being. It’s your sense of self, and maybe even a representation of your soul. Almost every aware sentient starts out with a little. The knowledge that you belong in the world. You are a part of the world. You are alive.

Game-wise, it’s a nifty little point system which allowed you to do multiple magic things at once such as use items, cast an extra spell, or gain a stat bonus. You have a limited amount of points and can only spread them so far, so players will have to consider and use them wisely.

Starting Points
Each player is given starting points for their pool by the DM upon character creation. For the upcoming Shadow of the Mage War campaign I’m planning, each character was judged not only on class but by age and back-story as well. Unless your players are crafting older wiser folks of a higher character level, I recommend just a basic 1-2 starting amount. It’s more than enough to use basic things and allows for gain through role-play.

Gaining More Points
Players gain more points through development and level. I’ve never specifically used XP in my games, allowing for the group to level when the time feels right. For the Mana Pools, players may be granted an extra point (or half point) for fantastic role-playing occurrences at any time. They will also gain such an amount with each level. The idea isn’t to give too many points ever. A few offers the challenge of what to spend them on and how to spread them out. Offering too many mainly offers a whole lot of math and headache. It also depends on your group. I will try to add in posts later with good and bad examples.

Point Use
To date in plans for the upcoming campaign, there are many uses for the points. Some will be continuing, some temporary, while others offering a negative effect.

Some items will allow you to summon things such as simple tools or creatures to aid you. This may be something like a +3 dagger or even a raven to fetch something small from across a gap. These items require a continuous drain on the pool for as long as they are used. For example, a ring may grant you a personal body shield to help shield you from damage or rain and you have a base pool of 5. The ring requires you to channel 3, thereby giving you 2 left for anything else. In general, all items summoned are some sort of transparent and ghostly color, including familiars.

Temporary Drains
A temporary drain gives you a short term effect with a longer lasting hit on your pool. An example of this might be casting an extra level 1 firebolt spell. For this case, one mana point would be locked until a full rest/day has occurred. You got an extra chance to light your foe’s pants on fire at cost of a diminished pool for a period of time. You exerted more of your power than you already had, and have a price to pay. I suggest that for a basic rule of thumb, each spell level will equal one point and all for a day. So a 3rd level spell would lock 3 points out until you’ve had that good night’s sleep and recovered yourself again. This also allows for DM’s to set up special situations where the player/character must choose a greater sacrifice. The character would know that by using this device/scroll/etc, they would be weakened for a good while. The player would have to decide if it’s worth sacrificing 10 out of 11 pts of their pool for even days or weeks in order to use something that may save their whole party.

Permanent Drains
At some point, even greater sacrifices may need to be made. Part of yourself may need to be given to another or something you wish to use requires a permanent piece of your being. These should be story only by the DM. However, it’s points you can use while you will never recover.

Draining More Than you Have
Say you have a pool of 5. Your character knows she’s in over her head, but decides to go through with something anyway. I don’t’ have the math worked out for this yet. The side effects can be DM decided easily enough, however. Likely a drain on health as if the person was hit. This allows that too much of a drain can cause a character to pass out or even die.

Unused Points
Unused points sitting in the pool are still quite useful. For the upcoming campaign, every 3 pts floating free gives the character a +1 in all stats (STR, INT, ETC) for rolls. (Though does not offer extra spell slots, more abilities, or the ability to use something you otherwise could not.)

All in all, I can’t wait to test this plan out. It’s a factor that is in no way equal to how smart you are or how charismatic. It doesn’t matter how wise. Instead of one factor, it is the generalization of many. Something to divy up here or there or to sacrifice completely.