Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Astral Diamonds, Magic Items, and Dungeon Fantasy

+Peter V. Dell'Orto at Dungeon Fantastic wrote a post on magic item shops versus the domain game: the way that if adventurers can upgrade their abilities by buying magic items, they'll generally do that to the limit if their wealth, while if they can't, they'll spend that money on castles, inns, henchmen, minions, and other facets of the "domain game." I'm already seeing that in the D&D 5e game I'm playing in: now that all the PCs have the best mundane armor that money can buy, we're throwing our funds into turning the dungeons we've conquered into bases because we can't really buy magic items. Whereas in my old Dungeon Fantasy games, PCs poured money into their magic items all the time.

I commented that I've seen one work-around for the magic item shops vs the domain game dichotomy: powerful magic items are only traded with non-mundane currency (astral diamonds, for instance), so after a certain point, a pile of gold can only be spent to upgrade your castle because it can't buy a better magic item. Meanwhile, any found astral diamonds can't be used to upgrade your castle, because they're only used for buying magic items.

I'm already on record as disliking how magic items work in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: the utility of any random item is generally pretty low compared to its sale price, so everything turns into vendor trash so that the PCs can buy an actually useful magic item or better mundane equipment. Now I'm wondering if astral diamonds might be a partial solution to the issue. I'm going to noodle around with idea and maybe someone will comment on it.

Only Astral Diamonds Here

Dungeon Fantasy doesn't allow PC enchanters, and makes the rules for enchanting vague since PCs can't access them. So I'm going to rule that every enchanter can only make one powerful magic item every decade or so, unless he has access to astral diamonds: astral diamonds can be converted in powerful magic items at some rate, and powerful magic items can be converted into astral diamonds at some rate. Most powerful magic items are exchanged for astral diamonds, and vice versa, though sometimes you'll find someone with way more money from sense that will buy a powerful magic item for a ridiculous amount of gold (which is how enchanters get the gold they need to pay the mortgage and buy dinner), but people with many magic items rarely or never buy them with gold: it's astral diamonds or get out.

This means that PCs delve, searching for powerful magic items, astral diamonds, and gold. Gold can buy mundane gear, castles, and minions. Powerful magic items and astral diamonds can be traded for each other, but not for gold, so there's no point in trying to trade a Puissance +1 sword for a suit of fine plate armor. Gold can, in theory, be traded for powerful magic items, but the exchange ratio is so awful that delvers will rarely do so: PCs are generally kind of reluctant to pay $10000 for a Puissance +1 sword, there's no way they're going to pay 100x that amount especially when they have a stack of otherwise worthless astral diamonds that could be used to make the trade.

Where Do Astral Diamonds Come From?

Astral diamonds are found in dungeons. Specifically, the souls of powerful monsters and heroes leave astral diamonds behind when they die. Monsters and delvers hoard astral diamonds, and some monsters can consume them in order to become even more powerful. This requires a lot of them, consumed in a short period of time, so if a major demon needs 50 astral diamonds to become an archdemon, eating 3 a year of 17 years doesn't do the job.

Diamonds for Items, Items for Diamonds

The biggest problem I have with astral diamonds is deciding how to price them versus magic items. This is part of my rant about GURPS Magic's magic items in general: Steve Jackson set the energy costs for enchanting back in 1986 or whatever and those costs haven't been changed or really even been looked at very much since. I don't think there's any justifiable reason why Burning Touch costs 300 energy to enchant but Shocking Grasp takes 1500 energy. I'm not about to go through the spells and try to come up with a consistent pricing scheme, and even if I were, I don't think I'd know how.

Still, one theme I've been pounding on here is powerful magic items. Maybe the best solution would be to make a virtue out of craziness and say that a single astral diamond converts to 2500 enchantment energy, and for every 2500 energy worth of enchantments, an item can be converted into one astral diamond. So the minimum magic sword has Accuracy +2, Puissance +2, and Defending Sword +1, and the minimum Cornucopia quiver produces $50 arrows: so Fine Balanced Silvered arrows or some such.

Lesser Magic Items

Under this scheme, should there even be minor magic items? I'm torn, but I'd almost be tempted to say that anything under 150 energy can be bought with gold (and can't be turned into astral diamonds) at a reasonable price: $5 per energy point, or something. My only concern there is that some of the most annoying enchantments are under that threshold: Deflect +1, Fortify +1, Lighten +1, and Cornucopia of normal arrows are all under 100. The best solution is probably just to fiat those spells to a higher cost or knock them out of existence.

Other Problematic Points

Given that I envision people having 5-10 astral diamonds at a time, it's going to be awfully tempting to commission magic items with Power 3+ and Speed 3+ and then a half dozen other useful enchantments. I think the problem there isn't with the astral diamond concept, but with the Power and Speed enchantments being too cheap for their effects and possibly just too powerful at any cost. Again, some kind of modification of those spells is probably the best solution. I think Power would probably be okay if it could only provide that free energy for 1 spell at a time (so Power 4 can maintain 2 spells of 2 energy maintenance each, or 4 spells of 1 energy each, or 1 spell of 4 energy, not 14 spells of 4 energy maintenance). Speed needs to either have its cost increased by a factor of 10, or just have the last sentence from its description removed, in line with 4e rules for faster casting.

Starting PCs Under This System

In a standard DF game using this system, I'd suggest that each PC start with 1 astral diamond - or the equivalent in enchantments - with no option to purchase more. For a more low magic feeling, PCs don't start with any astral diamonds and have to find them by delving.


  1. I concur on the Power and Speed enchantments - I've suggested ways to have limited ones but I think they'd work better if they scaled up in Power and by number of spells they work on.

    One thing I do think would be a major problem in my own games:
    "Powerful magic items and astral diamonds can be traded for each other, but not for gold, so there's no point in trying to trade a Puissance +1 sword for a suit of fine plate armor."

    I just have not had any positive experience with "this is a useful and rare magic item you can't just buy, so you also can't sell it." You end up with hoarded magic items (hey, can't be sold, might be useful) and players being forced to set auction-like prices and then adjudicate what the market happens to bear. After all, if these things can't just be bought, then they DO have a mundane price, it's just going to be high. And if they don't have a price, then they are oddly too valuable to part with and have no value, which takes a lot of the magic out of magic.

    1. Actually, to offer a quick solution to my problem: use the "normal" price to determine resale value (or base, modified by a "haggling" roll, to simulate auctions quickly). That there is a market value to magic items doesn't mean they will come up for sale - you can sell a Picasso but that doesn't mean you can always go out and buy one. So sell the +1 sword, that's fine, but it's gone and you only get your $5K or so.

    2. My idea was that you can ALWAYS sell and buy magic items, but only for astral diamonds or other magic items. You can sometimes buy magic items for gold, but that's rare and stupidly expensive (since you're essentially paying a master wizard for ten years of work), and you can only sell magic items for gold to other crazy people like delvers, which is pretty unlikely.

      But a key component of this is there is a lively trade in astral diamonds and magic items that the PCs are encouraged to be part of. It's just that most magic items aren't cheezeball Puissance +1 swords, but Puissance +3, Accuracy +3 Fire Swords of Demonslaying that PCs are more likely to want to keep.

    3. I can see that, I just know that my group can and would want to sell off some items for gold, and not really take "there is no exchange rate" with a frown and complaints. Plus I'd just expect that rulers, wizards, military forces, etc. be willing to part with these things for gold instead of astral diamonds? Wouldn't desperate adventurers with Greed and money troubles take gold? My players have sold off clearly magical and useful items just because they needed cash more than magic.

      It would be easier for me to set a ridiculously high value and see there are any takers, and not offer much or anything for sale.

  2. If want to say the Town is always safe and Astral Diamonds can never be sold for gold then you can. Realistically though, if there is someone with mundane wealth who wants a magic item then there will be an asking price for AD. Even if it needs to be indirect it will happen. Votes can't be purchased with dollars but they still are.

    1. True, but you can't always sell things for their nominal value: aircraft carriers have a multi-billion dollar build cost, but get sold for millions of dollars at scrap value. I'm okay with saying that the nominal value of an astral diamond is $250000 (ie, a year's income for a master enchanter) but that delvers are never going to be able to sell one for that much because there's no market for them in gold. The only people who spend money that way are other delvers, and most delvers have other ways to spend that kind of money than getting another astral diamond.