Storybuilding: The Price of Power (Part 1)
Sep 2, 2021

An article from guest writer, Greg Marks

In many grim fantasy stories, magic is a dangerous power that can corrupt the mind, body, and soul of anyone willing to use it. It is so unnatural that many of its powers are not available to regular mortals, unless bartered for or received as a gift. This is typified by the cleric who offers worship or the warlock who strikes a bargain. But what if you wanted the cost of magic to feel significant in your campaign and allow other characters, not just clerics or warlocks, to also barter for arcane power?

For this installment of Storybuilding, we will cover determining your source of power and look at some possible gifts of power. In the next article we will consider the costs of power, pact marks, and an example of using these rules to create a complete power and its cost.

 

Source of Power

Start by considering where magic comes from. Even if the route to power is found via a book, magical item, or location; who gifts the power and what is the source of the magic? That source will influence the cost and the way it affects your character. This is similar to transformations from Grim Hollow: The Campaign Guide, but the changes to your characters will be less significant. For each source that you identify, consider the types of benefits and costs they would require. In Etharis, here are but a few possibilities:

Mage making a pact for power with a devil

Artist: Svetlana Kostina

Daemon.

The Arch Daemons may still grant spells to the followers of their now absent deities, and their hordes of fiends are not without power. Gifts from daemons are frequently destructive and one of the easiest to locate. Conjured fire, mental domination, and ripping claws; daemonic gifts are varied but always violent. They almost always drain away a piece of the pact maker’s soul.

Eldritch Horror.

The Aether Kindred and other abominations have access to strange and mind-bending powers that are frequently not well understood. They attract the unstable and the dangerously curious. The ability to bend space and time, summon horrible things, and bodily mutations might be included in their gifts. But these take a terrible toll upon the pact maker’s mind.

Fey.

Fey folk or the Spirits of Nature of Charneault might grant powers over the natural world, bind animal companions, safeguard travel, or beguile minds with enchantments. In some ways their desires are as unknowable as the eldritch horrors, only their delight is seemingly understandable at first. The cost of making deals with the fey are often associated with ritual or gift giving.

Primordial.

The primordial creatures, like those found in the northern climates of Valikan, offer raw power over the elements themselves. These include spells that evoke elemental energies to blast foes or magics that conjure up minor elementals. Primordial magic is brutal upon the mortal body.

Seraph.

Just as fiends might grant gifts to those of dark hearts, seraphs grant the ability to strengthen one’s body or will to nobler souls. Magic from a seraph frequently enhances abilities, protects, or heals. Just like daemonic magic, seraphical magic is fueled by one’s soul, burning away one’s afterlife in order to save souls in this one.

Undead.

Undead draw upon the power of death itself to twist flesh, manipulate darkness, or even extend life itself. Very powerful undead like the vampire lords of Soma, or Thaelkinei the Lich Princess, might impart a fragment of their power. But such blasphemous energy frequently withers the body that contains it.

 

Design Notes

There are many powerful creatures in Etharis that might offer a piece of power at a price and the sources above are only a few. The Filth Grazer from the Eye of the Sea, the Beast of Bürach, or the Thaumaturge from the Castinellan Provinces are others that are even harder to classify. In the end, what you want to do is identify the type benefits they might give and imagine costs they might demand. I’ll show an example of how we will use the source of power later in our next installment of Storybuilding.

 

Gift of Power

Your character gains a gift of power from the source. Some patrons might grant access to more than one gift, but however the character gains power, the gift is specific and limited. For example, a character given the ability to cast a cantrip once per day by the primordial Citrolach, ruler of Stonereach, might grant magic stone specifically. A character who gains a natural weapon attack by drinking a drop of blood from the vampire; Countess Katalina Vulpescu, who might specifically gain a bite attack.

Gifts of power grow as your power grows. When you advance to tier 2 (level 5-10), tier 3 (levels 11-16), or tier 4 (levels 17-20), you gain access more powerful versions of these abilities. However, so too increases the cost. You can always invoke a lesser version of your gift by paying the lesser cost. If an advanced version allows you invoke your gift of power an additional time, you must pay the cost each time you use it.

If your source of power grants more than one gift of power, you may have a maximum of gifts equal to your character’s tier.

A witch casting a ritual spell

Artist: Leanna Crossan

Alter Fate.

You can bend reality to alter fate. When this ability is selected, you must choose whether you can alter your fate or the fate of others. When you (or a creature you can see) make(s) an ability check or a saving throw, you can use this feature as a reaction to add a d4 to the roll. You can do so after seeing the initial roll but before any of the roll’s effects occur. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a short or long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 Roll 1d6
3 Roll 1d6. You may use this gift twice before completing a short or long rest.
4 Roll 1d8. You may use this gift twice before completing a short or long rest.

      

Augment Magic.

Your power allows you to augment a spell that you can cast by applying a metamagic option from the sorcerer class description. When you gain augment magic, you may choose one metamagic option that has a cost of 1 sorcery point that you may utilise each time you use this gift. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.

Sorcerer summoning a spirit

Artist: Suzanne Helmigh

Tier Advanced Effect
2 You may use your gift twice before needing to complete a long rest.
3 You gain access to a second metamagic option. Using this second option requires expending two uses of your gift of power.
4 You may use your second metamagic option twice before needing to complete a long rest.

     

Elemental Sheathe.

As an action you surround yourself with your chosen element for 1 minute. A creature within 5 feet of you that hits you with a melee attack takes 1d6 damage of a type of your chosen element. When this ability is selected you choose to do acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a short or long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 +1d6 damage
3 +2d6 damage
4 +3d6 damage

     

Eyes of the Moon.

Without costing an action, for 4 hours you can see in nonmagical darkness within 30 feet of you as if it were a bright light. If you already have darkvision, the distance of this ability is increased by 15 feet. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 +2 hours duration
3 +4 hours duration
4 +8 hours duration

     

Innate Spell.

The source of your power imparts the knowledge of a specific spell so completely that you can cast it innately, using Charisma as your spellcasting ability. You require no material components to cast the spell. The spell imparted must be of 1st or 2nd level. Once you cast this spell, you cannot do so again until you complete a long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 The innate spell can be cast twice before needing to long rest.
3 In addition to earlier tier benefits, you gain a second innate spell of 2nd or 3rd level. Once you cast this additional spell, you cannot do so again until you complete a long rest.
4 You may choose to change your innate spells. One spell can be of 3rd or 4th level and the second can be of 5th or 6th level. You can cast each innate spell twice before completing a long rest.

     

Long Step.

As a bonus action you teleport yourself to an unoccupied space that you can see within 10 feet. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a short or long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 15 feet
3 20 feet
4 25 feet

     

Transfer Impurity.

As action, you transfer a disease or poison from a creature you touch to yourself. You immediately attempt a saving throw against the impurity. If you fail the saving throw, you suffer the effects of the poison or disease even if you would have normally been immune. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 You gain advantage on the saving throw against the transferred impurity.
3 You may use your gift twice before completing a long rest, but only gain advantage on the saving throw against the first transferred impurity.
4 You may use your gift twice before completing a long rest and you gain advantage on the saving throw against the transferred impurities each time.

     

Natural Attack.

Without costing an action, for 4 hours your body changes to gain a natural weapon. This could include retractable claws, a fanged bite, a flailing tentacle, or other natural weapon of your choice. This attack uses your Strength modifier and if it hits, it deals 1d4 points of either bludgeoning, piercing or slashing damage (chosen when you gain the natural weapon). You can use this attack when two-weapon fighting as though it where a light weapon. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a short or long rest.

A Barbarian with a clawed hand

Artist: Ona Kristensen

Tier Advanced Effect
2 The attack deals 2d4 damage.
3 The attack deals 3d4 damage.
4 The attack deals 4d4 damage.

     

Rejuvenate.

As an action, you regain hit points equal to 1d6 + your Constitution modifier. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a short or long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 When you use this gift, you regain hit points equal to 2d6.
3 When you use this gift, you regain hit points equal to 3d6.
4 When you use this gift, you regain hit points equal to 4d6.

     

Resist Nature’s Fury.

For a day, you do not suffer the effects of extreme temperature due to weather. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 +1 day
3 +2 days
4 +3 days

     

Resolve.

When you gain this gift of power, choose whether it targets yourself or any creature that you can see. As a reaction you allow the target to reroll a saving throw that they failed against a charm or possession. If they do so, they must use the new roll. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 The target gains advantage on the reroll against the charm or possession.
3 You may use your gift twice before completing a long rest. The target only gains advantage on the reroll the first time this ability is used between long rests.
4 You may use your gift twice before completing a long rest. The target gains advantage on the reroll each time this ability is used.

     

Soulbound Ally.

As an action you can summon a specific small beast or elemental of CR 1/4 or lower, chosen when you acquire this gift. The summoned creature remains for 1 hour after which it disappears. The creature is friendly towards you but retains free will and acts independently of you. If you treat it well it will usually obey your commands at the GM’s discretion. In combat, it rolls its own initiative and acts on its own turn. If your soulbound ally is slain, it disappears until you summon it again. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.

Wizard casting blood magic

Artist: Suzanne Helmigh

 

Tier Advanced Effect
2 The summoned creature remains for 3 hours
3 The summoned creature remains for 5 hours
4 The summoned creature remains for 9 hours

     

Transfer Life.

As an action, you transfer hit points equal to 1d10 + your level to another creature that you touch. You cannot reduce the amount of hit points lost in any manner and this gift does not transfer temporary hit points. Once you use this gift, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.

Tier Advanced Effect
2 When you use this gift, you transfer hit points equal to 2d10
3 When you use this gift, you transfer hit points equal to 3d10
4 When you use this gift, you transfer hit points equal to 4d10

     

Design Notes

In general, I tried to design gifts of power so that they don’t overshadow class abilities that characters are likely to acquire at tier two or higher. If the gift is equal to something a character might get at 1st-level, but comes at a price, that should be fine. You can easily extrapolate from the examples here to more significant, powerful gifts if you are running a higher-level campaign.

 

Come back for our next installment for costs of power and an example of using these rules!

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