Thoughts on Adapting Worth the Candle for Tabletop RPGs, Part 2: Flower Magic, Pustule Magic, Druids

Part 1 here.

Flower Magic

Flower mages are another mage that’s at least somewhat close to the wizard/sorcerer archtypes that are common in TTPRGs. If you squint at them, the flower buds that flower mages use are similar to spells. There are some themes to what flower magic can do, mostly within the realm of nature or weather in some way, or at least with that flavor, but that’s not a huge difference. The big problem comes from how that power is obtained, which goes against a lot of very sane game design.
A flower mage makes a connection with a plant by tending it, relating to it, growing it, and understanding it. When the connection is strong and the plant is healthy, some or all of that connection is harvested by the flower mage, who snips off a flower bud as a distillation of that connection, which can then be used at a later point for a spell effect. If not all of the connection is harvested, the flower mage can keep tending to the plant and regrow the connection for a second or third harvest down the line. Similarly, connection can persist through seeds, allowing cultivation of connection through generations of plants.
So the problem here is that a flower mage is continually accumulating power (verboten by most systems because it screws with balance so much) and also accumulating power really slowly (not typically the case because of how play is structured). Secondarily, growing and maintaining plants requires a static base of operations, unless you have extradimensional spaces that you lug around or the ability to return to your base fast enough and often enough that you don’t need to worry about being the kind of classical adventurer who spends weeks or months without sleeping in the same place twice.
The continual collection problem can be solved by limiting the number of connections that a flower mage can maintain at once, which is canon. The problem of accumulating power slowly is a little more tricky; I think maybe having each bud take only a small fraction of the plant connection would solve it, so that you can more easily conform the flower mage class to the standards in place for most TTRPG classes.
Finally, the problem of needing to be in one place:
  1. Can just be a problem the player has to deal with. I think people are hesitant to do this, but it’s a real possibility, and one that opens up play space that’s not normally utilized. A flower mage who can’t be away from their garden for more than three days is interesting.
  2. Allow fast travel between a designated garden and the outside world. This can be munchkined, but maybe that’s okay. I imagine a twenty pound stone that the flower mage lugs around with them that serves as their return marker, but naturally that would allow for things like sending the stone by post in order to skip travel. Sometimes it’s okay to break the game like that.
  3. Allow the flower mage to carry their garden with them. There are a few ways that this could work, whether that’s extradimensional spaces, miniaturization, or having the garden be tucked into a personal demiplane that gets attached to the soul or visited only astrally or something. Again, it would be important to think about the knock-on effects of any of those solutions, but I love knock-on effects, so that’s appealing to me. You could also possibly have this ability cost connection (or a spell slot equivalent).
The biggest problems, IMO, come from attempting to preserve flavor. The flavor of the spells is easy, because it’s just within the realm of nature or something that can be flavored or accomplished with it. In the text, that means winds, lightning, water, petals, vines, wood, and various other things, almost all of them of a pretty short duration rather than as extended effects.
The other flavor is a bit harder though, because ideally a flower mage has these strains that they’re keeping and plants that they’re tending, and if you do that the naive way, you might end up with roleplaying/mechanics dissonance where the flower mage player just abstracts away everything into “these are my spells known strains” and “these are my spells prepared buds held”. Ideally, each plant should be like a pet or familiar, one that’s mostly off-screen, but which the player knows because they actually interact with it enough. At least some of this you can enforce by having them name their plants and use those names instead of “lightning bolt” or whatever, but you probably do want something on the mechanical side to help support the roleplaying aspect.
For this, maybe you have them roll on a Horticulture table every morning, which might introduce complications on a low roll and benefits on a high roll. Maybe you have microquests every so often to acquire a new strain/spell instead of giving them automatically at level up (or whenever). Maybe strains are more complicated than spells in some way, with additions to them over time, or mechanical fine-tuning … but there you run into complexity problems and whether the system you’re using is fine-grained enough that you can make small personalization changes without just having a de facto best/OP build. Adapting in some metamagic seems like it might be prudent.

Pustule Magic

Pustule magic is a companion magic to flower magic. Where flower magic involves growing and tending flowers to make a connection with them that gets harvested for a delayed effect, pustule magic is that, but with diseases, growths, and messy or disgusting bits of biology. The contrast to flower magic is largely that pustule mages are gross, that they carry their arsenal around, and that they incur some deleterious effects from all the gross stuff.

Because the pustule mage carries around their arsenal at all times, they’re much easier to transition to TTRPG, where lots of travel is the default. The natural limits to the magic system (how much the body can handle, connection to the processes, available body space) also help to justify some of the mechanical limitations that wizards are often saddled with (spells known, spells per day, limited metamagic). In fact, I’m pretty sure that there were one or two prestige classes in 3.5 D&D that followed a fairly similar model, and if you wanted to, you could just go use those and maybe get either mechanical inspiration or a prestige class that matches the flavor.

In terms of making pustule mages de novo, the biggest thing to consider is whether or not you’ll be using drawbacks. Drawbacks are generally anti-fun (and discouraged by a lot of modern game design), so long as we qualify that drawbacks are different from limitations, but they’re the clearest way to model a pustule mage’s pustules. For every “pustule” that a pustule mage has, they get a malus of some sort, whether that’s to social interactions because they’re disfigured, to physical actions because they’re weakened, or some lesser or greater malus that presumably depends on the flavor and power of the pustule in question. The big things to watch out for, as always when using drawbacks, is making sure that the drawbacks actually are drawbacks, and that there aren’t strict no-brainer synergies that everyone uses because the bonuses are good enough that they cancel the maluses out without any actual issue.

(Though on the other hand, I really like used and lived-in magic systems, and it’s neat to have pustule mages at the Vervainium have a codified set of viruses, bacterial infections, induced skin disorders, etc., which they enter into at specific stages of their training and once they’ve passed through medical inspection. If you did that, which will be canon to Worth the Candle once the worldbuilding doc finally gets published, then you would want to balance around it, so that (for example) at level 3 of the pustule mage class, you get strains X, Y, and Z, which acts as more of a flat increase to your power.)

In terms of flavor, there are two major points.

The first is that pustule mages are experts at their own bodies. Here, I think mostly about diabetics who have to constantly measure their glucose levels and make sure that they have the proper sugar intakes, or bodybuilders who measure out their meals to the gram. Some people get super obsessed with the microbiome of their gut, or their vitamin levels, or something else, and that kind of dedication to the physical self is part of what makes for a successful pustule mage. A pustule mage will know whether their skin is producing more or less oil than normal, whether they’re a touch anemic, whether they’re retaining water, and naturally, the specifics of every single disease/virus/malady that they’re currently channeling, along with their interactions. If they use herbs, pills, or other methods to mitigate the effects, then they know the effects and side effects of those as well as is able. (Bodies are all different though, and on Aerb more than on Earth, so there’s some guesswork, cargo culting, superstition, etc. going on, as there is with perfectly normal people on Earth who get really into total nonsense.)

The second is that pustule magic is super gross; the grosser you can make it, the better. If you were adapting a spell like Summon Swarm, you would have the swarm bursting forth from an orifice, or have each rat pop out of an individual clogged pore, or something similar. Go watch some popping videos, if you need inspiration (if you don’t know what those are, you probably don’t want to). While the effects of the “pustule” don’t have to be gross themselves, as with the fireball stand-in used in Worth the Candle a few times, the “casting” of the pustule should be in some way, and anti-gross spells should be avoided. Pustule magic isn’t one of the core magics in Worth the Candle, so there’s lots of room to make things up.

Druids

Most tabletop games that you’d want to adapt Worth the Candle into already have druids, but those druids aren’t usually too distinct from wizards, save that they’re more limited in which spells they can cast, and sometimes they can do druidly things like walking through trees, talking to plants, or changing into animals. Where Worth the Candle druids are different is that druids are typically tied to a single place that’s ruled over by an enigmatic genius locus, and their magic is at least partly powered by not being tied into an established rules system. The latter, naturally (stealth pun!), makes adapting them into a rules-based system a bit of a challenge.
If you wanted to be lazy, you could just reskin a normal druid and say that they were a druid of the same flavor as on Aerb, but that would be boring, and I’m a fan of marrying mechanics to flavor as closely as possible, preferably through emergent rules. With that in mind, I think there are a few ways to go:
  • Druids can do anything that the DM lets them do, where the DM is trying to optimize for the most wondrous, magical feeling possible. This should generally preclude repeating the same effect too many times in a row or systematizing druidic magic. The big problem here is that what’s going on mechanically is that the player is checking with the DM before casting every spell, or trying to find creative ways to do the same thing two or three times, which from a ludonarrative standpoint has dissonance written all over it. You could make a better version of it, which is that druids can do anything and they’ll lose their connection to the locus if they violate the DM’s rules, but that’s just a question of default-no or default-yes and I don’t know how much of an improvement it would be. Probably works well if the player is good at not doing power creep and/or good at roleplay.
  • Druids have their rules changed every once in awhile. From a game design perspective, this is a little tricky, since you don’t want to strand a player in an unfamiliar system … though here, you kind of do. It’s also tricky because making a morphable system is difficult to balance and difficult to make fun, and I don’t have any clever ideas for how it would be accomplished except through combinatoric explosion. It’s also a little bit out of flavor, since the player is attempting to divine the rules, rather than just going with the flow, not trying to systematize, etc.
  • Druids say fuck the rules, and that’s their power. Here, I think you would take a bog standard druid, then graft on completely different resolution mechanics, something from a different game entirely. This would be a bit more of a meta approach; part of the point of druids is not putting things into these ordered categories, but they’re not necessarily about avoiding any and all frameworks, so maybe the right thing to do is simply to have the druid off playing their own game that interfaces with the primary game in some weird and (at first) novel way. Everyone else shows up with dice, but the druid gets a deck of cards, or a Jenga tower, or a Rubic’s cube, or something weird that still kind of works, but is ineffable to the others and has weird interactions. I think I like this one the best, mostly because it’s flavorsome.
Overall, I would generally suggest not using these druids, or if you include them, include them only as NPCs, where they can be weird and magical without actually having a system to support them.

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Thoughts on Adapting Worth the Candle for Tabletop RPGs, Part 2: Flower Magic, Pustule Magic, Druids

One thought on “Thoughts on Adapting Worth the Candle for Tabletop RPGs, Part 2: Flower Magic, Pustule Magic, Druids

  1. Hello! I think there's another idea for druids which you might call the "improv comedy approach" (so named because I see it in a lot of D&D live plays where the players have improv experience). In this method you have a standard druid which mechanically plays normally but you have to reskin the description of spells each time you use them. The example that comes to mind for me is the Dimension 20 live play season called "Escape from the Bloodkeep". One of the players is a beastmaster that has a pet which is some kind of lovecraftian alternate dimension monstrosity. In mechanical terms it was a pretty typical ranger pet, but each time a roll for the pet was successful the DM would describe what happened in a bizarre body-horror fashion (e.g. one attack would involve spitting on an enemy while the next would involve exploding and then magically reappearing). It was hilarious and crazy but didn't affect game balance because the numbers were the same. Honestly, this kind of seems like how you're using druid magic in your story anyway: Solace can accomplish a task she puts her mind to (so she's not like a wild magic D&D wizard where literally anything could happen); it's just that the way the task is accomplished is mysteriously different each time.

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