Continuing on with the series on Weird Scientists that we started last week (which you can check out here if you missed it), this week we’re going to be taking a look at how enchanting and creating enchanted items works in 1879. Even though this is being framed in terms for Weird Scientists, any Profession capable of enchanting can benefit, so it’s worth taking a look at.
Before getting too far into things, I do want to say that after going over the information in the books, I definitely understand now why there’s a lot of confusion on this subject. The enchanting rules were lifted pretty much directly from older versions of Earthdawn (remember that 4th edition was still being finalized when 1879 was being written), and there are a few gaps left for the ways things were intended to work for Weird Scientists (and for a lower magic world in general). Consider a lot of what’s written here to be part of an errata update where we cover some of those gaps. I’m also slating this as one of the items for review whenever we get around to doing an updated rule set for 1879 that accounts for the global mana level increasing through the story line.
First, it needs to be said that the enchanting rules for 1879 are intentionally left fairly open. This is to provide players with a large number of options for creating items. After all, one of the primary tropes of the steampunk genre are gadgets, and it only makes sense to keep that open when it comes to magical gadgetry. It’s also important to note that along with this openness, it is largely dependent upon the Game Master to decide what sort of enchanted items they want to allow into their game and how to implement them. Enchanted items can be quite powerful and have unintended effects on game mechanics (particularly when you’re making a spell permanent with Spell Naming), so both players and Game Masters should think carefully when they’re being introduced into the game.
On that note, let’s go ahead and talk about one of the first enchanting methods: spells. There are two ways of using spells to enchant an item; Naming the spell to make it a permanent, ongoing effect, and casting the spell into the item as a one-time use, such as with brewing a potion that mimics a spell’s effect (this is separate from the normal use of the Alchemy Skill to create potions, such as with healing potions or poisons). Admittedly, the wording for this can be a bit confusing as listed in the Player’s Guide, so we’ll go through it here.
- The enchanter announces their intent to cast the spell into the object, and whether or not they intend to make it permanent
- The enchanter makes an initial Spellcasting Test against the Target Number dictated by the spell as normal (the Mystic Defense of most normal objects and raw materials is a 6, so use this for a baseline, and feel free to increase as appropriate for more exotic materials or improved workmanship, particularly if the player made the object themself).
- If the first test succeeds, the enchanter makes a second Spellcasting Test against either the normal Target Number as dictated by the spell, or against the Dispel Difficulty, which ever is higher. They take the strain for the spell a second time for this test, as well as a single Blood Wound.
- As long as the enchanter survives the strain, the test succeeds.They may make their effect test to determine its strength (if appropriate). If the enchanter intends to make this spell a one-time effect, or if they are dissatisfied with the result and decide not to make the effect permanent, the spell is now imbued in the device and it is ready for use.
- If the enchanter wants to make the spell permanent, they pay APs equal to the strain cost for the spell times 100, plus the cost for its Tier (table on page 420 of the 1879 Player’s Guide). If the enchanter does not have sufficient APs to cover the cost, they cannot make the spell permanent, and it becomes a one-time effect.
- If a permanent spell is imbued into an item that is consumed on use, such as a potion, the spell effect becomes permanent on the person who consumed it only if the second Spellcasting test to imbue the spell into the item was higher than their Mystic Defense. If their Mystic Defense is higher, the spell effect does not gain permanence and the APs spent to make the spell permanent are not regained.
Anyone can make use of an item enchanted with a Named Spell that knows how to use the object it’s tied to, whether it’s permanent or a one-time use. Potions are useful for this because they’re fairly obvious – you either drink them or throw them depending on the type of container they’re in. Gadgets may or may not be more difficult to discern, depending upon the nature of the object and the spell named onto it. Something like a ring or a necklace is fairly simple to activate by either putting it on or taking it off, but a Weird Science gadget might have a specific start up sequence tied to it. You may choose to house rule an option to allow for things like a command word to be chosen at the time the spell is being cast into the object so that the spell effect can be turned on and off. Thematically, belief and intent are the key factors here. Mechanically, the actual trigger isn’t that important as long as it’s something a player can declare as an action. Basically, just use what makes the most sense to you for the nature and intent of the object and spell.
Before moving on, a quick note about the Blood Wound tied to imbuing a spell into an object. While this is a fairly steep cost, this is done by design as a limiting factor for how many spells a person has imbued into objects at once. Normally, a Blood Wound cannot be healed for a year and a day after it was obtained. However, if a player is using this mechanic for a one-time use, it’s my recommendation to let them attempt to heal the Blood Wound once the spell has been used, as it no longer needs the wound to keep it sustained. This isn’t written in the book, it’s just my personal take on it. And as always, if you feel a rule such as the Blood Wound cost is too limiting for your Weird Scientists, given that enchanting is a central part of their character, you can feel free to house rule a relaxation on that limitation in various ways. Just be sure that if you do ease up on it for one Profession, you apply that rule equally for any other that does enchanting.
Moving on, the next method that a Weird Scientist might employ to enchant an object is by weaving True Elements into the object as part of the crafting process. You’ll see this made reference to in the text by referencing a Weave Element test; however, this is one of those gaps I mentioned before, as there isn’t a Weave Element Skill or Knack listed in the books. This is because the Knack for this ties into Threadweaving in Earthdawn, and the magic level isn’t high enough or been around long enough for people to work with threads directly in 1879. As written on page 418 in the 1879 Player’s Guide, anyone knowing either the Spellcasting or Craft Device Skills may weave True Elements into items, and it gives a further break down on the specifics of that process, at least with regards to die rolls. Use either the Spellcasting or Craft Device Skills for the Weave Element test (if a player knows both Skills, they can only make one test for crafting a single object, though they can choose to use either Skill for the test). The specific effects of weaving an element into an item are left fairly open, and as mentioned prior, this is intentional to allow for a variety of creative effects. The basic idea is to tie the desired effect into the theme of the element involved. Here are a few general ideas and some examples for each, though this is by no means an exhaustive list:
- True Air tends to make things lighter, cooler, relates to sound, and of course, air itself. True Air could be used in a firearm to make it lighter and easier to aim, into clothing to give it a cooling effect, with a clockwork device to help it record and replay sounds clearly, or with a breathing apparatus to let someone breathe in toxic air or breathe underwater.
- True Earth tends to make things solid, stronger, and more durable. It tends to add a resistance to magic and is often used for reinforcing constructs and building materials. True Earth could be used in a melee weapon to make it stronger and heavier and cause additional damage, in materials for something like a ship or building to add to its durability ratings or armor, or to clockwork components to make them resist wear and tear.
- True Fire provides heat, light, and energy. Since the heat comes from the element and not from an actual source of combustion, it could be used in something like a small steam engine to operate without needing fuel (though such items would need to be recharged, usually after the usual magical duration of a year and a day), or in a larger engine to make it require less fuel. It could be woven into clothing to make it provide heat in cold weather, in tools that need to ignite a fire such as a welding torch or a stove, or as part of a lamp to provide a bright light source without combustion or electricity (useful for railroad signals in remote locations).
- True Water makes things malleable and flexible while retaining resilience, can create a seal to keep out unwanted moisture, can suppress the effects of heat and fire, and can be used to purify things. True Water could be woven in with a spark arrestor on a steam engine to prevent unwanted sparks, can be applied into clothing or weapon holsters to waterproof them, and can be added to water filters to keep out impurities.
- True Wood, while obviously enhancing the natural properties of strength and flexibility of wood itself, also tie into life, magic, and a unifying of multiple elements. Wooden items using True Wood will be resistant to rot and decay, and could have a strength that even surpasses steel. If used with something like a farm tool or scarecrow, it could enhance crop yields or make the soil easier to till. It’s often used for ritualistic, ceremonial, or knowledge instruments such as wands, statues, or writing implements, and depending on its use may enhance those effects.
Finally, there are techniques for combining magical ingredients for crafting items. Again, these rules are left quite open intentionally, and should allow for a lot of creative uses for unique items. The most prevalent use for this is with Alchemy, using different ingredients to create potions of varying effects (outside of effects that mimic spells, as described above). The exact recipe used to achieve a particular effect can vary, but should incorporate at least one, and probably several, items that tie in with the theme, and ingredients should involve some sort of difficulty to obtain that scales along with the desired effect. Creating a poison or damaging potion should involve something like venom extracted from an animal or a distilled extract from some sort of plant. A potion of speed might involve something like the blood of a humming bird, or a potion of armor might require a particular species of beetle, dried and crushed into a powder. This isn’t limited just to potions, however. Say your players encountered a particular species of giant electric eel that had an enhanced lightning effect. They might extract whatever glands it uses to generate its electricity and use it to power a device or a weapon, or they might harvest its skin to use as leather to create electrically resistant clothing. This doesn’t have to be limited to items from creatures or plants either. Your players might find a mineral that produces a magnetic effect and use it to forge armor that has a chance of repelling metallic projectiles, or an area with gas vents that react only with certain elements that they could use to remove impurities to create a particularly pure form of steel or break up unwanted deposits around ore mining veins. There are limitless possibilities here, and the point is to tie into the pulp adventure theme of 1879, get players out and exploring the unknown and thinking creatively about things they encounter and how they could make it work for them.
Mechanically, since this is such an open concept, you as the Game Master are going to have to make up your own difficulties here. As mentioned above, balance this out primarily with the desired effect and the difficulty of obtaining components. Don’t forget, however, you can require additional exotic components to make an item, and can have the potential for additional undesired effects as a further balancing option, and there’s always the time factor to include. You can also combine these ideas to give players more choice in creating items. You want to create a poison that causes instant death that’s concentrated enough that it could be deployed in a drink with a single drop? You’re going to need a vial of freshly extracted black widow venom as the main component, but you’ll also need diatomaceous earth created from a specific type of algae found only along the Norwegian coast to act as a stabilizing agent so the poison doesn’t lose potency when it’s exposed to air, concentrated extract from kudzu to prevent the poison from being destroyed if it’s an alcoholic drink, and you’re going to need a month of careful brewing to get the poison to a concentration that small. Obtaining any one of these components could spawn their own set of adventures, whether they go to fetch it themselves or if they need to perform a job to get it from someone else, and depending on how things go, the players may decide they’re willing to sacrifice one particular element of the desired effect or find a work around using other means. Or they may have found something along their previous adventures that could be used as a substitute. You can and should change up the specifics for your game and players. The goal is not to make these things impossible, but to present a challenge for the players to overcome.
I think that should cover most of the mechanical aspects, at least from a general sense. We’ll next be going over each of the main schools of Weird Science and how they might incorporate these techniques into their specific type of work. Got more questions on any of these aspects, or other ideas for examples of how they might be used? Let us know on Discord; I’d be interested to hear how you might use these sort of enchanting techniques in your games, and how you might like to see them improved or expanded upon.