Weekly Design Blog #32: The Power of the Written Word

Hello All,

Last week, I mentioned how this week would be a bit crazy, but I'd still try to do something fun. In the style of previous blogs about "rewriting the fighter class as the ashigaru" and "introducing the Shangti cowboy" -- but with less discussion of the class -- I present some of the core "bits" about the Calligraphy Master, the replacement for the standard wizard-type in Steampunk Musha.

Calligraphy Master

Some art is handed down over generations while others are painstakingly learned through years of practice. The calligraphy master can come from either of these backgrounds. She has studied the art of the horsehair brush to such a degree that she can actually place magic in the paintings that she does upon parchment. From spells of destruction to balms for friends, nothing is beyond the reach of her brush and her imagination.

Calligraphy masters, like so many others in The Lost Island, draw inspiration from the elemental powers as they see them. While supposedly alternate schools of thought exist, most calligraphy masters choose one of the traditional elements of Air, Earth, Fire, Water, or Wood. In more “modern” regions of Rosuto-Shima, like near the mechanized city of Shangti, the new school of Metal has become popular. Regardless of if you’re a traditionalist or a contemporary, most admit that a sixth school, Void, also exist, but stands slightly apart from the normal Elemental Wheel.

The foundations of the calligraphy master is shodo. Shodo translates to the gaijin-tongue as “the way or writing” or “the art of writing,” most commonly called calligraphy. Shodo is both a performance and an object, as the act-of-writing is the thing calligraphy masters claim to be mastering. While they also refer to their written forms as shodo scrolls, a calligraphy master will often shake their head at gaijin confusion of how the word is both the art and the act. To foreign spellcasters, these shodo scrolls are almost indecipherable and appear as little more than plain ink and paper, with a magical arcane mark of the calligraphy master’s sigil, but the most common refrain from the master’s is that the creator of the shodo must known not merely the form, but the meaning of the kanji to unlock it’s powers. These spellcasters call themselves calligraphy “masters” because they feel that any spell’s kanji-as-shodo they are able to create as an effect is one they have begun to “master.”

Role: While most calligraphy masters come from a single elemental school, they have almost universal access to the arcane spellcasting lists of sorcerers and wizards. The versatility of calligraphy masters then is mostly bound to how creative that individual is, and how well prepared they are for what is to come.

Rick was kind enough to grace us with this epic example layout for the Calligraphy Master:

The core spellcasting mechanic of the Calligraphy Master uses shodo..

Shodo Spellcasting: A calligraphy master casts arcane spells drawn from the sorcerer/wizard spell list, restricted by their choice of shodo school. A calligraphy master must prepare his spells ahead of time using a special process unlike any other arcane spellcaster. Instead of merely memorizing or otherwise internalizing their magic, a calligraphy master instead creates beautiful shodo scrolls, stylized writing of the kanji used in the native Rosuto-Shima language. Into a shodo scroll, a calligraphy master infuses a part of themselves by sealing the scroll with their personal sigil using their arcane seal ability.

Creating a shodo scroll consumes raw materials, but the cost of these materials is insignificant – comparable to valueless material components of most spells. If a spell normally has a costly material component, that component is expended during the creation of that particular shodo scroll.

To learn, write, or cast a shodo spell, the calligraphy master must have an Intelligence score equal to at least 10 + the spell level. The Difficulty Class for a saving throw against a calligraphy master’s spell is 10 + the spell level + the calligraphy master’s Intelligence modifier.

A calligraphy master can only empower a certain number of shodo scrolls of each spell level per day. His base daily spell allotment is given on Table: Calligraphy Master. In addition, he receives bonus spells per day if he has a high Intelligence score.

A calligraphy master may know any number of spells. Most of the kanji used in shodo are merely variants of common words, but the calligraphy master tries must understand the true meanings of what they write to create magical effects. He must choose and prepare his spells by writing out shodo on scrolls and sealing them ahead of time, though it’s not uncommon for a calligraphy master to keep some (or even all) of his daily shodo scroll slots open so he can prepare shodo scrolls in the field as needed. Shodo is as much a “way” or practice as it is a single act, so after getting at least 8 hours of sleep, a calligraphy master spends 1 hour practicing writing out kanji as scrolls in some medium (ink on paper is traditional, but some prefer to practice drawing in sand or other mediums). After practicing, the calligraphy master decides which shodo scrolls to writing and seal, activating them. Writing out a shodo scroll typically takes 1 minute per spell level, unless the normal casting time of the spell is longer, in which case the writing takes at least that long.

A calligraphy master never uses a spellbook or otherwise collects the spells they know. Instead, part of the reason for the hour of practice every day is that the calligraphy master must perfect the memorization of the shapes and strokes in the proper order for every spell they know. Calligraphy masters begin playing knowing every 0th-level spell on the sorcerer/wizard’s spell list, and three 1st level spells, plus a number of additional spells equal to his Intelligence modifier. Most calligraphy masters share their spells and shodo only with those that they deem worthy, and even then a calligraphy master can only show another their own shodo, they must make the normal checks for learning a spell to internalize and understand the magic (see Learning Spells in Chapter X). A calligraphy master typically naturally gains enough understanding in their art to gain two new spells of any spell level or levels that he can case (based on his new calligraphy master level), needing only to practice them one more time after sleeping once they are learned.

In all other ways not already covered, casting a spell from a shodo scroll is the same as casting it from a traditional scroll, except that only the writer and sealer of the shodo scroll can ever hope to cast the spell as it contains a piece of themselves. In anyone else’s hands, a shodo scroll is nothing but ink on paper, losing even the magical seal of the calligraphy master after 24 hours.

But there is more to the class than just that, as they also gain a Bonded Treasure: Fude (the brush), Kami (the paper), Sumi (the inkstick), or Suzuri (the inkstone), and an elemental school of magic (similar to Elemental Wizards schools but SpM-themed), and in case you are worried about "what if I don't have ink and pape

Shinjitai: Meaning “simplified form,” these are simplified writing styles used by calligraphy masters on the fly to cast cantrip-style spells. Calligraphy masters never need to write out shinjitai, or 0-level spells, beforehand. Instead, the calligraphy master may cast the spell by “writing out” the kanji of the shinjitai in any medium (it can be traditional ink on paper, drawing the symbol in their own blood, or it could be as simple as drawing the symbol in the dust or sand) and arcane sealing it. Change the casting times for most cantrip spells to full-round actions, otherwise being treated normally for casting of the spell, but they are not expended when cast and may be used again. A calligraphy master always knows all cantrips available to them and can choose to cast any using this method.

Without getting into a detailed discussion, the specifics of the class are very much designed with some of the ideas of what is going on in the Jet Li epic Hero during the following scene:

Lucus Palosaari, Editor & Project Manager at Fat Goblin Games (Like us on Facebook!) 

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