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Saturday 18 December 2021

Programming Spells

One of the most fun features of both the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic is how they handle magic and spells. Or in the case of Mutant Crawl Classics, wetware programs granted by an A.I. patron as opposed to an actual deity as in Dungeon Crawl Classics. In each case, every spell or program is given a page which details how it works, what its effects are, and what can go wrong with said spell; in other words, an effect chart. For example, the classic standby of First Level Wizards everywhere, Magic Missile, might manifest as a meteor, a screaming, clawing eagle, a ray of frost, a force axe, and so on. When cast, a Wizard might throw a single Magic Missile that only does a single point of damage; one that might normal damage; multiple missiles or a single powerful one; and so on. Alternatively, the Wizard’s casting might result in a Misfire, which for Magic Missile might cause the caster’s allies or himself to be hit by multiple Magic Missiles, or to blow a hole under the caster’s feet! Worse, the casting of the spell might have a Corrupting influence upon the caster, which for Magic Missile might cause the skin of the caster’s hands and forearms to change colour to acid green or become translucent or to become invisible every time he casts Magic Missile! This is in addition to the chances of the Wizard suffering from Major or even Greater Corruption… Although this does add an extra mechanical element to play, it also adds a degree of danger and uncertainty to magic. Plus it is huge fun to play—and yet…

The Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is well served with its lengthy list of spells for both the Cleric and the Wizard, which all together takes up a good third of the rulebook. Not so, the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. This is due another major aspect of the roleplaying game—mutations. Active mutations—as well as defects, such as Holographic and Pyrokinesis, have their own tables which work in the same fashion as spells, and since they are a major aspect of the roleplaying game, they take up a fair amount of the book. Consequently, this means that there is relatively little space to detail the wetware programs cast—or run—by the Shaman Class. With eight Patron A.I.s and just the Invoke Patron A.I. program and three programs per Patron A.I., the Shaman Class is woefully underserved in terms of capability in comparison to the Wizard or the Cleric and their extensive spell lists in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. As much as the wetware programs use the spell mechanics of Dungeon Crawl Classics, in Mutant Crawl Classics they are still pieces of software and thus technological rather than divine in nature. What Mutant Crawl Classics really needs is a list—at least—of more wetware programs, and that is something provided by the Enchiridion of the Computarchs.

Enchiridion of the Computarchs is a supplement designed to support the Judge and her players in settings where the Player Characters and the NPCs cast spells in high-tech settings. This includes not just the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, but also third-party settings such as Cyber Sprawl Classics, Crawljammer, Umerica, Terror of the Stratosfiend, and Star Crawl Classics. Published by Horseshark Games following a successful Kickstarter campaignEnchiridion of the Computarchs includes a long list of some forty or so new spells or programs, a new Spellburn table, new mechanics for spell failure, and a new corruption table written using high-technobabble, all of which supports the aforementioned settings and other post-apocalyptic, far-future, and dystopian-future campaigns.

In the past, before the Great Disaster, the cabalistic and powerful Computarchs built and established the laws and conventions of the WorldNet. It reached everywhere, but like the rest of civilisation, the network was shattered by the Great Disaster, scattering their tools and programs to be found by subsequent generations across Terra A.D. by the Seekers, especially the Shaman. If ever those tools and pieces of software were to be brought together, they would be collectively known as Enchiridion of the Computarchs. It includes a glossary that explains its terminology in terms of Dungeon Crawl Classics and Mutant Crawl Classics, so ‘source vault’, ‘repository’, and ‘source code’ rather than ‘spellbook’, ‘grimoire’, or ‘scroll’, and ‘encode’, ‘create’, ‘deploy’, ‘run’, and ‘inject’ rather than ‘enchant’, ‘recite’, ‘summon’, ‘place’, or ‘hex’. All of which supports the cross compatibility of the supplement.

Enchiridion of the Computarchs starts with adding mishaps—Faults, Bugs, and Critical Errors which can occur when a user rolls a natural one when executing a program. Once which of these has occurred—based on the user’s Luck modifier, Patron A.I. taint, and so on—the user makes a roll on the appropriate table. A Fault causes a program to stop running and must be fixed, a Bug means that the program runs to completion but with altered or unexpected results, and a Critical Error not only forces the program to stop, but directly affects the user too, including increasing the chance of his rolling a natural one when it is run again. Mechanically, the Faults are flavour rather than effect, whilst both Bugs and Critical Errors more effect than flavour. Less divine and more computational, a mishap simply does not vanish once it occurs, but any time the program is run again, it can also occur again, and even escalate from a Fault to a Bug, and if the roll is bad enough to a Critical Error. However, rest and time spent performing hardware and software maintenance can fix them. Critical Errors require a program like Quarantine to be run to fix.

As with Dungeon Crawl Classics and the ability of the Wizard to ‘Spellburn’ points in his Abilities to gain temporary bonuses to regain lost spells, in Enchiridion of the Computarchs, a Shaman or Techno-caster can do the same with ‘Burndown’. This uses the same mechanics as ‘Spellburn’, but replaces the table for the latter with one for the technological effects of ‘Burndown’. The table requires the use of a twenty-four-sided die and gives entries such as, “The user’s hands are scorched by electrical feedback. Until the ability score damage is healed, the user suffers -1 to tasks requiring the use of his hands.” However, not all of the entries are appropriate, such as “The user must donate an organ, skin, or other body part to a representative from a collection service.”, which will not apply in all settings. Perhaps a table per genre—Science Fiction or Cyberpunk, Post-Apocalyptic, and so on, might have been useful?

When it comes to the actual programs and executing programs, Enchiridion of the Computarchs provides rules for running program teams which although their involvement increases the running time, increases the program check bonus and enables the lead programmer to make multiple rolls on the program check. Computing power also allows for the effect of running programs at points of enhanced processing power, such as within or with the help of a central mainframe or via an orbital communications super router. Particularly rare program components, like proprietary algorithms or encryption keys can grant further bonuses, as can spending extra time activating a program, but rushing a program—essentially ignoring quality assurance—can introduce Bugs, and require fixing later on if a program is to be run more than once. Lastly, a big table gives one hundred options for program provenance, enabling the Judge to individualise programs with quirks, meaning that the version cast by one user might be different from that of another. It leads to the possibility of there being whole batches of a program which have the same quirk and a Player Character actually searching for a better version of a program he already has, or even just a version which lacks the deleterious quirk the version he has right possesses.

Much like the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and its extensive list of spells, Enchiridion of the Computarchs contains a lot of spells. In fact, over two thirds of the supplement is devoted to its spells. The forty-eight run from First Level to Fifth Level, widening the choices available at the lower Levels and actually providing choices at the higher Levels. The spells are designed primarily as adventuring spells rather than utility spells, and so will suit most adventuring Shaman and ‘techno-casters’. Some of the spells listed are actually detailed in Dungeon Crawl Classics and in Mutant Crawl Classics, such as Force Manipulation and Lightning Bolt, but there are plenty of new ones. For example, Close Access enables the user prevent access to entryways—both real and virtual, with Glitch the user transmit code or commands to cause robots, A.I.s, and other computer-driven technology to pause temporarily, Daemon summons an autonomous processing agent to do the user’s bidding, and Technorganic Virus, which infects the user’s enemies with effects ranging from suddenly being deafened to striking them down with a techno-plague. Some of the programs are directly computer-related, such as Create Deck, which enables the user to create a computer deck that will grant a bonus for later rolls involving computers, but for the most part, the programs in Enchiridion of the Computarchs interact with the biological, the computational, and the mechanical.

Rounding out Enchiridion of the Computarchs is a trilogy of appendices. These in turn, introduce malicious code which can implanted using the Exploit program, provide a pair of tables to generate program faults and their associated acronyms, and add and generate ICE—or Intrusion Countermeasures Electronic—to the game. These do feel underwritten in comparison to the ret of the book and will require the Judge to flesh them out a bit, but once she has, they will add more flavour and detail to a campaign.

Physically, Enchiridion of the Computarchs is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is decent and the supplement is well written. Many of the spell descriptions and their effects are engaging and any Shaman or user will want to bring them into play.

There is a split in the focus behind Enchiridion of the Computarchs born of having to cover multiple genres—or rather subgenres of Science Fiction. Whilst it covers the ‘techno-caster’ in general, that means that it has to encompass the computer hacker of the Cyberpunk genre and the Shaman of the post-apocalyptic genre, so there are programs—or spells as the Shaman call them—which will work in the one genre and be hard to work in the other. Much of this will depend upon the computational and electronic architecture of the world, where it is more prevalent, programs affecting computers will play a bigger role, such as Cyber Sprawl Classics, Crawljammer, or Star Crawl Classics, but less so in settings like that of Mutant Crawl Classics and the like. This means that some adjustment will be needed by the Judge in determining which of the programs she wants in her campaign.

In addition, if there is an issue with Enchiridion of the Computarchs, it is that it does not directly address the lack of programs to be found in the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game nor does it tie any of its programs to any of the eight Patron A.I.s given in the rules. Not that it necessarily has to have done, but it would have been useful. Still, that does not stop the Judge from doing so if she wishes.

Overall, Enchiridion of the Computarchs presents a fantastic set of new options, rules, programs, and/or spells that supports not just the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, but any number of Science Fiction roleplaying games based on Dungeon Crawl Classics. Pleasingly, it provides much needed support and resources for the otherwise underdeveloped Shaman Character Class from Mutant Crawl Classics. If you play any roleplaying game from Goodman Games, or based on a Goodman Games roleplaying game, and you need programming support, Enchiridion of the Computarchs is exactly what you need.

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