Summoning in Swords of Infinity

Brendan Cass

As I wrap up development on the Swords of Infinity system reference documents it is a good time to reflect on some of the decisions I made during development and, hopefully, give people an interesting insight into my design process. Swords of Infinity is a role-playing game designed to evoke the same feeling as swords and sorcery stories written by authors such as Fritz Lieber, Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, and the like. It is also the game engine that will power the Swords of Kos RPG, set in the world of the Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting.

This month's entry is all about magical summoning, something that shows up quite frequently in swords and sorcery novels, and is a popular mechanic in fantasy role-playing games as well. The trick, in this case, was coming up with rules that felt right with the tone of my favorite swords and sorcery stories. I ended up turning primarily to Moorcock's "Elric" stories for inspiration on this one, because Elric of Melnibone is frequently summoning otherworldly allies to help him in battle. The themes that I picked up on, and they appear to be shared across many swords & sorcery stories, are that the summoner typically calls for a creature by name, and that the creature is only assisting the summoner because of some kind of contract or coercion. With all that said, the following block contains my rules for summoning in Swords of Infinity.

Spells can summon monsters, characters, and items from far-off places with a power equal to or greater than 100 times the Value Level, Difficulty Level, or Experience Level of the target being summoned. The summoned creature or item is permanently brought to the caster's location, and requires another spell of equal or greater power to send it back to where it came from. The summoner is not calling for a generic copy of an item or creature, but a specific member of that type, and therefor the caster must have intimate knowledge about its location and, in the case of creatures, its name. Summoned creatures are not under the control of the caster, and so will require further spells or coercion in order to gain their cooperation.

These same mechanics can be used in reverse in order to teleport a character to another location, but likewise the caster must have intimate knowledge about the location being teleported to.

The reference I included to the value, difficulty, or experience level of the thing being summoned is primarily there for balance purposes, but it also ties the summoning rules in with the core mechanics of the game. I try to minimize the instances of "one off" rules that exist in a vacuum and only serve one purpose. I find that rules like these slow down the game and make it harder for new players to pick up, and very little breaks my immersion in a game more than having to pause the action for five minutes in order to reference something in a book. Teleportation is lumped in with these rules too, because it's basically just "reverse summoning" and it removes the need for yet another rule.

The remaining rules are my attempt at capturing the themes I picked up on in swords & sorcery stories. Summoners need to know of a specific creature before summoning it, because I want players to establish relationships with their summoned creatures. Summoned creatures have free will and are permanently brought to a place because I want them to be more than just tools, and I want Swords of Infinity to believably portray those moments where a sweating apprentice is staring down a demon that is looking for one small imperfection in her summoning circle.

Hopefully this was an interesting look into my development process, I'll be back with more retrospectives on other parts of the Swords of Infinity role-playing game system soon.