In this month's exclusive interview, James Wyatt, one of the designers of the new Magic of Incarnum book, discusses the nature of incarnum, which is defined as the power of souls living, dead, and unborn. This magic substance can be shaped and reshaped into many new forms that give its users tremendous versatility, both in the dungeon and on the battlefield.
In the interests of better involving the player community with the features on the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards. Our thanks to the players who go by the screen names Alutras, Amaril, anthro78, Arkohn, badpaper, Dark Voivode, Darkmeer, EscapePlan, Germytech, GnomeBoy, Gnome Dragon Disciple, Gorwell, Green Warlock, Greenkreen, Griffonheart, haferka, Jal Dorak, Jshock 75, Khaine, Kingrames, Kobold Avenger, Koy manus, Kryptonian Scion, LewisLlynn, Lord Schpungus, Lyinginbedmon, Mage-Ou, Magnificate, Manyfist, Marcus Majarra, mathx314, Milliken, Mythralblade, narfi78, Niveria, Ogram Doomhammer, one winged angel720, Parion, Particle Man, PoeticJustice, psychic infinity, Racinante, rampant, Razz, S.Parra, Sadrach, sasnak, Shandrakor, Sinuhe, SirBruce, Soul Griifin, Sucros, The Badger, the harlequin, Thindelock, tvlerthehobo, twelvedrunkenmonkeyz, Xaos Bob, and Xavior of Cormyr for their participation. New questions are now being solicited for November's Champions of Valor supplement.
Wizards of the Coast: Let's begin with a few easy questions. What thought process led to the concept of incarnum?
James Wyatt: Here's my story about the birth of the Magic of Incarnum book. I've always been really excited about the entire 3E product line, but while it has brought forth tremendous innovations in mechanical concepts, it hasn't expanded the world of D&D in a really significant way. The Expanded Psionics Handbook is the latest and greatest incarnation of the psionics rules, but the base concept has been part of the game since Eldritch Wizardry. I really wanted to see us push the boundaries and come up with a completely new concept. So in meeting after meeting over a period of about two years, I stressed the need to do something that had never been seen in D&D before.
Finally, I realized that I needed to put my money where my mouth was and actually come up with such a concept. While I was preparing for a meeting about the 2005 product line, the idea came to me -- why not do a new magic system that had the scope of psionics but was based on the idea of manipulating some substance? That substance became incarnum, and that concept became the Magic of Incarnum book.
Wizards: Why introduce a new rules set to the game now?
JW: Well, because I think the product line demands it. The RPG R&D department at Wizards of the Coast certainly doesn't lack for creativity, but unless we continue to produce cool new products, the doomsayers will be right -- we'll run out of books to produce. We can only fill so many books with the same old stuff, but innovations such as this book can fuel a healthy product line for years to come.
Wizards: Could you give us your definition of incarnum? Is it considered arcane, divine, psionic, a combination, or a new form of magic entirely?
JW: Incarnum is energy drawn from living, dead, and preincarnate souls. It is magic, but it doesn't fall into any of the above categories. Spellcasters of all sorts, as well as psionic manifesters and warlocks, can all make use of it with the proper training. In short, incarnum is not a type of magic -- it is a substance that people can learn to manipulate.
Wizards: What were the primary sources of inspiration for incarnum, in terms of both flavor and mechanics? For example, the Bastion of Broken Souls adventure discusses soul essence, but only in terms of its use for prolonging an entity's life.
JW: In terms of flavor, Bastion of Broken Souls was clearly an inspiration for this product, and the book does pay homage to that adventure at certain points. Mechanically, I was trying to blaze new ground.
Wizards: How well will incarnum fit into existing worlds, such as the Forgotten Realms and Eberron Campaign Settings?
JW: I wrote a whole chapter on incarnum campaigns to help the DM figure out how to incorporate this new magic system into any existing campaign. Some specific advice is included there for both of the campaign settings you mention.
Wizards: Drawing power from souls might strike some as diabolical in nature. Is incarnum's use restricted to, or favored by, creatures with evil alignments? For example, how is "harnessing the soul" reconciled with Exalted characters?
JW: Using incarnum does not harm or change the souls from which it is drawn in any way -- unless the user is a necrocarnate, in which case he is irredeemably evil. So most incarnum users can be either good or evil -- and they tend to be drawn strongly one way or the other.
Wizards: Can you explain a little of how incarnum works in terms of game mechanics? Does the system involve spell levels and spells per day, or is it completely separate?
JW: Incarnum operates via an all-new system. Imagine a spectrum from complete spontaneity to complete rigidity with respect to power selection. The sorcerer and the psion are near the spontaneity end of that spectrum. They have access to only a limited number of powers, but they have a lot of freedom as far as what they can do in a day. The wizard approaches the other end of the spectrum -- not only is her list of spells known (that is, her spellbook) more limited than the cleric's, but she also prepares all her spells for the day in advance, leaving her very little flexibility.
The users of incarnum fall somewhere beyond the wizard on the rigidity end of the scale. They shape their soulmelds on a daily basis -- a process much like casting spells, except that the effects just remain active. That system isn't as limiting as it sounds, though. Like a cleric, an incarnum user can choose any soulmelds on his class list, and he usually has several options with each one. Some choices are made when the meld is shaped, and others are made from round to round.
Soulmelds have no spell levels, but two other mechanics serve the same general purpose. First, any soulmeld gets better when bound to one of the user's chakras -- the personal centers of magical power that correspond to the parts of the body where magic items are worn. Different chakras become available as the incarnum user attains higher levels. The most powerful effects come from soulmelds bound to those high-level chakras and are therefore unavailable to low-level characters. Secondly, every incarnum user has a fluid resource called essentia -- basically, his own soul energy -- that he can invest into his soulmelds to improve them. By shifting these investments around, he can alter the balance of power among the different melds he has shaped. This resource-management aspect of incarnum use is really interesting, and I think a lot of people will groove on it.
Wizards: How are souls treated once they are brought into play? If someone's soul is melded with incarnum, what happens if she dies and her soul moves on? Is the incarnum lost? Can it be regained, or does it decay with the body? Conversely, what happens if a melded item breaks or falls into a volcano? Is the soul freed to seek its afterlife, or is it destroyed? Is soul binding a way to kill someone permanently, or could an incarnum-fused magic item be "unmade" and "resurrected" into its component persons?
JW: Incarnum users deal with energy drawn from souls, not with the souls themselves. The source of this power is not necessarily the souls of dead people; it might also be the souls of living people or people not yet born. Thus, an incarnum-fused magic item stores not a single soul, but energy drawn from the collective souls of all the creatures in the multiverse. Thus, its use neither endangers souls nor interferes with their normal progress.
Wizards: The Expanded Psionics Handbook recommends using "full transparency" to govern the interactions between the Player's Handbook systems and psionics, but it also suggests other alternatives. Will Magic of Incarnum be fully transparent? Will it offer options to make it totally separate, as per psionics, or will this material automatically be separate? If it is not transparent, how will it balance against existing mechanics, such as d20/magic and SR?
JW: The material in Magic of Incarnum is pretty much transparent because it is magic. Characters do not gain any "incarnum resistance" to go alongside SR and PR, and the book offers no new types of damage reduction.
Wizards: Magic of Incarnum seems to allow players (and indeed NPCs) to straddle the horns of creation, becoming more powerful and versatile than ever before. What limitations are in place to prevent monstrous powergaming with this book?
JW: We believe the new system in the book is well balanced with the existing rules. Incarnum wielders can stand side by side with other characters, but they shouldn't overshadow them in any way.
Wizards: Will the use of incarnum be available to core classes as well as the classes in this book? And if so, does expertise with it come via feats, gp cost, XP cost, skill points, multiclassing, or possibly some combination of the above?
JW: Core classes will be able to pick up the use of incarnum via feats, multiclassing, substitution levels, and even gear, to a very limited extent.
Wizards: What are the differences among the three new core classes, and between these classes and say, a wizard or sorcerer? Are these three classes arranged in a set in the same manner as the psion/psychic warrior/soulknife trio (that is, full user, partial user, and harnesser of power in unusual ways)? Will members of these new classes be eligible for other magic-using prestige classes, or are they restricted to incarnum-using prestige classes?
JW: Here are the three new core classes in a nutshell.
Incarnate: This powerful meldshaper embodies the precepts of good, evil, chaos, or law. (This one is a full user; think cleric.)
Soulborn: This meldshaper is a martial character who wields incarnum in the cause of one of the four extreme alignments. (A soulborn is a martial user; think paladin.)
Totemist: This meldshaper wields the energy of nature's souls, revering magical beasts as totem creatures and mimicking their powers. (This one is a full user; think druid.)
Since they're not spellcasters, members of these classes don't qualify for prestige classes that require spellcasting ability. However, the book does include ten prestige classes, and converting an existing spellcasting prestige class to an incarnum prestige class based on those ten examples should be a pretty easy task.
Wizards: Does the book present viable synergies for use of the incarnum-using prestige classes by members of existing core classes?
The totem rager embodies the wrath of nature in its most bestial form. Like the barbarian, she can stir herself into a fierce rage to cleave her enemies, and like the totemist, she can shape the forces of nature into soulmelds that grant her the power of magical beasts. But only in the totem rager do these abilities feed upon each other like the beasts of the wild, growing stronger from one another’s essence. She can use her rage to make her soulmelds better, and use her soulmelds to make her virtually unstoppable in combat.
Dealers in death and torturers of souls, necrocarnates number among the most evil creatures in any world. Skilled in the arts of meldcraft, these twisted beings once drew upon the soul energy of incarnum. Their unbridled lust for power at any price has led them into dark rituals that corrupt soul energy into necrocarnum.
Necrocarnum is a dark reflection of incarnum, whose use gives even the most evil incarnates and totemists pause. An evil incarnate might draw upon the soul energies of evil creatures and planes, but a user of necrocarnum gains her power from the torture of good souls. Indeed, the necrocarnate subjects pure souls to agony and torment far beyond the limits possible in mortal life, draining them of their very essence in pursuit of her hideous power.
JW: We tried very hard to ensure that any character could have access to the cool new stuff in this book, so you don't necessarily need to roll a new character from scratch to access an incarnum-using prestige class. Of the ten prestige classes offered, four require a minimum of incarnum expertise, and a character could meet the prerequisites for those via feats rather than class levels. A couple of other prestige classes are aimed at multiclassed characters, so a character who starts off in a class that doesn't use incarnum and switches to an incarnum-using class later on would have some cool options available.
Wizards: Do you have any personal favorites among these new prestige classes?
JW: I think they're all really cool, so it's hard to pick a favorite. But I really like the totem rager, the sapphire hierarch, and the necrocarnate.
Wizards: Is any form of epic support planned for incarnum-using characters?
JW: The book includes an appendix with epic class information and a few epic feats.
Wizards: Can we expect to find incarnum mentioned in future books?
JW: As a general rule, we've been moving toward a philosophy that offers broader support for new rules elements. Just as you've been seeing psionic powers in the races series and warlock invocations in books such as -- well, Magic of Incarnum, for one -- I think you'll also start to see new soulmelds and other support for incarnum-using characters in other books down the line. Of course, the decision to provide such support depends in part on how well this book is received. If you love it as much as I think you will, and you express that opinion clearly on our message boards, I think the chances of seeing more support for the book in later products will improve dramatically. Hmmm... maybe now would be a good time to start agitating for Complete Incarnum!
D&D Magic of Incarnum, September 2005 Release Date, hardcover, full color, 224 pages, $34.95.