Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Casting Spells - Basics and Pre-Made Spells

Okay, so now that we've gotten the prerequisites out of the way, let's get in to what happens when someone actually casts a spell.

Note: Keep in mind that I have not yet delved into the specifics of translating AD&D spell effects into SoG nor the modifiers and difficulties, so just "bear with me" through the spell examples and the "accounting".

A spell is cast by one of two basic methods:

  • Cast a pre-made spell "By the Book" (Wizardry)
  • Make up a spell and see what happens (Sorcery--covered in the next entry)

Spell Basics

These apply to all spells, regardless of which two methods above is used. Casting is typically NOT a contested skill roll. It's normally uncontested as the caster is instead beating a predetermined difficulty. However, circumstances might cause a spell to be more difficult (or easier) to cast.

A spell is normally defined as one or more benefits. The greater the benefits, the greater the difficulty. A spell can also consist of certain requirements that must be met on the caster's part. These requirements usually will reduce the difficulty. Requirements can consist of:

  • Takes time to cast (during which the caster cannot be interrupted without losing the spell)
  • Requires the caster to speak certain words (Verbal Components). I'm assuming here that the caster would likely have to speak at least at a normal tone or louder.
  • Requires the caster to use certain gestures or movements (Somatic Components). I'm also assuming here that both hands are required, along with freedom of movement.
  • Requires the caster to expend certain magical reagents (Material Components)
  • Requires concentration during the spell's duration (during which the caster cannot be interrupted without losing the spell)

Temporary Aspects

All these requirements above would be expressed by the placing of temporary aspects upon the caster, during the casting or perhaps for the duration of the spell. If the aspect cannot be placed upon the caster, the caster CANNOT cast/maintain the spell. These temporary aspects could then also be tagged by those trying to counter the casting. This then opens up quite a few gameplay opportunities:

  • Finding interesting ways to try to tag an opponent caster's aspect of "Concentrating furiously" or "Magical Gestures"
  • Spell combat where opponents try to tag each other's aspects based upon identifying what is being cast
  • Trying to cast spells where you limit what temporary aspects a caster can take: casting Silence to remove the ability to speak or casting Web or Entangle to prevent gestures (or accessing material components).
  • Guards being able to detect an otherwise-hidden caster by tagging his "Speaking Words of Power" temporary aspect.

...I'm only scratching the surface, here. But hopefully you see the gameplay potential.

Casting a Spell "By the Book"

This is the method of generating effects that stays closest to the AD&D source material: A pre-determined spell is referenced and then cast by someone (whether from memory, from scroll, or spellbook).

Remember that the real benefit to casting a pre-determined spell "as is" is that the caster will be able to roll 2DF+2, instead of 4DF. This means that as long as you are casting within your skill level, there is no chance for failure--only for positive shifts.


The 1st Level pre-made Wizard Spell "Armor" nets out to difficulty of Average (+1). As a glimpse of what's to come, the spell lists out like this:

  • Benefit: Target gets "Light" (Fair, +2) armor. (+1 to difficulty)
  • Benefit: Alternate Useage: Armor effect is "magical" and is not physical. (+1 to difficulty)
  • Benefit: Reduce Casting Time by 1 shift to now be "Single Exchange" (+1 to difficulty)
  • Requirement: Material component required (Finely Cured Leather, Common, -1 shift)
  • Requirement: Somatic component (Gesturing) required (-1 shift)
  • Variable: Margin of Success (MoS) counts toward Duration / Durability (no modification to difficulty)
  • Range: Touch (no modification to difficulty)

Therefore the net difficulty is (1+1+1-1-1=+1) is Average (+1) to cast the Armor spell.

As long as a Wizard has a Magic Skill of Average or better, and fulfills the requirements...

  • Has a scrap of finely cured leather
  • Can gesture
  • Is uninterrupted for a single exchange's worth of time

...2DF+2 are then used for the skill roll.

So, if a Wizard with a Magic Skill of Good (+3) meets the requirements and rolls the following: [-] [-] + 2 = 0 dice roll for net skill result of Good (+2 shifts over the skill difficulty of Average), the spell was successfully cast upon the target with an MoS of +2 that counts towards Duration / Durability of the spell (in this particular spell's case).

Modifying a Pre-Made Spell

This is something of a hybrid between the first two spell-casting scenarios. It's entirely possible that a caster might end up in a situation where he wants to generate a spell but for whatever reason, the requirements cannot be completely met. Play situations might be:

  • Using a previous example, hiding from guards walking nearby, but still wanting to cast a spell that requires speaking. The caster could try to cast the spell without speaking, in essence changing the recipe.
  • Trying to cast a spell without material components, because your bandolier of spell components was taken during the night.
  • Trying to shorten a casting time to minimize exposure in the middle of a melee.

The primary impact of this "changing the recipe" then would be that the caster no longer can use the 2DF+2 roll, and must now roll 4DF (and thus have a chance of failing the casting).

OPEN ITEM: Since this a modification of an existing "recipe", I am currently thinking the 4DF requirement and any increase in difficulty (see below) is enough penalty will be sufficient and let this be a skill-based roll.

Replacing something in the "Recipe"

If the caster replaces one requirement with another: perhaps choosing to speak instead of gesture, the difficulty of the spell would remain, but the skill roll would be 4DF, instead of 2DF+2.

Removing something from the "Recipe"

If the caster attempted to cast the spell by removing some requirement (this includes "hurrying-up", as you are removing time shifts), the spells difficulty increases per shift removed and the skill roll must be made at 4DF, instead of 2DF+2

Making a spell easier by adding something to the "Recipe"

It's also possible that an additional requirement could be added to make a spell easier to cast or to improve the effectiveness of the spell. The most common version of this would likely be increasing the amount of time to cast a spell (i.e., going slower to get it right thus increasing the potential for success or a greater MoS). This would reduce the spell's difficulty accordingly (wait for the Spell Benefit / Requirement / Modifier writeups), but would still require a 4DF roll.

Magical Stunts to Substitute for Spell Requirements

While I haven't written these out yet (cuz I haven't needed them yet), I think it's entirely plausible that SoG could have character stunts that would "replace" certain spell requirements. I recall that 3E AD&D had a bunch of these sorts of stunts and I see no reason at this point why they couldn't be included to flesh out the SoG's spellcasting...

Some examples might be...

  • Silent Casting (used in place of a Verbal component)
  • Concentration (used to counter being distracted during combat)
  • Quick Casting (used to reduce any spell casting time by 1 shift on the time chart)

...again, the possibilities seem pretty tasty.

My current position on these sorts of stunts is that they DO NOT modify the spell and are still eligible for the 2DF+2 roll. So using the Silent Casting with a spell that requires a Verbal component would still make the user otherwise eligible for the 2DF+2 roll.


Anonymous said...

I love the idea of using spell attributes (verbal, somatic, material, concentration ...) as temporary aspects on the caster that can be tagged or compelled! That is going into my bag of tricks. I also like the idea of being able to take a stunt that can remove one of those aspects. However, that may also provide a loophole that some players will exploit. A "silent caster" who creates a spell with the verbal aspect just to reduce the difficulty, knowing that it wont he wont have to pay that price.

Mike Olson said...

Yeah, temporary-aspects-as-spell-components is good stuff.

Biff, I sorta see you on the Silent Caster dilemma, but unless he's casting a spell that already has the Verbal component, he'd have to add that component to an existing spell, modifying it -- which means he's rolling 4dF instead of 2dF+2. I admit it isn't a huge trade-off, but it's a trade-off nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

You are right. I your campaign world has a static spell list - every spell that is know or ever will be known is on the list - then it would not be a problem. However, if a Wizard can research new spells, adding to the official list, then there is the opportunity for abuse. I'm just saying that there is a certain type of player that will try to exploit any loopholes to their characters advantage. How big an issue it is will vary from group to group.

Guy Bowring said...

Glad you like the Casting Aspects concept, guys. I really felt it added a new dimension to playing a spellcaster (or playing with spellcasters) that nicely supported the original source material. To say nothing of adding a nice tactical element to spellcasting that didn't bog things down too much and stayed within the FATE framework.

I also enjoy these dialogues quite a lot as it helps identify possible issues past me just noodling stuff around within the "fractal design" dynamic.

The casting stunts are something that are still very much in the "thinking out loud" stage. And you're right that I hadn't totally thought through the stunts with respect to Sorcery, but my FEELING (fingers pantomiming quotes) was that it didn't seem too big of a loophole, because...

- All made-up spells are 4DF.
- I really haven't considered the process by which a made-up spell would be sufficiently researched by the PC to go from being 4DF to being 2DF+2. My sense was that it happened off-stage at the GMs discretion.
- Referencing an earlier writeup in this blog by Mike, the Silent Casting stunt on a made-up spell with a Verbal component would only be worth a +1 bonus anyway, right? Still a reasonable application for using a Stunt slot, I think.
- And to take this into a more abstract area: as a GM, I would be pretty hesitant to grant a player that particular exploit anyway. For a playing to be creating spells ad hoc and have to hear every time it happened...

"oh, this spell I just made up requires speaking, but since I don't need to speak to cast I'm exempt,"

...wouldn't really work for me as a GM. If you're making up a spell and you're not speaking, then I wouldn't grant that Verbal requirement. Barring some kind of Clarence Darrow-grade argument, I would just say that the spell the "silent" caster created didn't require speaking. So a Silent Casting Stunt would only really be of value when recreating either someone's existing made-up spell that DID have the Verbal component, or a pre-made spell.

Thinking it through further (although this maybe too far off into the dark grey of what if), suppose a Silent Caster's ad hoc spells were written down and someone else attempted to cast them who DIDN'T have the Silent Casting stunt? Could the GM consider the caster at a disadvantage and charge an extra +1 difficulty? Something to consider.

Anonymous said...

I wasn’t thinking about ad hoc abuse as in your “this spell I just made up…” example. I was thinking of a situation where a Wizard (not a Sorcerer) ad hocs a really useful utility spell at 1st level, and is still regularly using that spell when he is at 10th level, then at some point this is no longer an ad hoc spell! But like I said, the bigness of problem will be dependant on your group.

Another way to go might be to separate the style aspects (verbal, somatic, material, implement?) from the spell difficulty calculation and make the character have a stunt describing his casting style. A caster who has a Verbal, Implement reduces the difficulty of any spell he casts by 2. Take away his voice or his wand and he is powerless. But this may be getting away from your intended source material.

Another issue that could be a problem is with material components. Fate and SoTC kind hand waves equipment. It is generally assumed that a character automatically has their tools-of-the-trade (although Diaspora has Wealth/Resource rolls with stress and consequences for buying stuff). A pinch of sulphur for a Fireball sounds like something any Wizard with a Fireball spell is likely to have on hand and doesn’t really restrict the casting in any way. Have you thought about how you’d handle spells that have material costs - 2500 gp worth of this-or-that? Will you just tack on a gp economy?

Guy Bowring said...


After I posted my response I realized I did perhaps misinterpret your point. But I can't figure out how to edit responses in the blog -- you can edit posts, thankfully, but not responses. So, nuff said there.

And admittedly the situation you describe for "codifying spells" is a valid one. As of right now, I have no real plans to think through the process, so I'm open to suggestions. :)

Your second point about splitting out the caster's "idiom" is a good one. But I agree with your point about perhaps too far from my source material--maybe someone else reading it may use it someday.

(I'm really glad interesting alternatives are coming out of these postings, BTW.)

Your points about the Material components are very valid.

However I realized that my response to that was long enough that its probably better put into a blog entry, so I'll post that writeup either today or tomorrow.