Friday, January 22, 2010

Casting Spells - Spells on the Fly

I'd like to start this post by saying that this "tag-team" approach of posting has been working out pretty well IMO, if for no other reason than to keep conversations really fresh and active. Which really means, thanks to everyone who has taken time to respond! For those of you who've been waiting for this next post, I apologize for the holdup--some rather ugly dental surgery prevented coherent thought the last week or so.

So when last we tuned in on the Spirit of Greyhawk, we had talked through the mechanics of Spell Casting "by the book". This entry we delve into casting "on the fly" -- Sorcery.

At the risk of repeating myself, SoG diverges a bit from Greyhawk's canon in that magical effects can also be cast by users without the mechanics of "locking in" a pre-made spell.

Whereas casting a pre-made spell by the book gives the caster the ability to use 2DF+2, spell casting on the fly is rather a normal skill-related difficulty roll of 4DF. In other words, it's possible that a spell fails when the caster is making something up.

NOTE: For those of you long-time readers, you're going to note a lot of similarities to Mike's original Fantasy-related spell castings.

The Basic Process of Spell Casting "On the Fly"

For most normal castings, the process works out like this:

Before the roll of the Dice:
The player and GM determine the difficulty to generate the magical effect. This is done by the following:

  • Figure out what magical effect you want to achieve. This is also known as the spell's Power.
  • The caster determines what pre-existing Skill (owned by the caster) the Magic Stunt is tied to, for purposes of setting a baseline skill ability.
  • Determine any other desired spell Improvements, which make the casting MORE difficult.
  • Determine any other desired spell Modifiers, which make the casting LESS difficult.


Roll the Dice:
Roll 4DF and net the result to the Caster's skill. Compare it against the difficulty of the spell to determine casting success or failure. Note that this is considered an uncontesed skill.

After the Dice Roll:
From there, the player
  • If desired (or available!), Fate points can be used as per normal to make any necessary modifications to Roll.
  • Determine what property of the spell will benefit from any MoS (margin of success). Barring some other spell "widget", the basic choices for what to do with MoS are right out of SotC:
    • Reduce Time Required: 1 shift reduces spellcasting time by one step on the Time Chart (the version of the Time Chart used by SoG is coming up shortly).
    • Increase Quality of Outcome: This is where some other property of the spell (Targets, Duration, Power, Range) are increased on a 1 shift for a +1.
    • Increase Subtlety: This one's a bit of a clunker, I think. But at the moment I'm thinking 1 shift makes the spell harder to counter by +2. I modified SotC's definition of what "subtlety" refers to with respect to a spell. Once I think through "counter-spells" or something whereby a spell could be undone (or even resisted), this may end up being a modifier to the spell's Power with respect to countering or resisting.
      OPEN ISSUE: I'm not sure what the 2:1 ratio does to game balance yet. But if it was left at a 1:1 ratio to counter-spell or resist, why would a caster bother with increased subtlety? Increased Power would get you the same effect for countering and make the spell more... well, powerful. So by doing this, it provides the opportunity where a spell might not be terribly powerful, but rather is very SUBTLE. Anyway, not sure yet.
  • Consider the net results of any modifications and go from there.

NOTE: Aspects in play would be tagged or compelled normally and have the normal effects, so I didn't include them here. But understand that a shrewd caster can generate a significant amount of shifts via free Aspect tags without having to dip into his Fate Points!

Analysis

At first read, that might sound relatively crunchy. While it's true that if a player was to go nuts with this--it could be. However all my play test sessions to date have borne out that this works out pretty well and actually combat still moves right along. And one of the PC's in the game actually has Magic as an apex skill, with the Magic Stunt allowing for him to create spells on the fly. Given that, and the player's tendency to be a "Power Player" (meaning: looking for every +1 he can get), Sorcery hasn't slowed down play at all.

Editorial Analysis: Upon further consideration and looking at how we worked out the spell below, I am now thinking in hindsight the spell might have been interpreted in a crunchier fashion. However, as long as player and GM are satisfied with the interpretation then gameplay is served. So, the crunch factor has something of a "water seeks its own level" effect, based upon who's playing and reffing.

Powers, Improvements and Modifiers

This is where a lot of the fun comes in and we'll spend some time going into each one--as each category probably deserves a separate post. So for some of the examples I'm going to list, I'm gonna ask that you "trust me". :)

Here's the fun part: all the examples I'll use actually happened in SoG gameplay!

Example: Made-up Spell "Spear of Freedom"
Situation: Caellod, "Paladin" of Trithereon (CG deity) is on a ridgeline looking down at some manner of nefarious ritual being led by four Clerics of Iuz on the plain below. Surrounded as they were by hundreds of followers in a writhing mass, he knows he has no ability to get close to the clerics to interrupt them. He determines he wants to create a spell to temporarily enchant his spear with the power of his god to strike one of the clerics within the center of the ritual--almost half a mile away!

So the difficulty for this spell was quickly determined to be the following:

  • Power: Launch a spear to fly further than it could normally (+1 difficulty, Substitute Magic Skill for Missile Skill)
  • Improvement: Range: Legendary (+8 difficulty!) (Ref determined lobbing a spear half a mile from high ground would be on a caliber with Greek legend)
  • Modifier: Material Component: Blessed Spear of Trithereon (Uncommon, -2 difficulty)
  • Casting Time: Base Casting time is determined by the net result (1 + 8 - 2 = 6, which equates to 15 minutes to cast)

...The player decided to not increase the difficulty on the casting by shortening the spell (gambling that the observed ritual was going to go that long), so the difficulty was set at 1 + 8 - 2 = 6, or Fantastic difficulty to cast the spell. The player tied the Magic Stunt to his Magic Skill (+5, his apex skill), rolled the dice and got +3 for a result of +8. So this meant Success, with an MoS of +2. The MoS was then determined to be used to make the "Missile" attack more effective. The player decided to not use any Fate points to increase the MoS further.

Now because of the way the spell was set up, it was interpreted the Range difficulty did not make the attack more powerful, just able to overcome the range. So the difficulty of the spell (6) was netted out from the skill result (8) and thus the target was dealing with aFair attack (+2).

The cleric missed an Alertness roll so this attack was essentially considered an Ambush and the defense roll was considered Mediocre (+0). So the number 2 physical stress box was checked and the spell was done. Story-wise, the cleric was effectively interrupted from whatever he was working on within the ritual.

And, oh yeah--the PC had effectively lost his Blessed Spear! (nyah-ha-ha!)

So if you're thinking about interpretation, that's actually pretty nice--what equates to a 6th level cleric spell to inflict a fairly modest amount of damage to a remote target, at the cost to the player of 15 minutes of casting time, and one of the cleric's holy symbols.

Not bad for spells on the fly.

I'll probably throw a few more examples in the next posting.

[Hey -- this is Spirit of the Blank's 100th post! --Mike]
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