Wednesday, September 28, 2011

[Greyhawk] Translating Spells into Fate

In an earlier post, I laid out three possible approaches to translating the source material’s spells into the Fate mechanic. I had also stated that SoG would be closer to the “faithful recreation” end of the spectrum with respect to translating spells.

Specifically, spell layouts and the general expectations of what spells did were to stay consistent, while the properties and the implementation of those magical effects were what was translated into Fate mechanics.

Rather than just throw out translated spells, I’d rather share SoG’s translation guidelines and “teach a man to fish.”

Translating Time and Distances

The source material looks at distances and time differently depending upon where the party is located (PHB, p. 102). SoG will apply only one standard, based on “city” or “dungeon” environments.

Both “Time” and “Distance” could be posts by themselves, so the information here is limited only to what is necessary to translating spells.

Translating Time

The source material’s most granular unit of time is 6 seconds (1 Segment) and SoG will consider that the equivalent of a single Fate “exchange” (or Full Action). While I think that 6 seconds to cover only a single combat exchange is a bit long, it’s not bad enough to warrant trying to make a more complicated translation.

There’s also a translation challenge associated with the Time Ladder—it’s story-centric. In other words, each rung of the ladder does not reflect the same amount of time. I’m not going to cover the entire Time Ladder in this post, but here are guidelines dealing with the lower end of the ladder, where each line is another “rung.”

Source Material Casting

SoG Time Ladder

“Actual” Time in Game


Action (not full action)

Maybe 3 seconds or less

1 Segment

Full Action (1 Exchange)

6 seconds

2 Segments

2 Exchanges

12 seconds

3 Segments to 1 round

3 Exchanges

18 seconds to 1 minute

1 round to 1 turn

Full Conflict

1 - 10 minutes

1 turn to 2 turns

Entire Scene

10 - 20 minutes

(The ladder goes further than this, but again this is enough for translation purposes.)

Translating Distance

Distance is used when considering both Area of Effect and Range.

Fred Hicks posted a great guideline about how to adapt Fate to 4e D&D maps (1 map square = 5 feet of game distance) that serves as the basis for SoG distance assumptions (which use older AD&D scales). SoG works with both zones and maps, but here’s the bottom line for purposes of SoG spell translation:

  • Most source material dungeon maps scale at 1 map square = 10 feet of game distance.
  • The source material expresses distance for spells (within a dungeon) as 1 inch = 10 feet of game distance.
  • 1 zone in SoG = 30 feet long & 30 feet wide, which is 3 map squares on each side.
  • When placing characters on a map (should your game choose to do that) the caster stands at the middle of a 3x3 square that represents the Fate “zone” currently occupied.

This means that melee attacks (range “Touch”) can only be executed on adjacent squares or a target occupying the same square as the caster.

SoG - ZoneExample02

Anything further than that requires either the caster to move or a Missile-type of attack. In other words, outside of the caster’s zone.

SoG - ZoneExample03

This means that in order for a spell to affect someone in the next zone, the spell must have a range of at least 2” (using the measure of distance as shown in the source material). In order to affect an entire zone of targets, the spell must have an Area of Effect of at least 3” square or radius (again, as shown in the source material).

Spell Components

Components in SoG represent requirements placed upon the spell caster in order to generate a spell’s effect. If one of those requirements cannot be met, the spell cannot be cast as Wizardry. Remember, trying to modify a formula on the fly turns the casting into sorcery.

Each category of component places a temporary aspect on the caster for the duration of the spell casting that could result in an additional difficulty.

These temporary aspects could be tagged by opponents seeking to attack the caster (while otherwise engaged) or to interrupt the spell. Relying on party members to provide blocks against such attempts would be important! It’s possible that they could even be compelled by the GM (see Material Components, below). Once the casting is completed, those aspects are no longer present.

As with other aspects, the frequency of compelling tends to be more according to dramatic opportunity rather than standard gaming procedure. For example, a GM would probably not compel a Wizard’s Material Component temporary aspect every time a spell is cast.

The source material states there are three categories of spell components, any or all of which could be required for the Wizard to cast a particular spell:

Verbal Components

The caster must speak certain magical words in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that the caster would likely have to speak at a normal tone or louder. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Example: A party is trying to hide from sentries, and the Wizard casts a spell with a Verbal component. The GM can then tag that aspect to give the sentries a +2 to Alertness.

Somatic Components

The caster must use certain gestures or movements in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that freedom of movement for both hands is required. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast. Bear in mind that if the caster is forced to move during casting (for example, dives for cover), the Somatic Component is interrupted.

You could liken this to the experienced gunslinger stopping and standing still to reload his six-shooter, while an opponent's bullets are hitting all around him.

Example: A Wizard is being attacked while casting a spell with a Somatic component. For the duration of the casting the attacker could have access to the normal free tag of +2 to an attack, or pay Fate points after the free tag.

Material Components

The caster must expend certain magical reagents (Material Components) in order to cast the spell. The caster must be able to access these components during the casting, and this places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Rather than worry about specific material components, consider the collective rarity of the material components relative to the situation.

Currently SoG only uses three categories:

  • Common materials are something that would be readily available to the Wizard under normal circumstances.
    • Examples: Dirt, grease, chalk
  • Rare materials require effort on the part of the Wizard to obtain or require some sort of processing to manufacture/distill/etc.
    • Examples: Crystal, sulfur, mercury
  • Very Rare materials reflect something beyond the ability of most Wizards to create for themselves, or require an extreme effort to obtain.
    • Examples: Hair from the target, a True Name, gems of 10,000 gp value

This also serves as a guide as to how often this aspect might be compelled:

Example: If a Wizard has the aspect of “Impoverished”, and is attempting to cast a spell with “Very Rare” components, the GM could compel the Impoverished aspect and essentially block the casting by declaring the Wizard does not have the resources available to have those components at the time (and credit the Wizard a Fate Point).

Rarity also helps to determine the impact to the spell difficulty if a casting is attempted without their use:

  • Common material components will give a -1 decrease to difficulty if not available.
  • Rare material components will give a -2 decrease to difficulty if not available.
  • Very Rare material components will give a -3 decrease to difficulty if not available.

It's possible material components could venture in to the "Unique" realm for a greater decrease, but I would consider these sorts of things as high level treasure, seeking them out as the focus of one or more adventures.

The GM is ultimate arbiter for determining the relative benefit / rarity of components, but this post I wrote about treasure might be of use.

Translating Positive Shifts

Many spells have a variable (damage, duration, etc.). The measure of this variable will be dependent upon the number of positive shifts generated from casting the spell. Some spells have no variables based upon the roll of the dice. In that event, any positive shifts during casting are discarded.

Translating Effects

Obviously this is something of a case-by-case basis, but the general effect translation process for SoG goes something like this:

  1. Translate the spell effect into “reality”. In other words, assume the spell exists in the World of Greyhawk, and try to get something resembling a real-world understanding of it.
  2. From there, translate it into the Fate mechanic, keeping in mind the typical 2 levels (or 2 HD) equal an extra +1 on the Fate ladder.

I have found this process helps to keep the “feel” of the spell right.

Spell Translation Examples

Spell “Tenser’s Floating Disc”

Source Material Original

Level: 1
Range: 2"
Duration: 3 turns + I turn/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: I segment
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: With this spell, the caster creates the circular plane of null-gravity known as Tenser's Floating Disc after the famed wizard of that appellation (whose ability to locate treasure and his greed to recover every copper found ore was well known). The disc is concave, 3' in diameter, and holds 1,000 g.p. weight per level of the magic-user casting the spell. The disc floats at approximately 3' above the ground at all times and remains level likewise. It maintains a constant interval of 6' between itself and the magic-user if unbidden. It will otherwise move within its range, as well as along with him at a rate of 6", at the command of the magic-user. If the spell caster moves beyond range, or if the spell duration expires, the floating disc winks out of existence and whatever it was supporting is precipitated to the surface beneath it. The material component of the spell is a drop of mercury.

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 20 feet (2 squares)
Duration: 30 mins + (20 mins * Skill level)
Area of Effect: See below
Components: V, S, M (Rare: drop of mercury)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a

Effect: Create a magical construct in the shape of a concave disc 3' in diameter that holds an amount of weight that can be expressed as either:

  1. 2,000 gp x Caster’s Skill Level
  2. 200 lbs x Caster’s Skill Level
  3. Might Skill of -1 (Poor) + (Caster’s Skill Level * 2)

All three represent the same weight, just expressed by 3 different standards.

It maintains a constant 6 foot distance (adjacent map square) to the caster unless otherwise stated by the caster's command, but the disc itself cannot push anything out of the way. It will remain at 3 feet off the ground, and stays level. If it is blocked from the caster and more than 20 feet (2 map squares) is put between them, the spell is broken.

If the spell is broken or expires, the disc construct dissipates and what ever was being carried by the disc falls as normal.

No positive shifts are considered for this spell, and unless in combat or otherwise challenged during casting, there is not a need to roll dice to cast this spell.

Example: Someone with a Wizard Skill +2, casts this spell and creates a floating disc that will last for 70 minutes (30 + (20 x 2)), and can carry 400 lbs (200 x 2) or has a Might of +3 (-1 + (2 x 2))

Example: Using Wizard Skill +7, this spell would create a floating disc that will last for 170 minutes (30 + (20 x 7)), and can carry 1,400 lbs (200 x 7) or has a Might of +13 (-1 + (7 x 2)). Or 14,000 gp, if there was a way to stack the gold pieces on the 3' diameter disc!

Design Notes:

  • One definition of weight (DMG, p.225) is that 10 gp = 1 pound. That means 1,000 gp = 100 lbs. The SotC Weight Factor table (SotC, p.258) reflects that a Might skill of "Poor" (-1) means being able to hold and move (slowly) with 100 lbs, which is the “base” capacity of the disc.
  • The variable in this spell is based upon the skill level of the Wizard, which then is used for both the "strength" of the spell's effect, as well as for the duration. Unless otherwise stated, when looking at a factor of "(something) per level" you don't just consider the Wizard's skill level, but rather the net result of the Wizard's skill level, the dice roll, and the impact of any aspects or other casting modifiers.
  • For this particular spell, any positive shifts during this casting are discarded. For game play purposes, unless someone was trying to interrupt the wizard this casting wouldn't require a dice roll.
  • Also remember that when dealing with a "per level" factor, every +1 of Wizard skill counts as two experience levels in the source material.

Spell “Magic Missile”

Source Material Original

Level: 1
Components: V, S
Range: 6" + 1"/level
Duration: Special
Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 10 square foot area
Casting Time: 1 segment

Explanation/Description: Use of the magic missile spell creates one or more magical missiles which dart forth from the magic-user's fingertip and unerringly strike their target. Each missile does 2 to 5 hit points (d4+1) of damage. If the magic-user has multiple missile capability, he or she can have them strike a single target creature or several creatures, as desired.

For each level of experience of the magic-user, the range of his or her magic missile extends 1" beyond the 6" base range. For every 2 positive shifts levels of experience, the magic-user gains an additional missile, i.e. 2 at 3rd level, 3 at 5th level, 4 at 7th level, etc.

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 60 feet + 20 feet / skill level
Components: Verbal, Somatic
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 10 foot square area (1 map square)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a

Effect: The spell creates a magical missile (with an additional missile for every two positive shifts generated by the caster--in other words you divide by two and round down) which dart forth from the caster's fingertips and unerringly strike their target with no chance for the target to dodge or defend. Mundane armor does not count for protection.

The caster can determine at will how many missiles will strike each target within the 10' area of effect.

Each individual missile counts as +1 physical stress. Because each missile counts as a separate attack, when multiple missiles are aimed at a single target, the cumulative “rollup” effect can be devastating.

Example: Trevare (Wizardry +5) is duelling against a sorceror. He casts Magic Missile in the hopes of getting in the first blow. The Wizard rolls 2dF+2 and gets +2 for a result of +6 (+5 skill + 2 shifts - 1 difficulty = +6). This creates 4 missiles (1 + (6/2) = 4) that streak toward the unfortunate rival.

Unable to dodge and having no other defenses already in place, the sorceror receives 4 separate missiles each of 1 stress, wiping out the first 4 physical stress boxes.

Example: The wizard Morgeaux (Wizardry +3) is beset by a group of 3 foul bugbears. An earlier fireball by Morgeaux has left many of them damaged, and she knows that even a simple spell might finish them off. Casting Magic Missile, she rolls 2dF+2 and gets a result of 1. This means she has generated (3 skill + 1 shifts - 1 difficulty) 3 positive shifts, for a total of two missiles (1 + (3/2)). Margeaux chooses to aim one missile at two of the three bugbears and deals one physical stress to each, leaving her to deal with a single remaining bugbear rushing her…

Design Notes

  • A single hit die is a D8, so technically each stress box counts as 2 hit dice. Which also means that the average hit points from 2HD would be about 9 or 10. Which would also place the average damage per missile at 4 points (3 + 1), which would then mean 2 missiles would be needed to do enough damage to take out 1 stress box. Rather than worry about the exact number of missiles in the description, I would rather just simplify to 1 missile equal 1 stress box.
  • Because the variability in the original spell (the dice roll) was about the damage and in translation the damage roll was too granular for Fate, the variability in the spell has now changed to be a modifier to the number of missiles. This was how the shifts-to-missiles formula was created.
  • I believe there needed to be a variable, given that this is a combat spell. The idea of a combat spell having no variable power of any kind seemed inappropriate.
  • This is a rare combat spell in that it has no opportunity for target to oppose the spell (no Dodge, etc). The casting could be interrupted, if someone has saved their action.
  • Later versions of this spell required line-of-sight to the target / targets, but this original listing did not. So the implication here is that the Wizard just has to “know” the target is there (around the corner, invisible, behind cover, etc). This might need review for game balance.
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