Monday, February 1, 2010

Magic Spells - A Couple Sample Spells

Let's get this party started, shall we?

I'm gonna throw out a couple spells as examples of how I've used the spell translation framework to date. If you don't agree with how spells got translated, I would like to ask upfront that rather than just post "hey, that stinks!", please give alternatives.

We all know that SoG's source material and Fate 3E can be pretty "round-peg / square-hole" when it comes to translations. So I present a couple sample spells with the understanding that nothing's perfect and this is a work in progress. If there's failures in translations that start to show up in patterns (casting times keep end up being off, for instance), then there's a reason to go back and restructure the translation framework, right?

Thus far my preference has been to accept some differences in the translations, rather than try to have to make up an arbtirary ("+3 just cuz I want it to fit") modifier. If nothing else, arbitrary modifiers just mask possible problems. So my hope is that even my failures will move things closer towards a more useable system.

Well, just read and you'll see what I mean, hopefully.

Fireball (+3 Difficulty to cast)

Benefits (+6 Difficulty)
  • Power: Casting Skill is used as Missile Skill. (opposed by Athletics) (+1 Difficulty)
    So this spell has a Power of "Harm". This is the variable of the spell. Shifts are expended towards increasing the power/damage.
  • Improvement: Additional Targets: Everything within zone designated by caster is a target (+3 shifts required)
  • Improvement: Range: Spell can be targeted up to two zones away (+1 difficulty)
  • Improvement: Additional Aspect: Spell contains aspect of "Magic Fire" that would apply within the zone. (+1 Difficulty)
    Means something like a Fire Elemental could tag that Aspect to help defend against it.
    Conversely, a target of something like an Ice Elemental target could mean that the caster could use the Aspect to cause it more damage, as a free compel?
    Compel could also be used to set fire to flammable items within the zone, or wipeout certain fragile objects.

Modifiers (-3 Difficulty)
  • Requirement: Material components required (Sulfur & Bat Guano, Common, -1 shift)
  • Requirement: Verbal Component required (-1 shift)
  • Requirement: Somatic Component required (-1 shift)
Casting Time:
Base Casting Time: Adjusted Difficulty (+6 - 3 = +3) Equals Rung 3 on the time chart (two exchanges)

Net Casting Difficulty: +3

Translation Note:
  1. Given how I currently have the spell translation framework, I chose to go with the same degree of difficulty (3rd Level) for the spell as the source material listed it, and left it with a longer casting time.
  2. The source material would say you have about 1 Fate exchange worth of time (approx. 15 seconds) to cast Fireball. This could be done, but the spell would increase to +4 (4th level) within the current framework.
  3. I considered that the importance of the spell's inclusion at 3rd level was greater than getting the casting time right. YMMV.
  4. You could also argue that it should work at a longer range. Again, YMMV.

Light (+1 Difficulty Spell)
Benefits: (+6 adjustments to difficulty)
  • Power: Hinders the Stealth Skill by increasing the Bonus attached to the Environment with respect to lighting by +2. (+1 Difficulty)
    Note that Margin of success is NOT linked to the Power (see Duration)
  • Improvement: Aspect Addition: "Magical Light". Also allows for a compel for blindness when cast upon a target. (+1 Difficulty)
    Aspect is placed on target via a contested Manuever of "Magic vs. Athletics and/or Magic Resistance."
  • Duration: Base duration is 2 (a few moments) but positive casting shifts give increased Duration. Also, see 'Improvement: Duration', below.
  • Improvement: Duration: Spell duration is doubled, modifier applied after the shifts. (+1 Difficulty)
  • Range: Line of Sight (maximum of 4 zones, but can be obscured/blocked) (+3 Difficulty)
Modifiers (-5 adjustments to difficulty)

  • Requirement: Verbal component (-1 Difficulty)
  • Requirement: Somatic component (Common, -1 Difficulty)
  • Requirement: Weakness: Cancelled out by the 'Darkness' spell (Common, -3 Difficulty)
Casting Time:
Base Casting Time: Adjusted Difficulty (+6 - 5 = +1) Equals Rung 1 on the time chart (1 action in combat)

Net Difficulty: +1

Translation Notes:
The spell's base duration should be a base of 1 hour, however the trade off is that the Fate shifts scale the spell's duration much faster than the source material.

Final Note
Given what you've seen here, pre-fab spells that have been around since Blackmoor was a hoppin' town, would you think that pre-fab spells SHOULD be more-powerful than on-the-fly spell casting?

Currently my thought is no, they shouldn't be more powerful. I'm currently thinking that being easier to successfully cast, and not having the threat of negative effects if they fail (since pre-fab spells don't fail if you follow the recipe), might be advantage enough.

On deck: More spells to come, and a High-Fantasy version of Healing.


Anonymous said...

"the importance of the spell's inclusion at 3rd level was greater than getting the casting time right."

Mileage aside, why not just set difficulty = level and take the rest of the parameters from the Player's Handbook? That way you don't have to translate every single spell before you can start playing.

I have a real problem with this one.

Your translation seems to assume a particular use for the spell, "Hinders the Stealth Skill". If a Wizard just needs enough light to search a room, is that a different spell? The spell places a "Light" aspect on the scene. What the players use that aspect for after the spell is cast seems irrelevant to its Power.

Is "Cancelled out by the 'Darkness' spell" a weakness? A Dispel Magic or Anti-Magic spell would also cancel it. That should give -9 for the difficulty right? If the spell was cast upon an object, then covering that object with a cloak would remove the "Light" aspect from the scene without cancelling the spell. Is that a weakness? I think the real weakness is that the effect is stationary unless cast upon an object that can be moved.

I would like to see your translation of the Continual Light spell. Permanent isn't on your time chart but a Lifetime is 20 steps above Light's base duration of 2. All other things being the same would that make Continual Light a 21 level spell? Or do you need to come up with 19 points of weaknesses to get it back down to 2nd level?

Unknown said...

I'll start this response with the statement that I don't consider these comments as a determination of "who's right and who's wrong". We're just asking questions and giving opinions/responses.

So biff-dyskolos:

Am I understanding your first comment correctly? Are you thinking that the spell translation process ought to start with the statement that a 3rd level spell should be a +3 casting difficulty by sole virtue of where it fell in the source material, regardless of how the effects/benefits/requirements might shake out?

So then, if a spell doesn't net out to a consistent +/- with the stated casting difficulty, the playing field is still considered level by virtue of the fact that everyone has similar access to that same spell?

I think that's a valid point, and you're right that it does imply a faster "time to market". I have considered going that route, and for the time being I've left that as my "if all else fails trying to adequately translate spells" position.

So I believe this goes to my last question in the blog entry about whether or not to let "accounting" inaccuracies stand to get the spell lists and effects accurate, or to keep the spell effects in line with the difficulty at the cost of some accuracy with the source material.

My preferred end-state at this point is to see if a magic spell framework can be created that provides a good fit with the SotC ruleset, and can still pass the 80/20 guideline for reliatively accurate spell translation against the Greyhawk source material.

RE: Light spell
Yes, a cantrip could conceivably serve for just a plain light that has no real "tactical value".

The spell's source writeup (which won't be reprinted in the blog) also discussed the tactical value of the light spell at modest length, so I also considered that in this writeup.

But here's where we get into something of a core difference between the source material and a ruleset like Fate where the "value / cost" of something has more to do with its potential impact on game balance.

In the original ruleset behind Greyhawk, the Light spell represented a pretty simple spell, where clever use of that simple spell could result in some pretty tangible tactical benefits.

Literary cross-reference: Robert Asprin's "Myth Adventures" stories were great examples of the possible far-reaching applications of a simple telekenesis spell.

Also consider the idea of an otherwise weak telekenesis spell (that might be a really "cheap" spell) having a serious tactical benefit by virtue of the caster being clever enough to blow out a blood vessel in a target's brain and cause a major stroke and even death.

Anyway, my point is that in a framework where you take the tactical value of a magical effect into consideration, I believe you have to look at the documented tactical value of a spell in order to get a fair translation.

While I would never want to get in the way of clever game play (or clever applications of spells), I also felt it was needed to take those other things into account.

(I maxed out comment length... continued in next comment)

Unknown said...

RE: Light spell's weakness
That was something of a judgement call. My opinion is that because the spell is considered "reversible" in the source material and anyone who knows the Light spell (a first level spell) also knows the effect can be countered by another first level spell, I considered that a relatively common counter. At least I considered it common by High Fantasy standards, given that I consider the Light spell itself to be fairly common. I would also acknowledge that might not be the case in a Low-Magic, or Low Fantasy genre.

RE: Spells and the "Permanent" duration
You make a good point, and there are enough "Permanent" durations that are available there that I don't consider having to buy your way all the way up the time chart in order to score a "Permanent" duration. It will likely be something similar to what you see on Fireball where the spell has a +3 to difficulty to affect everything within the same zone, rather than a +1 for each target.

Anonymous said...

Re: Continual Light spell duration
It seems like probably a better way to model permanent spells in this system is to just treat them as magic items -- I assume you've already got plans on how to balance those.

Re: Tactical use of spells
Tactical use of a number of predefined spells is (to my mind) one of the defining features of the d&d spell system -- lighting grease spells on fire, blinding people with light spells, etc. However, I don't think it makes sense to account for all specific tactical uses in the cost of the spell: you can see by your example of the telekinesis spell that some spells have a huge amount of possible tactical uses and hence would be very expensive, whereas a "simple" death spell would be low level, since it only does one thing. That doesn't seem to match the d&d experience to me.

Instead, I'd suggest charging some kind of flat bonus for "versatile" spells like telekinesis or illusions and call it good, and otherwise just assume that people will think of clever ways to use spells but they'll be situation-specific. (Incidentally, I think the nobilis gift system (see page 3 of that document in particular) is a good model for this kind of points-based effect system and is worth looking at, though keep in mind it's balanced around the "basic" spell being able to trivially vanquish a normal human)

(cont'd next post with examples)

Anonymous said...

So, getting back to the light spell, to my mind the light spell ought to be defined as:
- Magic spell (base difficulty 1)
- Normal components (+0 difficulty)
- Normal casting time (+0 difficulty)
- Specialized-use effect (+0 difficulty)
- Low-power effect (+0 difficulty)
- Normal range (+0 difficulty)
- Resisted normally (if applicable) (+0 difficulty)
and that's it. (I wouldn't give a bonus for being negated by darkness because 1) there is little tactical benefit in negating a light spell most of the time and 2) this is basically the darkness spell behaving as it normally does. If this was a higher-level spell I could see doing it, like if fireball could be negated by an ice spell).

Observe that the light spell doesn't actually do anything mechanically; its effects are all "in the world". Spells implicitly create an aspect when they cause something to occur (in the same way that if you light a torch, you should be able to use that aspect), so you'd use that aspect against stealth checks in the area. If you want to use that aspect for something more unusual, like blinding somebody, the DM could either let you do it (just by saying "I cast the light spell at the ogre's eyes!") or by requiring some kind of targeting roll when cast. And in either case, this would allow you to tag/compel the ogre's aspect of "blinded by the light" as usual.

For fireball, it'd look like the light spell but with these differences:
- Also requires material components (-1 difficulty)
- Affects a whole zone (+1 difficulty)
- Medium-power effect (+1 difficulty) (that's the damage it does)
- Works at bowshot range (+1 difficulty)

Telekinesis looks like light but has a very flexible effect (+2 difficulty) instead of a specialized-use one, which'd put it around 3rd level, a little lower than it is in the source material but not too badly out of line.

Invisibility looks like light but is a high-power effect (because it's very effective against most opponents) (+3) that is flexible (+1) but has some limitation about not attacking that bring it down considerably in cost.

Anonymous said...

...determination of "who's right and who's wrong".

I totally agree with this statement. In all of my comments I never intended to imply right or wrong. I am simply trying to understand your position by pointing out the things that do not make sense to me. The flaw may be in my understanding not your reasoning.

So, Guy:

"Am I understanding your first comment correctly?"

Probably not. I was not trying to suggest any particular approach to the translation process. I was simply trying to understand your approach. You went into some detail translating the Fireball spell from D&D to FATE terms but in the end you hand waved the casting time to arrive at a +3 difficulty because "the importance of the spell's inclusion at 3rd level was greater than getting the casting time right." If the level is the greater importance then why bother with the math - it gives this Wizard a headache 8)

"the "value / cost" of something has more to do with its potential impact on game balance."

If a spell is translated into FATE mechanics it's potential impact on the game is limited by those mechanics. As I see it, a Light spell manoeuvres a "Light" aspect on to a scene (or "Blindness" if cast on a creature). The potential impact is:

1) It can counter a previous aspect,"Darkness" either magical or mundane.
2) It can be tagged for a bonus, Perception + 2 vs. Stealth against a sneaky thief.
3) It can be compelled, cast it on the Ogre and offer the compel, "You stumble around and can't attack for the rest of the scene." If the compel is refused then it can still be tagged for a bonus during an attack.

On telekineses and blood vessels, just say on to "Death Magic" of any sort. In FATE all attacks deal stress which leads to consequences which leads to taken out. This use of Telekineses would be a ranged attack against a single target that deals stress, IMO.

Anonymous said...

@Guy & Mike

In the interest of fairness I should give you guys an opportunity to comment on my crazy ideas concerning FATE. I started a blog on the subject. As soon as I pull some coherent thoughts from my chaotic mind I will post them there instead of clogging up your comment system with them.

Mike Olson said...

Biff, don't be ridiculous! Your contributions here are greatly appreciated. That's awesome that you're going to do your own blog, and I'll totally read and link to it, but I hope it doesn't mean you won't be dropping by here to continue to engage us in discussion. Guy and I both agree that nothing sharpens design ideas like having to clarify (and even defend!) them to other people.

So please, keep it up! And yay for the blog!

Unknown said...

Whew! Lots going on! Lessee if I can keep it all straight...

@inkylj (Permanent Spell Duration)
The question of "Permanent Duration" and "Magic Items" both cross over into the idea of Material components, and the value/rarity of said items. Yes, I've got plans and yes I'm going for a degree of consistency.

@inkylj (Tactical Use of Spells)
My initial goal in the translation of the spells is that, whereever possible, account for the source material's writeup of that spell. I highlighted the same features that I felt the source material did. Where necessary for Fate conversions, I'll happily rewrite. But again, understand I don't consider myself a game designer so much as a referee. So I try to keep my scope focused by starting where the source material did and only rewriting where necessary. That way, I still have time to work on adventures! ;)

I've not entirely read your post re: the gift system. And understand that I'm not familiar with the Nobilis system. At the moment, I will say though that my approach probably shares a certain philosophy with how the Hero System works out spells.

I also consider the additional aspect of "Magic Light" a mechanism for creative players to play with the spell, by way of clever leveraging of the aspect.

I thought it best to proactively set the stage for comments/disagreements as not being received as argumentative, and I don't take them that way.

Granted, it's not always easy to read others' comments, but Mike is right--contributions are appreciated and it does improve the end product.

(quick editorial on "hand waving")
I don't think I "hand waved" the inaccuracy of the extra casting time, so much as I acknowledged a currently necessary tradeoff. I considered the impact of that extra cost one way or the other and I felt the higher priority was getting the level of the spell consistent with the source material.

One of the few times I got a thrill playing a M-U in AD&D was when my PC FINALLY could cast 3rd level spells, and I sooooo looked forward to being able to cast the Fireball spell ("Say hello to my LITTLE FRIEND!") :)

I typically picture "hand waving" as being accompanied by a verbal dismissive sound by said hand waver. (Note verbal and somatic "temporary aspects"!)

Anyway, enough of that. If that last bit sounded somewhat defensive, I apologize. Where possible I try to note translation tradeoffs (at least in this blog) so folks looking to leverage this stuff can make their own choices.

Anonymous said...

"...account for the source material's writeup of that spell."

This may be the cause of my confusion. Before commenting on your Light spell I dug out my AD&D Players Handbook (1980, 6th printing) it mentions no tactical issues. The AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979, Revised Edition) mentions "upon the visage or before the visual organs of a creature". My AD&D 2e Players Handbook (1989) mentions "Light centred on the visual organs of a creature..."

So, when you started with "Power: Hinders the Stealth Skill" I thought you were on drugs. Obviously you are using a volume I am not familiar with for source material. 8)

Anonymous said...

"... I don't consider having to buy your way all the way up the time chart in order to score a "Permanent" duration."

So a spell that lasts a lifetime would cost you another 20 or so shifts but a spell that is permanent is more economical? Say hello to Biff's LITTLE FRIEND... Continual Fireball!

Unknown said...

Oh, you want drugs? Or in this genre, a potion?? ;)

...wait till we get to my "Healing" post. I ended up having to go WAY off the reservation on that one...

I included that tactical element because the particular source I originally quoted had the following sentence:

"A light spell centered on the visual organs of a creature blinds it, reducing its attack and saving throw rolls by 4 and worsening its Armor Class by 4."

Bottom line for Me: the Light spell increases an environment's lighting factor (SotC, p. 268, under adjudicating the "Stealth Skill").

Since SotC considered an environment's lighting as a negative modifier to the Stealth skill, that's how I translated it--as a Hinder to the Stealth skill.

But seriously folks, one man's Stealth "hinder" is another man's Alertness "buff"... (ba-doom-boom)

Continual Fireball: aka "The Final Solution for Trolls" ;)

Biff said...

Places the aspect "Light" on the scene, one free tag

Difficulty: 1 (1 Aspect)

MoS can buy
Duration: 1 turn per shift (maximum duration 1 scene)
Range: 1 zone per shift
Area: 1 zone per shift

Tactical use: tag the aspect for whatever you can sell to the GM!

If the Target has no defence, casting is a simple action ( Magic v. Difficulty).

If the Target has a defence, casting is a contested action (Magic v. Defensive).

Regardless of whether the casting is a simple or contested action, the caster must beat the difficulty or suffer stress equal to the MoF. (Magic can be dangerous! That's why people still use torches.)

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