Wednesday, September 14, 2011

[Greyhawk] The Unified Theory of Magic (Part 2)

Continuing on from the prior posting

Generating a Magical Effect

A magical effect may be generated by someone or something either “on the fly” or via a predefined spell (formula, recipe, etc).

On the Fly Magic Effects

On the Fly magical effects occur when the sorceror states the intention to generate a desired magical effect. The player and the GM then determine the difficulty of the spell by costing out the magical effect using a “magic economy” by defining the benefits (increase difficulty) and costs (decrease difficulty).

The caster compares the skill level used with the Magic stunt against the effect’s difficulty, spends a Fate point and then rolls 4dF as per normal.

  • If successful, the effect is generated as desired by the caster. Positive shifts count towards a greater effect as per normal.
  • If the caster fails the difficulty, then the magical effect does not occur as desired and bad things happen (see “Casting Failure” below).

Side Note: This is a significant departure from the source material in that there were only predefined spells and that the caster never failed to successfully cast the spell. However that same spell could fail to fully or partially affect the target (due to saving throws). Also a predefined spell’s casting could generally be interrupted with little if any negative impact to the caster (beyond the loss of the spell).

A conceit of SoG is that casting failure and negative effects were always present in the game world but as long as a Wizard followed a pre-defined spell that was within the proscribed limits of his Wizardry skill level, there were sufficient fail-safes built into the spells to prevent any sort of negative impact to the caster or those around them and there was no failure to cast the spell.

Spells might fail to have the desired effect on targets, but that was due to some property of the target, not because the spell “failed”.

Even if the spell was interrupted during the casting there was no generally negative impact (past the loss of the spell).

Another design assumption was that if casting failure was possible but never mentioned, then it must be pretty bad… (mwa-ha-ha)

Predefined Spells

This is the situation where someone uses the Wizardry skill to cast a pre-defined spell, following the spell’s recipe (adhering to the restrictions) in order to generate the magical effect.

The Wizard then commits a Fate point (doesn’t spend it), rolls 2dF+2 (not 4dF) and determines if there were any positive shifts.

The 2dF+2 roll produces a result between 0 and +4, so unless there is some outside factor (aspects, some sort of attempted interruption) increasing the spell difficulty, there would be no chance for spell failure (consistent with the source material).

The benefits of the Fate point commit and the 2dF+2 are only in force so long as the following occurs:

  • The difficulty of the spell is LESS THAN OR EQUAL to the caster’s Wizardry skill.
  • The caster can fulfill all the requirements of the spell (components, etc.).

If these cannot be met, than the caster may still attempt the pre-defined spell, but must now actually spend a Fate point, and roll 4dF instead, risking a casting failure.

Question: Why be a Wizard?

In reading this material without looking at the actual spell table, it might appear that Wizards are so restricted with the magical effects they can generate why would anyone be a Wizard when they can do Sorcery?

It is true that in SoG the magical effects of pre-defined spells are less flexible than the option to generate magic on the fly, however pre-defined spells typically have effects that are quite often more powerful than what could be generated on the fly.

I consider that this exists in the game world due to the heavily researched and optimized nature of pre-defined spells that have been around for decades if not centuries.

Example: Compare a magical effect that makes a continual light. In the source material, the predefined spell that generates a permanent magical light is a 2nd level spell for Magic-Users, so it’s only a +2 difficulty for Wizards in SoG.

Using the SoG magic economy to create such an effect on the fly would require a duration that maxes out the Fate Time Ladder (“A Lifetime”) and would require an additional 12 shifts (+12 difficulty!) when attempted by a Sorceror.

My plan is to translate pre-defined spells into SoG pretty closely to how the source material originally listed them. So if a spell says says “Duration: Permanent” at 2nd level… then it’s permanent!

So even though the variety of effects a Wizard might be capable of generating would be much less flexible than Sorcerors, a Wizard who kept his wits about him and was smart about the use of Declarations and Aspects could be EXTREMELY powerful within the “less flexible” nature of pre-defined spells. Consider also: a screwdriver is “only” a screwdriver but how many ways can you use a screwdriver?

On top of all that, Sorcery has the added negative of casting failures!

Additionally, there’s nothing saying that a Wizard can’t indulge in sorcery anyway if desired or the situation was dire enough. The Wizard would just apply his Wizardry skill against the adjusted spell difficulty, expend a Fate point and roll 4dF and hope for no failure.

A Wizard modifying an existing spell (eg., deciding not to speak on a spell that has a verbal component) takes the existing predefined difficulty and increases it (in this case +1), loses a Fate point and rolls 4dF and risks potential recoil.

A Sorceror attempting the same effect on the fly would still have to cost out the magical effect which could end up still being more difficult than the Wizard trying to modify a tried-and-true formula that did the same thing.

This is another distinction between Wizardry and Sorcery that might need reconsidering, but given the following…

  • A Soceror can leverage an apex skill (for example, Craft/Performance skill for Bards) for both his chosen path in life AND generating Magic effects with no more “cost” than the use of a Stunt slot.

…it doesn't seem overly generous at this point to give a Wizard the benefit of indulging in modifications to existing formulas without having to consider the difficulty in the same way as "on the fly" magical effects.

Casting Failures

If the casting results in a failure then no effect generated--at least not under the control of the caster. But there is a magical recoil to contend with!

The magical power that was harnessed or focused in the attempt to create the effect has to go "somewhere". So the base magical recoil would be the effect’s original difficulty, increased by the number of shifts by which the caster failed the roll.

Example: If a Sorceror attempts a +4 spell difficulty and fails by +1, a Superb (+5) magical recoil is generated.

Example 2: If a Sorceror’s apprentice (I couldn’t resist) with a +1 Skill attempted to cast a magical effect of +5 difficulty and then rolled –4 on the dice, then he would end up with a (+5 – 1 +4 = +8) magical recoil! This would also tend to indicate why you would keep a close eye on apprentices… Or why sorcerors tend to live alone…

Dealing with Magical Recoil

I like the roleplaying potential inherent in allowing the caster to determine if the recoil impacts only them or if they reflect some or all of it out into the world.

With respect to the impact upon a Sorceror’s alignment, projecting magical recoil into the world represents something of a chaotic, or evil, or selfish act. The caster electing to take the stress of magical recoil represents more of a lawful, or good or selfless act.

In SoG, magical recoil of any kind is assigned to the stress track of the GM's choosing and is usually based upon the nature of the casting or the desired effect, or what sorts (if any) Aspects were leveraged during the casting.

Which also brings up an interesting thought…

While a compel could occur during a casting to make a casting difficulty higher, could it be used after the failure to make it worse? I think I like the possibilities…

Example: A Sorceror generated a +2 recoil that was projected out into the world, and the GM decided to have it be expressed as physical stress (heat) on a party member wearing metal armor that had some Aspect attached to it--could you compel a +2 increase on that party member for a total of +4 physical stress? (*evil laugh*)

Wizardry and Casting Failure

Under normal circumstances a Wizard cannot fail to cast a spell equal or less than his difficulty, though it is possible to increase the difficulty of a casting via Aspects being compelled, or some party attempting to interrupt the Wizard.

If the Wizard is considered to be “casting a spell” and is successfully interrupted (i.e., fails the difficulty), there is no magical recoil and no negative impact, beyond the loss of the memorized spell (or the loss of the scroll being read).

SoG's assumption is that Wizard spells’ are considered to have integrated various fail-safes so that if a spell was interrupted, the focused energy would be safely dispersed.

Side Note: It is possible to consider that it’s not the spell that has the fail-safes within it, but rather that the Wizard possesses the skill and knowledge of how to safely disperse the energies.

Problem with this assumption is that you might need to state that non-wizards using scrolls could experience casting failure, which was not in the source material.

NEXT: Clerical Magic and the Tragic Case of Rene Belloq…

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