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Belial_the_Leveler
2014-11-18, 05:32 PM
99% of all DnD magic is Vancian, rest-based-recovery, one-action-use. Clerics, Wizards, Sorcerors, Druids, Bards are all effectively using the exact same spell system, with their only difference being what spells they have available. Even the supernatural abilities some of those classes have are essentially the same system, except for the Vancian part.

I've been brainstorming ways of developing other types of magic and altering existing ones in my campaign setting, instead of everything being mostly Vancian magic. Here's what I've come up with so far to divisions between the various classes;


Enhancement
Weaving spell effects into items, whether you're making wands and staves, wondrous items or magical traps. The more class/character ability you put into enhancement (limited by Intelligence), the stronger items you can weave. Enhanced items have either use activation or trap triggers. They always have limited charges. The owner can restore a number of charges per day in total based on Intelligence (spread however they wish among their items). Any spellcasting class can train in Enhancement if they have the required Intelligence.

Truespeak
Lacing your very words with magical power to create supernatural effects. The more class/character ability you put into Truespeak (limited by Intelligence), the more effects you know. Truespeak is skill-based, specific effects tied to a given skill rank for speech-related skills. Ranks in Bluff might allow you to bend the will and senses. Ranks in Diplomacy can reveal things, make connections between people and places, end other Truespeech effects. Ranks in Perform can inspire, infuse with vigor or even heal. Ranks in Intimidate can frighten, curse, or outright harm. Number of uses per day depends on skill rank. Bards are the most well-known users of Truespeak.

Wizardry
Similar to Vancian magic. The more class/character ability you put into Wizardry (limited by Intelligence), the more spell slots you have. The spell level of the slots depends on your Intelligence modifier. You memorize from scrolls (and don't expend them - your spellbook is essentially a scroll case), up to wizard level + Intelligence modifier spells; to cast a memorized spell, you expend a spell slot. You don't expend memorized spells - you only need to rememorize to change your repertiore. Spell slots recover at a rate of 1/hour without strenuous activity, spell slots whose spell or spell effect still applies do not recover. Wizards are the most well-known practitioners of wizardry.


Alchemy
Brewing potions and making other alchemical items. For each level in this ability (limited by Wisdom), you can maintain a number of alchemical items at once equal to your Wisdom modifier. What level of alchemical items you can craft depends on your Wisdom modifier. Brewing/crafting requires access to at least basic alchemical supplies and 10 minutes per brew. Access to alchemist's tools allows the brewing of 1 additional dose of the same potion/item by extending the brewing time by 1 minute. Once a given alchemical item is expended and no longer maintained, you may begin brewing a new one. Clerics and Rangers are the most well-known practitioners of Alchemy, though any class can learn it.

Divination
The magical ability to see further and more than others do. For each level in this ability (limited by Wisdom), you gain a new Divination talent. Divination talents are also tied to skill ranks. Perception talents allow you to see physically further, in other locations or reveal the unseen. Sense Motive talents can reveal falsehoods, intentions, thoughts. Knowledge: Nature talents allow you to see through plants and animals, track individuals and commune with Nature and its spirits. Knowledge: Religion talents allow you to commune with the Divine and its servitors, and receive prophesies. Knowledge: Arcana talents reveal magic and its properties, and sense the presence and activity of spellcasters and powerful items. Divination is usable at-will and is usable by all primary casters.

Channeling
The ability to draw outside forces to your aid; deities, powers and concepts. For each level in this ability (limited by Wisdom), the level of effect you can channel and the number of sources you have ties to increases. You never choose what form this aid takes: you request aid from a given source and an effect appropriate to that source's portofolio and of the given strength is given. You gain a use of Channeling for a given source by performing a significant act for its portofolio - winning a battle in its name, overcoming an equivalent challenge or spending a day's worth of less challenging service. Your maximum uses of Channeling per source are limited by wisdom. Performing equivalent acts against a source's portofolio has your uses of Channeling reduced instead - and some sources may have opposing portofolios. Clerics and Druids are the primary users of Channeling.



TBP:

CHARISMA
Innate
Sorcery
Pact


CONSTITUTION
Animism
Artifice
Runecraft





So, what do you think so far of the less mechanical, more flavorful directions I'm trying to put in magic in my campaign setting?

Vitruviansquid
2014-11-18, 05:59 PM
So, what do you think so far of the less mechanical, more flavorful directions I'm trying to put in magic in my campaign setting?

I think this is a false dichotomy. You can have mechanical and flavorful magic when the mechanics serve the flavor. Your spellcasting classes have an identity, and then you reinforce that identity with mechanics that force players to think the way the class should think in order to get the best results.

Channeling looks fun and like a solid mechanic to help the flavor of faith based classes. The rest of the spellcasting mechanics you've shown seem like some variation of resource-based mechanics, which I'm not super thrilled about.

Grinner
2014-11-18, 06:29 PM
You've hit a lot of the major ideas, but I'm not seeing anything particularly interesting. You need them to bond tightly to the setting to get some suspension of disbelief. Plus, they each need some kind of niche. What does an alchemist do better than anyone else (potions, like you've said), and how does that give him a unique edge?

The way you've got Truespeak set up has some promise, but I think you ought to work on what ties it to the setting now.


I think this is a false dichotomy. You can have mechanical and flavorful magic when the mechanics serve the flavor. Your spellcasting classes have an identity, and then you reinforce that identity with mechanics that force players to think the way the class should think in order to get the best results.

Yes, this is D&D's greatest failing. The wizard class can have such a broad range of abilities with a few hours rest that they end up being horribly generic. On top of that, the more specialized classes generally end up being either comparatively underwhelming or simply poorly designed.

Belial_the_Leveler
2014-11-18, 06:59 PM
By "mechanical" I was referring to how Vancian magic always depends on the simple rote of "expend slot as standard action -> get magic effect -> rest to regain slots -> repeat. And "less mechanical" means there's less repetition of that same rote, with different types of magic working differently to match their flavor.

As for resources used;


Enhancement uses treasure (for initial materials) and downtime (storing few charges daily but with no total limits).
Truespeak uses your own skill ranks to get effects similar to bardic music and requires rest.
Wizardry requires opportunity to find or research spells (no freebies) and gradually recovers between challenges.
Alchemy needs preparation - you actually buildup uses by working rather than recover by resting.
Divination effectively adds ways some skills can be used rather than being resource-based, like the old Scry skill.
Channeling requires notable acheivement to effectively gain favor.

For those yet to be posted:

Innate invocations allow you to use magic as weapons and tools to perform attacks/maneuvers.
Sorcery allows you to alter existing magic effects and has uses per encounter.
Pacts are charisma-based and require sacrifice, whether they are the rituals of Binders or the oaths of Paladins.
Animism is constitution-based and requires sacrifice, whether a barbarian's ancestor-worship or a druid's nature bond.
Artifice is crafting weapons/armor just like enhancement is crafting wondrous items. Except I decided to make it constitution-based and give it to warriors. 99% of all fantasy smiths were warriors, not wizards.
Runecraft is passive bonuses and takes up your constitution modifier or item slots.

Belial_the_Leveler
2014-11-18, 07:22 PM
Yes, this is D&D's greatest failing. The wizard class can have such a broad range of abilities with a few hours rest that they end up being horribly generic. On top of that, the more specialized classes generally end up being either comparatively underwhelming or simply poorly designed.
I've been trying to change that.


For example, a high-level caster specializing in wizardry may get as many as twenty spell slots and be able to memorize 30+ spells. They're going to be good at providing limited-time specialized solutions, tactical advantage in-fight and flexibility. A master alchemist in comparison can provide more utility and buffing. His alchemical items may be lower-level than a wizard's spells but he has a lot more of them, can brew a useful potion in a few minutes, can give his alchemical items to other party members to use and he can both access effects from varying spell lists as well as get some effects that no spells allow. Similarly, a diviner might not have access to direct attacks but has access to information more than any other class - knowing where to find the enemy, what the enemy's plan might be and how to best foil the enemy is as much a force multiplier as a buff... and applies to the whole party.

Vitruviansquid
2014-11-18, 07:35 PM
It does not matter what your magic types require in the abstract, between-combat times in DnD. It does not matter where you read off the number to see whether your magic succeeds or not.

What matters is how your magic feels while you're actually using it. Unless you can achieve a difference in the feel of the magic, you still have a boring magic system.

For example, Alchemy, Enhancement, and Wizardry are going to feel the same in play. Each of them requires you to consult a number to see how much "ammo" you can hold, then do *blank* to prepare that ammo, and then you spend that ammo in the same way. Those systems are different in name only. You still end up going through the same steps as a player, and 3 players using those 3 systems won't have to think differently for them to work.

Now let's say you have a Channeling user and an Alchemy user. Those classes would play differently, and force their players to think differently while you use them. The Channeling user is going to enter a fight not knowing what to expect from his own spells, channel something blindly and then try to make the best of it, or save channeling for times of desperation but be prepared to fight without it, since you can't rely on it anyways. The alchemist, on the other hand, probably has a step-by-step plan for every fight, and then will work to make sure the fight follows his plan.

Belial_the_Leveler
2014-11-18, 08:06 PM
Wizardry will always require you to take a standard (or in some cases, swift) action to use it. Given the number of memorized spells you have and that you know exactly your number of limited slots per day, you'll always be able to do something useful in combat but you'll have to use at least some tactics as their number per day is set. It feels like those games where you have a set "mana" pool that recharges.

Chances are, alchemy will be used pre-combat or take up someone else's actions in combat rather than your own. Given how you can always craft more with time, you will want to be using it a lot and requiring the downtime for it; you play both preparation and short-term.

Enhancement may or may not take actions to use. Use-activated may mean blasting with a wand as a standard action. Or it may mean a wondrous item coming into effect during another type of action or when the bonus is needed. Alternatively, it could even be a crafted contingency or similar trap. In any case, you recharge few uses per day but have high pool of uses - you are going to play the long game and conserve resources... till the need for a nova comes up.

Yora
2014-11-19, 08:14 AM
I very much like the system from the Expanded Psionic Handbook. I think it's by far the best magic system for D&D, and d20 games in general.

Komatik
2014-11-19, 08:28 AM
If you're looking for alternatives, I'll plug myself a bit here:

Haven't read the thread yet, but me and my friends have struggled with the Fireball Problem. Where there aren't really Wise Old Men because they're spell dispensers. Fireball is lame. People doing overt sorcerous magic is great but it's lacking somehow. Wat do?

The answer I came to after pondering why series like Juuni Kokki (The Twelve Kingdoms) and especially Seirei no Moribito felt so damn good to watch. They really sold you that ancient, mythical east vibe. But why?

Moribito had amazing things in it. The shaman spoke to water spirits and did some really overt sorcery stuff. Another shaman retrieved a girl from the spirit world with the aid of flower wine.

In Robin Hobb's Soldier Son trilogy the human military used small spells like "hold fast" charms to securely fasten their saddles.

That's when it hit me. A huge part of the Moribito and Juuni Kokki experience is the presence of rituals and superstition throughout. The nectar of a certain flower enables mortals to walk in the spirit world, there's bird-bone charms hanging from windows and the arches of village gates, presumably to ward away evil spirits. You actually plunge your head underwater to talk to water spirits.

The superstition is the big thing. Both its omnipresence and the fact that some of it was real. Some that even laymen used commonly, some that they could use but wouldn't know about, some that were only usable by sorcerers or had their potency greatly enhanced if used by one.

So, what if we built a magic system of two parts? One handled actual sorcerers - creatures with magic in their blood that can tell reality to STFU and do as it's told. Rare, powerful, dangerous in the extreme.

The other part would be essentially a giant list of superstitions. Stuff like:

Garlic:
Details about use of garlic.
Superstition: Repels and/or discomforts vampires

Opium:
Details about use of opium
Effect: details about getting high as a kite.
Superstition: Allows the user glimpses into the spirit world, perhaps giving him prophetic or otherwise divinatory visions.
Ritual (scholar/sorcerer): Use of opium grants the sorcerer controlled access to the spirit world [insert mechanics here]

Salt:
Details about common uses of salt.
Ritual (scholar): Laying a ring of salt and incanting the proper commands compels the spirits that rule over the night to guard the ritualist. Undead and spirits are barred from entering the circle or disturbing it as long as the circle remains intact.


Basically, superstitions and rituals with real magical effects (let's call them charms here) are laws about how your particular world works. The salt thing may or may not be true in a setting, but if it is, it's a thing anyone with proper knowledge can do.

This way, we get a world full of interesting superstitions for texture. The old learned scholar is a worthwhile thing - he knows what superstitions are silly, and what carry real power. He may indeed have whole books listing out rituals and odds and ends that may prove useful. We also naturally acquire a staple of much of Warhammer and general fantasy fiction: The cultist who is after occult knowledge to summon demons and looking to sell his soul for power - the cultist can be any random Joe Schmoe, the occult knowledge rituals, power gained demonic possession where the cultist gains Sorcerer abilities.

*The inborn magic of sorcerers should be heavily thematised. Druidic, necromancy, illusions, "holy", so forth. Preferably not death rays.

If you try to implement stuff like this in D&D, it's best to stay in E6 or E8, this doesn't scale very well to the ridiculous heights D&D expects at high levels.

Nicol Bolas
2014-11-19, 08:57 AM
Ars Magica has probably the best system for handling magic.

You have 15 arts: 5 techniques and 10 forms. You have formulaic spells and spontaneous spells, with the former being more powerful but less flexible, and vice versa. You basically level up each art separately.

Your techniques are:
Creo ("I create") brings objects and substances into existence from nothing, or makes an already-existing target a "more perfect" version of itself (e.g. healing magic, as healed bodies are nearer perfection than wounded bodies).
Intellego ("I perceive") detects or reveals, enhances a target's natural senses or conveys supernatural ones.
Muto ("I transform") alters the nature of a being, object or substance, adding unnatural properties and/or removing natural ones.
Perdo ("I destroy") decays, disintegrates or otherwise diminishes the target, making something a worse example of its kind (i.e. the opposite of Creo).
Rego ("I control") involves manipulation of the target in any way that does not alter its nature, e.g. direct a target's movement, put a creature to sleep, or force a tree to bear fruit out of season. This is the main Technique used in spells of protection or 'warding'.

Your forms are:

Animal affects "all natural living things that are not plants or humans, doing to animals what Mentem and Corpus spells do to people" as well as "things made with animal products" such as leather, wool, cheese, silk, etc. Since bacteria were unknown in medieval times, illness (e.g.) was considered either a form of possession or an imbalance of 'bodily humors'; thus, magic dealing with disease is relegated variously to Creo, Mentem and/or Vim effects.
Auram affects lightning, wind and gaseous substances; other weather effects typically require an Aquam requisite (see below).
Aquam is used for any liquid, with the exception of blood (which requires Animal or Corpus magic to affect); non-liquid forms of water will involve requisites (see below).
Corpus (the incorrect declension Corporem was used in older editions) applies to the human body, making it crucial to longevity formulas.
Herbam primarily involves plants, but applies equally to any organic matter, living or dead, that is not of animal origin.
Ignem involves light and heat, and is heavily represented in the fire spells of House Flambeau.
Imaginem (previously Imagonem) deals with images, sounds, and other sensory stimuli (thus is involved in most illusionary effects).
Mentem deals with emotions, memories, thoughts and spirits.
Terram involves earth and minerals: mere soil is the simplest target, while stone, metal and gems require progressively greater investment of spell levels to achieve the same effect.
Vim ("power") involves magic itself, as well as demons (the overlap is not widely understood, but the fact that there is one is a significant obstacle to the Order's 'public relations', particularly concerning the Church)

You basically put them together to make your spells.

HighWater
2014-11-19, 09:39 AM
Truespeak
Lacing your very words with magical power to create supernatural effects. The more class/character ability you put into Truespeak (limited by Intelligence), the more effects you know. Truespeak is skill-based, specific effects tied to a given skill rank for speech-related skills. Ranks in Bluff might allow you to bend the will and senses. Ranks in Diplomacy can reveal things, make connections between people and places, end other Truespeech effects. Ranks in Perform can inspire, infuse with vigor or even heal. Ranks in Intimidate can frighten, curse, or outright harm. Number of uses per day depends on skill rank. Bards are the most well-known users of Truespeak.

This smacks so much of Sorcerer rather than Wizard it's not even funny! Charisma as a limiting-stat makes more sense due to the nature of Truespeak: you talk the fabric of reality itself into doing what you want. You don't need to be intelligent, you just need to be convincing. Especially since you're making it Cha-skill dependent, this seems a more logical fit in the Sorcerer/Charisma list. This also eliminates the fact that you've made Truespeak a bit MAD with respect to the other two (requires both Int and Cha, instead of just Int to function well, making it Sorcerer would make it just Cha). Maybe switch it out with Pact (which is less about imposing your will on others and more about the clever bartering of a deal where both sides come from a position of power)?

1337 b4k4
2014-11-19, 12:57 PM
You might consider the Four By Five magic system (originally from FUDGE, but converted quite a few times). Here's a conversion for Swords and Wizardry which is a D&D retroclone and would probably require the least amount of hacking for your particular D&D version:

http://www.sycarion.com/four-by-five-magic-for-swords-and-wizardry/


Edit
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Which looking at the posts above, looks like a highly simplified version of the Ars Magica system

Mark Hall
2014-11-19, 01:31 PM
I developed a system for Hackmaster whereby you could cast any spell you liked, but had to pass a skill check to do so. Failure resulted in pain. You could also choose to take wounds to make the spell more likely to cast, or spend spell points to make it easier, or a few other things. It worked on the backbone of that system's wizard magic, but was designed for flexibility over power.

I like the idea behind the old Shaman supplement for AD&D, where you had pacts with a variety of spirits who provided you with your spells, but they could require negotiation and appeasement.

NichG
2014-11-19, 01:37 PM
There's really two interlinked topics here. One is a matter of the fantastical underpinnings of magic - how to make the mythology of a new magic system feel different than the mythology of Vancian casting. The other topic is the mechanical basis of magic in the system - how to make using the magic feel different in gameplay than using Vancian casting or D&D magic. They're interlinked, because if the mechanics don't mesh with the mythos or vice versa, it's going to fall flat.

At the same time in places where there's a concrete mechanical problem, its probably best to start from the mechanical side when addressing it, and similarly for a problem with the mythology. So, maybe it'd be useful to separate out the intentions on both sides, and then start building things up that way?

Mechanically, one can characterize Vancian casting as having the following elements:

- The main challenges to the player are twofold:
-- Resource management on a per-session timescale (e.g. spells refresh each day and can be different from day to day)
-- Picking the right abilities for a given problem out of a huge list (e.g. familiarity with the system)

- Individualized rather than aggregate resources. Spell slots divided into levels, each slot contains specific spells of those levels. Sorcerors/Favored Souls take a step in the direction of aggregation here.
- The use of resources is almost universally fast - swift, standard, or full round action.
- Fire-and-forget (for most spells). If you cast a buff spell, it does not cost you sustained resources or time.
- Access does not depend on sustained investment in any particular ability. Specialization improves efficacy but usually not access to options. That is, if you make 'a fire mage', they will do more damage with fire spells, but they won't generally get access to a different set of spells than the non-fire-mage. Similarly, a Sorceror who has taken nothing but fire spells for 13 levels can just hop over and take a 7th level Necromancy spell on the 14th level. Clerics+Domains is a slight exception to this.
- Boundaries between different sources and types of magic are soft - there's almost always spells that cross whatever definitional boundaries you might try to build. 'Evocation is for producing energy damage', but Conjuration gets spells that do that too; 'Divine magic is for healing', but Bards can heal with arcane magic and Synostodweomer, Limited Wish, etc can also let a wizard heal, etc.

- One of the most important mechanical constraints is that 'study' or in-universe actions can increase the breadth of access to magic independent of the 'level' track (e.g. you can buy scrolls of spells of levels you can cast and expand your pool of available spells), but can't generally increase the depth of access. So this comes into conflict with the lore in terms of e.g. stories of mages spending years in their tower trying to discover that one fragment of enlightenment that will make them more powerful than their peers, or to create that one sublime spell that will let them exceed their limits. The problem is that this is strongly baked into D&D due to level-based advancement - the wizard must be able to keep pace with the advancement of the rest of the party, but also must not exceed that advancement. This is likely to be an issue for alternative systems as well.


In terms of mythos:

- Magic as a toolkit rather than a science or a belief. Spells are packaged, reliable sets of effects which are strongly characterized in advance, but are not very flexible at the time of application. There is little focus on the underlying rationale of spells in the 'adventuring wizard's' life, though presumable you can have academic wizards who are the equivalent of scientists to the adventuring wizards' 'engineer'. The creation of novel spells is possible, but little is actually said about the process, details, trials, and travails of doing so. This gives the impression of D&D magic as a somewhat static thing.

- D&D magic tends to be expressed in terms of energies - elemental energies, 'psionic energy', positive and negative energy, alignment energies, etc.

- It feels like there is nothing that D&D magic is categorically unable to do, so long as you use a high enough level spell or do spell research. This is really the thing that makes it hard to make new systems coexist with Vancian magic - narratively, there's just not that much that a new system can accomplish to make it distinctive that the Vancian mages couldn't do anyhow. That's why so much energy tends to go into the 'how' rather than the 'what' when designing new magic systems for D&D. A Sorceror uses the same 'can do anything' pool of effects differently than the Wizard, so their habits appear different even if their accomplishments can be the same.

- The mythos in settings for high-powered users of magic is often that they're specialists (in which it tends to conflict with the mechanics). E.g. setting designers often say 'there's an evil necromancer, he only uses necromancy' or 'the lords of Thay are divided up based on which school of magic they specialize in' or 'this guy is an ice wizard'. So the lore seems to want there to be more specialization than the mechanics.

- Spells are condensed, stored energy. When Vancian casters prepare spells, they colonize their brain with little knots of magic that they release in order to cast. This is not played up very much, but occasionally you see it in the form of something like spellfire, spells being released or lost on death, etc.

- Magic is an ambient 'weave' or 'field', sometimes supplied by a deity. Ambient modifications to magic exist (wild magic zones, null magic zones, antimagic fields, ...). E.g. magic is external to the self and is tapped (even though spells are internal to the self), as opposed to being something innate which is expressed upon the world.


So hopefully that should give a bit of idea for the space for designing systems that feel distinct both mechanically and in terms of their mythology.

Jlooney
2014-11-19, 10:14 PM
I've always liked the idea of not having spell slots, but I like spell levels. I was trying to come up with a system that basically used basically a CON check with a cumulative penalty. Like a skill check from 3.5 .

A 1st level spell would have a dc of 11. Roll your d20 add your wizard level subtract your spell level. If you make the check by 3 or more the spell goes off with no problem. If you make it by less than three you fatigued for 1 round per point you were short. If you didn't make the roll for every point you were short you took a temp -1 to this roll and d4 subdual damage. the spell would still go off but if you rolled a 9 in this case you would get a temp-2 to your next spell for the next two rounds and 2d4 subdual damage.

SiuiS
2014-11-20, 01:09 AM
I think this is a false dichotomy. You can have mechanical and flavorful magic when the mechanics serve the flavor. Your spellcasting classes have an identity, and then you reinforce that identity with mechanics that force players to think the way the class should think in order to get the best results.

Channeling looks fun and like a solid mechanic to help the flavor of faith based classes. The rest of the spellcasting mechanics you've shown seem like some variation of resource-based mechanics, which I'm not super thrilled about.

This is actually a mechanics issue, even though it logically doesn't seem like it. The issue with magic as a game system is usually one or both of two things; magic can do everything, and magic always works. I'm going to focus on the second one here.

Magic always works. So the mechanics, regardless of flavor about the mystery and danger of wizardry, is "dedicate a Character Resource, get guaranteed effect". One could make the argument that you can have mechanics without automatic success or with potential failure/danger, but then you run into the issue that, logically, one should not make a mechanic that actively harms or routinely fails the player. Which means you may end up with a mechanic that only fails sometimes, but then you risk spells only failing at the worst possible time; much like dramatic failures in nWoD, it's not dramatic, it's stressful and sucks.

So logically, a magic system should have guarantees and be transparent. Rationally however, this actively thwarts what one desires out of a different system on a mechanical level.

It's not the Stormwind fallacy, it's that the mechanics actively change player psychology to produce bad outputs. :smallsmile:

NichG
2014-11-20, 07:45 AM
Well, that seems like a reasonable challenge! Lets try to think of a mechanically workable variation that violates 'magic always works', and see if it leads us somewhere that is also flavorful.

First off, I think its worth comparing to another system that doesn't always work and ask why magic feels like it needs to be different - specifically, I mean the fact that anything involving a single attack roll can fail and end up being a wasted action. I think there's two reasons that this is felt to be more okay than if you were to cast a spell and have it just fizzle: attack rolls don't consume a resource, and at higher levels you get multiple attacks a round so you only effectively lose part of a round. The second is important however - at low levels combat feels 'swingy' which is usually described as a negative trait.

So, I'm going to steal a page from an ancient computer game (http://media.lug-marl.de/images/linux/games/spellcast.png) and make a shot at it:


The idea here is that each spell has a series of required components, and for a spell to take effect on a target you need to attach the right components to them to complete the spell. When you've attached all the necessary components, the spell goes off in a reliable manner; however, the process of attaching each component has a degree of uncertainty, which means that while you can guarantee that magic always works eventually, you gain an uncertainty as to the timing (comparable to the uncertainty of whether or not the melee character will drop an enemy before they get a chance to act this round). In addition, depending on how it's handled, it leaves room for things like chaining spell effects that require the same sets of components, combo-ing with another spellcaster's magic, accidentally casting spells you didn't know existed, etc.

For fairness of comparison in the analysis, I'd like to consider it such that this system replaces the entirety of the existing system, rather than living alongside it (in which case it would certainly fail to live up to a Wizard's power)

In this system, casters have either full or 2/3rds BAB progression, where 2/3rds BAB progression indicates a class that is not a dedicated caster (this could be separated into a different spellcasting attack roll, but this makes things simpler). Casters can attempt to apply components to targets based on their attack sequence, except adding Int, Wis, or Cha mod to the attack roll appropriately for the component they want to apply. Casters can sling spells all day - no resource expenditure.

The 'AC' that they're hitting when trying to apply a new component is the base AC for that component, plus 3 for every component that is currently applied to the target, plus possible modifiers if the target has some form of spell resistance. (Aside: why not use saving throws as the AC? Because then you have a wildly different uncertainty between applying a spell to a hostile target vs a willing target, which makes it feel as if the failure of 'magic always works' is due to it being resisted, rather than innately slightly chaotic). Components normally decay after 3 rounds (this is a lot of tracking - can we fix that?), but a character can spend a standard action to use the Spellcraft skill to try to unravel a single component affecting them (DC = Component's caster level+10). Component ACs should be roughly 8+(minimum level to learn that component), where powerful spells will generally have one high-level component and a larger number of low-level ones rather than being made up entirely of high-level components.

A spell is cast when a caster applies the final component needed for that spell to take effect. Once all the components of a particular spell are present on a target, the spell cannot be cast again simply by re-adding one of the components - first the spell must become incomplete before it can be made complete again. This means that people can do things like complete a spell themselves at a lower caster level to prevent the enemy from being the one to finish it, and other such interactions which will make the magic system feel more 'predictably unpredictable'. The spell is cast at the lowest caster level of the components it is built out of, so similarly someone can guard against certain spells by pre-emptively dropping those components on the field at a low caster level.

Different areas may come with certain components pre-applied permanently, or may apply components to people in their field. For example, the Plane of Fire has a permanent high-CL 'Fire' component stuck on everything. Meta-components are wildcards that can tack onto any spell and modify their effect - these replace the meta-magic system and also handle planar traits like the Astral's automatic metamagic.

You do not need to have a certain class level to cast a spell, but you do need to have a certain class level to learn particular components. As such, access to higher level spells may be possible if you can find places with those components pre-applied. Similarly, you don't need to know a spell to cast it - if you accidentally complete the pattern of a spell on a target, it goes off. Casters learn a limited number of components as they level, but can use feats to learn additional ones and can swap out components similar to how the Sorceror works in D&D.

(Two design notes: one is that the nature of 'you cast a spell if you complete it' means that you should be very careful about splatbooking in this system. However, since this is homebrew intended to be made directly for someone's campaign rather than a publication run, that's probably okay - it does mean that spell research always means 'new component research' though. The second is that accidentally completing spells is going to be something that is very hard for people at the table to track correctly, so it would make sense to build a phone app or something to do it for people so you just enter in the list of components a target has and the completion component and see what the result is.)

When a component 'hits' there should probably be some minor 1-component effect, similar to reserve feats, otherwise it is very hard to be a useful caster at low levels. Something like 1d6 elemental damage, -1 or -2 debuffs, etc would be appropriate (this also means that you may have to debuff a party member in order to heal them, or other weird things like that, which will make the system feel more idiosyncratic and strange) However, spells should become stronger faster-than-linearly the more components they require. Casters in this system are basically 'powerful cleanup' - early in a fight they're weak, but the longer the fight goes on the more threatening they become, up until saturation at 3 rounds.

Since now there's some uncertainty in spell application, most spells should be "save for reduced effect" rather than "save negates". In this system, there are no spells which require attack rolls; however, you could easily have a feat or class ability that allows someone to apply their Dodge bonus to AC to the AC of applying components against them, or things of that nature.

Example components and spells:

Component: Fire [Min Lv 1, AC 9]
Effect: Deals 1d6 fire damage when applied to an object or creature.

Component: Concentrate [Min Lv 1, AC 9]
Effect: Target creature gains +2 to perception-based skillchecks as sound and light are focused in on them more clearly. When used on inanimate objects, tends to intensify aspects of them (colors get brighter, alchemical solutions separate out into components, etc).

Component: Burst [Min Lv 5, AC 13]
Effect: Target is buffeted by a wave of out-flowing energy, granting a -2 penalty to attack rolls during the round it was applied. For inanimate targets, small objects/mist/dust tend to be scattered 10ft away from the area of application, allowing this to be used to clear away clouds and the like.

Component: Chain [Min Lv 11, AC 19]
Effect: Target transmits its existing components to adjacent creatures. However, this does not count as spell completion on those targets.

Spell: Inner Flames
Components: Fire+Concentrate
Save: Fort halves
Effect: Flames coalesce within the target, burning them from the inside. Deals (CL)d6 fire damage to a single target.

Spell: Fireball
Components: Fire+Burst
Save: Reflex halves
Effect: Target explodes into flames, dealing (CL)d6 fire damage to creatures within a 20ft radius and additionally applies the Fire component to them if they fail their save.

etc.

Edit: Tweaked DCs after doing an example combat.

Edit 2: A variant idea that may play better with non-casters is that all magic floats in a 'field' surrounding the encounter, and the person who completes a spell gets to direct it. With this, you can give casters 3/4 BAB and have most environments come with pre-existing permanent components (e.g. a grassy field always has [Plant], a river always has [Water], etc). This is also less book-keeping, and more chaotic when you have a lot of casters all flinging stuff into the shared field.

Komatik
2014-11-20, 08:24 AM
This is actually a mechanics issue, even though it logically doesn't seem like it. The issue with magic as a game system is usually one or both of two things; magic can do everything, and magic always works. I'm going to focus on the second one here.

Magic always works. So the mechanics, regardless of flavor about the mystery and danger of wizardry, is "dedicate a Character Resource, get guaranteed effect". One could make the argument that you can have mechanics without automatic success or with potential failure/danger, but then you run into the issue that, logically, one should not make a mechanic that actively harms or routinely fails the player. Which means you may end up with a mechanic that only fails sometimes, but then you risk spells only failing at the worst possible time; much like dramatic failures in nWoD, it's not dramatic, it's stressful and sucks.

So logically, a magic system should have guarantees and be transparent. Rationally however, this actively thwarts what one desires out of a different system on a mechanical level.

It's not the Stormwind fallacy, it's that the mechanics actively change player psychology to produce bad outputs. :smallsmile:

I think Riddle does well here - I don't like it's perma-aging drawback, but otherwise the system has a good mechanism for this: It's a dice pool system where spells have two parts you dedicate dice towards - producing the actual effect and combating the drain that the casting puts on the sorcerer. The worse you fail at combating the drain, the worse the backlash - you can get knocked unconscious mid-combat and/or age horribly for example. Taking more time to cast the spell reduces the drain, doing things faster makes it harder.

You can play it safe by dedicating energy to staying safe while reducing chances of success, take risks by underallocating drain resistance, just spend more to begin with, to act so you get more time to cast your spells.

Also Riddle's spiritual attribute system means that while normally sorcerers' spell pool recharges very slowly (1 die/hour IIRC), if you anger a Wizard, his spiritual attributes fire. A character gets bonus dice every round of combat if his spiritual attributes (passions/faith/strong ethical stances/life goals) are at stake. Riddle Magic is broken. A passionate mage has endless resources. Hell hath no fury like a sorcerer scorned. You would not like him angry. You do not want to make him angry if you value your life.

There's a lot that I don't like about Riddle's system - the permanent aging isn't a penalty in the here and now and may not even matter in a shorter campaign but if it matters it just says you don't want to do the cool stuff you built your character to do, the very mechanical feel of the game's disciplines (telekinesis, mind control, etc. all very much function and no flavour), and that the designs are sometimes asinine (it's easier to implant in someone's head an irresistible desire to commit suicide than to force him to kneel while retaining his own wit for example, or the telekinesis discipline's ability to accelerate objects which is fine, but not when the limit is speed of light and acceleration time is instant). But the resource management stuff it does splendidly, IMO.

Mark Hall
2014-11-20, 10:17 AM
I've always liked the idea of not having spell slots, but I like spell levels. I was trying to come up with a system that basically used basically a CON check with a cumulative penalty. Like a skill check from 3.5 .

A 1st level spell would have a dc of 11. Roll your d20 add your wizard level subtract your spell level. If you make the check by 3 or more the spell goes off with no problem. If you make it by less than three you fatigued for 1 round per point you were short. If you didn't make the roll for every point you were short you took a temp -1 to this roll and d4 subdual damage. the spell would still go off but if you rolled a 9 in this case you would get a temp-2 to your next spell for the next two rounds and 2d4 subdual damage.

You might take a look at my sorcery system on my blog, though it will likely be easier to follow if you've also read at least Hackmaster Basic (which you can also get free).

Jlooney
2014-11-20, 04:08 PM
You might take a look at my sorcery system on my blog, though it will likely be easier to follow if you've also read at least Hackmaster Basic (which you can also get free).

I was part of the HMA for a long time.

Mark Hall
2014-11-20, 04:26 PM
I was part of the HMA for a long time.

HMGMA #10444, myself. :smallbiggrin: Hoping to pitch them a book at some point.

Jay R
2014-11-21, 11:19 AM
The magic system in Fantasy Hero allows any amount of specialization or effects. And it's self-balancing, since you're using the same rules that fighters are.

Lots of people don't like it because it requires basic arithmetic before the game starts, but for those who don't mind, it allows anything you want.

SiuiS
2014-11-21, 04:39 PM
Well, that seems like a reasonable challenge! Lets try to think of a mechanically workable variation that violates 'magic always works', and see if it leads us somewhere that is also flavorful.

My personal favorite is Arneson's incomplete system. You learn a spell, but it's dangerous until you've mastered it. You don't get spell levels so much as proficiency. Haven't fleshed it out yet though. It's a nice balance because it focuses wizard as scientist; you need to examine the systems you are engaging and divine the best course with the least drawback and then run trials and hope for the best. Focusing casters on crafting their art is cool and is sufficient distraction that eventual auto success feels earned and appropriate.

I like your system though. Will keep for later.



My actual "fix" is so far to remove full casters. My next campaign I can run from scratch will have true namers, shadow casters, warlocks maybe, dragon shamans, and incarnum. Incarnum will be fluffed as some for of Sigil sorcery, like in those anime where they invoke a colored wheel and it produces the magic for them? Wizards will walk around with blazing designs of lightning or neon green fire wreathed around their bodies and embedded in their auras which produce effects. I'll have to homebrew some more stereotypical "magic" melds though.


I think Riddle does well here - I don't like it's perma-aging drawback, but otherwise the system has a good mechanism for this: It's a dice pool system where spells have two parts you dedicate dice towards - producing the actual effect and combating the drain that the casting puts on the sorcerer. The worse you fail at combating the drain, the worse the backlash - you can get knocked unconscious mid-combat and/or age horribly for example. Taking more time to cast the spell reduces the drain, doing things faster makes it harder.

You can play it safe by dedicating energy to staying safe while reducing chances of success, take risks by underallocating drain resistance, just spend more to begin with, to act so you get more time to cast your spells.

Also Riddle's spiritual attribute system means that while normally sorcerers' spell pool recharges very slowly (1 die/hour IIRC), if you anger a Wizard, his spiritual attributes fire. A character gets bonus dice every round of combat if his spiritual attributes (passions/faith/strong ethical stances/life goals) are at stake. Riddle Magic is broken. A passionate mage has endless resources. Hell hath no fury like a sorcerer scorned. You would not like him angry. You do not want to make him angry if you value your life.

There's a lot that I don't like about Riddle's system - the permanent aging isn't a penalty in the here and now and may not even matter in a shorter campaign but if it matters it just says you don't want to do the cool stuff you built your character to do, the very mechanical feel of the game's disciplines (telekinesis, mind control, etc. all very much function and no flavour), and that the designs are sometimes asinine (it's easier to implant in someone's head an irresistible desire to commit suicide than to force him to kneel while retaining his own wit for example, or the telekinesis discipline's ability to accelerate objects which is fine, but not when the limit is speed of light and acceleration time is instant). But the resource management stuff it does splendidly, IMO.

Nice. What game is this? Just riddle? Riddle of steel? Or something else?

Komatik
2014-11-24, 06:38 AM
The Riddle of Steel, yeah