Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Character Creation - Pre-requisites for Magic Use (Part III) - Magic Stunt

Faithful readers of this blog may see that much of the following information looks kind of familiar. That's because the basis for much of SoG's Magic Stunt is based upon what Mike has already written elsewhere in this blog:


This entry will focus more specifically on the following:

  • What differentiates the Magic Stunt from the Magic Skill
  • Applications of the Magic Stunt within SoG

First off, within SoG I generically use the term "Sorcery" to describe the generation of magical effects via the use of the Magic Stunt. "Wizardry" is the skill-based generation of magical effects.

In my opinion, the term "sorcery" is probably most used by Wizards as a derogatory term. Sorcerors would likely consider that stunt-based magic is perhaps the purest expression of magic: the instinctual ability to generate magical effects at a moment’s notice, with little or no prior preparation. Wizards would probably scoff at the notion, considering the (ab)use of Magic (with a capital M) without sufficient study as ignorant folly... ;)

Magic Stunt Overview
  • The Magic Stunt and the Magic Skill are not mutually exclusive. Someone could choose to take both. In fact, I suspect many of the REALLY powerful Wizards probably do have both, in order to allow them the maximum flexibility in generating magical effects. This would be akin to a "Master" craftsman saying something like, "You have to KNOW the rules, before you can BREAK them..."
  • The character must still have a Magic-related Aspect in order to generate magical effects.
  • The Magic Stunt allows the user to create magical effects on the fly, without having to memorize spells.
  • Generating magical effects via the Magic Stunt requires the user to roll the normal 4dF (versus the 2dF+2 of the Magic Skill). This also means that Stunt-based magic is also more prone to failure.
  • When using the Magic Stunt to generate Magical effects, the user can elect to expend as many FATE points as desired (up to what they have available) per casting to gain the necessary effect. Obviously, this can make things rather easy for a Sorceror to get in over his head in a tough situation.

Should the Magic Stunt require a FATE point to activate the Stunt? Many powerful stunts in SotC RAW require the expenditure of a FATE point to activate them--should the Magic Stunt? My current feeling is NO, the Magic stunt should not require a FATE point to activate it.
  • Based upon what little play we've done with SoG and reading other people's experiences, I think I would rather players use FATE points to have fun and bring the awesome, not as the basis of how many spells their character can cast.
  • Even if it was a requirement, I would be inclined to give the player the benefit of having expended that FATE point as if they had elected to spend it in the normal fashion.
  • This decision might also be dependent upon the realm where this is being applied. In a realm where magic is rarer (or the ability to cast it is rare), it might be more appropriate.

Important Difference between the Magic Stunt versus other SotC Stunts

Within SotC RAW, most (if not all) other Stunts are tied to a pre-set Skill requirement. However within the High Fantasy realm of Greyhawk, the PLAYER will determine what skill is tied to the Magical Stunt. Some examples are:
  • A Bard capable of generating magic effects via his song would tie his Art Skill to the Magic Stunt.
  • A dwarven blacksmith creating magic armor or weapons would tie her Art Skill (broken out as the "Craft" skill in SoG) to her Magic Stunt.
  • Healers or Alchemists could generate magical healing effects by combining the Science (known as the "Physick" skill in SoG) to their Magic Stunt.
  • High "level" thieves with the Magic Stunt could combine the Magic Stunt with Stealth or Burglary
  • Rangers could combine the Survival skill with the Magic Stunt.
  • A "pure" Sorceror would likely combine the Magic Stunt with the Resolve skill--the gift/curse to generate magic effects purely by willpower.
  • Many powers of the Monk class might be translated by combining the Magic Stunt with Athletics or Fists skills.

So I think this provides a convenient method by which we can translate the magical effects attributed to higher levels of a particular class in the source material, without having to get too rule-crunchy.

DESIGN CONSIDERATION: Can a player tie the Magic Stunt to more than one skill? In other words, could a player have a character with both Art Skill and the Craft Skill be able to sing magical songs AND create magic weapons? On the surface, I don't see why not. At least in the High Fantasy realm of common magic. I think it might present some challenges to the player as to having a clear picture of the character--but that would be common to any sort of "multi-class" type.

Gameplay Implications

A Sorceror (or someone using the Magic Stunt as their primary method of surviving combat) could find himself running out of FATE points pretty quick in a conflict.

This was on purpose. Sorcerors (and Wizards) are supposed to be smart folks: whether that's expressed as "book smart" or "street smart" or "crazy to tamper with forces beyond their reckoning" is up to the player.

So if a player is to effectively run this kind of character, this setup encourages a player to really pay attention to Aspects (whether in their opponents, themselves or in the scene) and work to tag them as much as possible and thus avoid having to tap into their own FATE points.

Literary Example: The Dresden Files. Consider how much more effective magic users are in a conflict when they have the opportunity to research their opponent, dictate the conditions, or otherwise are able to "tag the aspects"!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Character Creation - Pre-requisites for Magic Use (Part I) - Aspects

[Editorial Note: I'm still getting the hang of blog publishing. I'd SWEAR I published this entry right before Christmas, but now it's not there. Anyhoo, this should have appeared BEFORE the "Magic Skill" write-up]

In order for a creature to cast a spell without otherwise being assisted (via a potion, or magic item), the following MUST exist:

  • At least ONE Aspect devoted to Magic of some kind.

From there, the caster must have either:

NOTE: A Magic stunt and the Magic Skill are not mutually exclusive. A character may have BOTH the Magic Skill and one or more Magic stunts. In a similar vein, it's certainly possible that a character (most likely an NPC) could have the Magic Skill and NOT have an Magic Aspect. However that would mean that character could not generate magical effects (or at least not without some "replacement" for the Magic-related Aspect). I would envision someone like this as perhaps a librarian, scribe, or researcher. Upon further thought, J.K. Rowling's character of "Argus Filch" (the Hogwarts' care-taker) might be a good literary example.

Aspect "Magical Talent of Some Kind"
A character must devote at least one aspect to a Magical Talent. The player can call it whatever they want (remember the "BAM!")
  • Elven Magic
  • High Arcana
  • Spellsword
  • Illusionry
  • Blessed Magic of the "High Light"
  • Black Magic
  • Necromancy

Positive Aspects: Access to magic, sensitivities to magic, etc.

Negative Aspects: Susceptability to magic-specific maladies or other negative impacts. Being "visible" to people trying to sense those with this aspect. Whatever else the GM happens to come up with...

Clerical Magic Aspects
AD&D dogma implies / states that although the same "energy" is used to create all spell effects, the mechanism by which they are created is different. Magic-Users manipulate the energy themselves to create the effect whereas Cleric-types cast spells are actually generated by their deity's servants in answer to the prayers of the Cleric.

So, Clerical / Druidical Aspects could be something like:
  • Granted [Deity]'s Favor
  • Hand of [Deity]
  • State of Grace
  • Nature's Gift

Split Classes
Based upon the above, my current feeling is that if someone was trying to recreate a "split class" (specifically where Clerical and Magic Use are available) they would need two aspects, in order to cast each group of spells.

Quick Clarification
The requirement of having an Aspect devoted to Magic does not mean that casting a spell requires the use of a Fate point. IMO, Fate points are not measures of a particular character's ability to generate magical effects. Rather, they are the PLAYER's (not the character's) ability to modify the character's reality for story purposes.

The idea of the Aspect requirement was more a way to handle the concept that although magic is common in High Fantasy, in SoG there is something inherently different about the caster from normal folk that allows them to manipulate magical forces.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Off-Topic: Roll Some Dice in 2010

Hey there. Pardon the interruption -- I don't want to mess up Guy's flow or anything, but I wanted to post this rather off-topic news.

One of the reasons my posting on this blog has slowed as of late is that most of my RPG ideas these days haven't involved FATE, so they don't really fit in here. In the interest of giving them a home, I've started another blog, Roll Some Dice. Instead of being laser-focused on FATE and SotC, it's more of a general game-design blog where I can air those non-FATE ideas and develop them further with the help of a loving largely ambivalent public.

The first idea to get some attention is a more or less complete game, Leftovers, which I wrote for a contest on RPG.net. Check it out!

I now return you to your regularly scheduled guest blogger.

Character Creation - Pre-requisites for Magic Use (Part II) - Magic Skill

Hope everyone had a good holiday. Let's take advantage of the brief lull between now and New Years' and get some postings in! So, ya wanna be a Wizard, eh?

Before we get too far into the skills of Magic (known as Wizardry in the SoG), I'll take a minute to provide some "game play experience" insight. The Spirit of Greyhawk (SoG) implementation of FATE takes a viewpoint that represents something of a different direction from pure Greyhawk canon.

The realm of Greyhawk represents high-fantasy, and as such magic is considered a relatively common occurance, like gravity. It's just a fact of life. And so in making a set of rules that supported the stories I wanted to tell, I decided to make a distinction between skill-based magic (Wizardry) and stunt-based magic (Sorcery). Both exist within SoG:

  • Wizards are the more "ivory tower" users of magic, something similar to our world's scientists. They are skilled in the use and principles of Magic.
  • Sorcerors represent the most "pure" use of stunt-based magic. While they might be capable of generating very powerful magical effects through their given abilities (within a realm that provides that magic is common), they have little or no training in the priniciples of the forces they manipulate. I also expect that the more common useage of magic among non-wizard types fall into this category.

Maybe there will be an opportunity later to lay out some design themes and considerations but to keep this blog entry focused on rules, I'll summarize it like this:

  • Skill-based magic represents an empirically-oriented study of magic and the practice of documented principles and applications (i.e., pre-made spells). As such, magical effects are much more predictable and not prone to failure as long as the caster works within his or her skill level.
  • Stunt-based magic represents a more ad hoc study of magic in a less principled environment than wizardry. Magical effects are much less predictable and are prone to failures.

So without any more stalling, here's the Magic Skill...

Magic Skill
This skill would directly correspond to the user's overall skill level with regards to casting increasingly difficult Magic spells.

Wizard spells run from levels 0 (cantrips) through 9. For Spirit of Greyhawk, Level 1 spells are considered Average (+1) difficulty.

Translated, this means that if you have only the Aspect of magic but no skill level, than you can cast level 0 spells (difficulty Mediocre) before you incur an negative modifier.

Fate DifficultyAD&D Spell Level
+9 (Mythical?)Level 9
+8 (Legendary)Level 8
+7 (Epic)Level 7
+6 (Fantastic)Level 6
+5 (Superb)Level 5
+4 (Great)Level 4
+3 (Good)Level 3
+2 (Fair)Level 2
+1 (Average)Level 1
0 (Mediocre)Level 0

(The adding of level 9 to the Difficulty Ladder is a departure from normal FATE, but I honestly don't expect to spend much time up there! Level 9 spells tend to be something closer to deus ex machina grade spells anyway.)

Casting Spells BELOW your Skill Level

As per normal FATE, this would allow for the opportunity of a greater number of positive shifts (margin of success) when casting is a success.

Casting Spells ABOVE your Skill Level
If we were using pure canon, there would be NO opportunity for casting spells above your skill level. However using Fate 3.0, this now becomes available. Whether or not it’s advisable for a caster to attempt it is another story…

OPEN ISSUE: What would the implication be of failing a spell that was ABOVE your skill level? I think there ought to be SOME sort of impact to failure—otherwise people would be doing it all the time. Would the caster receive damage (physical or emotional, up to the GM) for the same amount of shifts equal to failure? I'm open to suggestions. Although my undocumented preference is that the implications are still up to the GM, perhaps within certain guidelines.

When using the Magic Skill to cast a premade spell in SoG, the caster doesn't roll the usual 4dF which gives a potential range of -4 to +4.

Instead, use 2dF+2 to give a potential range of 0 to +4.

This is to reflect the benefit of the wizard's extensive study in the casting of "preset" spells. By using that preset spell, the caster is reducing the randomness in the outcome of the casting. This also allows for a more consistent feel with the Greyhawk source material.

This benefit DOES NOT apply to Sorcery, or if the Wizard decides to "change the formula" of a preset spell (more on this later).

In Summary
A caster may use the 2dF+2 roll only if all of the following are in force:
  1. User is casting a Preset Spell.
  2. User's Skill (or related Skill?) is at least the equal of the spell's difficulty. Example: A Good (+3) spell being cast by someone with a Magic Skill of Good or better.
  3. The preset spell is being cast "as is" — no modifications are being made.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Game-related Assumptions about Magic in SoG

So Mike mentioned in the last post's comments that SoG was something of a different perspective--specifically that SoG is not being written as a translation of the D20 game mechanic. SoG is being written as a vision of the World of Greyhawk, using FATE.

That was absolutely true. Applying the "chicken and the egg" argument to Greyhawk, my design theory for this effort is:

  • The world of Greyhawk is the "Chicken"
  • AD&D and therefore SoG is the "Egg"

The SoG approach to Magic is a good illustration of this. Most other FATE translations I have seen (to date) have expressed magic as something of an "ad hoc" approach. I say this without being critical, because:

  • It certainly reduces "time to market" as it were.
  • There are certainly tons of "realms" where generating magic effects really was ad hoc.
  • FATE is more about playing than about writing, and ad hoc magic fits nicely with that approach.
  • I too don't want to spend what little time I have available to devote to gaming in just translating spells.
  • I also use the ad hoc approach in SoG as one expression of Magic (looking ahead to the section on "Sorcery" or "Stunt-Based Magic").

However in order to recreate the play experience of Magic in Greyhawk, I felt it necessary to include the play experience of a Wizard selecting pre-fab spells, and storing up what they felt was necessary for a particular day, hoping they have "chosen well" (Deliberate vision of Crusader from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade").

That term "play experience" goes back to how the article started: SoG is about the recreation of the "play experience" of Greyhawk.

So as a starting place, I used the following ground-rules about Magic as it exists in Greyhawk that should be adhered to, or at least reviewed carefully before breaking.

Couple caveats to note:
  1. While the assumptions below might reference game mechanics, I am working from the viewpoint that the original mechanics were put in place to reinforce the game-world assumptions. (See "Chicken and the Egg" above)
  2. Not all my assumptions might be considered "canon". Some assumptions are those I chose to make (notably in the difference between psionics and magic).
  3. These assumptions also very specifically are focused on the world of Greyhawk, circa AD&D 70's-80's. I made no effort to try to cover any other ground (GH was enough!)
  4. Don't limit the FATE mechanic just because something wasn't in AD&D.

Greyhawk-related Assumptions about Magic

  • The ability to manipulate magic forces is inherent within a particular individual.
  • The actual "channeling" or functional use of magic depends upon skill.
  • Clerical magic is granted by a deity, but the functional use of that deity-granted magic still depends upon skill of the cleric.
    • That skill is not so much a function of study, but rather reflect the degree of wisdom / experience / closeness of a character to a Deity and their good graces.
    • It might also be considered that the power of the "go-between" used by the deity to grant spells (from prayer or from just asking), would also be a function of how "tight" (read: high level) the cleric is. In other words, the power level of the minion used to grant a 1st level cleric's prayers would undoubtedly be less than the power level of the minion backing an epic-level cleric.
    • (In theory, a deity could grant extra levels with Aspects that don't require education, but that's for further exploration)
  • IMPORTANT: Casting a spell is not difficult, when done by a person with skill adequate to the difficulty of the spell. In other words, in AD&D spells typically don’t fail due to the caster—they fail because the target made a saving throw.
  • Spells have a life of their own, as a result of the casters' manipulation of magical energy.
    • This is why spells have aspects of their own also.
    • CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING: Spells do not represent a player-versus-player contest (in contrast to Psionics or contested skills). Normal casting of spells are uncontested; the caster is beating a straight difficulty to cast the spell. Spell resistance on the part of the targets is not a function of resisting the CASTER, but rather the difficulty presented by the strength of the SPELL.
  • Spells to be cast are pre-determined (pre loaded) by the caster.
    • Magic User source – Memorization via a Spellbook
    • Clerical source – Granted by Deity when the user prays
  • Spells once cast are "gone" and require study / prayer (an amount of time must pass) in order to regain the spells (reactivate spell slots).
  • It is normally not draining upon the user to cast a spell.
  • Psionics are not Magic, and do not obey the same laws.
  • Lower-level spells cast by higher-skilled wizards often (but not always) give some benefit to the spell, whether in potency, duration, or something else.
  • Just because something wasn't covered in AD&D, doesn't mean it doesn't exist in Greyhawk. Perhaps it just wasn't "known" or wasn't considered a "good idea"within Greyhawk.
    Case in point: Casting a spell beyond your skill level. AD&D didn't really cover how to address that situations (other than you "couldn't" outside of scrolls). The FATE mechanic implies that it could happen. So in SoG, just because a 1st level wizard COULD cast Fireball, doesn't mean it's a good idea! (mu-ha-ha!)
  • In gameplay terms, if something in FATE allows a player to "bring the awesome" that wasn't in AD&D; allow it.
    Case in Point: Covens. Or stated in game-terms, multiple wizards working together to cast a spell that individually they couldn't cast (or to make the spell they could cast more potent). Covens are pretty much standard issue in any Magic-realm, but AD&D didn't really address how that would work. SotC has some very nice rules for allowing people to work together to increase the effective skill level--so make use of what SotC RAW offers.

Coming Up: Character Creation and Pre-Requisites for using Magic

Friday, December 18, 2009

All Your Blog Are Belong To Us

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission."

--Opening Narration, "The Outer Limits" (1963)

Mike and I have been corresponding about FATE implementations for some time. While Mike has a great ability to apply FATE across many genres, I've been focusing on one genre in particular: High Fantasy. Even more in particular: Old school AD&D.

Disclaimer: I don't consider myself a game designer. I consider myself primarily a Game Master / Dungeon Master. I never set out with the idea to create a FATE implementation. My goal was to have a set of rules that let my players and I make use of the FATE/SotC structure to "tell the stories we wanted to tell" in the Greyhawk universe that we remembered.

The more I looked for rules and ideas that people were already writing and sharing, the more I realized that just patching together articles was gonna get unuseable pretty fast.

I ended up deciding that the best way to go was to create a single, unified ruleset centered on Greyhawk (circa AD&D of the 70's - 80's) that my players and I wanted to use:

  1. Start with the SotC RAW ruleset as a baseline and framework.
  2. Translate the genre pieces within the SotC game into a High Fantasy genre (specifically Greyhawk).
  3. Add only those pieces that weren't part of SotC but were needed for Greyhawk (Magic, predominantly)

Add to that a secondary goal of trying to stay as close to SotC RAW as possible (meaning tinker only as much as necessary), and you've got my battle plan.

So that brings me to why I offered to post on Mike's blog:

  1. Mike has shared so much of his thinking with me, I felt it was time I started sharing back. Read Fred Hicks editorial on being "no silent fan" for further thoughts on this.
  2. Use SotB as a sounding board to see if my ideas can stand up to scrutiny outside my own playtest sessions.

So that's enough backstory. Since I don't know how long Mike's hiatus will be, I'm going to start right in next post on what seems to be the 800 pound gorilla of any Fantasy-FATE implementation...

Next up: Magic (or "Never insult a Wizard by calling him a Sorceror")

Oh and for reference purposes, the working title of my FATE implementation is... (Muppet Show drumroll...) "Spirit of Greyhawk" or SoG.

...Why is it that the FATE ruleset can bring out such creativity in people, except when it comes to naming their version of it?

PS: Hey Mike! What's the "usual way to undertake a serious conversion," anyway? ;)

Guest Blogger!

Greetings, true believers. The baby and a general lack of any FATE-related activity on my end has resulted in an unfortunate period of dormancy for Spirit of the Blank, which is a shame. Fortunately, SotB enthusiast and fellow Greyhawk aficionado Guy Bowring has generously volunteered to step in and fill the void. He's undertaken a serious conversion of AD&D to FATE (but not in the usual way, IMO) for a Greyhawk game, a fan project that couldn't be more awesome if it tried.

So he's going to be taking the reins for a while. The next words you'll read here will be his. Excelsior!