Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spirit of Greyhawk - Spells per Level & Memorization

Hello again, everyone! After a lot of side trips and delays, we now return you to my not-so-regularly scheduled discussions on translating "high-fantasy" magic from the Greyhawk source material into my "Spirit of Greyhawk" implementation of Fate.

Setting Expectations

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea before going any further (i.e., digging into more specifics), to be clear about which versions of the source material I'm using.

While other versions of AD&D could be patched together to form a “best of breed” patchwork source, I think that’s an easy way to get focused on the finger pointing at the moon, rather than moon itself.

So, the publishings of AD&D (1st Edition) documentation that I’ll be using will be the following, when I refer to the “source material”:

  • Monster Manual (December 1977)
  • Players Handbook (June, 1978)
  • Dungeon Master Guide (August, 1978)

Game World Assumptions for Wizardry Spells per Level and Spells Memorized

So working from the expectations of the above source material, here's a summary of topics as how the world of Greyhawk works with respect to Wizards and the spells they can cast:

  • There is a pre-determined progression of spells per level that can be cast in a day by a Wizard of a particular level.
  • Wizards of higher skill levels can cast (per day) more spells in a particular level than a less-skilled Wizard would.
  • Highly intelligent Wizards can have more spells in their spellbook than Wizards without that same degree of intellect. In other words, they have a greater selection of spells that could be available to them.
  • Higher-level spells also require a higher intelligence. Without that higher intelligence (whether from natural stats or some sort of boost), Wizards cannot cast certain spells.

Taking those assumptions into Fate we end up with the following game-related topics…

  • The number of Spells that can be cast in a defined period are an important limiting factor and should be translated into SoG. There should be a reduction in the number of “slots” a Wizard can have for increasingly difficult spells.
  • Having a higher skill level in Wizardry allows for higher difficulty spells.
  • Given that SoG does not have a skill reflecting pure intellect (a la AD&D’s Intelligence attribute), is there a way within the existing Fate framework to account for a Wizard having an additional qualification to be able to memorize more powerful spells? Is there even a need?

Additionally, I want whatever I do for SoG to keep reference tables to a minimum and to keep bookkeeping as simple as possible.

Wizard's Spells per Level in Spirit of Greyhawk

Start with a Traditional Fate Pyramid

My first step was thinking SoG’s “Pyramid” approach is the cleanest way to implement this, based upon the Wizard’s skill level.

So, I'm starting off by stating that the highest spell level that can be memorized by a Wizard is equivalent to his skill level and will be generally defined as 1 spell in that level can be memorized.

So, a Wizardry skill level of +5 (Superb) allows for 1 5th level spell to be memorized for use within a particular period of time (see “Memorization Period” below). Using the example above, the Spell Memorization pyramid is structured similar to SoG’s Skill Pyramid:

  • 5th Level Spells: 1
  • 4th Level Spells: 2
  • 3rd Level Spells: 3
  • 2nd Level Spells: 4
  • 1st Level Spells: 5

If we compare that to "Spells Usable by Class and Level Magic-Users" (PH, p. 26), this most closely resembles a 9th level magic-user, but gives them one extra 1st and 2nd level spells. My rule of thumb for translation is that 1 skill level should generally be equivalent to 2 AD&D skill levels (in other words, SoG's Magic skill level of 5 would be equivalent to a 10th level M-U). So that seems pretty close to the source material without having to get too fiddly.

Subsequently this also means that using the current SoG ladder maximum of +9, I'm effectively capping out SoG at about 18th level. At this point, I don’t see a real benefit in trying deal with classes past that point so I'm gonna call it good.

Problem: Higher-level Wizards & lower-level spells

However there's now a balance issue in the number of lower-level spells a higher-level Wizard gets under SoG. The source material indicates that for SoG's 18th level "cap", no M-U would have more than 5 spells memorized from spell level 5 on down. Given the difference in the number of spells per day, there needs to put be a similar cap on a Wizard's spell pyramid.

Which means that instead of a Wizard at Magic Skill Level 9 having this "pure" pyramid…

  • 9th Level Spells: 1
  • 8th Level Spells: 2
  • 7th Level Spells: 3
  • 6th Level Spells: 4
  • 5th Level Spells: 5
  • 4th Level Spells: 6
  • 3rd Level Spells: 7
  • 2nd Level Spells: 8
  • 1st Level Spells: 9

…it would instead look like this…

  • 9th Level Spells: 1
  • 8th Level Spells: 2
  • 7th Level Spells: 3
  • 6th Level Spells: 4
  • 5th Level Spells: 5
  • 4th Level Spells: 5
  • 3rd Level Spells: 5
  • 2nd Level Spells: 5
  • 1st Level Spells: 5

…which I think turns out to give you a fairly decent parallel to the source material. There's a few exceptions, but nothing game-killing.

The REAL Rule for Wizards and Spell Memorization

So then the actual rule for a Wizard's Spells per Level would be the following:

  • The highest spell level that can be memorized is equivalent to the Wizard's skill level in "Magic", with only 1 spell at that level.
  • Each reduction in level gives an extra spell.
  • The maximum number of spells that can be memorized per skill level is 5.

If you're an Excel fan, it would look like this:

# Memorized per Spell Level = MAX(MIN(Magic Skill Level – Spell Level + 1, 5), 0)

Memorization Period

Source material canon states that a wizard's spell slots are allocated for a particular spell "loadout" once per day. So once a particular spell is fired, the slot used is unavailable until the next day.

However given that the Fate mechanic places an emphasis on the starting and ending of scenes, I keep wondering if perhaps a Wizard's spell slots in Spirit of Greyhawk might reset by scene, instead of by day.

My current thinking is that this is too far off canon and that SoG will stick with the “per day” memorization period. Here's why:

  • Allowing a greater refresh frequency removes some of a player's angst of "planning" a day's spells. I happen to find very attractive the idea that a Wizard character should always be trying to plan ahead and the inherent risks of doing that in an adventure, especially in the fluid nature of a cooperative storytelling mechanic.
  • Allowing a Wizard to refresh "by scene" also removes some of the distinguishing factors between a Wizard (who is always trying to plan ahead and look for angles that will help them survive) and a Sorceror who is more of a seat-of-the-pants caster.

…Especially when you consider that it's quite possible that 3-4 scenes could occur in a day. Anyone got a different perspective?

Next Time: Intelligence & Spells, Spell Books

Monday, September 6, 2010

Gateway 2010 Post-Mortem

This year's Gateway was one of those cons where I can say I was honestly happy with every game I was in, whether playing or GMing. I may have been utterly, comically incompetent in one (EX-47 the assassin droid in Josh's Star-Wars-via-Smallville game) and joined in the teeth-gnashing over the rules for another (Andy's otherwise very fun Shadow, Sword & Spell game), but it was all a good time. (I even got to play the Castle Ravenloft boardgame during the dinner break on Saturday, which was a nice surprise, thanks to the Vegas/Utah contingent.)

My FATE Supers game was no exception -- only Morgan was already familiar with how my particular supers hack worked, and the other four players didn't seem to have a ton of FATE experience, so it was a good playtest group. The opening scene, in which the team leader reviews the team's dossiers with her commander while the rest of the team tells stories about her, worked really well, and nobody ended up screwed by the aspects they received in the process. And it did what that opening-scene thing usually does: Give each player some spotlight time and the chance to make a skill roll. In terms of the narrative, it injected a little uncertainty about Ballista's ability to effectively lead, and let Ballista voice her concerns about her relatively inexperienced team in a safe environment.

Every character felt useful and effective and got to have at least one or two kick-ass moments. My only real regret is that I made the same mistake I seem to so frequently make in FATE games, and that's putting in Fair minions. I always think, "Well, these guys should be a cut above the Average minion," but I'm always, always wrong. As soon as I said "A couple dozen HYDRA -- er, CHIMERA guys swarm out of the doors and the jungle," I should've known making them Fair would mean the scene would eventually drag.

As a corollary, when I make minions too strong, I'm always too slow on rectifying the situation by either reducing their Quality right then and there, or simply answering the question "How many more are still standing?" with something less than complete honesty. I mean, if they don't know, and I want to move on already, just lowball it! As soon as the super-powered badguy of the scene went down, I should've wrapped things up more quickly.

As it was, all that time spent punching out mooks meant that the endgame was rushed, which was too bad. It went from "Ack! Horrible situation!" to "Ah, well that's that that dealt with, then" in a matter of minutes. I cut two major NPCs entirely for time, and the two they did face in that final scene just didn't get enough screen time to be especially effective or interesting. I tried to convince everyone that something big was happening through the clever use of words, but I don't think I really pulled it off. Ah well.

Anyway. My players were great, and despite the occasional what-skill-should-I-use-now? dithering things went very smoothly on their end. Plus, I'd like to think the game illustrated several key lessons of FATE:
  • Don't bother citing all your aspects before you roll. Roll first, then deal with aspects. This is a no-brainer for FATE veterans, but newer players often see this list of descriptors and want to focus on those to the exclusion of all else. You're not a slave to your aspects -- not every action you take has to be justified by them in advance.
  • Don't feel limited by what's on the character sheet. If you want to do something but aren't sure how to do it, tell the GM. If that GM is me and I'm not being a short-sighted idiot, we'll quickly work something out and get on with it.
  • When you have three Fate Points, you have a lot of Fate Points. Spend 'em. You can't do anything with them once the game's over, so spend away.
  • Simply acting in line with an aspect is not the same as compelling that aspect. A proper compel makes your bad situation even worse. Whatever action you take in accordance with the compel has to put you in a disadvantageous position. Taking an alternate approach to a scene that still deals with the conflict in that scene more or less effectively is not worth a Fate Point.
  • If you spend all your Fate Points to avoid taking a point or two of stress, you are not allowed to then complain about your lack of Fate Points. You've chosen to blow your narrative-currency wad on not getting hit, which necessarily means you're going to be a slave to the dice for a bit. You don't have to win every roll. Seriously. Let it go. Take some stress or a consequence. You'll have more fun for having done so.
  • Moreover, unlike many other fine RPGs, in FATE you want trouble for your character. You want things to go poorly, then take a turn for the worse. If you go around playing it safe all the time, you'll never earn the Fate Points you so desperately want and/or need. Alternate, non-mechanical reason for wanting all that to happen: Where's the fun in everything going your way?
Afterward, Morgan took all the character sheets for himself, no doubt to reverse-engineer them. Morgan, just ask! I'll send you whatever you want!

ADDENDUM: Speaking of Morgan, my platonic FATE-mate, I neglected to mention his DFRPG game! Or "games" plural, really, but I only played in one. As it happened, I'd played the same scenario at Gamex back in May, but that was the hole in my schedule I'd left for a Morgan game without knowing what he'd run in that slot, so that's what I happened to get. But I played a different character, so for me it was a totally different game. About half the table knew the Dresden-verse well, a couple more had only read one or two of the books, and then there was me, pretty much completely ignorant of it all. The only things I know about Jim Butcher's series are what I've picked up from the sessions of the game I've played. This time around, I played the succubus assassin who feeds off of lust, so I engineered a virtual orgy in the first scene, because that seemed like something I'd want to do. Fortunately, Morgan had the good taste to fade to black on that before... y'know.

At any rate, I enjoyed it a lot. It was like the eighth time he'd run that particular scenario, and I really like DFRPG's particular iteration of FATE. It's definitely going to inform my FATE Supers conversion, that's for sure.

A parting note re: DFRPG. In the absence of a definitive version of FATE that can be cited as the "default" or "standard" rules, it's interesting to me now to note how DFRPG is gradually taking the place of SotC in the public perception. Not that there's anything good or bad about that -- I just find it interesting.