Wednesday, September 28, 2011

[Greyhawk] Translating Spells into Fate

In an earlier post, I laid out three possible approaches to translating the source material’s spells into the Fate mechanic. I had also stated that SoG would be closer to the “faithful recreation” end of the spectrum with respect to translating spells.

Specifically, spell layouts and the general expectations of what spells did were to stay consistent, while the properties and the implementation of those magical effects were what was translated into Fate mechanics.

Rather than just throw out translated spells, I’d rather share SoG’s translation guidelines and “teach a man to fish.”

Translating Time and Distances

The source material looks at distances and time differently depending upon where the party is located (PHB, p. 102). SoG will apply only one standard, based on “city” or “dungeon” environments.

Both “Time” and “Distance” could be posts by themselves, so the information here is limited only to what is necessary to translating spells.

Translating Time

The source material’s most granular unit of time is 6 seconds (1 Segment) and SoG will consider that the equivalent of a single Fate “exchange” (or Full Action). While I think that 6 seconds to cover only a single combat exchange is a bit long, it’s not bad enough to warrant trying to make a more complicated translation.

There’s also a translation challenge associated with the Time Ladder—it’s story-centric. In other words, each rung of the ladder does not reflect the same amount of time. I’m not going to cover the entire Time Ladder in this post, but here are guidelines dealing with the lower end of the ladder, where each line is another “rung.”

Source Material Casting

SoG Time Ladder

“Actual” Time in Game


Action (not full action)

Maybe 3 seconds or less

1 Segment

Full Action (1 Exchange)

6 seconds

2 Segments

2 Exchanges

12 seconds

3 Segments to 1 round

3 Exchanges

18 seconds to 1 minute

1 round to 1 turn

Full Conflict

1 - 10 minutes

1 turn to 2 turns

Entire Scene

10 - 20 minutes

(The ladder goes further than this, but again this is enough for translation purposes.)

Translating Distance

Distance is used when considering both Area of Effect and Range.

Fred Hicks posted a great guideline about how to adapt Fate to 4e D&D maps (1 map square = 5 feet of game distance) that serves as the basis for SoG distance assumptions (which use older AD&D scales). SoG works with both zones and maps, but here’s the bottom line for purposes of SoG spell translation:

  • Most source material dungeon maps scale at 1 map square = 10 feet of game distance.
  • The source material expresses distance for spells (within a dungeon) as 1 inch = 10 feet of game distance.
  • 1 zone in SoG = 30 feet long & 30 feet wide, which is 3 map squares on each side.
  • When placing characters on a map (should your game choose to do that) the caster stands at the middle of a 3x3 square that represents the Fate “zone” currently occupied.

This means that melee attacks (range “Touch”) can only be executed on adjacent squares or a target occupying the same square as the caster.

SoG - ZoneExample02

Anything further than that requires either the caster to move or a Missile-type of attack. In other words, outside of the caster’s zone.

SoG - ZoneExample03

This means that in order for a spell to affect someone in the next zone, the spell must have a range of at least 2” (using the measure of distance as shown in the source material). In order to affect an entire zone of targets, the spell must have an Area of Effect of at least 3” square or radius (again, as shown in the source material).

Spell Components

Components in SoG represent requirements placed upon the spell caster in order to generate a spell’s effect. If one of those requirements cannot be met, the spell cannot be cast as Wizardry. Remember, trying to modify a formula on the fly turns the casting into sorcery.

Each category of component places a temporary aspect on the caster for the duration of the spell casting that could result in an additional difficulty.

These temporary aspects could be tagged by opponents seeking to attack the caster (while otherwise engaged) or to interrupt the spell. Relying on party members to provide blocks against such attempts would be important! It’s possible that they could even be compelled by the GM (see Material Components, below). Once the casting is completed, those aspects are no longer present.

As with other aspects, the frequency of compelling tends to be more according to dramatic opportunity rather than standard gaming procedure. For example, a GM would probably not compel a Wizard’s Material Component temporary aspect every time a spell is cast.

The source material states there are three categories of spell components, any or all of which could be required for the Wizard to cast a particular spell:

Verbal Components

The caster must speak certain magical words in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that the caster would likely have to speak at a normal tone or louder. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Example: A party is trying to hide from sentries, and the Wizard casts a spell with a Verbal component. The GM can then tag that aspect to give the sentries a +2 to Alertness.

Somatic Components

The caster must use certain gestures or movements in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that freedom of movement for both hands is required. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast. Bear in mind that if the caster is forced to move during casting (for example, dives for cover), the Somatic Component is interrupted.

You could liken this to the experienced gunslinger stopping and standing still to reload his six-shooter, while an opponent's bullets are hitting all around him.

Example: A Wizard is being attacked while casting a spell with a Somatic component. For the duration of the casting the attacker could have access to the normal free tag of +2 to an attack, or pay Fate points after the free tag.

Material Components

The caster must expend certain magical reagents (Material Components) in order to cast the spell. The caster must be able to access these components during the casting, and this places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Rather than worry about specific material components, consider the collective rarity of the material components relative to the situation.

Currently SoG only uses three categories:

  • Common materials are something that would be readily available to the Wizard under normal circumstances.
    • Examples: Dirt, grease, chalk
  • Rare materials require effort on the part of the Wizard to obtain or require some sort of processing to manufacture/distill/etc.
    • Examples: Crystal, sulfur, mercury
  • Very Rare materials reflect something beyond the ability of most Wizards to create for themselves, or require an extreme effort to obtain.
    • Examples: Hair from the target, a True Name, gems of 10,000 gp value

This also serves as a guide as to how often this aspect might be compelled:

Example: If a Wizard has the aspect of “Impoverished”, and is attempting to cast a spell with “Very Rare” components, the GM could compel the Impoverished aspect and essentially block the casting by declaring the Wizard does not have the resources available to have those components at the time (and credit the Wizard a Fate Point).

Rarity also helps to determine the impact to the spell difficulty if a casting is attempted without their use:

  • Common material components will give a -1 decrease to difficulty if not available.
  • Rare material components will give a -2 decrease to difficulty if not available.
  • Very Rare material components will give a -3 decrease to difficulty if not available.

It's possible material components could venture in to the "Unique" realm for a greater decrease, but I would consider these sorts of things as high level treasure, seeking them out as the focus of one or more adventures.

The GM is ultimate arbiter for determining the relative benefit / rarity of components, but this post I wrote about treasure might be of use.

Translating Positive Shifts

Many spells have a variable (damage, duration, etc.). The measure of this variable will be dependent upon the number of positive shifts generated from casting the spell. Some spells have no variables based upon the roll of the dice. In that event, any positive shifts during casting are discarded.

Translating Effects

Obviously this is something of a case-by-case basis, but the general effect translation process for SoG goes something like this:

  1. Translate the spell effect into “reality”. In other words, assume the spell exists in the World of Greyhawk, and try to get something resembling a real-world understanding of it.
  2. From there, translate it into the Fate mechanic, keeping in mind the typical 2 levels (or 2 HD) equal an extra +1 on the Fate ladder.

I have found this process helps to keep the “feel” of the spell right.

Spell Translation Examples

Spell “Tenser’s Floating Disc”

Source Material Original

Level: 1
Range: 2"
Duration: 3 turns + I turn/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: I segment
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: With this spell, the caster creates the circular plane of null-gravity known as Tenser's Floating Disc after the famed wizard of that appellation (whose ability to locate treasure and his greed to recover every copper found ore was well known). The disc is concave, 3' in diameter, and holds 1,000 g.p. weight per level of the magic-user casting the spell. The disc floats at approximately 3' above the ground at all times and remains level likewise. It maintains a constant interval of 6' between itself and the magic-user if unbidden. It will otherwise move within its range, as well as along with him at a rate of 6", at the command of the magic-user. If the spell caster moves beyond range, or if the spell duration expires, the floating disc winks out of existence and whatever it was supporting is precipitated to the surface beneath it. The material component of the spell is a drop of mercury.

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 20 feet (2 squares)
Duration: 30 mins + (20 mins * Skill level)
Area of Effect: See below
Components: V, S, M (Rare: drop of mercury)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a

Effect: Create a magical construct in the shape of a concave disc 3' in diameter that holds an amount of weight that can be expressed as either:

  1. 2,000 gp x Caster’s Skill Level
  2. 200 lbs x Caster’s Skill Level
  3. Might Skill of -1 (Poor) + (Caster’s Skill Level * 2)

All three represent the same weight, just expressed by 3 different standards.

It maintains a constant 6 foot distance (adjacent map square) to the caster unless otherwise stated by the caster's command, but the disc itself cannot push anything out of the way. It will remain at 3 feet off the ground, and stays level. If it is blocked from the caster and more than 20 feet (2 map squares) is put between them, the spell is broken.

If the spell is broken or expires, the disc construct dissipates and what ever was being carried by the disc falls as normal.

No positive shifts are considered for this spell, and unless in combat or otherwise challenged during casting, there is not a need to roll dice to cast this spell.

Example: Someone with a Wizard Skill +2, casts this spell and creates a floating disc that will last for 70 minutes (30 + (20 x 2)), and can carry 400 lbs (200 x 2) or has a Might of +3 (-1 + (2 x 2))

Example: Using Wizard Skill +7, this spell would create a floating disc that will last for 170 minutes (30 + (20 x 7)), and can carry 1,400 lbs (200 x 7) or has a Might of +13 (-1 + (7 x 2)). Or 14,000 gp, if there was a way to stack the gold pieces on the 3' diameter disc!

Design Notes:

  • One definition of weight (DMG, p.225) is that 10 gp = 1 pound. That means 1,000 gp = 100 lbs. The SotC Weight Factor table (SotC, p.258) reflects that a Might skill of "Poor" (-1) means being able to hold and move (slowly) with 100 lbs, which is the “base” capacity of the disc.
  • The variable in this spell is based upon the skill level of the Wizard, which then is used for both the "strength" of the spell's effect, as well as for the duration. Unless otherwise stated, when looking at a factor of "(something) per level" you don't just consider the Wizard's skill level, but rather the net result of the Wizard's skill level, the dice roll, and the impact of any aspects or other casting modifiers.
  • For this particular spell, any positive shifts during this casting are discarded. For game play purposes, unless someone was trying to interrupt the wizard this casting wouldn't require a dice roll.
  • Also remember that when dealing with a "per level" factor, every +1 of Wizard skill counts as two experience levels in the source material.

Spell “Magic Missile”

Source Material Original

Level: 1
Components: V, S
Range: 6" + 1"/level
Duration: Special
Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 10 square foot area
Casting Time: 1 segment

Explanation/Description: Use of the magic missile spell creates one or more magical missiles which dart forth from the magic-user's fingertip and unerringly strike their target. Each missile does 2 to 5 hit points (d4+1) of damage. If the magic-user has multiple missile capability, he or she can have them strike a single target creature or several creatures, as desired.

For each level of experience of the magic-user, the range of his or her magic missile extends 1" beyond the 6" base range. For every 2 positive shifts levels of experience, the magic-user gains an additional missile, i.e. 2 at 3rd level, 3 at 5th level, 4 at 7th level, etc.

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 60 feet + 20 feet / skill level
Components: Verbal, Somatic
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 10 foot square area (1 map square)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a

Effect: The spell creates a magical missile (with an additional missile for every two positive shifts generated by the caster--in other words you divide by two and round down) which dart forth from the caster's fingertips and unerringly strike their target with no chance for the target to dodge or defend. Mundane armor does not count for protection.

The caster can determine at will how many missiles will strike each target within the 10' area of effect.

Each individual missile counts as +1 physical stress. Because each missile counts as a separate attack, when multiple missiles are aimed at a single target, the cumulative “rollup” effect can be devastating.

Example: Trevare (Wizardry +5) is duelling against a sorceror. He casts Magic Missile in the hopes of getting in the first blow. The Wizard rolls 2dF+2 and gets +2 for a result of +6 (+5 skill + 2 shifts - 1 difficulty = +6). This creates 4 missiles (1 + (6/2) = 4) that streak toward the unfortunate rival.

Unable to dodge and having no other defenses already in place, the sorceror receives 4 separate missiles each of 1 stress, wiping out the first 4 physical stress boxes.

Example: The wizard Morgeaux (Wizardry +3) is beset by a group of 3 foul bugbears. An earlier fireball by Morgeaux has left many of them damaged, and she knows that even a simple spell might finish them off. Casting Magic Missile, she rolls 2dF+2 and gets a result of 1. This means she has generated (3 skill + 1 shifts - 1 difficulty) 3 positive shifts, for a total of two missiles (1 + (3/2)). Margeaux chooses to aim one missile at two of the three bugbears and deals one physical stress to each, leaving her to deal with a single remaining bugbear rushing her…

Design Notes

  • A single hit die is a D8, so technically each stress box counts as 2 hit dice. Which also means that the average hit points from 2HD would be about 9 or 10. Which would also place the average damage per missile at 4 points (3 + 1), which would then mean 2 missiles would be needed to do enough damage to take out 1 stress box. Rather than worry about the exact number of missiles in the description, I would rather just simplify to 1 missile equal 1 stress box.
  • Because the variability in the original spell (the dice roll) was about the damage and in translation the damage roll was too granular for Fate, the variability in the spell has now changed to be a modifier to the number of missiles. This was how the shifts-to-missiles formula was created.
  • I believe there needed to be a variable, given that this is a combat spell. The idea of a combat spell having no variable power of any kind seemed inappropriate.
  • This is a rare combat spell in that it has no opportunity for target to oppose the spell (no Dodge, etc). The casting could be interrupted, if someone has saved their action.
  • Later versions of this spell required line-of-sight to the target / targets, but this original listing did not. So the implication here is that the Wizard just has to “know” the target is there (around the corner, invisible, behind cover, etc). This might need review for game balance.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

[Kerberos] Conviction Aspects

(Crossposted on

When I think about the original Wild Talents version of The Kerberos Club, I tend to think of Benjamin Baugh's fantastic treatment of the setting. This is probably because it is, as I may have mentioned, fantastic. But over and above that, it's important to remember that Ben also introduced some cool new mechanics for WT, not the least of which is Convictions.

In WT, Convictions make a character's beliefs, goals, and the like mechanically significant. Every Conviction has a numerical rating. When you act in accordance with a Conviction, especially if doing so puts you at some sort of disadvantage, you earn Willpower equal to the Conviction's value. And if you defy a Conviction, even by accident, you lose a like amount of Willpower.

Any of this sound familiar, FATE fans?

So obviously, for the FATE conversion, Convictions had to be aspects. I mean, they were practically aspects to begin with. But they had to be "bigger" aspects than all the others, seeing as how they represent what's nearest and dearest to the character's heart. All Convictions are aspects, but not all aspects are Convictions.

Fortunately, an easy way to handle this is already implied in standard FATE rules, if not outright stated in some implementations. Compels on Conviction aspects start at two Fate Points instead of one. The aspect is a bigger deal for the character, so the incentive to go along with it is greater too. Likewise, refusing a compel on a Conviction aspect costs just as much. And the GM can escalate to three Fate Points from there, if it comes to that.

Needless to say, I'm a firm believer in making players pay for refusing compels. For me, if refusing doesn't come with a cost, the whole Fate Point economy suffers for it. Conviction aspects illustrate that perfectly. In the fiction, a character should follow his convictions more often than not. And when they don't, it should be a difficult decision. The beauty part of the whole pay-to-refuse thing is that the mechanics nicely reflect the fiction: The character doesn't want to violate her most firmly held beliefs, and the player doesn't want to part with two or three Fate Points if at all possible.

There are some differences between how WT's Convictions and FATE's Conviction aspects shake out in play. The most notable, though, and certainly the most emblematic of the differences between the two systems, may be one mentioned above. The fact that a Conviction can cost you Willpower if it's violated even by accident -- like if you have a Conviction against killing and then happen to roll, say, 7x10 on an attack -- is something that just doesn't happen in FATE. Something similar crops up when comparing the WT Unrest mechanic, which determines unfavorable public reaction to Strangeness with a dice roll, and Strange FATE's Collateral consequences, which does the same through a conscious choice on behalf of the players. But that's another topic for another time.

Friday, September 16, 2011

[Greyhawk] The Unified Theory of Magic (Part 3) - Clerical Magic

Clerical Magic Effects Overview

A continuing concern while working through the SoG Magic system was how clerics fit into the mechanic. While the source material treats clerical prayers and magic-user spells as being practically identical with respect to mechanics, the underlying principles by which magic-users and clerics generate magical effects are very different.

The source material states that clerics don’t actually harness magical forces. Clerics pray to their deity (singular/plural/whatever) with the desire for a particular prayer’s magical effect to occur. The deity’s power structure (for lack of a better term) then determines whether or not the cleric’s prayer will be fulfilled or not and then entities within the cleric’s faith system actually generate the magical effects on behalf of the cleric.

So to apply another metaphor (a prior post mentioned Wizardry and Sorcery were like sailing), clerical magic could be considered like “calling in an airstrike”.

To flesh out the metaphor, a cleric’s Faith (the Resolve skill, see below) is the communicator upon which an airstrike is called. Remember that classic line from the character Rene Belloq in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?

Belloq Before

“It's a transmitter, a radio for speaking to God!”

..and we all remember what happens when you try to use that particular radio without Faith…

Belloq After

But anyway, the cleric’s specific prayer / spell would be the effect requested and the “casting” is the act of calling in the airstrike.

When calling in that accurate airstrike, the cleric would need to provide fairly specific information given the “right way” to the correct party “on the other end of the line”, so the prayer (spell) has some pretty specific requirements. This also assumes that the cleric is also “the right person to call in the desired effect”.

Despite these distinctions, to keep terminology consistent, SoG still considers magical effects generated by a cleric’s prayer as “spells” and the cleric as being the caster.

Skill “Resolve (Faith trapping)”

The basic skill of the cleric to cast spells is the cleric’s Resolve skill expressed with the trapping of “Faith”.

The cleric’s Resolve skill represents the maximum spell difficulty the cleric can cast. A Resolve skill of +3 means that only spells of +3 difficulty (3rd level) and below can be completed.

What About the Magic Stunt?

Because the cleric is not actually generating the magical effect, there is no requirement for a cleric to have the Magic stunt. There are upsides and downsides to this:

  • Clerics have no concerns about magical recoil.
  • The reliance on their deity’s power structure to generate magical effects does tend to mean that things like the cleric’s Faith, and Aspects that affect that faith (in both the positive and the negative) become especially important to the cleric’s ability to create miracles.
  • There is no currently no opportunity for the cleric to modify any spells or otherwise generate effects on the fly without some story-related mechanism being involved. A cleric’s spell must be followed “rote” or it just doesn’t work.
    • SIDE NOTE: While the above is SoG’s current general position, I have wondered about the situation where a clerical spell requiring a cleric’s holy symbol as a component of that spell--should the GM consider that the spell is not possible without the symbol, or just less effective (with chances of possible failure)?
    • Not allowing the spell places it closer to source material canon (I think), but further distances clerical spell use from magical spell use in SoG. Specifically in that a Wizard can modify the spell requirements and then deal with the potential for things like spell failure, magical recoil and a generally less effective result.
    • On the other hand, allowing the spell but making it harder (less effective) means that you have to deal with idea that a clerical spell could fail (due to 4dF and increased difficulty) but wouldn’t result in magical recoil, which taken in combination with no requirement for the Magic stunt might present balance issues.

There is no restriction against a Cleric character possessing the Magic stunt, but there would be no benefit with respect to the clerical spells that are cast. That cleric COULD however generate magical effects by themselves the same as any other sorcerous effort (see prior post for more). In fact certain faiths might actually promote their clerics being magic-users or even Wizards in their own right (Boccob seems like a good possibility) to say nothing of the whole split-class/multi-class situation. However any sort of sorcery or wizardry done by clerics would follow normal magic use rules.

Mechanics of Clerical Casting

The actual game mechanics of a cleric’s casting are similar to Wizardry:

  • The cleric commits a Fate point (doesn’t spend it) that will be returned at the end of the current scene.
  • Player rolls 2dF+2 and applies the result to the cleric’s Resolve skill and applies it against the desired spell’s difficulty. Remember that the spell must be less than or equal to the cleric’s Resolve skill.
  • Aspects are compelled or tagged as normal.
  • If the cleric succeeds in the casting, any positive shifts count towards the effectiveness of the spell.
    • Side Note: Positive shifts generated with respect to the cleric’s player doing the dice rolling might be questioned, since the cleric is not generating the actual magical effect. The source material allows for the variability and sets the expectation so it is being left in SoG. This “bonus” could be explained within the game by considering that appropriate Aspects being tagged could have resulted in the deity granting extra spell power, variability in the entity actually casting the spell on behalf of the cleric, etc.

Aspects and Clerical Spells

Compelling or tagging an aspect when praying for a magical effect would reflect the situation where the deity’s power structure might grant a more (or less) effective result based upon the Aspect.

Example of Negative Aspects for Clerics

A cleric with the aspect of something like “A Shadow of Doubt”, or “Lawful Questionable” might be compelled to deal with a –2 effect due to possible impacts to alignment or faith.

Example of Positive Aspects for Clerics

Aspects of “Smite the Wicked!” or “A Friend in Deed” could easily be tagged to increase a spell’s effectiveness.

Casting Failure & Clerics

Because Clerics don’t actually harness the magical forces of the spell, there is generally no magical recoil associated with a casting failure by clerics.

Like Wizardry, if for some reason the cleric fails a spell casting, then the general rule is nothing happens other than the loss of the spell.

While it’s possible that some sort of faith-related recoil might be possible in certain situations…

  • A cleric of one faith profaning another faith’s holy areas/symbols/etc.
  • A Lawful Good cleric trying to cast “Cause Wounds” instead of “Cure Wounds” a little TOO often.

…I think that would reflect more of a “smiting” attitude, as opposed to an actual prayer / spell going wrong. Any stress taken due to something like this would have to be considered carefully by the cleric, as negative Aspects that might arise from matters of faith could get pretty nasty.

Druids and Clerical Spellcasting

With respect to Druids, at this point SoG maintains the source material’s assumption that they are a sub-class of clerics and generate magical effects in a similar manner, but their faith is not so much a deity but rather in “Nature”. Additionally the source material provides them with a different spell list than other clerics.

More playtesting will be needed to determine if that needs to be more closely considered.

What’s In the Pipeline

Okay, that’s quite a lot of information this week. Unless things take a different turn, the next series of posts will be something along the lines of:

  • The on-the-fly “Magic Economy”
  • Translating existing spell lists
  • The Fate system and Magical Topics (Sorcerous Covens, anyone?)
  • Crafting Magic Items

If anyone’s got a preference as to which gets posted next, I’d be curious to hear.

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…

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

[Greyhawk] The Unified Theory of Magic (Part 1)

So yeah, it's been a while (okay a long while) since there was a Spirit of Greyhawk (SoG) posting. In the meantime, I had been doing a lot of thinking about High Fantasy Magic and have managed to re-work things into a more coherent single system of Magic that still retained a lot of the things I liked from the previous iterations.

Magic Overview

How Magic Exists in Spirit of Greyhawk

Magic exists as a "force of nature", like magnetism or wind. But while people may understand the principles of Magic, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to generate magical effects. Conversely, someone may have the ability to generate magical effects but have no knowledge of the underlying principles that they are using.

Generating magical effects in SoG could be compared to being able to make a sailboat go where you want it go. You need a sailboat and you need wind. You also need a degree of knowledge to be able to use the sailboat to harness the wind to get where you want to do.

Depending upon where you’d want to go (or how big a sailboat you use), you need different degrees of knowledge: consider the difference in knowledge and type of ship needed to sail across the ocean versus sailing across a lake.

Why Care “How” Magic Works Within the Game World

Besides being an interesting thought exercise, I believe that you need to provide players an internally consistent framework for understanding something about what they are doing. Without that framework, I think you make Magic less “useable” or less fun especially with respect to harnessing Aspects. Similar to dealing with combat: a player who has actual knowledge of fighting can be much more effective in his use of Aspects (or have a more rewarding play experience) than someone using the same character who has no first-hand knowledge of combat.

SoG elaborates somewhat on the source materials’ implication that magical effects are not made “just” by casting the spells as listed in the source material. So the SoG implementation makes a clear distinction between actually casting spells and generating magical effects.

The distinction is this:

  • Casting spells is but one way of generating magical effects.
  • Magical effects can be generated by other means than just casting spells.

Requirements for Generating Magical Effects

Elaborating on the sailing metaphor above, this means that in order to generate magical effects (not necessarily casting spells), there must exist all of the following:

  • Magic must exist as a force within the game world that is harnessed in order to generate magical effects (the “Wind”)
  • Having the Magic stunt to harness the world’s Magical forces (the “sailboat”)
  • A Skill tied to the Magic stunt (the knowledge of how to use and steer the ship)

Required: Stunt “Magic”

Within a High Fantasy environment (or this one at least), anyone with the Magic stunt can create magical effects.

Like many other stunts, Magic is tied to a skill. The caster can determine what skill is used to generate magical effects. That connection is typically established when the stunt is acquired and the connection is generally permanent unless circumstances within the game call for a possible change. The particular skill that is tied to the Magic stunt would then play a big part in the “trappings” of the magic effects.

Here’s some examples:

  • Bards generating magic effects might have Magic tied to their Craft/Performance skill.
  • Rangers generating magical effects might have Magic tied to their Survival skill.
  • Monks generating magic effects might have Magic tied to their Discipline skill.

Aspects are tagged or compelled as normal in the course of generating magical effects.

Like other powerful stunts, every invocation of the Magic stunt requires the allocation of a Fate Point. I use the term “allocation” because SoG contains an important distinction between casting spells and generating a magical effect on the fly:

  • Generating an “on the fly” magical effect requires the expenditure of a Fate point. The point is expended and the caster doesn’t get this Fate point back.
  • Casting a predefined spell requires only the commitment of a Fate point. The distinction here is that the caster gets the Fate point back at the end of the scene (similar to stress). More on this distinction later.

Optional: Skill “Wizardry”

This skill represents the study, research and understanding of the underlying principles of Magic. Attaching the Magic stunt to the Wizardry Skill is what establishes someone as a Wizard and allows them to use (cast) predefined spells. Using any other skill with the Magic stunt constitutes Sorcery.

Think of Wizards as “ivory tower scientists” of magic, whereas Sorcerors are typically closer to garage tinkerers. This is not to say Sorcerors are not effective, but they can be just as dangerous to themselves and their allies as well as their enemies. Often the term “sorcery” can have a negative connotation, at least among Wizards.

Someone could elect to learn the Wizardry skill without having the stunt, but would not be able to actually cast spells or otherwise generate magical effects. This would be more like a Magic researcher, rather than a Wizard.

While this distinction between wizardry and sorcery was not laid out in the source material, I like it for a number of reasons:

  • Enables players who want to leverage the more flexible nature of Fate mechanic with respect to magic, but still leave the “predefined” nature of source material intact.
  • Distinguishes Wizards from other types of people that generate magic effects (more on this later).
  • The source material appears (to me at least) to contain assumptions that the use of actual spells within the world was a relatively rare currency but yet almost every class of character at varying levels of achievement could either cast spells or generate magical effects (to say nothing of the frequency of crafted magical items appearing within the game).
    This seemed a nice way to reconcile that assumption and leave intact a player’s assumptions for what their characters would be able to achieve.

It is possible that someone could elect to learn the Wizardry Skill without the stunt, but would not be able to cast spells or generate magical effects. This would be more like a Magic researcher instead of a Wizard.

NEXT: How to generate magical effects and the heartbreak of magical failure.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gateway 2011 Wrap-Up: FATE Edition

(I'll be doing a non-FATE version of this over on Roll Some Dice!)

This year's Gateway was pretty great, take it all around, but light on the FATE, at least for me. One Seth Halbeisen ran a couple, including a high-concept-sounding game called "Bataan Smurf March." And I'm kicking myself that I missed Morgan Ellis's two '90s tribute games, one for Torg and one for Shadowrun. But it was just too jam-packed a con for me to play everything I would've wanted to. So the only FATE game I managed to squeeze in was Colin Jessup's Bulldogs! game Sunday night.

I was a backer for Bulldogs!'s Kickstarter campaign, so I was eager to see it in action. Overall, it's "mainstream" FATE. If you're familiar with SotC or DFRPG, you're pretty fmiliar with Bulldogs! There are a few notable tweaks that caught my eye right away. There's only one stress track, for one thing, which I like, but both Endurance and Resolve add boxes to it, which... I'm not sure what I think about that. On the other hand, character aspects have categories, like Homeworld and Job, which I like.

Colin's one of my favorite GMs, and the other players at the table -- Andrew Linstrom, Vernon Lingley, Josh Roby, and Will Huggins -- were likewise of the highest caliber. And yet, for reasons mostly unrelated to any of that, and certainly unrelated to anything specific to Bulldogs!, it didn't completely, y'know, work. Which was weird, because I'm pretty accustomed to Colin's games not just working, but kicking a significant amount of ass. The issue was that the scenario pretty much mandated that at least a few of the PCs were put in direct conflict with one another, and FATE doesn't handle that sort of thing all that well.

For example, I played a Saldrallan who'd been a decorated commando until he was drummed out of the service. He had aspects like "Empire First" and "I'm in charge!" This last aspect in particular put me in pretty direct conflict with everyone else in the crew, who maybe didn't have anything against me personally, but weren't really down with anyone claiming authority over them. Will was a bitter Templar, Josh was an ornery Hacragorkan, Vernon (decided he) was an HK-47-style biological-life-form-hating robot... not exactly a willing crew of subordinates.

Putting pressure on all this was a McGuffin in our cargo hold -- something ridiculously valuable and desired by  the entire galaxy. Colin told us to give ourselves an aspect about what we'd do with the proceeds from selling the McGuffin, or what we'd do with the McGuffin itself. It was that latter option that really nutured the seeds of conflict. Me, I wanted to give it to the Saldrallan Empire and return to a place of prominence in the military. I already had, like, two aspects pointing that direction, and gave myself a third because it seemed to make sense.

Basically, I'm not sure I ever had a civil conversation with another PC, which meant I was almost always on the losing end of something. You know that aphorism about poker, where if you look around the table and don't know who the sucker is, it's you? Yeah. Something like that.

My Saldrallan was a big intimidating snake-thing who could riddle you with holes with his mag rifle, but Josh's Hacragorkan was muder incarnate in melee, so attempting to assert my authority over her in a face-to-face conversation was pretty much going to be the death of me. And Josh knew this, which was kind of a bummer for both of us, because it meant that she could quite easily negate my character's shtick of wanting to be "in charge." I kept pushing that conflict, though, because it was more straightforward than trying to outmaneuver Andrew's telepath or Vernon's ship-taking-over homicidal robot. I knew I'd lose in the end, both because of the character and player I was pitted against, but I was willing to take one for the team for the sake of drama.

Anyway. I don't want it to sound like I didn't have fun, because I did. But we all walked away from it kinda unhappy with the basic set-up and an ending that wasn't entirely satisfying.

The game, though, is a cool implementation of FATE, so... go get it and/or play it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

[Kerberos] Skill Trapping Diagram

(Crossposted from

Making skills from scratch using individual trappings as building-blocks was central to Strange FATE from the beginning, and, by extension, The Kerberos Club (FATE Edition). The process by which those trappings would be put together, though, went through some pretty significant changes.

From the top, I took my cues from Spirit of the Century and Dresden Files. Specifically, I liked the niche protection inherent in the separation of certain skills. Fists and Might, for example. The fact that they're not the same skill (as they essentially are in many other games) implicitly asks the question "Do you want to be Fighty Guy or Strong Guy?"

Sure, Fighty Guy and Strong Guy are probably going to have a lot in common just out of sheer logic. But this isn't about logic -- or rather, it isn't about "physical" logic. It's about narrative logic. In terms of narrative, it's more interesting to have one guy who's great at fighting and another guy who's great at being strong.

Initially, this mean that in Strange FATE, some trappings just couldn't go together in the same skill. You couldn't have one skill that measured both your physical strength (Physical Force) and your facility with punching guys in the face (Strike). Physical Force and Strike were Prohibited trappings! Oil and water! The very idea of pairing them made kittens cry.

As early as the first character-building playtest I oversaw, when Morgan Ellis tried to make a perfectly viable and cool character (one, incidentally, who both of us used in our GenCon scenarios), it became clear that this Prohibited trappings nonsense was just that: nonsense. It was getting in the way of a plausible character instead of facilitating it. Morgan literally shook his fist in frustration, Monarch-style.

So I weakened the Prohibited thing so that instead of it being impossible to pair them, it just made doing so prohibitively expensive. But I didn't much like that, either.

Soon enough, I dropped that bit altogether. Instead, nearly every trapping had a list, some quite long, of Restricted trappings that doubled the trapping's cost if they shared the same skill. This persisted throughout the end of playtesting. I wasn't happy with it for a number of reasons -- the math, the multiple charts, the small print, the page-flipping -- but I couldn't think of a better way to mix trappings while maintaining a sense that some were more compatible than others.

A month or two afterward, I'm embarrassed to say, I was watching the Science Channel one night. Whatever the show was about (not robots or punkin-chunkin', apparently), part of it involved a big diagram of a molecule. You know the kind: black and white and red circles connected by lines in a sort-of linear pattern. For whatever reason, something clicked, and I said aloud "That's how trappings and skills should work." A diagram of trappings connected by lines, with trappings grouped in terms of how much they have in common! The greater the distance between two trappings, the more expensive it is!

Then I realized I'd seen this before in the form of the Quade Diagram from Robin Laws' excellent Mutant City Blues. But this wasn't discouraging -- on the contrary. It was proof that the thing I wanted to do would work. MCB does something a bit different (and very, very cool) with its diagram of super powers, but the basic idea was close enough that I knew I was on the right track.

It's pretty simple, really. Start with a trapping you want the skill to have. If it has a thin solid border, it costs one point; if it has a thick dashed border, it costs two points. Then follow the pathways from that trapping to another one you want for the same skill. Thin solid pathways cost one point, thick dashed pathways cost two, and thick solid pathways are free. You can skip trappings (and not pay for them) but not pathways.

Here's an example:
Leap and Move are pretty closely related -- if you can do one, odds are good you can do the other. It's no guarantee, though; if you want to be the Incredible Frogman, your ability to jump will probably be unrelated to your ability to walk. Move and Dodge are another story, though. If you can walk or run, you can walk or run out of the way; the thick-lined connection between is an indicator of that. However, Dodge is a valuable combat-related trapping, because it lets you use the skill to defend against all kinds of physical combat, assuming you aren't tied down or something. Thus, it costs two points to buy for a skill. 

(Yes, the cost is the same to buy both Leap and Move as it is to buy both Move and Dodge, but Dodge has the two-point border because you might not come to Dodge from Move, nor go from Dodge to Move. One's ability to avoid any attack of which one is aware can be flavored a million different ways in a supers game.)

The diagram solved every problem I had with the way I'd been doing skills. It's graphic and intuitive, plus everything fits on one page. The less page-flipping during chargen, the better.