Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spells vs. Rituals

When 4e came around, one of my big criticisms was the ritual system. I mean, I liked the idea of rituals, but the way that they were implemented seemed driven wholly by game balance. It didn't make any sense to me that the vast majority of utility magics cost time and money to use while combat spells were quick and free.

I knew that I wanted both spells and rituals in Destined, and I also knew that I wanted the distinction between them to make sense. My solution was to make rituals into more formal versions of spells. Spells are quick, flexible... and dangerous. Rituals are slow, more static, more reliable, and far more safe.

How are spells dangerous? I'd discussed how to limit magic use here before. I don't think I explained what I settled on. The first thing to note is that to cast a spell very effectively, you need a number of degrees of success which can be used to do things like increase the spell's duration, range, damage, etc. On the flip side, spells have a penalty to their casting roll based on their power level. Spellcasters will be scrounging for bonuses (there are a variety of ways to get these) and will need to manage them wisely. They can get by on casting spells without bonuses, but those spells will tend to be much less effective... and they are far more likely to fail altogether.

When a spellcaster fails a roll to cast a spell, he has a choice: he may accept the negative shifts on his failed roll as a penalty on all his future spellcasting rolls for the day (until he gets at least four hours of sleep) or he can suffer a penalty such as fatigue or damage that is based upon his degree of failure. If the spellcaster just barely fails, then he doesn't suffer either of these problems. Instead, the spell misfires. In general, this means both that the spell has an effect that is slightly less useful than that of a one-success casting and that it has some unintended (and unwanted) side effects. For example, a misfire on a simple Light spell might result in one of the caster's fingers glowing in flashing colors that fade over the course of a few days. If a spell misfire occurs and the GM sees an opportunity for a spectacular spell failure, he may offer the spellcaster a fate point (which the spellcaster can later use for a bonus). If it is accepted, the GM may describe the misfire any way she wishes. In general, established rituals do not misfire. This is one of the benefits of rituals, but it also accounts for their cost.

It is possible for a spell to be cast as if it were a ritual. You could perform a ceremony that ends with a fireball... and no chance of misfire or backlash. There are other costs involved in this, though.

I'm actually really happy with my ritual system. Nonspellcasters can, potentially, learn rituals. In some ways, they can even be better at using rituals than spellcasters (though it is more of an investment for them to learn how to use them in the first place). The primary factor here is that identification and learning rituals depends upon the Lore skill rather than the Spellcasting skill. In addition, many (particularly more powerful) rituals must be performed at auspicious times, and the caster must calculate the next time they will be able to cast it. For a rare and potent ritual, it might be a number of years before it can be next used effectively. If a ritual has an
auspicious time listed, this is the length of time until it can be cast. The caster can attempt
to calculate a sooner time; this, too, is a Lore roll.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Destined sample character: Drilla the Rat

Here's a sample starting character for Destined and my first draft at a very simple character sheet. Drilla is a bit of a hard character to pigeonhole. She has a bit of magic, but with her low Spellcasting (and noting ameliorating that), she isn't going to be very reliable in using it. She's competent (but not outstanding) in combat. She has a solid base to build on in a variety of directions (though it would be rough trying to make her a socially-competent character). I included the text of her feats and spells for those who might be curious.

Drilla the Rat

High Concept: Rat Shaman
Other Aspects: Uncertain Ancestry The rats, my children Take care of the street, and it will take care of you Stench of the sewers Relentless

Skills:
Athletics: 6 Combat: 4 Persuasion: 1 (First Impressions: -2)
Lore: 3 (Streetwise: 4) Will: 6 Spellcasting: 1

Reflex Defense: 6 Toughness Defense: 5 (+2 armor) Initiative: 6

Languages: Low Tongue, Gutterspeak, Gobble

Feats:
Display of Prowess (Will)
Choose a skill other than persuasion. When you are attempting to intimidate someone, you may display your prowess with this skill. When you make an intimidation attempt, you may choose to roll this skill. The degrees of success or failure modify your persuasion dice roll.

Danger Sense
In the first round of combat, you gain access to your reflex defense immediately, instead of at the beginning of your turn.

Rat Swarm (Creature Companion)
You have an animal or other creature that is a faithful companion. You share an unusual
rapport with your companion, who could be a pet, mount, or familiar. Your companion is
an NPC that is run by the GM and created by the GM in consultation with you. Your
companion will have an aspect reflecting its loyalty to you, and you may use your fate
points to compel this aspect. Doing so, however, does not give your companion the fate
point.


Spells:

Illuminate – Level 1 (-0) (Basic Spell)
Effect: A glowing light as bright as a torch appears. You control its movements: each light may float anywhere within arms reach or remain stationary.
Duration: 5 minutes (extendable)
Degrees of Success: Increase the number of lights by one (+1). Move the light(s) anywhere within your zone (+1).
Aspects: Light
System: If you need to roll to control the created light – if, for instance, using it in a maneuver – the ability rolled is Will.
Notes: You may use this spell as an attack to impose the consequence Dazzled at a cost of three successes.

Whispers – Level 1 (-0) (Basic Spell)
Effect: You can link yourself to a single target you can see. You hear your target's words as whispers. In addition, you may make your own whispers heard to any target you can see.
Duration: 10 minutes (extendable) or continuous Concentration
Degrees of Success: Link to an additional target (+1 each). Subvocalize your whisper without actually making any noise except at the location of the target (+2).
Target: A creature within line of sight.
System: If you link to a target, the target may banish that link with a simple success on a Will roll.

Rat Form – Level 1 (-2)
Effect: You turn into a giant rat, about 30 lbs in weight. While in rat form, you cannot speak or cast other spells, but you gain some of the rat's physical attributes. When you attack with your bite, you do not count as unarmed.
Duration: five minutes (extendable)
Degrees of Success: You may spend degrees of success on a one-for-one basis to increase your Athletics rating and the damage bonus of your bite.
Aspects: Rat
Target: Self

Rituals:

Animal Servitor
Requirements: Small animal Modifiers: -1 Casting Time: 30 minutes Duration: Eight hours (extendable) Type: Nature Effect: This ritual binds a small animal (such as a rat or a small bird) to you for use as a messenger or spy. While the binding is in effect, the animal can be used as a conduit for a Whispers spell (assuming the caster can cast one). It will go to a location that the caster designates, provided that it is well-known to the caster. The caster will know when it has arrived, and can then use it both to speak (with the caster's voice) and hear. The animal can carry a small object (like a homing pigeon). The caster can have the animal seek out a specific target when it reaches its destination. The target must be no more than two zones away from the destination and must either have been present at the time of casting or have been indicated at that time (the latter costs 2 successes).

Equipment:
knife (+2)
light armor (+2/0): piecemeal scraps of leather, fur, and canvas
crowbar
waterskin

Monday, March 08, 2010

Destined: What is it?

I'm just about done with the first full draft of the game I've been writing. At this point, it is over 100 pages, although nearly half of that is devoted to things like spells and feats - long lists of things with write-ups.

So, what sort of game have I written? Originally, I set out to create a fantasy version of Spirit of the Century (a Fate based game). Angela and I had used Fate to run a modern fantasy game, and she wanted a D&Desque version so that she could run a fantasy campaign with them. She'd used 3.5 last time, but the prep work was too intense, and she isn't keen on 4e. So, yeah. I told her I'd make her the rules she wanted. Then I thought I'd throw out some of the bits of Fate that neither of us were thrilled with and fuse the Fate and d20 systems. The end result isn't really either. From Fate, I took Aspects and Fate Points. The similarities don't precisely end there, but the feel of the game will be very different.

Some highlights:
  • The base mechanic is 3d6+skill+modifiers. Despite my love of the d12, the only dice you need are six-siders. People who love Fudge dice and Fate's ladder will be disappointed. OK. If you want to impose the ladder on Destined, it would be trivial to do so.
  • Six skills: Athletics, Combat, Lore, Persuasion, Will, and (sometimes) Spellcasting, plus the ability to have areas of player-defined strength and/or weakness within those skills.
  • Really simple, but very flexible character creation.
  • Power level gauges that reflect character strength without dictating it - useful for judging the appropriate difficulty of encounters for PCs. If you are familiar with Mutants and Masterminds, think in those terms.
  • A flexible, tactical combat system. It functions a bit like a cross between Spirit of the Century and Mutants and Masterminds... with a some resource allocation thrown in. It doesn't require a battlemat (it uses zones), it doesn't use stress tracks, it expands the idea of consequences (merging it with d20's conditions), and it includes an abstract system for gauging combat advantage. How long do combats take? I still need more data on this, but they seem to take significantly less time than in d20.
  • I scrapped the idea of a rigid social combat system. I've rarely gotten it to work well in play without it feeling very artificial. The social manipulation system in Destined is designed to have the same functionality without the structure.
So. What am I going to do with this thing?

I'm going to play it.