The Spell Building Engine (Effects Only for Now)

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Update: 12-28-11: I changed the HTML tables into screen captures of the tables. Sorry for the awful formatting the first time. Sometime soon, I will have to address the CSS file on this site.

When I starting looking for a way to build spells, I was immediately drawn to various systems used in Fudge, EABA, and OpenD6. For reference, I also look to the HERO system. Thanks to the work of Killershrike, there is a HERO System translation for every D20 and D&D spell into the Hero System.

Why not build something like HERO? Like everyone else, my time is limited and I don’t forsee the ability to generate spells using such a detailed system. I love it, but not many of my friends do, especially my casual gaming friends.

For elegance, I don’t think anything beats the EABA system. Add a few numbers and you can create just about anything. I bought EABA Stuff some time ago and I love building things with it. What I’ve found with EABA, however, is that spell effects are underpowered when compared to some D&D spells. For example, a spell like Magic Missile doesn’t feel like a first level spell when built with EABA. It feels like something wielded by a much more powerful mage. (Purify Food and Drink, however, does feel appropriately low-level. I like how EABA’s version of Purify Water can be used to distill alcohol.) The biggest hindrance to using an EABA type of system would be recreating the Universal Table without infringing on Greg Porter’s rights. The table is the equivalent of Product Identity for EABA.

Any system for FUDGE is a lot of fun, but really narrative. I love narrative systems, but the Arcanist doesn’t seem a good fit for a narrative systems. Arcanists are skill-based mages. Working magic is like working leather – there is skill and technique that come together for a finished product. It is replicable and reliable. Just an ethos speaks to me of a more mechanic system with some amount of fiddly bits. In the end, I think a system like four-by-five could work, but OpenD6 provided a platform that feels closer to what I’m looking for.

What about OpenD6? It covers a lot of ground like HERO, but has the simple math similar to EABA.

It does have subtraction, which leads to issues in any building system. For example, an early version of Erin Smale’s Perfect Class document allows the building of a class that requires 0XP to advance in levels. The same is true in the OpenD6 spell building system – with enough money or time, you can effectively cast spells for free. I built a version of the D20 cantrip Ray of Frost that just 0 points to cast. Granted, it took gestures, material components, verbal components, a long time to cast compared to other cantrips, and the ray moved so slowly that the ray could be dodged easily. You may say that such a spell makes “free” casting useless, but with a guaranteed 1d3 damage and low skill required to cast it, you could see armies replacing archers with a bunch of folks that only know how to cast this ray. When there are a couple hundred bolts of frost coming at you, they are difficult to dodge. Sure it would be expensive, but a heck of a first wave attack as armies marched toward each other on the field of battle.

So I had to do a little hand waving and say that all spells cost at least one spell point. This prevents player abuse, though a good GM should be able to mitigate this kind of abuse without resorting to such a rule.

Another issue with the OpenD6 system is that the system requires several pages to explain. I haven’t streamlined past this issue yet. However, I hope that releasing this Alpha will generate some ways to streamline it further.

There are about thirty points of manipulation in the full OpendD6 system and that seems like too many. The simplified system in D6Fantasy has about six or seven and that feels just about right, though I am currently using more. (I’m not looking at it right now, so I’m pulling these numbers from memory.) I have about nineteen criteria now, but any given spell only uses five or six. Many of the categories are only there for specialized spells.

One other place of complexity is determining a value for the basic effect of the spell. Some effects are easy to chart – what’s the value for a spell that does 2d8 damage? (12). How about a value for adding +2 to Hit Bonus? (18). How about for manipulating 2 pounds of material? (2).

Other effects are difficult to chart. What is the value for the effect of a spell like Air Walk? (Not even killershrike.net translated this one.) For Air Walk, specifically, walking on air like walking up and down a staircase is difficult to describe in terms of effect. Moving a man-sized creature upwards, and horizontally but not all at once and only about three feet at a time in both directions. Levitation is moving a something upwards. Teleportation is moving something in three-dimensional space. You can measure distance and mass of the object moved. Air Walk, though, is not really Teleportation when you take a step to move.

Rather than attempt to calculate an effect for everything, I decided to make this a feature of one of the Mage classes. An Arcanist, a mage that can only use spells generated by the spell building system, can never cast Air Walk. A Wizard or Thaumaturge, however, could. Since the other two do not quite see magic as a skill, they can cast spells outside the artificial boundaries placed on magic by the Arcanist. So, yes, the Arcanist can generate spells with identical effects on a reliable and repeatable basis. However, the cost of this stability is placing artificial limits on what is possible with magic.

So after all this rambling, I’ll get to the point.

  • The spell building system is roughly based on the OpenD6 system.
  • I’ve removed some of the options in an attempt to address the “subtraction” issue I mentioned earlier and to simplify the process slightly.
  • I have also translated the OpenD6 Fantasy Spells as written, into a form that will work with Andras, as should work easily with any retroclone.
  • I have a lookup table that determines values for mass, time, distance and speed. The original OpenD6 table used meters for distance; my table, however, uses feet.
  • Determining a value for effect takes the most time. There are lots of guidelines and things for determining the value.

Determining the Effect

So what are the guidelines for determining an effect? Let’s get the simple ones out of the way first.

For Every +1 added to a skill score, the cost is one point. So to add 10 points to a Rouge’s Pick Pocket skill, the cost is 10 points. To add 8 points to a Mage’s Alchemy skill, the cost is 8 points.

For every +1 Bonus to Hit, +1 Bonus to Damage or -1 to Armor Class, the effect value is 9 points. So if a spell has the effect of granting a -2 AC bonus to its target, the effect value is 18 (2 times 9).

For Bonuses to a Saving Throw, a +1 Bonus costs 6 points. Every additional plus after that costs 3 points. So if a spell provides a +4 Bonus to the Breath Weapon saving throw, the cost is 15 points. (6 points for the +1, and 3 points per extra ‘plus’ which is 9 points. 6+9 = 15).

For Bonuses to an Attribute, a +1 bonus costs 4 points. Every additional plus after that costs 2 points. Due to the nature of Exceptional Strength, any Bonus strength steps through the 18.01 through 18.99 per the Strength table, even if the target is not a Fighter. So, to provide a +2 increase in a target’s Wisdom score, the cost is 6 points. (Four points for the +1 and two points for the additional plus.) To increase a target’s Strength by 3 will cost 8 points. However, if the target already has 17 Strength, the final result will be 18.51 Strength, not 20.

For everything else, there are two charts. This is the first one:

Damage: This is pretty straightforward. The effect value of a spell that does 1d8 damage is 6. Any entry with a blank space means that there is no correlation. So a damage based effect will never have a value of 7.

Attribute: This table represents the cost of imbuing the value of an Attribute on a target. This is used in two different ways. The first way represents creating a golem or other automaton. To imbue your creation with the following stats; STR 19, DEX 8, CON 8, INT 5, WIS 8, CHA 8, the cost is 30.  The other way to use it is to imbue a target with a specific attribute value. For example, a spell that imbues the target with the strength of a Titan (25) costs 24 points.

Skill Score: This is for imbuing a specific skill score on the intended target. Keep in mind that Skills in Andras are not like skills in d20. You can do stuff that’s not listed on the character sheet. Skills are class specific abilities, not a measure of what you can and cannot do. For example, a mage could create a spell that provides the target the ability to any one of the Rogue skills or use the Bard’s Lore skill.

d% Success: This column is identical to the Skill Score column, but the format is expressed in terms of percentage chance of success. So, to imbue the target with an ability that provides a 86% chance of success, the value is 15. This is exactly the same as imbuing the target with a Skill Score of 23. This column is also used to get the effect number of Detection spells like Detect Magic, Detect Invisibility, Detect Life, Detect Undead, etc. Since most detection spells provide a 100% chance of success, the effect value for most detection spells is 22.

Saving Throw: This column represents providing someone with a specific Saving Throw score for any one Saving Throw category. The numbers correlate to the d% Success column. This can also be used to provide a specific saving throw versus a specific effect, for example, a Saving Throw against fire, psionics, ice, etc. This can also be used to calculate immunity. For example, to cast a spell that makes the target immune to fire, the effect is 22. This can also be used to provide a Saving Throw to spells that normally do not allow saving throws.

Hit Dice: This column represents the total Hit Dice for the creature(s) summoned. This column is used for summoning a 7 HD elemental, but not used for creating a 7HD golem or automaton.

The last table covers time, distance, mass and speed. It is also used for more than determine a value for the effect of the spell. It is also used to determine the range, duration, and speed of the spell. Note that it does not cover volume. That is covered in Area Effect criteria in the spell building system.

This can take a bit of getting used to, so here are some walk-through examples.

Lets say that I want the effect number of 30 seconds. I find 30 on the chart and then look to the left to find its value. The effect number for 30 is 7. Since I am measuring seconds, I do not have to adjust the effect number.

Now let’s say I want the effect number of 30 minutes. Again, the effect number for 30 is 7. Looking at the chart, it says that minutes requires a Plus 9 adjustment. So I add 9 to the effect number 7 to get 16. The effect number for 30 minutes is 16.

Let’s say that I have a spell that affects 2 gallons of something. On the chart, I see that the effect number for 2 is 1. Then I see that the adjustment for gallons is plus 11. That makes the effect number for gallons 1 + 11 or 12.

Let’s say that a spell enables the target to move 60 feet per round. Looking on the chart, the effect for 60 is 8. The adjustment to indicate feet per round is Plus 5. Therefore the effect number for moving 60 feet per round is 13.

 The Magic Bullet

Finally if all these tables do not help you generate an effect number for what a spell does, look at spells already created. Multiply the level of the spell by 10 to get the desired effect.

There are more guidelines for Charm, Control and similar spells, but that will be in another post. Let me know what you think of this system so far. All feedback welcomed.

Looking at OpenD6 Spells

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I had mentioned a long time ago that I was looking at the Spell Building system in OpenD6 Fantasy and OpenD6 Magic for Andras. The main reason was that I wanted a spell building system in Andras that wasn't too cumbersome, but offered some real choices.

It's true that doing this makes magic quite scientific. Instead of bemoaning that fact, I will create a Mage class that takes a scientific view of magic. While the development of the Arcanist class has hit a couple roadblocks, I believe it will work a lot better now that this investigation of the OpenD6 spells is complete.

For those looking on with interest, anything shaded green is something that I corrected. For whatever reason, some of the calculated difficulties in the original pdfs are not correct. In a couple cases, there is a missing spell attribute or the wrong effect value.

One worksheet sorted all the spell by difficulty, another presents them all in a format similar to the OpenD6 Spell Design Worksheet. The "raw" or original values and descriptions are on pages called Raw.

I hope this spreadsheet will be useful to D6 fans. For me, now I can make analysis, pick spells and work out values that are closer to retroclones. I may end up sticking with meters and kilometers, but we'll see.

Here is the spreadsheet in M$ Excel Format:

D6 Spell Spreadsheet

Here it is in LibreOffice or OpenOffice Format:

D6 Spell Spreadsheet

Soon, I hope to add it to the Downloads page.

Om Magike for M20-ish

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I had mentioned Om Magike as a project for Andras previously. I have since found that doing the crunchy stuff in Microlite format helps me get to the point and stop writing a bunch of flowery prose that can't be used in a game.

Why M20-ish? Because it uses my d20+d10 mechanic. I've called it M2010 in other places, but will call it M200 for this point on. The 200 is what rolling a 30 will look like. Two hundred is also the number of possible die rolls using d20+d10. As mentioned previously, rolling d20+d10 provides an interesting bell curve as well as other possibilities in opposed rolls.

One last thing to mention: the text of the post is alpha. The downloadable pdf will have been edited. Today is the grand theory of magic and some crunch for the various classes. The next post will have examples.

Overview of Magic

The use of magic exists along a continuum. At one extreme, there is an intuitive understanding of the essence of magic. The force of magic in the universe is an organic part of the universe and exists inside everything. In this extreme, magic is a relationship between the spellcaster and the universe. The nuts and bolts of how magic works remains an awe-inspiring mystery. Practitioners of this type of magic are called Thaumaturges. At the opposite extreme, magic is a force to be wielded. Magic is controlled by precise ritual. These rituals are discovered through careful study and exacting experimentation. For spellcasters in this end of the continuum, magic is a skill in the same way that working leather is a skill. Practitioners of this form of magic are called Arcanists. Near the middle of this continuum are Wizards. They have the trappings of the Arcanists, specifically books with arcane formulae, various experiment, long hours of study and the like, paired with the outlook of the Thaumaturges. In other words, Magic is seen as a force that is barely understood. It is not controlled, but can only guided through a relationship with the force of magic itself.

Races for Magic Using Classes

Thaumaturges are rarely human or dwarvish. Most are elves and other fey creatures. Human spellcasters tend to be Arcanists. Dwarves, Gnomes and Halflings can also be Arcanists. Exiled Elves can also be Arcanists; details about Exiled Elves will be provided in more detail elsewhere. Wizards are always human or half-human, but uncommon. Wizardry was discovered/invented by a human many generations ago. Its usage has a relatively short history as compared to Arcany and Thaumaturgy. Powerful Wizards are greatly feared as their power has the potential to exceed that of the eldest Elven thaumatuges. Despite this, Wizards are sneered as either too sloppy in research or killing the beauty of magic through that same tortuous research.

Miracles or Divine Magic

The working of miracles also exists along a continuum. Priests align themselves with a chosen deity or pantheon and draw power from this relationship to work miracles. Purists (called Psions by Priests) search for power within the Soul and draw power from it to manipulate the universe. Purists do not believe that they are performing miracles, but to common folk, the distinction between a Priest and a Purist is minimal. Both spend time in meditation to recharge their ability to work wonders. Between the two extremes are the non-human shamans. Shamans gain power from many different places, including primal forces of nature, deceased ancestors, collective consciousness, unique landmarks, and more.

Shamans are differentiated from Priests and Purists by their ability to invoke the sources of their power directly. Their invocation usually takes the form of hours-long rituals, using rare materials and a vast number of songs. These powerful invocations have been known to make entire villages disappear or cause the ground to roil beneath an invading army's feet.

Thaumaturgy

Thaumaturges are able to use magic governed by their Magnitude and Mana. Magnitude is a measure of the character's level of power and the potency of magic. Mana is the character's reservoir of metaphysical energy and the Thaumaturge's connection to the source of magic.

Magnitude influences both the spell levels that can be cast and the spell's casting cost in Mana.

Starting Mana is Magnitude + MIND Stat. At each level, the Thaumaturge adds their MIND bonus to their Mana.

The cost for casting a spell is Magnitude + the Level of the spell.

FULL CASTING

Full Casting is when a character unleashes a spell with her full capacity. The amount of Mana required is equal to her Magnitude + Spell's Level.

For example, a 5th level Thaumaturge casting Magic Missile with this method allows the spell to function normally. The character's level determines its range and other bonuses. It would cost 4 Mana (3 for her Magnitude and 1 for the spell's level) to cast the spell.

DEMI-CASTING

Demi-Casting can be used when a character is trying to conserve Mana, or only needs less than the full mana required to cast a spell. The Thaumaturge may selectively reduce his or her Magnitude, as long as it is not lower than the Spell's Level. The benefit is that the Mana required is less than normal. However, the drawback is that the spell is considered casted at 2 levels lower for each 1 point of reduction in Magnitude.

For example, if a 7th level Thaumaturge casts Magic Missile uses full casting, the spell to functions normally. The spell is cast using 7th level to determine range and other bonuses. It would cost 5 Mana (4 for her Magnitude and 1 for the spell's level) to cast the spell. To cast it with less Mana, using only 4 Mana, the effective casting level would be 5h level. Using only 3 Mana, the effective casting level would be 3rd level.

Demi-casting is also used for spells that do not have level-based effects. Knock is always cast as if the Thaumaturge lowering their magnitude to 2. For all Thaumatureges, casting Knock always costs 4 Mana (2 Magnitude plus 2 for the level of the spell.)

Periapts

Thaumaturges are able to create a periapt that can store Mana. A Thaumaturge can create a periapt that stores up to the thaumaturge's Magnitude in Mana. Thaumaturges can use any periapt with stored Mana, even if the amount of stored Mana exceeds their Magnitude.

Arcanist

Arcanists has a new skill called Spellcraft. When attempting to roll under the target number given for a spell, the Spellcraft rank can be added to the target number.

GMs Note: This requires that all spells have a difficulty rating. Using the Spell Creation system, spells may vary in difficulty ratings, including numbers over 30 and less than 2. In general, use the table below to assign difficulty ratings to spells:

Spell Level Difficulty Rating
1st 30
2nd 25
3rd 20
4th 15
5th 10
6th 5
7th 0
8th -5
9th -10

Arcanists take subdural hit point damage per standard M20 rules when successfully casting a spell. When a spell fails, the Arcanist loses 1 hit point and may attempt the spell again.

Optionally, an Arcanist can also use the Mana rules like a Thaumaturge. Arcanists, however, cannot create periapts to store mana.

Wizards

As per standard M20 rules.