Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fresh Eyes: Magic in Saga of the Splintered Realm

In reading about D+D 5E, and some of the ways in which casters can swap out spells for other effects in various situations, it makes me think about flexibility (or lack thereof) inherent in the existing B/X spell system. I like the idea that a caster gets to tailor a spell or make decisions in play about how much to invest or where to allocate points. The B/X model doesn’t allow that as much as I’d like.

I’m tinkering with something akin to a spell point system that has the current B/X spell advancement hierarchy at its heart. Here is the skinny:
  •          You earn a number of spell points each level equal to the level you advance to. You add these to your existing pool. As a magic user 3, you will have 6 spell points in your pool (1+2+3). When you advance to level 4, you add 4 points to this pool (bringing you to 10). If you have exceptional Intelligence, you get to add your bonus one time (at level 1) to this pool. The magic user 4 with INT 11 (+2 modifier) has 12 points in his magic pool.
  •          Spells cost a number of points to cast equal to their sphere. Spheres expand to 12 (to match character progression). You can only cast a spell from a sphere of your level or lower; as a magic user 4, you can cast any spell in your spell book of up to sphere 4. I’d distribute the current spells among these spheres: level 1 spells become spheres 1 and 2; level 2 spells become spheres 3 and 4; level 3 spells become spheres 5 and 6; etc.
  •          You cannot use a spell of a sphere rated higher than your INT. With INT 10, you can access no better than sphere 10 spells.
  •          Many spells would have the option for tailoring their effectiveness. For example, arcane dart is a sphere 1 spell. You deal 1d6+2 per spell point you use (minimum of 1 point). If you cast this and use 4 spell points (the most you could invest in a spell as a magic user 4), you deal 1d6+8 damage with it. Fireball, as a sphere 5 spell, deals 5d6 damage as a base (costing 5 spell points). You can throw a 5d6 fireball as a magic user 12 (costing 5 spell points), a 6d6 fireball (costing 6 spell points), continuing upwards to a 12d6 fireball (12 spell points – if you have INT 12). The law of diminishing returns kicks in with lower sphere spells. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend 12 spell points on a 1d6+24 arcane dart (dealing 25-30 damage, albeit with no save allowed) when you can use the same number of points to throw a 12d6 fireball (dealing 12-72 damage over a large area – although targets do get to save for half).
  •          This allows a wide range of tailoring… charm person is a sphere 2 spell (high end of level 1 to my mind). However, you can invest up to +4 more spell points into it when you cast it, increasing the difficulty of the saving throw. If you cast a 6-point charm person, you can force one target to save at -4. It could even allow you to affect multiple targets; for every +2 points you spend, you can attempt to charm one additional target: a 6-point charm person spell can charm 3 human-like characters at one time. This allows for the caster to make a number of decisions in play in terms of resource allocation – you can do something with 2 points, or you can a lot with 6 points – or anywhere in between.

Apples to Apples

A direct comparison in terms of total points with the previous system presents some challenges, but let’s give it a shot… let’s look at level 9.
  •          In the current iteration of the rules, level 9 gives you the following progression: 4/3/3/2/1. This gives a total of 13 spells per day (we’ll leave off bonuses for INT for right now).
  •          The new system would give you 45 spell points at level 9. This would allow you to cast 9 spells per day if you cast 1 spell each from each of the 9 spheres you have access to. However, if you elect to do nothing but cast sphere 1 spells and only spend 1 point in each one, you could cast 45 spells that day; if you do nothing but cast sphere 9 spells, you can cast 5 of them and then you are spent. In effect, the new system allows you, at each level, to do what you could last level + 1 spell of the highest sphere. These numbers skew a bit because level 3 spells (for instance) are now divided between spheres 5 and 6. You can get close to replicating the existing progression as a magic user 9 by casting 4 spells of sphere 1 (4 points), 3 spells of sphere 3 (9 points), 3 spells of sphere 5 (15 points), 2 spells of sphere 7 (14 points) and 1 spell of sphere 9 (9 points), for a total of 51 points (you have 45 available). This is a pretty close approximation, and you give up a few points in order to increase your flexibility substantially.