Monday, March 28, 2011

More About Disciples and Magic

As I’ve developed the concept of the disciple and chants as an important part of the game, a few things have come up that I particularly like…

Chants replace traditional healing as it’s been defined and used in my games. I’ve always conceived as the healer being someone who stands back and drops heals on the group as needed, filling in a support role only when everyone is up and at full strength, or when the healer runs out of healing… chants change this entirely. Now, the chant is something you do in addition to all the other things you do. Chants allow you to ‘turn on’ a passive ability that remains in place for as long as you are vertical. This means that you don’t cast one big heal; you constantly cast a little heal that slowly regenerates your whole team. You get to make tactical decisions; when do you turn off your armor boost chant to activate your healing chant? You have to be ahead of the curve; if you wait until the group’s main fighter has taken considerable damage, your chant may not be able to keep pace with damage. You have decisions to make. The chant makes disciples different from magicians, in that their magic operates under fundamentally different rules, and feels fundamentally different in play. Disciple magic is much ‘softer’ than magician magic. It always bothered me that the difference between many cleric and magic user spells (light for instance) is negligible. They do the same thing. There’s considerable overlap. This system eliminates any overlap at all.

Chants allow you to do other things. Now, playing the ‘healer’ doesn’t mean you sit back and do nothing, rolling on your turn for how much damage you restore; instead, you activate your healing chant, and then leap right in with your weapon. You won’t be as strong of a physical combatant as a warrior, but you don’t need to be; you are a support character. Your chant gives everyone in your group a little bonus, and you get to do other things at the same time. Also, you can strategize your chants to make you capable. Even though you only have might +2, your chant of might +4 allows you to bump your own might to +4 (6 CPs), making you a viable fighter, and it boosts the might of your team’s warrior from +7 to +8 (16 CPs to 20 CPs), making him happy too! In fact, it even helps your team’s weak magician (might +0) who can suddenly pick up a longsword and swing it with some chance of success, his might temporarily boosted to +3 (4 CPs).

Because many chants serve to boost other abilities, I need to make sure to design the game around minimizing these bonuses in other ways. For instance, the chant of might is a very valuable magical effect; a pair of warriors who have a disciple using a chant of might traveling with them have become more powerful. However, any time another means exists to get the same effect- magician spells or magical devices- you erode the overall value of disciples and chanting. Those two warriors don’t need the chanter if they both have magical bracers granting might, potions of might, and rings of might at the ready. The first one problem easy; make sure that no magician spells allow for boosts that are already covered in chanting. No spellbook is going to have a ‘bear’s strength’ or ‘quickness of the gazelle’ spell, because these are chant effects. The other one is trickier; finding cool items and integrating them into your repertoire is an important part (to me) of high fantasy gaming. Originally, I conceived of a limit to bonuses equal to half your CP total; when your hero is built on 40 CPs, he cannot have more magical bonus than +20 CPs. However, bonuses to armor ratings, cloaks, and weapons become grey areas- my suit of magical armor gives me armor +7 (16 CPs), but (although this is magical), it’s just one total; you don’t further delineate it. For Resolute purposes, it doesn’t matter if the suit has 5 CPs ‘naturally’ and +11 CPs from the enchantment; it’s all going to the same place. This muddies the issue when you have to start counting how your CPs are distributed for balance purposes;it also becomes more paperwork to keep track of with minimal gains on the back end.

The answer may be in fantasy literature, more than in gaming (although I thought D+D 4E had something like this; shows my ignorance of D+D4E I guess), where you have strict limits to how many magic effects you can have going at once. Even the greatest of heroes in fantasy literature have only a handful of magical items helping them at once; Frodo has a suit of armor, a short sword, and a ring. Sam has a magic rope and a phylactery. Here’s what I’m thinking:

At one time, you can have active:

One suit of armor
One cloak of warding
One weapon (or two weapons with the two weapons ability; or a weapon and a shield if you have shield use)
One piece of jewelry; a ring, amulet, pendant, broach or the like
One piece of clothing; boots, gloves, a belt, a sash.

You can have more in your backpack, switching things out as desired; however, you may only have two ‘special items’ beyond your basic gear; the jewelry and the clothing. This really pares back what heroes can use, but also makes you strategize more, and makes the valuable items really, really valuable. This keeps heroes from walking around with a ring of stealth, boots of speed, an amulet of armor, a belt of might, bracers of precision, and a helm of intuition. Pick two of those and wear them; the rest get sold or get carried your backpack. When you really need to use stealth, you slip on your ring of stealth and set aside the amulet of armor. You can’t wear them both at the same time. You also can’t get multiple bonuses from different items for the same thing. If you drink a potion of might +4, you have an allied disciple using a chant of might +3, and you wear a belt of might +2, you only get to take +4 CPs to your might; the potion has the highest bonus, and you default to that. When the potion wears, off, you go to +3, and if the disciple stops chanting, your bonus drops to +2. Overall, you’d be better off stowing the belt of might and instead taking up a sash of evade, since you could use that more.

This does away with bonus limits based on your CP total. As a level 1 hero built on 10 CPs, you could conceivably inherit your noble father’s girdle of lordly might +10, doubling your CP total and putting your might off the chain, moving it from +3 (4 CPs) to +6 (14 CPs). Even here, this is not a game killer; the bonus is very nice, but it doesn’t scale beyond your level so far as to make your hero unplayable; you just get to do might stuff very easily. While I don’t suggest that referees start handing out +10 items to new heroes, the game has built-in safeguards that keep things from getting too out of control.

This all serves to really define the disciple class as distinct from the magician, and even from 'clerics' in other systems.

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