Friday, March 7, 2008

d20 Rethought: Magic

I know I've been doing alot on d20 Rethought recently, and that this isn't the best thing for alot of you since it's not providing much in the way of immediate content you can use. But this is the last one for a bit, I swear. This is the post I've been wanting to get to, the reason I forged ahead through the business about classes.

The latest 4th Edition reports indicate that the non-spellcasting classes will increasingly resemble spellcasting classes through the use of martial powers. d20 rethough, meanwhile, achieves the same thing by working in the opposite direction. To be brief: d20 Rethought uses skill-based magic, where you must make a check to successfully cast a spell against a difficulty that increases based on the spell's level. I'm dead certain I'm not the first to come up with this idea; but since d20 Rethought's being revised from the ground up I can incorporate this variant much more elegantly. Or to get more concrete: in d20 Rethought Evocation and Necromancy are skills just like Athletics and Bluff. No special rules about having to be a wizard before you can take them (though the normal cross-class hassle might still apply). Of course, doing this while still presenting spellcasters with appropriately complex choices in combat and keeping them balanced- that is where the hard details of the implementation come in. . .

First, let me just refresh your memory about one of the basic elements of d20 Rethought: Vitality and Resolve points. Vitality points are like hit points except you only recieve d4, d6 or d8 per level and they replenish fully between encounters (plus the really critical hits go straight to your wound points, which represent serious physical injury and, potentially, death). Resolve points are exactly the same except that they reflect mental well-being. Advanced martial maneuvers cost vp; and I haven't mentioned this before, but you can invest "extra effort" and spend X vp and X rp (up to a limit of half your level, rounding up) to get a bonus of X on a d20 roll you're about to make (so even muscleheads have a use for their rp in a non-combat situation). And while I'm at it, I'll restate a key point from the last post: abilities granted by Talents represent subconscious learning- passive bonuses that represent natural improvement at a task. Feats, meanwhile, usually represent conscious learning and study.

So: When you want to cast a spell, you first choose the basic effect. (Merrick the Sorceror wants to shoot fire from his hands, that's a level 1 effect.) Then make a check using the appropriate type of magic (In this case, evocation), and make a check. If your check beats the DC to cast a spell at the level of your chosen effect, you can successfully cast the spell. If your check is high to cast the spell at a higher level, you may do so. This means increasing one or more numeric variables (Merrick rolls high enough to cast a level 5 spell, so he increases the damage from 1d6 to 4d6 (+3 levels) and the size of the cone from 5 feet to 10 (+1 level)). A spell's level can range from 1 to 20 and beyond, generally creating an effect equal to a D&D spell of half that level. To succesfully cast a spell, you must also spend the spell's level in resolve points- even a failed casting will cost you a single resolve point.

That resolve point cost is one balancing factor, but there's another, more important one: The DCs to cast spells are really, really high. As in "DC 20 for a level 1 spell and it goes way uphill from there". If you're trained in the skill and have a decent relevant ability score, that's still only enough to cast some basic spells- nothing with the dependability or potency to make it effective in an average combat situation, though your skills would still increase over time to the point that your spellcasting ability would remain a nice bit of help in non-crisis situations. With the aid of Extra Effort and/or an action point you'd still be able to pull off something bigger in a crisis situation.

But if you want to cast some serious spells, you'll have to invest more- namely, a talent chain that improves your skill checks considerably. Like all talent chains, this is just three talents long- hardly all-consuming, but then again you're only improving your ability to cast spells from one of nine or so schools. Now, once you've taken the three talents for that particular school of magic you're set- or are you? See, while your check result is about as optimized as it can be (there's still Skill Focus, but that's about it) by default you can only manage to use the more simplistic effects. (Merrick can shoot searing flame from his hands and push a man through a closed door with raw telekinetic force, but he can't create a wall of fire or sieze his enemy in a glowing, transparent fist.) To gain access to more complex effects (which are usually higher in level) you need the related feat chains. There are several (Two seems like a good figure to start with) three-feat chains for each school of magic, and each feat in a chain grants a set of increasingly high-level effects that can be used with the associated skill.

In this system a specialist caster can take about 5 levels in a class, acquire everything he needs to cast spells in a single discipline, and then start taking levels in, say, Barbarian instead. He'll be a few levels behind a full-fledged barbarian and won't have quite the proficiency of a full-fledged caster in his chosen school of magic- but for that single school he can still cast very well.

Meanwhile, the difference between the wizard and the sorceror is simple: the wizard gets a large amount of feats while the sorceror gets a large amount of talents. So the wizard can quickly learn how to pull of all these impressive tricks that the sorceror wouldn't have the first idea how to pull off- but when it comes to raw power that same wizard is clearly outclassed by the sorceror. Both have their merits and can easily avoid overlap when adventuring together.

So. How does that all sound?


Anonymous said...

sounding elegant and keeping to the rules without adding complexity. I've always thought that magic having its own subset of rules was odd if the the focus of the game was not on being a magic user.

now problems I for see is the obvious, really high DC. Now I have only recently started to watch this blog with more then a passing interest and haven't read taken the time to read up on the past stuff you've done so I may be missing some changes you are implementing, but here it goes. Assuming that you allow take 10 when nothing is going on your going to need +10 to the roll to pull off the basic spell with a DC of 20, under standard skill rules of of level+3 being the max rank you are going to need +6 bonus and max rank to ever pull off a basic spell in that situation. unless you are always forcing a roll in which case with the always succeed at take 10 example character you fail 50% of the time.

Now the cast at increase level DC is an interesting concept, the idea of a mage trying to do something he normal can do but through force of will creates a bigger effect, but is not always proficient at such a task fits thematically in my opinion. The problem I see with this is the mage just becoming a luck cannon, hoping he rolls high to blow away the obstacle and the battle/situation continues normally if he doesn't. This could artificially place more importance on the mage classes as they can end situations instantly. I see you as having a problem balancing the ability to "overcast" spells and the ability to actually be able to cast spells on a regular basis as I'm sure putting the DC to the point of only rolling natural 20s is not what you hope to accomplish with this.

The wizard and sorcerer class ideas work out well, they do the same thing but go about it in different ways. The wizard may be be able to do some tricker applications but the sorcerer can do more powerful effects more consistently and both can do the basics of what a mage class should do.

Its looking good all in all, more fine tuning is needed but there is never enough fine tuning.

Dagda said...

Thanks for the feedback! I feel bad you went through the effort to explain yourself that thoroughly, since I've actually already done the math myself. I could go into detail as to how I approached it and why, but that's a blog post unto itself (literally, I've got it written up and everything). So I'll just see if I can recall off the top of my head the major ways I'm addressing the issues you point out. . .

-Well, resolve points help balance things by insuring you can't cast an endless number of max-result spells. And they're tied to a different ability score than the one you use on checks.

-No, you can't take 10 on checks to cast spells. One way the system compensates for this is that most full casters get some way of casting spells dependably- the best in a D&D-based set of classes will likely be the wizard, who prepares spells just like he does in D&D fluff- they're ready to be cast with a simple mental trigger. Crunch-wise this means that he's already made the check and can now automatically cast the spell once per encounter, the drawback being that his starting resolve points are reduced by the spell's cost.

-Without the associated talent tree you're never going to get far; at level 20 you'll still be topping out at level 7 (or level 3 by D&D standards) spells unless you invest extra effort. In other words, you'll be a low-end caster like a paladin.

-The big thing is that d20 Rethought is going to have a result cap on die rolls, one that rises based off your level and several other one-time bonuses. There's ways to raise this limit but you'll need a Dramatic Crit (action point and confirmation roll) to ignore it. At the moment a min-maxed mage-type can get the maximum possible result 35% of the time at level 1 and 55% of the time at level 20 (which is a level 16 spell, but he can go further with an action point or vp+rp expenditure).

I think that's all the major factors. Sorry again- I wasn't meaning to imply that I hadn't done the math yet, just that I was asking you to take my word that I'd gotten it workable.

Anonymous said...

no problem, I enjoy this sort of mental exercise anyway.

At least now I'll have a better understanding when I comment on future D20 rethought.