WoC Spell System

From World of Charun

World of Charun does not use a "Vancian" magic system, and thus, spellcasters play very differently here than on most Peristent Worlds.


Contents

Why the Change?

The Vancian (memorize/forget) magic system has great advantages in PnP and close-party play. It creates a fundamental tension between the players and the referee regarding how often players can rest, and at what point they will choose to spend their carefully-husbanded spellpower -- much like an action movie plays out much differently if the protagonist has five bullets, rather than an infinity of them. This works (and works beautifully) in party play because the players' characters are the explicit protagonists of the game, around which the DM builds the scenario (and which he can constantly tweak for balance, making things more or less challenging as needed.

This formula doesn't work very well on a Persistent World, where by definition all of the characters are the protagonists....and thus, none are. The players are frequently engaged in adventuring without the benefit of any DM to help "tweak" things, are usually organized in oddly-thrown-together parties (c.f. "the all-sorceror party"), and thus, at lower levels, most arcane spellcasters are incredibly vulnerable, but simultaneously unable to do any of the amazing number of clever ad-hoc solutions that a wizard, for instance, could perform in PnP play. With a limited number of casts per day, the spellcaster is relegated to more or less following a party around doing nothing, until a "boss" monster shows up, at which point he or she is obligated to play Spell Cannon. By being forced to play the role of "wandering nuke," his or her roleplay thus gets twisted entirely around the rest-memorize-cast cycle.

Ironically, it is precisely this problem that makes casters problematic from the PW designer's point of view as well. This is because said spellcasters can put down one HELL of a hurting while their spells last, and wizards especially, particularly once they hit higher levels, are so far up the power curve that they can often single-handedly take down entire encounters on their own. Similarly, as old World of Charun veterans know, there were numerous common encounters which were generally avoided (or else approached vastly more cautiously) by the playerbase simply because the otherwise low-level opponents had the magic missile spell, with which multiple casters could be truly lethal, pounding unshielded characters to paste (this in the "beginning dungeon," no less). The magic system needed balancing, badly.

"So you're nerfing wizards?"

Sort of. What we're doing, rather than engaging in the traditional nerf/buff debate, is to reformulate how spells work across the board. In terms of raw "damage per round" output, the majority of spellcasters (see below) are definitely getting nerfed, insofar as they will find it harder to belt out round after round of devastating spells. On the other hand, spellcasters are being liberated from the "I'll just stand here and plink (badly) with a crossbow, because I don't dare cast and am useless until I rest" syndrome, which reduces so much of the fun of playing a spellcaster. After all, one plays a spellcaster because one wants to play a character who casts spells.


The Changes

First off, spellcasters cast an unlimited number of times per day. But for most spellcasters, there's a tradeoff. Warlocks and Alchemists are designed within an unlimited-casting scheme, and so are unaffected. For everybody else (Dryw, Mystics, Priests, and Wizards), another factor is put in play. (Fixits "cast" spells via enchanted objects, and so are essentially a sort of technologist -- they're not really relevant here.)

For every spell cast by one of these classes, the caster receives a cooldown of two rounds per spell level, expressed in seconds. So if a priest casts a lvl2 spell, they get 24 seconds put on their countdown clock. Now, this does NOT mean that the character is helpless for the next two rounds, unable to act (all classes except Wizards, for instance, could easily engage in melee or missile fire, etc). A character can choose to "push" more spellpower through his body, even though he's not yet recovered from the first casting. "Pushing" is difficult and inherently hazardous, easily leaving the character exhausted, and possibly even leaving them injured.


Fantasy Parallels

World of Charun isn't actually doing anything new, except in bringing this system to NWN2.

"Preparation" (Vancian magic) -vs- "Exhaustion" as dramatic tension is a very, very old affair, with some authors leaning heavily towards one or the other. Pug, the magician's apprentice in Raymond E. Feist's 'Riftwar Saga' engages in Vancian spellcasting the very first time he ever makes "Low Magic" work. Similarly, Bremen the Druid in Terry Brooks' 'Sword of Shannara' is explicitly working on the exhaustion tension. Some modern authors actually flip back and forth depending on the setting. For instance, well-respected contemporary fantasy author Jim Butcher uses the Vancian system in 'The Dresden Files' where a wizard's potency is directly relevant to how well he's prepared, but uses the exhaustion tension in his 'Codex Alera' series. In both series, this spellcasting tension is fundamental to upholding the plot.


How does it work ingame?

A caster who "pushes" suffers two ill effects:

First, he loses stamina (hit points) according to the following formula (remember that in World of Charun, hit points represent stamina, not damage -- a character's not actually hurt until stamina hits zero):

(Remaining cooldown rounds)d4

Second, the cooldown is frozen, with additional cooldown time added to it. (So if one "pushes" when the cooldown is at 2 rounds, and casts a first-level spell, the cooldown timer would go to 4 rounds).

Let's break it down into a concrete example;

A wizard casts a level two spell. The "clock" goes to 4 rounds (2 rounds per spell level). He then "pushes" on the next round in order to cast a level one spell. He loses hp/stamina equal to (3 remaining rounds)d4, so 3d4 or 3-12 hit points. A low-level wizard may find this absolutely exhausting, while a veteran wizard will do so without considering it a big deal.

How much damage you will take when casting a spell is displayed at the top of the quickcast menu, so you will not need to do all these calculations yourself in the middle of combat.

Why d4's?

They are in there to keep a random element, because unpredictability creates tension, and you need tension/risk for a good game.

What's with the "spell levels?"

The spell levels are there because World of Charun is, in spirit, a low-magic world. Higher-level spells are inherently more difficult than lower-level ones, and it is therefore MUCH harder to "push" a higher-level spell than a lower-level one. Notice that cantrips/orisons (level 0 spells) can never add to the cooldown. 0 times anything is... zero. This is intentional -- certain absolutely unremarkable spells, like light are almost always available to the character. Generally speaking, casters have little trouble "pushing" spells that they have long ago mastered, but "pushing" spells that are at the edge of their ability is much harder, and a caster will only be able to do this a couple times before risking injury.

Why extend the cooldown?

Partially because the system falls apart if it's not extended, but primarily because the system is designed to make it harder to perform the more one "pushes."

What about Concentration?

A spell still contributes to cooldown/exhaustion, even if the spell energy gets wasted because you got punched in the face. As the old Elizabethan adage goes, "seldom is a man wounded into calmness."

What about Adrenaline Rush?

Go for it. You're completely in control of whether you play a careful, methodical caster, or one who pushes herself to exhaustion regularly. There are times when the former is called for, and others when chewing ARs left and right in order to go "down in a blaze of glory" is the way to go.

What happens if you don't have enough Stamina to cast a spell?

If you cast a spell and would take enough damage to bring your Stamina below 0 as a result, the spell fizzles and you "black out;" you are reduced to 1 Stamina and become Dazed for a few rounds, in addition to getting the Tired (or Fatigued if already Tired) penalties associated with Adrenaline Rush regardless of how many Adrenaline Rushes you have left.

Doesn't this cripple the characters?

No, but it does balance them. It's a matter of perspective: the spellcasting pyramid is blunted up top, but its base is widened. If you're focused on the top-line of destruction and spellpower a "vanilla" caster can put out, then this is clearly a significant nerf. If you were thinking of low-level casters who were always extremely limited in terms of what spells they could produce, and spending the vast majority of their time not casting at all, this is a significant boost to their capabilities. A wizard may not cast nine deadly spells in a row in the middle of a fight...but will still be able to cast many, many more times than would otherwise be possible.


How do ability scores affect this?

Different ability scores affect the situation differently. One of the most instantly-important differences between the two systems is that it will no longer be necessary to crank one's primary casting attribute into the sky, as casting DCs are now tied to class level, not attribute. So whereas in the old system a wizard whose intelligence was "only" a 14 (not a genius, but easily Ph.D. university faculty) will no longer be "junk" for mechanical purposes.

Otherwise,

  • Constitution is obviously important because it affects stamina.
  • The Caster’s primary casting ability (Wisdom for Dryw, Intelligence for Wizards, etc) determines the highest level of spell one is able to cast, and reduces the damage taken from casting spells in rapid succession.
  • The Caster's secondary casting ability (Wisdom for Dryw, Charisma for Mystics, etc) determines the chance of spell criticals happening. The critical chance increases by 1% for every point above 10 in this ability.


Spell criticals

Every now and then you just get things spectacularly right. Based on your caster’s primary casting ability you have a small chance to have any metamagic applied to your spell, because whether it was stress, or you slept well, or something, you just managed to knock that ball right out of the park.

Any metamagic can be activated through this, including feats you don't have, and the increased spell level due to this will not be counted towards your spell cooldowns. Essentially, it's free metamagic.

How does this change affect class balance?

Generally speaking, there is a difference between wizards, who are "non-combatant casters," and Priests, Mystics, and Dryw, who are both casters and combatants. The latter classes are more durable, and so can in theory "push more" -- except that they're also much more frequently expected to participate in combat, and so "pushing" may turn out to be riskier. One of the latter classes, played "middle of the road" will likely split their time between casting and combat (as would be expected of a Medium-BAB character). In keeping with their general purpose and spell selection, Mystics tend to be offensively oriented, Priests often tending towards defense/support, and Dryw somewhere in-between.

Since there are no classes using "prepared" spellcasting, it is much more important for Dryw, Priests, and Wizards to select their spells carefully. This tends to balance out Priests, whose ability to pick any spell they wanted, whenever they wanted, created balance issues. On the other hand, spell selection is where wizards will tend to have a notable edge over the other classes -- they will tend to know a LOT more spells than their peers in other classes, and thus will be able to pick the specific spell that best fits their current situation, rather than having to "brute-force it" with the spell they happen to know.

As usual, each of the classes has advantages and disadvantages, but unlike the previous system, none of the classes are so powerful that they now have the ability to completely overshadow the others, and the old class power hierarchies are therefore removed. Similarly, spellcasting classes and non-casting classes are brought closer into balance with each other, as well.


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