Friday, December 25, 2015

GURPS Hekinoe Magic: Really? We're Doing This Again?

The answer is yes, yes we are definitely doing this again. There's a not completely ridiculous reason for it though, and I'm not changing that much from the previous iteration. Am I? I don't even know at this point.

First point, in previous versions of this system I've bounced between having sorcery and spells be Will based and IQ based and in the last version I did (IQ+Will)/2. Which is dumb. In GURPS Will is a score derived from IQ. However, Will is much cheaper to improve than IQ is. It takes 20 points to increase IQ and 5 to bump Will up by one. I'm going to follow a suggestion in GURPS Thaumatology and say that spells are based on your Magery level and (Will/2)+5. This makes it somewhat less cost effective for a player to jam points into Will, but still ensures you'll be able to have a decent base skill level with spells.

Previous versions of Hekinoe's magic used additional misfire checks when casting spells. I've come to the realization that that is unnecessary and overly clunky. In GURPS you already make a check to see if you cast the spell, and there are such things as critical failures and successes when casting spells. One of the limitations I've grown extremely fond of is Radically Unstable Magery from GURPS Thaumatology. The gist is that when you fail to cast a spell, it is automatically a critical failure. This limitation comes in three flavors. The first is that you can make a stabilization roll to see if you have the skill to turn a botched spell into a harmless failure. The second is that you get no stabilization roll, all failures are automatically critical failures. The third is the same as the second, except that you roll three times on the critical failure chart and the GM picks what he things is the worst option.

I've said before that one of my design guidelines with magic in Hekinoe is that I want it to be clunky and unwieldy. This is partly to simulate how fucking difficult it is to wield in Hekinoe. I've come to a realization though that the Radically Unstable Magery limitation more than satisfies what I need for my misfires and whatnot, and it doesn't require adding an additional check to the game. 

Looking at Radically Unstable Magery, if we change the language from critical failure to misfire, we've got our misfire checks built right into the system of casting spells. We can also, instead of creating charts and tables going over energy usage and the region of Hekinoe having a effective misfire skill, simply apply penalties to effective skill when casting spells. All we need to do now is use my misfire charts instead of the GURPS critical failure charts. 

Let's poke around with ambient sorcery levels and the effects they have on the continents. I have a table.

Yup. That is definitely a cropped screenshot of a spreadsheet. Don't judge me.  

You may be asking yourself what does that mean? And why is it so small? Let's give you some context. The ambient sorcerous energy levels of The Known World are very high (which is synonymous with very fucked). Fresgulen, which is the continent closest to The Known World, has high levels, Orcunraytrel has normal levels, and Inception has very low levels.

So when a hypothetical sorcerer, we'll call him Karl, casts a fireball spell in The Known World and has a skill level of 16 with the fireball spell, it gets an additional -2 penalty to effective skill level due to all the fucking magic trying to scoot through him into the world. Karl has to divert attention and energy to managing that sorcerous energy, so it is harder for him to cast spells. If he fails to cast a spell, it automatically misfires, regardless of what he rolls on his check. Karl also has mutations because he diverts some of that sorcerous energy away from his spells and into his flesh. Magic items he creates will also periodically explode.

If Karl went to Orcunraytrel for instance, he'd only have access to 10 energy for spells each round. He'd also stop developing mutations and could try to stabilize his failed spells. He'd also never have to worry about his enchanted items exploding.

There are two boons to having such fucked up magic in The Known World. Karl basically has unlimited energy to cast spells with. Most spells limit how much energy you can dump into them by your Magery advantage level. So if Karl has Magery 3, he can still only dump three energy per round into his fireball. However, some spells that would normally require multiple casters or a single caster dumping energy into a spell or item over a long period of time, don't in The Known World. FYI, I'm probably going to change infinite to something less insane but still ridiculously high like 100, rather than infinite. This is because I'm suddenly envisioning Karl rapid fire casting great wish all the live long day. This also means that because magic is so fucking prevalent, it makes enchanted items and devices easier to produce, reducing the costs of such things. I also just came up with an additional column about the recharge rate of powerstones. It's somewhat irrelevant to this conversation though, because this conversation is primarily about The Known World and powerstones aren't used for much more than powering enchanted items in The Known World.

So when do you apply more penalties to effective skill level with a spell? My whole concept of sorcery in Hekinoe works under the assumption that the majority of the spells in GURPS Magic exist, and if they were too unreliable due to excessive energy costs, they couldn't exist. So there's no penalty for the base amount of energy spent on a spell, but energy amount does affect misfire. So you apply a -1 to your effective skill level with a spell when you exceed the base amount of energy needed to cast the spell, and an additional -1 for exceeding further multiples of the spell's base energy cost. Base energy means one of two things: the lowest amount of energy necessary to cast the spell, or your Magery level for spells that allow you to put energy into a spell based on your Magery. Whichever is higher is considered the "base" amount needed to cast the spell. Let's return to Karl and his fireball.

As previously stated, Karl is casting fireball and has a base skill level of 16 with that spell. He gets a -2 to effective skill level due to The Known World's sorcerous energy levels, dropping it to 14 (which is still a respectable 90.7% chance of doing it right. Fireball lets you dump energy into it up to your Magery level each second for a maximum of three seconds before you complete casting it and hurl it. Karl's Magery is 3. Fireball deals 1d burning damage per energy spent on it, so Karl could throw a 3d fireball with a skill level of 14. If he dumped 1 - 3 more energy into it on the second turn, that would exceed the base amount needed to cast the spell and would impose an additional -1 penalty to effective skill level. If he decided to go three full turns at max energy input, he'd be casting a 9d burning fireball with an effective skill level of 12, which is only a 74.1% chance of success. Then he'd have to use the Innate Attack skill to throw it.

As another example, lets look at the extinguish fire spell (which Karl has a base skill level of 16 with), which is an area spell. Area spells have a base size of 1 yard, and casting extinguish fire costs 3 energy. Area spells can be customized, but it costs more energy. You simply multiply the base cost by the number of yards the area is going to be. So Karl's base cost for a 1 yard extinguish fire is 3, so basically he'll have an additional -1 penalty to effective skill level with extinguish fire for every yard after the first he wants to extinguish fires in. It looks like all area spells will operate a similar way.

Spells also become more unreliable the longer they exist. This is mostly only relevant to enchanted items and sorcerously created creatures and objects. Many spells have a specific duration that can be extended via more energy. With a spell that can be maintained, you basically roll against your effective skill level as if you were casting it again when you maintain it. Every duration after the first imposes a cumulative -1 to your effective skill level though, and you also have the issue of exceeding the minimum energy needed to cast the spell.

Let's look at Karl and the resist cold spell, which he has a base skill of 16 with. Resist cold has a duration of 1 minute and costs 2 energy to cast and can be maintained for 1 energy. Karl is in The Known World, so his skill level automatically drops to 14. He casts it successfully though. One minute later, he is still cold, so he maintains it, which gives him a second minute and exceeds the base energy to cast it. He rolls as if casting it again, but has a -1 for exceeding the base duration and another -1 for exceeding the base energy cost, so he's at an effective skill level of 12. He succeeds. He finds he needs a third minute, so he rolls as if casting it again and pays to maintain it. He only gets the -1 for the additional duration this time though, as his total additional energy cost is at 2. If he were to try to eke out another minute from it, he'd exceed the multiple of the base cost and get the -1 from energy expenditures plus the -1 from a fourth duration from the spell.

There will be a technique that may be purchased that reduces the penalties to effective skill level from the various conditions described above. Regardless of how high a character purchases it, there will always be a -2 to effective skill level due to the ambient sorcerous energy levels of The Known World. 

Ok, so that's all fairly minor and basically just makes casting spells slightly less clunky than previous versions of magic in Hekinoe. Let's get to the major change. The one I really want to talk about. Are you ready for this? Here goes:

Magic isn't a taught skill.

Breathe with me now. It took me a long time to accept that fact, and it contradicts much of what I've written in previous posts about magic on this blog, but it's true. I've accepted it. You should too. Ok, magic isn't a taught skill. We've accepted it, together, and bonded over the subject. We're moving on, together, into a future of bright suns and magic that is not learned in a book.

That said, I wouldn't call it intuitive, and we're certainly not talking about inborn magical bloodline DnD Sorcerers here. There are definitely aspects of magic that can be, and are, taught. Learning to sense sorcerous energy, learning to identify types of effects and purposes and stuff. There are techniques that can be taught to focus your will and to disperse sorcerous energy from spells. So yeah, there is a bunch of stuff that can be learned, but the actual spells themselves are not taught, because they aren't something that can be taught. Spells are based on the caster's focus and willpower and their ability to have a solid image of what they are trying to achieve with sorcerous energy. The way I see it is the sorcerer constructs a mental construct that symbolically means "I want to achieve X" and when he calls on sorcerous energy, he dumps energy into it and it either does what he wants or shatters the mold because his will was too weak or the goal wasn't visualized and solidified by his willpower enough. When a sorcerer casts a spell, he isn't running complex algorithms of energy expenditure and the square root of fuck off. He's thinking really fucking hard and focusing his will and imagination into a blade to shave off a chunk of infinite energy that he dumps into a template forged by his willpower for the sorcerous energy to follow to create something.

This might present some issues when we talk about identifying the magic of other sorcerers and such. If spells and the casting and crafting of them is symbolic in nature, how can sorcerers identify the spells of others? How can they work together on a big project? Simple. The sorcerous energy acts as a translator. Actually, think of it like different types of currency and the sorcerous energy itself is a currency exchange place. That might sound preposterous, but we're talking about magic here. So what does this mean for buying spells? It means that each college of magic is treated as a wildcard skill. Which means that each college is treated as a very hard skill that costs triple the normal cost. So buying the Earth and Metal College at attribute-3 costs 3 points and buying it at attribute+0 costs 24 points. Attribute in this situation refers to (Will/2) + 5 + Magery level. Using magic as a wildcard skill does impose a frustrating penalty on spellcasters. That penalty is a -1 to effective skill for every prerequisite spell a spell has. In normal GURPS rules, mid and high tier spells often have prerequisite spells or advantages required before you can learn and cast them. The advantages are usually a certain level of Magery, and those will still be required to cast spells. 

So once again, we'll return to Karl and his fireball spell and his base skill level of 16.  GURPS Magic has a handy table in the tail end of it that lists all spells alphabetically and lists their location in the book, what kind of spell they are (melee, missile, area, etc), what college they belong to, their duration, the energy they need to cast, how long they take to cast, any advantage prerequisites they have, and finally how many prerequisite spells they have. So we look at fireball and see that it has 3 prerequisite spells (create fire and shape fire, which both have ignite fire as a prerequisite). So Karl's base skill level of 16 with fireball is modified by -2 for The Known World's onslaught of sorcerous energy, and an additional -3 for how many prerequisite spells it has. This drops his effective skill level with it to 11. This penalty to effective skill level due to prerequisite spells represents the difficulty a sorcerer has when casting complex spells with lots of working parts. When Karl casts fireball, it is more complex than igniting flammable materials (ignite fire), simply creating fire and letting it do what it wants (create fire), and shaping a fire to conform to his wishes (shape fire) each are alone. It combines elements of all three at the same time, so his mental construct is going to be more complex and he's going to have to direct more energy in more ways.

Don't worry. I have more bad news.

Because spells are not a learned thing, there is a cap on how high you can buy each college of magic. Don't get me wrong, you can get better at shaping the energy and that sort of thing and can become more accustomed to the rigors of spellcasting, so there is some wiggle room for improvement. But not enough wiggle room that you can start buying colleges as attribute+5 and whatnot. The cap on how high you can buy each college is attribute+0. 

Now I have good news.

Shaping and casting spells is primarily about mental focus and having a rock solid picture of your goal, half-assed or fuzzy mental constructs are going to get wrecked. Because of this, characters with the Visualization advantage increase the cap on how high they can buy the colleges by +1. So attribute+1. You don't get it for free, it's a permission the advantage grants you. Additionally, each college has a skill tied to it that does the same thing if you have a base skill level of 15 in that spell. These two permissions stack, potentially allowing for the purchase of a college up to attribute+2. For instance, the fire college is tied to the explosives (demolitions or fireworks) skill, the mind control college is tied to either the brainwashing or the hypnotism skill. This all represents practical knowledge related to the college improving your understanding of what that college is about, which improves your ability to create solid mental constructs to fill with sorcerous energy.

So lets return to fire spells and now we'll say that Karl is into demolitions and has a base skill level of 15 in Explosives (Demolitions) and the Visualization advantage and has purchased his fire college all the way up to attribute+2. Let's say Karl has a Will of 14 and he still has Magery 3, so we're looking at Fire College - 17 for Karl's fire spells. If we factor in the fucked up magic of The Known World, we're looking at 15. If we're talking about casting a fireball, we're looking at an effective skill of 12, or a 74.1% chance of successfully fireballing his enemies. With his Magery 3, he'll be able to hit them with 3d of burning damage, with an average of 11 damage. Assuming no magic of fire specific protections, that has a reasonable chance of fucking a bro up. Or at least making them think about life and wish they'd gone to college instead of trying to rob the shit out of this fucking gunslinging sorcerer in a bowler hat.

Unfortunately we run into a slight problem when we talk about spells like flaming armor (you wreathe yourself in flames, with the usual type of effects). With all the information listed above, Karl's skill would be 8 (because flaming armor has 7 prerequisite spells). Even if Karl has Magery 4 (a suggested cap for most game worlds), His skill would only be 9. Which is a 37.5% chance of success. In previous versions of this stuff, I've allowed Magery to go up to 7. Were Karl to somehow be the most powerful sorcerer in Hekinoe and have Magery 7 (only one character has Magery 7 in this previous iteration of the rules), he'd still only have an effective skill level with flaming armor of 14.

Flaming armor and fireball are small fries though. Move terrain, which kind of allows a sorcerer to go Kandor on an area, has 29 prerequisite spells. Enlarge other, which increases the targets size modifier based on the energy spent on the spell, has 17 prerequisite spells. Reflex, which is kind of like the quicken spell metamagic feat, has 16 prerequisites.

So we see here that we have a shit ton of higher tier spells that are going to leverage extremely high penalties for casting them, plus the pre-existing and fairly minor penalty from The Known World's sorcerous energy, plus more penalties for making spells bigger, deadlier, and longer. We also have the issue of radically unstable Magery and all these penalties to effective skill level causing misfires to be excessively likely. This is something I've been gnawing on for days now and I have some options. My goal isn't to make spellcasting impossible, or two create additional options to negate all these difficulties. My goal here is to make it so the GURPS rules accurately represent Hekinoe's magic and how it works. So, onto options for reducing these penalties and making it functional but still accurate to my mental picture of Hekinoe.

The first is to allow Magery to get to excessive levels. As previously stated, it is suggested that campaigns use a Magery cap of 4 or 5 levels. I've gone with 7 for The Known World in previous versions of this discussion. Capping Magery at 15 would make the lives of sorcerers a lot easier. Most high tier spells end up with 10 - 15 prerequisite spells. Spells like move terrain seem to be rarities. So a character with a Will of 14 or higher would have a decent shot at negating prerequisite penalties and casting spells successfully. The problem then becomes Karl shooting off a 15d (average of 53 damage) fireball in one second in a game world where most creatures have 13 - 20  hit points and have to start making HT rolls to remain conscious after 10 - 15 damage.

The second option is to create a technique that lets you buy off the prerequisite penalties for spells, but doesn't increase your effective skill level with them, just neutralizes the penalties. Which is what techniques do. But techniques aren't meant to be used every time you do something. They're meant to buy off penalties for when you try to do something specific under equally specific circumstances with a skill, not be used all the time in place of the skill.

The third option is to remove the restriction on how high you can buy the college skills. I don't want to. It also makes each college of spells into a massive points sink if you're trying to use skill level to neutralize prerequisite penalties. To buy the fire college at attribute+3 to neutralize the prerequisite penalties for fireball would cost 60 character points total. Whoa. Attribute+10 would be 144 character points. It's not practical and isn't what I want to do.

The fourth option, which is really just option three point five, is to create more criteria that allow for colleges to be purchased at higher levels, but that runs into the same excessive cost thing as option the third. This could be ameliorated somewhat by reducing the cost of the colleges to a very hard skills with double the cost, or even just the regular cost. The actual wildcard magic guidelines lump all colleges into one single magic skill, which offers a shit ton of utility even at three times the cost of a normal very hard skill.

The fifth option is to fuck off and play Fallout 4 for six to ten hours.

The sixth option is to drink scotch until my life makes sense again.

The seventh option, which looks promising, is to drink scotch and combine elements of options one and four. So let's talk about that option.

I think I'm ok with saying that Magery caps at 10 levels. Depending on which points total we use for character creation, characters could start with a Magery level of 1 - 3 and have the option of purchasing Magery up to level 6 with character points gain from adventuring or downtime learning. Magery levels of 7 - 9 would need to be gained via character points accrued during downtime learning. Similar to the previous version of this stuff, there would be one character on Hekinoe with Magery 10. To be able to learn Magery 10 you would have to have him teach you. 

There are 24 colleges of magic, so reducing the points cost of each college to that of a normal very hard skill, instead of three times normal like a wildcard skill would be more expensive than lumping them all into one Magic! wildcard skill. I may combine the colleges somewhat, as there is a bit of overlap between them, specifically the air college and the weather college. Regardless of how many colleges there are going to be, we're going to go with each college skill being a very hard skill, rather than a wildcard skill. I'm also going to say that the colleges default to one another at -4. This would allow characters to focus on a few colleges with their character points, but still be able to do whatever with magic. It would just be harder because they're unaccustomed to shaping and guiding sorcerous energy to do those things. So if Karl had a base skill level of 16 with the fire college, but hadn't bought the necromantic college, he could still try and cast some necromancy, he'd just have a -2 from ambient sorcerous energy in The Known World, -4 from inexperience with necromancy bullshit, plus the prerequisite penalty for any spell he tries to cast. It'll be difficult, but he can do it. 

Interlude: I just took a look at the weather college, it's complete bullshit. Every spell in it appears in the air or water college. So the weather college is gone and we're down to 23 colleges. Woo for consolidation! I might decide to lump the body control and healing colleges together. We'll see though.

Back to business. The maximum at which you can buy each college skill is still attribute+0. But there are three advantages that allow you to increase that cap by +1 for each that you possess. Those advantages are Unfazeable (because it kind amounts to you not freaking out about weird things, like an endless sea of magic trying to shove its way through you like bad Mexican food you bought at a gas station of three in the morning), Versatile (because it means you are skilled at using your mind to imagine things differently than they are), and Visualization (because it means you are skilled at seeing things as you want them to be). So if you have all three, you are allowed to purchase each college up to attribute+3. Additionally, each of the 23 colleges will be tied to a regular skill. Characters that have a base level of 15 in that skill increase how high they can buy that college by +1. Characters that have a base level of 16 in that skill increase how high they can buy the college by another +1. So with all that piled together, you could purchase a college at attribute+5. 

Ok, so that's a rough outline of some changes I'm making to Hekinoe sorcery. I'll probably post a bit more on this topic. There won't be any real changes to the way enchanted items operate, but I would like to kind of outline alchemy at some point since I haven't done it before. Wee!