Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Remaking Magic: 4 Pages of Spells Per Class

Of all of the decisions I've made during the development of Heroes Against Darkness, the page limitation on spells per class is - at first glance - amongst the most arbitrary.  However, my hope is that this limitation actually reinforces the game's goal of balancing the magi and martial classes.

Over the course of the 10 levels of full support in Heroes Against Darkness, the martial classes have about 17 powers.  These 17 powers include a few common ones, like Rally, Melee Attack, and Ranged Attack, and then unique powers for each class which two are gained each level up to Level 5, and then one per level until Level 10.  All in all, each martial class's 17 powers takes up two pages.  By way of contrast, each of the magi classes has spells from the Common Spells list (which is itself three pages) and from the class's unique list which I deliberately limited to four pages.  The spells generally take up a little more space on the page than the martial powers, so the four unique pages of spells for each magi class gives them about 35 spells, which is twice as many spell powers as the martial characters have martial powers.

I previously wrote about the number of pages that some other fantasy RPGs have dedicated to their spell lists:

RPG Round-Up: How Many Pages of Spells!?

Here's the breakdown, for your convenience:

D&D Systems

System Pages of Spells Player's Guide Pages Percentage Notes
Basic D&D 4 64 6% Combined Player's and DM's Guide
Expert D&D 8 64 13% Combined Player's and DM's Guide
AD&D 60 128 47%
AD&D 2nd Edition 118 256 46%
D&D 3rd Edition 115 286 40%
D&D 4th Edition 39 316 12% Cleric, Paladin, Warlock, Wizard

Non-D&D Systems

System Pages of Spells Player's Guide Pages Percentage Notes
Castles & Crusades 53 128 41%
Dragon Warriors 35 106 33%
Dragon Age 4 64 6% Level 1-5 only
Dungeon Crawl Classic 44 147 30%
Heroes Against Darkness 23 102 23%
Pathfinder 150 396 38%
Savage Worlds
(Explorer's Edition)
10 159 6%
Savage Worlds:
Fantasy Companion
21 158 13% Includes spells in the Explorer's Edition
Savage Worlds
(Deluxe Edition)
11 159 7%
Swords & Wizardry 24 70 34%
Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing
(2nd Edition)
23 189 12%

Maybe it's unfounded, but my feeling is that games that dedicate a disproportionately large number of their pages to spell lists are more likely to focus more on magi classes at the expense of other classes.  More pages of spells gives magi more options and tempts the games' designers to create more and more specialist spells, which are themselves likely to stomp on the specialties of other classes.  So each extra page of spells for the magi increases the scope of that class and when that is not matched by a corresponding increase in the capabilities of the martial classes, then the relative power and utility of that magi class increases.

Obviously, magi do offer a level of complexity in play then martial characters, and the magic system in Heroes Against Darkness still offers that complexity (and more through the flexible anima system).  Hopefully the game finds a balance between the complexity of the magi classes with the utility of the martial classes.

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.


  1. You're not wrong: the page count dedicated to stuff only some characters will use is something that bugs me. It's one of several of my beefs with the 3.x stack.

    Two things:
    - Slap a % column on there. Make the proportion really stand out. It says more, I think, than flat page counts (it makes AD&D look a lot worse, and Pathfinder look less godawful).

    Basic D&D, 6%
    Expert D&D, 13%
    AD&D, 47%
    AD&D 2E, 46%
    D&D 3E, 40%
    D&D 4E, 12%
    Castles & Crusades, 41%
    Dragon Warriors, 33%
    Dragon Age, 6%
    Dungeon Crawl Classic, 30%
    Heroes Against Darkness, 23%
    Pathfinder, 38%
    Savage Worlds (Explorer's), 6%
    Savage Worlds: Fantasy, 13%
    Fantasy Companion,
    Savage Worlds, 7%
    Swords & Wizardry, 34%
    WFRP 2E, 12%

    - I'm not sure how I feel about the 4E data. I guess the page count's being driven by the pages of powers for classes that are getting spells in the other books? In one sense, that's apples-to-apples ("How many pages are being spent on cleric/magic-user stuff?"), in another sense, though, it's not. The real issue here is how many pages are beings spent on things relevant to only a small selection of characters and, in that regard, 4E does a great job of given every class a roughly comparable page count.

    1. Thanks for the percentages Rushputin, I've added them to the chart for extra insight!