Monday, 18 June 2012

Remaking Magic: Narrative Control

Much to the consternation of some of my more seasoned D&D players, Heroes Against Darkness doesn't have some of the staples of magic that feature in D&D.  When looking for solutions to some problems their characters faced, they'd ask about spells that they'd used in D&D to solve similar situations.

I made a conscious decision in the design of Heroes Against Darkness that the spells would not afford players the sorts of broken tricks and combos that have become a tiresome cliche in D&D.

Here are a few of the main offenders:

•  Teleport
•  Scrying
•  Discern Location
•  Locate Object

The most overused combo is Scry-Buff-Teleport, where characters scry their target (such as with a spell or a crystal ball), and then, having established the target's location, they buff their characters and finally Teleport to the target's location and unload the rest of their spells and attacks while buffed.  Furthermore, the existence of spells like Discern Location, Locate Object, Locate Creature, Scrying, Clairvoyance, Clairaudience means that the simple task of presenting players with a normal locate, rescue, acquisition, recovery, thieving or vengeance quest becomes an exercise in contingencies and failsafes.  As a DM, I've got better things to do than spill thousands of pints of gorgon's blood to prevent this kind of shenanigans!

Teleport (and Teleport Without Fail) is so abused that various editions and expansions have added more spells to counter it:

•  Static Veil (gives bonus to save against scrying attempts)
•  Foil Tracer (Teleport spells cannot be traced)
•  Scry Retaliation (Inflicts damage upon scryer)
•  Teleport Block (No teleports are allowed in or out of area)
•  Teleport Redirect (Switch destination of teleport)
•  Teleport Tracer (Detect destination of teleport)
•  Pretur Ar Nuade (Teleport intruders to specific destination)
•  One Step Beyond (Make target immune to divination)
•  Anticipate Teleport (Alerts caster to a teleport)
•  Greater Anticipate Teleport (Alerts caster and delays teleport)
•  Screen (Protects from scrying and divination)

Never have so many spells been created to mitigate the effects of one bad spell.

To me, spells and combos like this are the equivalent of introducing a weapon at higher levels that totally bypasses all armor.  Once something like this has been introduced, the only option is to add a bunch of magic or magical armor that negates the ability of the weapon, returning the status-quo.  Obviously this is a totally pointless exercise, and one that breaks the game either temporarily or permanently.

D&D's Teleport could be easily 'fixed', perhaps by only allowing teleport into a properly prepared area, rather than just any area.  In Heroes Against Darkness, I'd balance a similar teleport spell by increasing the anima cost (so that you can teleport, but you'll be low on anima once you've reached your destination), increasing the casting duration, adding a temporary Wisdom cost, or maybe applying a condition (e.g. stunned or dazed) to all teleportees for a while after they arrive.

At the end of the day, the idea of narrative control isn't an attempt to railroad the players.  It's more of a case of ensuring that players use more than just one method for solving all problems that I present them with.  If their default solution for almost any problem is to cast Locate Object (or some variation), and then GM has to plan for this and make some plan against it or some reason for it to not work, then there's something wrong.

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


  1. I always take the "Nightcrawler Teleport like" solution: In order to teleport to a location the caster must have been physically there in the past (Depending on the setting I use the character/spell level to give a "time-range" at which the spell will work).
    So a character can locate an object/creature/etc. or scry a location to know how it is, but unless he's been there he'll need to go by more traditional means.

  2. I love what you do with magic as I'm fully against the linear warriors, qaudratic wizards progression. I believe that magic should give a character more options and the potential to do really powerful stuff but with serious limitations/drawbacks. I'm all for teleportation only being between two specially prepared places (such as teleport gates made from a rare stone that has taken months/years to carve).