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.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Remaking Magic: Blood Anima

One of the deliberate features of the magic system in Heroes Against Darkness is the strict limits on the amount of anima that is available to magi. Level 1 magi have about 9 anima and by Level 10 they have about 15 anima.  This is combined with the rules that limit the amount of anima that magi can spend in a single turn: Level + 1 anima.

Rule:  Maximum anima points is 5 + Wisdom bonus.
Rule:  Magi spend anima points to cast spells.
Rule:  All spells have an anima points cost.
Rule:  Variable anima cost spells must have at least 1 anima spent on the variable X component.
Rule:  Magi cannot spend more than Level + 1 anima points in a single turn.
Rule:  Magi can end the ongoing effects of their own spells as a move action.

The combination of these two rules means that magi have a virtual abundance of anima at lower levels, but at higher levels they have the potential (and risk) to 'spend' their anima very quickly, or to eek out lesser amounts over more rounds.

But there's always another option.  Once magi are out of anima they can choose to use blood anima to pay for their spells:

Rule:  Magi can overspend anima at the cost of 4 health points per anima point.
Rule:  Magi cannot overspend anima on healing spells.

Each blood anima costs 4 HP, so magi will generally be able to afford an extra blood anima each level they gain, in addition to the four or five that they have at Level 1.  So by Level 10, a brave magi has almost 30 anima at their disposal, rather than the nominal value of 15, which is their actual anima.

A curious person would ask, simply:

What is the point of blood anima?  Why not just double the amount available anima (or ramp up to the higher amount) and get rid of the blood anima?

Why indeed...

In combat warriors and their ilk 'spend' their HP to defeat enemies.  Blood anima introduces a risk/reward mechanic for magi classes.  The player of a magi character can choose to operate within the limitations of their normal anima or they can choose to use their blood anima to increase their round-to-round power at the risk of their character's safety.  The also combines with the Rally power, making that power all the more effective when used by a character whose anima and health are depleted, compared to a magi who has only used his (or her) anima and is otherwise on full HP.

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

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Remaking Magic: Avoid All Absolutes

Yet another of my self-imposed 'rules' for Heroes Against Darkness is to avoid the sorts of absolute effects of earlier (and future!) versions of D&D.  The history of D&D is littered with absolute effects, here are a few of the more egregious that come to mind:

•  Immunities (such as the Dwarven immunity to poison that has reappeared in the D&D Next playtest)
•  Weapon Requirements (creatures that are only vulnerable to +1 or better weapons?!?)
•  Massive Damage (creatures taking more than 50 HP damage in a single attack must save or die)
•  Sleep Immunity (Elves are immune to sleep effects)
•  Attacking Low-Level Enemies (Fighters can make multiple attacks against enemies of 1 HD)

Each of these examples has an absolute effect and has no regard for the magnitude or potency of the effect, nor the relative strength or weakness of the target and the attacker.  But these are mechanical examples, and we're here to discuss magic, so how about some examples of D&D spells that have absolute effects:

•  Magic Missile (always hits, even targets that have cover or high magic defense)
•  Sleep (affects 4 HD of creatures, or creatures with less than 10 HP each in the D&D Next playtest)
•  Knock (opens any old lock, no waiting)
•  Power Word Kill (target with up to 100 HP must make save or die)

In Heroes Against Darkness I've tried to kill the sacred cows, to remove the anomalies and exceptions and layers that are gumming up the works of D&D, and to get rid of the evidence of the biases and idiosyncrasies of the designers behind the systems.

•  Why does Magic Missile automatically hit?  Because someone decided to make an exception.
•  Why does Knock open any lock?  Because someone didn't have a rogue/thief with the party that day?
•  Why can't clerics use edged weapons?  Because someone misunderstands or misrepresents a piece of history.
•  Why can magic-users only use daggers or staffs?  Because someone likes it like that.
•  Why does sleep affect 4 HD of creatures and not 5 HD?
•  Why do fighters only get attacks against 1 HD creatures  What about 2 HD creatures?  Why are they so different?

Heroes Against Darkness avoids these sorts of absolutes by using inclusive design, rather than specific design (such as for equipment proficiencies), by using Defenses and Attacks to determine whether an attack hits or not, and by applying costs to spell components to ensure that the overall cost of a spell is proportional to its actual power.  The one area where I am most likely to have made arbitrary decisions in Heroes Against Darkness is in the assignment of martial powers to each level.  It's here where I've had to make judgements of the relative utility and required skill level for each of the powers, and it's here where I'm most likely to have erred.  So if you find evidence of my idiosyncrasies and biases, let me know so I can take them out the back and put them on the spit with the rest of the sacred cows!

For further reading, check out these articles by Sean Reynolds:

Fewer Absolute Effects (Variant Rule) - Part 1
Fewer Absolute Effects (Variant Rule) - Part 2

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

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.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Heroes Against Darkness v1.01

I've updated all of the Heroes Against Darkness PDFs to v1.01. This minor update addresses all of the known errata.

In addition to the fixes, I've also added numbering to the GM's Inspiration Board (Page 149) so you can roll for some random inspiration.

Here's the list of fixed errata:
Page 6: Method 1: Normal Player Characters should say 'cumulative total of 63'.
Pages 19-21: 'Common' should be 'Middle-Tongue'.
Page 57: Ranged Attack Powers does not specify that they require line of sight.
Page 75: Winging Shot damage should be '+ Ranged', not '+ Melee'.
Page 84: Shocking Ray missing range component.
Page 88: Bolster refers to 'Anima' instead of 'anima'.
Page 88: Quake refers to 'Anima' instead of 'anima'.
Page 88: Seize Initiative missing 'from you' at the end of the effect area component.
Page 88: Steady refers to 'Anima' instead of 'anima'.
Page 88: Steady anima cost should be 'X Anima'.
Page 134: 'Giants' is misspelled as 'Gaints'.
Page 139: 'princes of princesses' should be 'princes or princesses'.
Page 157: Minotaur art overlaps text.

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

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Pre-Gen Character Packs: Level 3 & Level 5

Pre-gen Heroes Against Darkness character packs for Level 3 and Level 5 are now available on the downloads page.

These packs cover all classes, so there are 11 classes in each pack.

You can download the pack of pre-gen characters for Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Pre-Gen Character Pack: Level 1

I've just uploaded a pack of 11 pre-gen characters for Heroes Against Darkness. These characters cover all classes at Level 1. Enjoy.

You can download the pack of pre-gen characters for Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.