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Powerlevels and Pretension: FatR's own fantasy heartbreaker
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FatR
Duke


Joined: 16 Dec 2008
Posts: 1141

PostPosted: Sat Jul 16, 2016 8:34 am    Post subject: Powerlevels and Pretension: FatR's own fantasy heartbreaker Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Link to the files is here:
https://yadi.sk/d/EDAdisq63HWXjA

Explanation of Concept
Fairly long ago I began thinking about adapting the d20 system to handle the mechanical part of Exalted, given that the class-level system was a natural fit for the setting and the sorts of games people want to run in it. Over time I came to the conclusion that I don't really like the Exalted setting, either. It's not that I ever lost my love for anime-style powerlevel fights with flashy effects and posturing. And it is not even that the premises of setting were bad (although in practice quite a few of the core ones ended up stinking shit, but I believe I have another thread for ranting about them). It is that the actual setting was so vague, self-contradictory and loving to promise mutually incompatible things that when you got a group of players truly interested in the game, it was damn near impossible to get them on the same page.

But at the same, after switching back to playing and running DnD, I grew more and more enamored with generic DnDland. Not that DnD setting ideas, when authors had to write something beyond vague blurbs, were free of awfulness. But on average DnD simply did a kitchen sink crossover better, and was much easier to prune into a desired shape, you mostly had just to throw away or tweak elements instead of rewriting everything from the foundation. So, gradually, this project turned from Exalted d20 to DnD Anime Action Edition.

As you all know, DnD in its current 3.X/PF incarnation is flawed and is only becoming more flawed with time. Most people tend to harp on about its balance (more specifically, about lack thereof), but the balance problems I found were fairly easy to spot-fix or gloss over with a spoken or unspoken social contract. What irked me most was the excessive complexity and the core assumption of using a tactical map/battle mat, with all the quirks resulting from it.

On the complexity front I found the game really falling apart on the GM's side of the screen (and often on the players side of the screen) past level 10 at the latest. I think, that my ability to memorize mechanical details and desire to do so are above average. Yet I found that forgetting something about one character or another in my stable at a critical moment becomes commonplace at these levels, even if I recheck all the builds before a session, and that I no longer can be arsed to take into the account all the minor tactical modifiers. Also, that generating a level 12+ character - and often a character intended to survive to those levels - definitely takes more time than I'm willing to invest and that this time investment had consistently increased from 3.0 to 3.5 to Pathfinder. Finally, every readthrough of SRD reminded me that there are plenty of rules I've never ever used - or, for that matter, saw in use - in the process of running three grand campaigns from level 1 to 11-16, a good number of smaller games, and participating in a number of smaller games, since I switched from WoD and Exalted back to DnD.

As about the combat system being tied to the map grid, while that might be a good idea from the gameplay standpoint (at least until PCs and their foes become able to use the third dimension in combat or become rocket fast, so in low fantasy games only), it is really unfortunate from the viewpoint of emulating fiction beyond a certain sort of gritty fiction, where characters stand against other, exchange a few blows and one of them drops dead. Fight like these
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PhyK2oy5Z4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KOH2Ocy778
or these
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcXaicGvcvA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXdcPvUz_io
or even these
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3gfFVmw0kA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz0R9XJciO0
are pretty much conceptually unworkable under 3.X. Which is a considerable flaw, given that the most important function of a proper fantasy role-playing game is to allow players to relive cool stuff they saw in fantasy media with their characters. (There is of course an alternate opinion saying that DnD's actual function always was providing Diablo experience on tabletop, with only a very thin veneer of story over it, and the direction in which adventure design for DnD/PF developed over time seems to confirm it, but as my mission statement for this project does not include selling copies, I can afford do not give a fuck about it.)

As you can infer from the above, my main goal #1 was to creating a 3.X-derivative enabling PCs and monsters to participate in badass cinematic action without being tied down by strict positioning rules (and at the same time making the hassle with maps and tokens unnecessary). For that matter initially its core engine was meant as a system for badass cinematic action in Exalted world that neither sucked all that is ass nor was simplified to the point where resolution just wasn't interesting or exciting. I wanted a system that neither made me count 5 ft. squares nor made movement, relative positioning of characters in combat and terrain practically irrelevant (as it does in actual Exalted mechanics).

The main goal #2 was to simplify the system to a manageable level both during character generation and during combat. Compexity has constantly increased through DnD iterations so far, with 5E being the sole clear exception. I wanted to search for a golden middle between wading through ten thousand small modifiers and fiddly options and "lol, make up some rules yourself" 5E-style. Again, this ties to the goal #1, as exact positioning certainly is one of the sources of complexity. Besides that, reducing complexity involved fixing, mitigating or eliminating the following:

-Massive lists of fiddly small modifiers that either demanded special rules for stacking or made round-by-round modifier calculation a huge hassle.
-Option paralysis and play delays from having certain ultraflexible options.
-Buff stacking to the extent of entirely redefining one's character sheet.
-Minor powers that may prove useful one day but mostly just take place on the character sheet.
-Rules that started OK in theory but were just not fucking workable at higher levels, particularly in 3.X context, such as spell memorization.
-Rules that just weren't really anything more than window dressings on GM fiat, such as minutes/level durations, illusion rules, and so on.
-Needlessly complex subsystems (flight, etc).
-Magic items Christmas trees and shopping lists.
-The bloody skill point system.
-Sheer length of lists of everything.

My main goal #3 was addressing more typical complaits about DnD, such as Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards and other inherent disbalances. Given the heritage of these rules you won't be suprised that from the beginning I set out to grant every class a proper power progression of its own. For that purpose all classes are supposed to be divided into three categories - magic-users (duh) of arcane and divine variety who sling spells; martial adepts who, naturally, use martial arts to do the impossible; and awakened who gain superhuman abilities through a transformative experience (initially those latter were class ideas I tinkered with when the game still conceptually was an Exalted d20). I didn't bother with "power sources". All physics-violating abilities in my setting, starting from having more hit points than usual for a creature of your size, are powered by the same source - the Divine Spark possessed by all sapient beings, awakened and enhanced by putting yourself through risky trials that test you to the limit of your current abilities. Different classes are only different in their approaches to harnessing the Spark. Getting yourself some external power greater than what your Divine Spark level allows and punching above your weight category is possible, but all class powers come from inside - even clerical spells are merely taught to the faithful by gods and angels, rather than directly granted.

Finally, my main goal #4 was eliminating certain artifacts of DnD design which only hampered its ability to emulate any type of stories, whether more classic low-key fantasy or powerlevel anime fighting, while also making gameplay more boring. For example (also tying to goal #2), I strove to reduce the question of resource attrition to the binary state of either pushing yourself to the max and using up your best attacks against a boss, or not, with the purpose of disincentivising both throwing boring mook encounters at PCs to drain their resources and five-minute workdays to counter resource drain by mook encounters.

At the moment the part of the system I have completed is its core combat engine, with some of the non-combat engine also in place (there is no real exploration rules, no crafting rules as equipment and wealth rules also are in the state of flux at the moment, and social rules are pretty much a placeholder, just bells and whistles on roleplaying). I'd like to hear the opinions of the Den on the parts of the engine already written before I get too far with filling in specific numbers into monsters and classes and everything.


Last edited by FatR on Mon May 01, 2017 10:40 am; edited 2 times in total
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2016 1:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

If you're going to have nine speed categories and no mnemonic to keep them straight, you should just have speed numbers. Speed Class 5 is two levels higher than Speed Class 3. This also lets you continue to expand if you decide that things need to get bigger at some later level.

If you want things to get bigger and more anime-epic at higher level, the size of combats should simply be relative to the speeds of the combatants. So rather than worrying about what speed level is required to cover two combat regions or whatever, faster characters should simply imply larger combat arenas - with slower characters being increasingly unable to be much more than terrain.

Essentially you want your system to work, and then you want it to stay working when you get to higher levels. So anything you can get to auto-scale and thus "cancel out" is something that you should do. That way you can keep using your working system for low level melees when high level characters are jumping over mountains and throwing houses at each other. Once you've made the choice to abstractify speed and distance, you should take that opportunity.

-Frank
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Schleiermacher
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2016 2:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

This is really clean, structured and well organized, well done!
I'm not a fan of such an abstract positioning and distance system, otherwise I'd like to play it -as is, I will at least cannibalize heaps of it -and imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, isn't that what they say?
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FatR
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2016 7:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Thanks for the advice, Frank, both of your points are sound and I'll likely apply them in the next revision of the rules.

Schleiermacher, I'm glad that my writings may be of use to someone, thanks for your answer as well.
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 17, 2016 9:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

As far as complexity goes, D&D has almost all of it in the abilities themselves. Especially the magical ones. The 3.5 Player's Handbook tells you all about wat is roleplay, how ability scores work, and how to make a character in ten pages. And there's art. The entire tactical combat minigame plus all the art and tangents and size comparisons and shit is done in 28 pages. The mother fucking spell list is one hundred and twenty two pages. Everything that could generously be called a rule in the entire book would fit in less than half the word count of the bloated as fuck spell list. Feats and Skills have some bloat, but really the magic system and all the legacy junk is what fills up all the pages.

Now something can be short in terms of total words and still very complicated at the table. I mean shit, things can have division or even square roots or some fucking thing. But bloated text and ballooning options lists can't be anything but over complicated. There are a lot of places you can make things come together easier.

A 12th level Sorcerer knows 29 fucking spells and might plausibly be expected to choose to cast one of them at a moment's notice. That shit ain't happening. Giving characters a reasonable number of powers to select from on any particular turn is an absolute must, and not particularly difficult, Spell Preparation or WoF type shenanigans could trivially give players a manageable selection tray.

Each individual spell is way too fucking cumbersome. Shadowrun manages to get its equivalent of Fireball into four lines of text including headers, and there's no reason any other game couldn't do that. If your spells are more than 70 words each, you need to rethink your formatting. There's no real reason for every spell to have a line of text for Spell Resistance questions, because that shit is stupid and no one cares. There is simply in general a lot of fat to trim from a D&D spell.

-Frank
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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 18, 2016 4:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Curious to hear more about the positioning system, any existing games inspire you on it?

How will it handle cover, hazardous terrain, AoE, a guy with a shield standing next to your target, do you want mongol archers to rule the steppes or not etc.


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FatR
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 18, 2016 9:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Frank, I must admit that I have a sentimental attachment to DnD spell list, given that it, alongside with the Monster Manual (AD&D 2E versions), were the things that drawn me into RPGs.

That said, you're probably correct. 9 tiers of powers with the minimum of 11 distinct powers per tier in just one of your three separate class power lists is far too much. I still can only vaguely and generally remember what exactly Tome of Battle maneuvers do even after houseruling a whole lot of them, and I could never be arsed to dig into yet another power system for 3.X that wasn't as sorely needed as figtan' magic - I've never bothered to study psionics or incarnum powers deeply enough to actually use them in my games. Also, I'm guilty of just regularly ignoring what the "Feat" section of antagonists' statblocks in published PF adventures I'm using for game materials say once those antagonists get past very low levels - again, I can't be arsed to check on as much as a dozen distinct abilities taken from a fuckhuge list, most of whose are likely to be irrelevant chaff or already contributing to an NPC's written staff, even if some of them can be tactically important.

Some simplification can be achieved just by eliminating almost-never-used dross spells and spells that did not scale just so one could write a spell doing the same thing better higher in a tree. Still, more fundamental streamlining is necessary. Almost from the beginning I decided that would be reducing the total number of spell/power levels in the game to at most 7, if not 4. And I'll look at the Shadowrun spell format to see what I can borrow. But I'm no fan of very brief and discrete powers, in particular because having such generally means a character needs more individual powers on his charsheet to possess the same level of competency, as Exalted's Charm system (and to an extent 3.X' feats) reminded me constantly.

As about spell access by classes, in my experience the sorcerer is the least offender, and even players not inclined to delve into mechanics at all can handle it at two-digit levels. Either only your top 2, at most top 3 spell levels are routinely used (a sorcerer has plenty enough spells in them to deal with the usual number of encounters), or just you just blast with your metamagic-abuse blast combo suggested by more savvy players all day. The wizard is more problematic, because he may actually have more daily choices and he may regularly stop the session thinking on how to reshuffle them. And he probably has a lot more options that a GM needs to be prepared for in general. More importantly memorization just doesn't fucking work as a system past level 7 or so. A GM who doesn't want to slow the session down even more will just pretend he listens to your memorization choices (instead of demanding you to hand down a writen list without which he sure as hell won't be able to remember them all) and will at most pay attention to, again, your top spell levels. And full-list access preparation casters, clerics and druids, are the fucking worst, because their daily choices are so large and auto-expand with each supplement. Add here crafting and Magic Mart shopping, and while running an optimization- and tactics-savvy party, by level 9 or so I was routinely spending half the session twiddling my thumbs while the players discussed the optimal preparations for steamrolling the current enemy.

That said, the idea of reducing the number of powers available for selection for any level, even beyond what reduction in the number of distinct levels of power may accomplish on itself, already naturally came to my mind. Of course, that also means that highly situational chaff in the list of selectable powers should be removed or condensed into bigger powers. But that I feel is a desirable goal on its own.

Ogre Battle, no offense, but I feel you haven't read the actual docs provided in the link, which already cover most of what you asked (I don't guarantee they cover those points well, but that's why I'm here asking for opinions or advice).

As about mongol archers, well, a combatant with mobility superiority and ranged superiority is probably going to win, and on open ground he will have easier time winning, because he will see enemies coming, instead of running right into them as he turns a corner. My duty as a designer is just to ensure that a character can't easily have have both mobility and ranged superiority because being a wizard just provides those with the package, or because the vast majority of Monster Manual in my edition has neither mobilty nor effective ranged options. Or just because fighting men have to be ultraspecialized into melee or ranged, and the former option is hobbled by the system too much.


Last edited by FatR on Mon Jul 18, 2016 10:05 pm; edited 2 times in total
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 18, 2016 9:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

As far as different speeds go, you're going to want something more complex than simply "higher speed means that you can evade lower speed melee units forever." Like, avoiding melee with people should be a thing that takes some amount of effort on your part, with decreasing amounts of effort as your speed bulge becomes greater.

So if your speed number is X more than theirs, where X is whatever speed difference qualifies as a whole lot, then sure you can say "Lol, no." the next time one of those assholes tries to engage you in melee. If the speed differential is less, it should use up some of your speed for the turn to deny them.

Practically what this means is that if you're faster than the evil cleric's zombie, you can refuse to allow it to close with you. But the act of doing so means that you are operating at a speed penalty and thus the evil cleric can deny your attempt to engage him.

-Frank
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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 18, 2016 9:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

None taken, I had missed that link and was trying to find where Frank got the "9 speed levels" from with ctrl+f...
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 19, 2016 2:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I've only read the first document so far, but I like that "fascinated" and "dazzled" actually do something in your rules as opposed to being a complete waste of space.
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FatR
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 19, 2016 7:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Frank, I thought about it and round-by-round speed penaltes are another good idea, as it will likely provide another incentive to first eliminate mooks, instead of immediately trying to concentrate on boss.

Hogarth, dazzled is -4 to attack and attribute checks related to vision. It is left there because there are tons of creatures that are supposed to be heavily invonvenienced to sunlight in fantasy, yet not bust into flames on contact with it (from orcs to elves, and for that matter many fiction vampires also are just uncomfortable, instead of burning), giving them vision problems is the most obvious choice to reflect that and then it is better to have a standard condition for those.

Fascinated is standing hypnotized (and being much easier to shank if the shanker tries to hide his intent at all - for that matter, need to fix the description so that it matches the current system for stabbing people by surprise), you're supposed to drop in on individuals to apply better charm magic after it or on crowds to play the piper of Hameln.
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FatR
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 27, 2016 9:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

An idea this time, rather than a ready document.

I've once written a more or less stereotypical tier concept for this game, describing what character should be able to do, but as I'm inclined to think that making a monster manual first and THEN crafting classes to fit the challenges is probably a better idea, I've decided to start with a reverse approach, and formulate what opponents and obstacles should be like.

Settings a few baseline assumptions first. One rule I strongly consider for monsters is Hit Dice = CR. Certainly this should be applicable for anything that might be a remote candidate for being a playable character and possibly even for things that might not. A bear or a giant scorpion may just have really good physical stats.
This more or less requires reducing 3.X' existing divergences between good and bad stat progressions (of course save progressions are replaced with Defense progressions in my model) so that a monster won't end up with stats wildly off the charts due to a wrong type. I think that good progression for BAB and Defenses should be your level and bad progression should be 3/4ths of your level (applies to character classes as well, of course), while for hit points most monster types should have d10 with the minimum Hit Die being d8 and the maximum d12. I'm not exactly sure what motivated 3.X fuckery due to which say, undead, had to have massive Hit Dice numbers to remain competitive, but I'm fairly sure that it did not add anything worthwile to the game in my experience.

Tiers are Adventurer/Heroic/Epic/Cosmic, and I belive they should go 2/6/6/6. The conceptual space at the lowest tier is just very narrow and impossible to expand without digging into details that are bound to become immensely minor as soon as characters leave the tier, an equivalent of what heroic mortals can do in Exalted. Besides, traditionally levels 1-2 in DnD stood aside from the rest due to luck-based gameplay and low number of abilities. I've read arguments about people feeling obligated to start with level 1 if numbering starts there, and while I'm not sure design should deliberately accomodate stupid people, I can as well make each tier start with its own level 1: Adventurer 1-2, Heroic 1-6, and so on.

Adventurer Tier - "Giant Rat Catchers". Levels 1-2. At these levels PCs are facing an array of opponents typical for "realistic" or "low" fantasy - humanoid thugs, mundane animals, and, as the name suggests, oversized vermin. Minor magical creatures, such as zombies, sprites and perhaps imps, also make an appearance, but even given that, monsters that exclusively melee are in the majority. Everything in this tier might be reasonably defeated by a single healthy man with proper equipment, so creatures that have good extraordinary (such as poison spit) or magical (such as minor illusions) tricks should be extremely fragile physically. A mirror match opponent with good bit perfectly mundane equipment and mundane skills, such as an armored knight, or a creature that has any sort of strong supernatural advantage without being squishy, such as a ghoul, should be bossfights or close to that.
As about inanimate obstacles, dangerous roads, city architecture, unguarded walls, crudest of traps and milder examples of actual wilderness, such as normal forests, hills, swamps or less dangerous sorts of mountains and caves, should be proper challenges for an adventurer tier party travelling on their own. To cross jungle, or desert, or ocean, or wilderness that might be infested by monsters or populated by unfriendly inhabitants they likely should band together with fellow adventurer-tier people.
Highest stakes for which PCs fight include life or death for villages or other small settlements, which may be reasonably wiped out by raiders or an uncontrolled predator, political control for anything bigger - while PCs cannot conquer a city on their own, they certainly can help or hinder a noble or a political faction in their struggle for supremacy.

Heroic Tier - "Swords Against Darkness". Levels 3-8. The land of a typical published DnD adventure. PCs are superhuman and so are your opponents. But neither operate entirely beyond the realm of mundane humanity. Certainly, a single adventurer-tier character will need ideal environment and good planning (or a lot of dumb luck, or all of that in case of higher-level threats) to overcome a heroic threat, but a well-trained regiment of common human (or dwarf or whatever) soldiers can at the very least give a serious fight to anything encountered in the heroic tier. Using heroes to dispath a marauding monster or solve a crisis is generally more convenient for logistical and morale reasons, and of course when two armies meet, one with better heroes will hold a big advantage, but in principle sending an army of little men against a threat is something that can be reasonably expected to work at the heroic tier.
This places certain restrictions on monsters in this tier. Monsters at the heroic tier can have amazing tricks - such as medusa's gaze or ogre's ability to bash heads in melee. But these tricks always can be potentially negated by mundane means. An ogre is fairly dumb and clumsy, so you can kite him, a medusa's gaze can be avoided by closing your eyes and without it she's not really tough, a wraith's invulnerability is nullified by sunlight and touch of fire, a tyrannosaur may be big, strong and fast, but it's too big to go where humans can go and stupid enough to throw itself against a cliff in rage while people above turn him into pincushion.
And conversely this means that single-trick ponies are acceptable as opponents at the heroic tier. Thus typical opponents include various megafauna, from dire wolves to above-mentioned tyrannosaures, the usual DnD array of magical beats and monstrous humanoids, from minotaurs to manticores, lesser giants, most of the common undead and fey types, as well as lesser spirits ("outsiders" was a really shitty name because they, after all, were not outside the cycle of souls). Squads and then regiments of humanoids also should play a prominent role.
Speaking of obstacles, really harsh and extreme natural climates (Antarctic, Sahara, etc), and milder supernatural ones (Mordor, Underdark) would be appropriate challenges. So would be heavily trapped tombs, elaborate obstacle courses and actively guarded walls. Characters are assumed to have access to means of overland and limited tactical flight from external sources (meaning flying mounts, or, depending on tech level of the specific part of the setting, airships) at the second half of this tier, but not tactical flight under their own power. Improved over the mundane baseline means of naval and ground travel also are assumed to be available.
Highest stakes for which PCs fight include existence of civilization and possibly survival of their species over large areas. When defense against them fails, heroic-tier monsters are quite capable of reducing humanoid populations to scattered tribes hiding in difficult-to-access places, or even extirpating them entirely. Of course, invading forces also can do the same sort of damage.

Epic Tier - "Games of Empires". Levels 9-14. The land of mid-level DnD adventures as actually enabled by the rules. Dumb melee brutes and other one-trick ponies need not apply. Every entity capable of competing at this tier has a combination of offensive and defensive abilities that make armies of small adventurer-tier men essentially irrelevant, and even whole packs of heroic-tier monsters might find themselves helpless. Even the physically weakest, spellcastiest epic-tier creature is a bruiser capable of tearing an average human limb from limb with its bare hands, and those primarily depending on physical might are likely to have a couple of serious magic or technological tricks in their pocket in addition to their superstrength and superspeed. Or to know supernatural martial arts. Extraordinary movement types, multiple immunities, and abilities that cannot possibly be countered by mundane means are part-and-parcel of epic-tier monsters.
At this tier the need to make up some new monsters becomes serious, because only a few of 3.X monsters could actually keep up with mid-to-high level 3.X parties playing intelligently, never mind parties entirely consisting of optimized full casters - outsiders, dragons, maybe a few aberrations, and beoynd that you had to use templated player classes.
Environment at epic tier can be dowright lethal to mundane men in matters of minutes, if not rounds - crushing ocean depths, poisoned abyssal swamps, plains of fire, etc. If traps still happen it is something like the entire dungeon being pumped with flesh-eating poison gas when invisible magical sensors get triggered. There is an expectation that from now on PCs can handle travel by themselves, though unusually resistant vehicles or mounts can still be relevant. And speaking of environment, as mundane defenses such as posting guards and making strong doors are easily bypassed as this tier, to avoid offense from outstripping defense again, epic and above creatures should be able to produce lair environmental effects.
Given the above, it is obvious that epic monsters can break a default setting. They may be dormant threats that allow little people to exist within their attack radius as long as no one is stupid enough to poke them (like Smaug), or they may prefer areas that limit their impact on surface-dwelling culture from which PCs come (like various Cthulhu-inspired horrors, such as mindflayer elder brains and advanced aboleths), but if neither is true, a single epic-tier entity or a small party of them can fairly easily carve themselves an empire with their own sheer power, thus the tier name. If several such groups are currently active, the world is likely to be divided between them, except perhaps for areas of little value that all sides ignore. To encounter a fully epic-tier ecology PCs will need to travel to an extraplanetary or extradimensional deathworld (thankfully DnD cosmology gives a plenty of ideas for these). Therefore the typical stakes at the epic tier involve either political control on continental and even planetary scale, or preventing demons, aliens or something similarly outclassing "normal" DnDland inhabitants from getting free access to your planet and fucking it up.

Cosmic Tier - "Piercing the Heavens". Levels 15-20. Crazyland of optimized high-level DnD, except hopefully more playable. At this tier gods, titans, demon lords and eldritch horrors play. Attacks that can wipe out less-than-cosmic beings on a vast scale, multi-vector threats (for example, putting a severe strain on your hit points bar at the same time as dropping mind rape effects and damaging your Int even if they fail), lists of immunities exceeding what a creature is not immune to, and general purpose death-proofing become common. Killing things deader than dead, and then sealing, imprisoning and binding become regular necessities, as do immunity lists of your own. Gathering information about what you're going to face and adapting may be vital.
Monsters at this tier are largely unique - because it is seriously time to take on Tiamat, Demogorgon and Asmodeus. Probably all need to be written from scratch, given that typical 3.X design for high-CR is either taking a full caster and giving him a much stronger base body with extra abilities, which could work at providing challenge but made monsters way too complex and difficult to run, or making a big sack of HP and melee attacks that was probably going to be killed in one round.
As cosmic PCs may be able to casually disregard "naturally" lethal environments, environments that can challenge them should either have multiple extremely harmful factors, such as surface of a star, or be supernaturally dangerous, such as Far Realm's mind-blasting chaos, or hell dimensions of infinite agony to where you'll be shifted upon entering a divine domain with hostile intent.
At the cosmic tier stakes grow to exceed boundaries of a single world. Those can be conquered or depopulated just by showing up. Grand plans of cosmic beings may impact galaxies and dimensions, if not the entire multiverse.
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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 28, 2016 8:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Armor Class is mentioned as a way to avoid being hit in the 'Attack Roll' section, but then Reflex is mentioned as a way to avoid being hit, and 'external fortitude' is mentioned as a way to tank hits and includes your armor bonus. I'm guessing that external Fortitude is meant to replace AC and it was just a typo that armor class was mentioned?

So the game's action economy has standard actions and full round actions, do you plan on using 3e style iterative attacks or something else?

Right now when somebody grapples they can't move, I think that could be modified in a way where the better your grapple result vs your opponent the more options you have so a wyvern can swoop down to snatch a goat and fly away but if it tried that with Hulk Hogan there's a chance the Hulkster does a reversal that slams the wyvern to the ground with the power of Hulkamania.
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FatR
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 28, 2016 11:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Yes, Armor Class is just a legacy typo that was not eliminated. As about iterative attacks, I'm thinking about a flat -5 or -4 penalty for all attacks after ther first. That said, full attacks probably are going to be more important for melee brute monsters than PCs, given that warrior PCs are more likely to have ToB-style combat maneuvers or equivalents.

You're right that grapple probably should allow movement. For the moment (but that was added after I posted the documents, I'll note in the thread when an unpdated version will be posted) a grappler can take a -10 penalty on his check to avoid the grappled condition for himself, and retain the ability to move freely. Maybe the penalty should be even less, -8 or so - still skewing RNG badly enough to never be used against grapplers of comparable potential but a bit less risky against vastly inferior ones.
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FatR
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2016 12:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Also about what Frank said above on simplifying spells and the dilemma of more complexity in powers/more distinct powers. Let's look at the power of "I shoot glowing magic projectiles" which is very common in possible sources of inspiration. It clearly can take a number of forms from "I have an equivalent of a barely lethal blaster" to "I can rain deadly glowing bolts on a large area, or create elaborate danmaku patterns".

Therefore the spell that imitates that power in DnD, magic missile, should either look like this:

Magic Missile
[Classification to be inserted later]
Circle: 1
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Extreme
Target: One or more creatures or objects (see below)
Attack: Ranged
You shoot a bolt of concentrated magical power (its appearance differs based on a caster’s school and style – a single projectile, a stream of magic bullets, a beam – but effects are the same) at the enemy.
Magic missile requires a normal ranged attack to hit, has extreme range, and deals 1d10 points of untyped damage + 1 point per caster level. At 4th caster level and every 4 caster levels thereafter add 1d10 to its basic damage, to the maximum of 6d10 + 20 at 20th level, and a +4 bonus to its attack roll, to the maximum of +20 at 20th level.
Once you reach 9th caster level, you can shoot a whole flurry of magic missiles, affecting a Large area at up to extreme range with your attack. This area attack is shapeable and you are not at risk of hitting your allies
Once you reach 15th caster level, you can shoot a veritable whirlwind of magic missiles, affecting all targets you want to affect in a spread reaching to long range.

Or be split into the three different spells, with the writeup of the latter two starting with the words "As magic missile, except..."

The problem with one scaling spell is that some low-level effects just don't have an obvious way of scaling into high-level effects, so it introduces an easy way to disbalance. Also, the spell's stat block becomes non-indicative at higher levels, you'll always need to look into description to see what it actually does.

The problems with the "three different spells" approach are already known from existing versions of DnD - cluttering the spell list with spells that do the same things with small differences, and either the low-level spell version losing all relevance at high levels, or high-level spell version being not good enough to justify a higher-level slot (the latter will be true in this case, unless damage of the epic and cosmic versions is also buffed, in which case we'll have three entirely different spells expressing different-level versions of the same concept).

So far I'm inclined towards the "one scaling spell" approach, but I'm putting my thoughts here to hear if any has arguments to the contrary.
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Ice9
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2016 9:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

If your spell header is going to be so bulky, you should definitely go with one scaling spell. Otherwise, I might be inclined to the latter option - there are ways to avoid the "original spell becomes obsolete" problem, such as allowing the original spell to upgrade into the latter version when you reach the right level. This also means you can just have the higher level ones do things appropriate for that level, instead of trying to handle non-linear scaling.

Also, wtf is up with the math here; it's elaborate for the sake of being elaborate. It's not even non-linear, just weirdly stated linear scaling! Is there a reason it isn't just:

Magic Missile (1st circle)
extreme range, ray
+L to hit, target creature or object takes Ld6 damage.

Other than wanting higher damage at 1st level? Which you could still do just by having it deal Ld6+3 damage.
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FatR
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2016 10:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

No particular reason for damage calculation complexity except brain bugs resulting from cycling through several versions of the spell making or not making separate attacks. 1d10 (or slightly more)+2/level should produce a quite comparable total. I'm against d6(or d anything else)/level, because I think I had enough experience with rolling buckets of dice in my life already. Past the first few levels the results usually average out anyway and occasional excitement from rolling a dozen of fives and sixes is not worth rolling above-mentioned buckets of dice.

Your header format also gave me food for thought (even if it is too brief, as casting time and sometimes components - even though I'm discarding most or all of the material ones - still are going to be relevant), so thanks.

Ice9 wrote:
there are ways to avoid the "original spell becomes obsolete" problem, such as allowing the original spell to upgrade into the latter version when you reach the right level. This also means you can just have the higher level ones do things appropriate for that level, instead of trying to handle non-linear scaling.


Can you elaborate on this, please? Assuming normal DnD-style spell slots and limits of spells known.


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Ice9
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 12:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The header format is exception based, so the fact that I left off components means it has the default ones (V,S), for example. I'm not sure it makes sense to go quite that terse for a new system, since it's not as new player friendly. But you can definitely get a lot more compact than how 3E did it.

More details on that, if you're interested:
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As far as spell upgrading interacting with spell slots, it depends how you mean that. If Magic Missile Whirlwind only takes up a 1st level slot, then it probably makes more sense to list it as part of Magic Missile. Although there's nothing saying you can't decouple "character level acquired" from "spell slot level" if you want to.

Although that said, why levelled spell slots? If spells are supposed to scale, then just have X number of spell slots and you can put whatever spells you're allowed to cast in them.


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FatR
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 7:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

As far as power management schemes go, "you have a fixed number of slots for all levels of your powers, character level determines what level of powers you can learn when that number of slots expands" was already used by ToB so I'm saving that for martial artists.

So far I'm visualising 7 spell circles (1 for the adventurer tier and 2 for each tier thereafter), assuming that classes with the limited number of spells know will end with about 20 distinct spells by level 20 (3 for circles 1-6 and 2 for the top circle), compared to 34 that a PF sorcerer currently knows at the same level (not counting 9 more 0-level spells). Then the obvious problem arose - if I want distinct spells on a charlist to be few, then low-level spells obsolescence and high-level spells doing the same things as low-level spells but simply better will result in drop of overall character competency. Except the character competency is supposed to actually be higher than that of a 3.X/PF caster without broken spells and combos - as you can see from the description of tiers provided above in the thread, to stand against a top-tier threats a character needs both power and flexibility in his offense and defense. Scaling of spells is my solution to that problem so far. Having more distinct spells will require expanding the overall number known, I fear. Specifically my example of magic missile as described, is supposed to be a spell that is relatively weak but remains convenient even at high levels: near-guaranteed damage (thus the bonus to hit; I removed auto-hit because perfect aim is something you expect from Omega Beams, not a basic energy blast) that cannot be canceled with immunities short of total invulnerability to hit point damage and that at higher level can be used to mass clear mooks/fire in the crowd without risking to blast allies.

Meanwhile I've tried to write up magic missile in your format.

Magic Missile (1st circle) [Classification] ([Descriptor] goes here if any)
extreme range, ranged attack
2d6 untyped damage + 2/level. +4 to attack for every 4 levels.
You shoot a bolt of concentrated magical power (its appearance differs based on a caster’s school and style – a single projectile, a stream of magic bullets, a beam – but effects are the same) at the enemy.
9th caster level: Gains Large area (S)
You can shoot a flurry of magic missiles raining on your foes (but avoiding your allies).
15th caster level: Gains Spread to Long Range (S)
You can shoot a whirlwind of magic missiles.

And it ended up more than halving the number of words without even cutting the descpiptive lines. So, thanks for good advice.


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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 8:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

There are reasons to have spell levels. While there are certainly ways to make low level effects relevant at high levels, there aren't always ways to make high level effects fair at low levels. But there isn't a lot of reason for leveled spell slots. Indeed, one of the primary selling points of a spell preparation system is that it can thread the needle of:

  • You want Wizards to learn new spells frequently.
  • You want Wizards to get the fuck on with their turn - meaning selecting from a few spells each round.
  • You don't want to erase spells off peoples' character sheets that they "know" because that's weird and metagamey.


There are a couple of ways to thread that needle, but asking people to prepare six spells at a time and just subtly hint that perhaps they should prepare death vortex and flame wave rather than spooky stare and fire bolt once those become available certainly fits the bill. Spooky stare stays in your character's spell book, but you never end up preparing it because you have better shit to do with your life and the player isn't burdened with option paralysis when the table is waiting for them to take their turns.

Looked at in that light, asking players to dedicate any number of spell slots to low level spells is counter productive. You can make glitterdust scale to higher levels somehow and force players to keep it on their prepared list alongside doomtide and mass charm, but there's no particular reason to do that. You could just accept that people are going to stop preparing glitterdust when doomtide comes online and that is OK.

Now the big counter argument here is that single target magic attacks are a thing whose need never actually goes away. There will always be boss monsters or isolated enemies or whatever the fuck where the best tactical use of your turn is to shoot a neebly beam at a single opponent. Always. No matter what level you get to, no matter what adventurers you are doing, it's just going to be a thing. And it is equally true that asking people to get higher level spells to go from magic missile to polar ray and everything in between just to continue having a level appropriate single target attack when you can't think of anything else to do is fucking bullshit. But that is extremely specific to magic missile. There is no similar argument to be made for shield, erase, or burning hands. That problem is honestly best handled by giving out a single-target magic attack as a class feature. Like those stupid Warlock Bolts or the Reserve Feats or whatever the fuck.

Every caster type can pick up an appropriate scaling single target attack at level one. Necromancers can go ahead and have a fallback death bolt while Illusionists have a fallback prism beam. And then we can move the fuck on with our lives without trying to figure out how to make web a valid life choice when fighting doom squid at the bottom of the sea.




In other news, spell components absolutely should not be mentioned when they are V, S. The only thing you care about is finding spells which can be cast under bizarre circumstances or spells that have additional requirements. Putting a line on every fucking spell that looks very similar to a line telling you there's something special about the spell to tell you that there is nothing special about the spell is a waste of space and also makes the special cases harder to find.

If a spell can be cast while you are tied up, that deserves a line of text. If a spell can be cast while you've been silenced, that deserves a line of text. If a spell requires a 1000 gp jade knife before you can cast it, that deserves a line of text as well. But for the 90% of spells that you cast normally and can be disrupted normally, there should not be a components line at all. It just makes it harder to see that there's something special about power word: stun and hypnotic pattern.

-Frank
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FatR
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 2:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Warning, a long and possibly rambling post ahead, as I kept thinking while making it.

So, about the same arguments for Shield, Erase and Burning Hands, Frank... Shooting magic blasts is far from the only things done by low-level spells that stays relevant even at high levels, as long as you can do it better and to more people.

In fact, I've decided to test my own assumptions and check just how many 1-st level 3.X spells are based on fundamentally unscalable concepts, but with an important clarification - whether they are useable in the first place, even at level 1. The "useability" criteria is seeing that spell used in actual play (subjective, I know). The "scalability" in turn is determined by whether performing essentially the same thing but better (on more people, with less restrictions, with effect same in nature but better in specifics - or with mechanics that don't arbitrarily suck which often means the same thing) can be relevant at higher level. Essentially I mostly mean non-linear scalability beyond just level bonus to damage and increased caster's attack bonus here.

Alarm - not useable as written. The concept of "I'm aware of presence of unwanted interlopers within a large area" is scalable to any tier, but even the weakest useable version is likely to be above 1st circle.

Animate Rope - not useable, not scalable.

Bane - not useable in the existing form but scalable.

Bless - useable (if only for lack of a better thing to do), obviously scalable.

Bless/Curse Water - not useable, and shouldn't be a separare spell.

Burning Hands - was last seen as useable when we played AD&D in high school. Techically the concept of "I expel fire from whatever part of my body" is quite scalable. If Uchiha Madara used it to fuck up mooks, so can your high-level characters. Whether it should be a different spell when Fireball and even Scorching Ray are much more iconic is a different question.

Calm Animals - not useable, not scalable.

Cause Fear - useable, scalable, only should not made a higher-level effect just by removing its HD limitations, because scaring people is a staple for low fantasy magic users.

Charm Animal - useable but not really scalable because random wild animals quickly become irrelevant.

Charm Person - useable, scalable and in fact so overpowered for its level that practically no GM allows it to do what it says it does.

Chill Touch - not useable, scalable. "Vitality-draining bad touch" is another concept that should be useable from the start, because even Conanverse wizards can do that, but in DnD it just sucks until higher-level Necromancy touch spells. At the same time, the concept of draining/freezing/killing victims by touch can scale pretty far and its permutations are worth more than one distinct spell.

Color Spray - useable, scalable, should not even be 1st circle if limitations added to keep it a low-level spell are removed.

Command - useable and scalable.

Comprehend Languages - useable but only barely scalable. Frankly I'm inclined to make language barriers stay out of the way in any case.

Cure Light Wounds - useable, scalable, and instant healing should not be a 1st circle spell.

Deathwatch - not useable. "I scan my enemies" may be a scalable concept, but it will require a new spell.

Detect Evil and the rest of the family - useable but practically detrimental to the game, particularly at its level.

Detect Secret Doors/Undead/Snares and Pits - not useable and not scalable without expanding the range of things you can detect.

Disguise Self - useable, not scales too well strictly as written, but "I put on a glamour to pretent to be what I am not" is a scalable concept, even to high levels if there is no True Seeing or other "fuck illusions forever" powers in the game.

Divine Favor - eventually useable, ironically because it scales. Scalable, obviously. There are multiple higher-level spells that do the same "Divine blessing makes you real good at beating foes up" thing.

Doom - not useable in the existing form but scalable. We don't need more than one "I curse you with inaccuracy" spell in the game, though, if even one.

Endure Elements - useable and scalable, as evidenced by multiple element-warding spells at higher levels.

Enlarge/Reduce Person - useable and scalable. If people with sizeshifting powers alone can give Justice League members some trouble, there is obviously a room for it at high levels.

Entropic Shield - not useable, not scalable.

Erase - not useable, not scalable.

Entangle - useable. And "I make plants grow into combat tentacles under my control" is, of course, scalable.

Expeditious Retreat - useable. "I go faster" is obviously scalable but under my engine is probably too good for 1st circle.

Farie Fire - useable but not scalable beyond a Glitterdust-alike effect.

Feather Fall - not useable, not scalable. "I remove weight and momentum from people" can be a very strong concept, but requires writing a new, higher-level spell.

Floating Disk - not sure if useable. It is on spelllists of some of my wizard characters, but I can't remember if they ever cast it. The concept of "I create a flying platform" is scalable, though.

Goodberry - not useable, not scalable without reinventing the whole effect.

Grease - useable but honestly not really scalable without shifting the concept - a wave of boiling oil might be useful at high levels, but because it is boiling, not because it makes things slippery.

Hold Portal - not useable and not scalable.

Hide From Animals - not useable and not scalable.

Hide From Undead - slightly more useful than Hide From Animals in theory but still unuseable shit.

Hideous Laughter - useable, scalable and a bit too good for the 1st circle, that's why only bards get it at 1st level in 3.X.

Hypnotism - not useable because of limitations. The concept of putting people and then large masses of people in a trance is scalable at least to mid levels, though.

Identify - useable and scalable in default DnD environment, but as magical items aren't going to be as common as good cars here, needs to be cut or conceptually reworked.

Inflict Light Wounds - not useable but scalable, see what was writen about bad touch spells in Chill Touch's notes above.

Jump - not useable, not scalable.

Lesser Confusion - not useable because Hideous Laughter is just better. Scalable.

Longstrider - as Expeditious Retreat, except not useable.

Mage Armor - useable and scalable, but as written the concept intersects with Shield. However, "I gain power by invoking fancy enchanted clothes" can totally be a spell of its own.

Magic Aura - not useable, not scalable.

Magic Missile - already covered in the thread.

Magic Stone - useable, not really scalable.

Magic Weapon/Fang - useable and scalable. I don't like the idea of handing people simple plusses, though.

Mount - not completely sure if useable, but scalable, there is at least one higher-level version of the same concept. Summoning mounts is unpopular because there are better mobility spells. That said, conjurng creatures out of thin air should not be a 1st-circle spell.

Obscure Object - not useable, not scalable.

Obscuring Mist - useable and scalable but probably not to the top tier.

Pass Without Trace - not useable except as a class power and not scalable.

Produce Flame - see Burning Hands above.

Protection from X - useable and scalable to any tier, as evidenced by higher-level versions of the "I put a barrier that keeps out or hampers opposed cosmic forces" concept in the spell list.

Ray of Enfeelblement - useable and scalable.

Remove Fear - not useable, and probably not scalable (too narrow as a defense).

Sanctuary - useable, scalable but it works on basically on the same concept as Protection of Evil, except with different mechanical effects, so I'm not sure if two spells are needed here.

Shield - useable and scalable to any tier. No, seriously "I put a forcefield around myself" is a trick that does not really need to ever get old.

Shield of Faith - useable and scalable, but it is yet another (third) forcefield creation spell on the roster, while one should be enough.

Shillelagh - was useable in AD&D times, now isn't. Theorerically scalable because "I turn any random stick in an equivalent of Sun Wukong's staff" is a high-level power. Even actual 3.X had included better versions of turning your walking stick into a weapon of doom.

Shocking Grasp - not useable as written. But Killua and Sasuke provide enough evidence that "I electrify my hands" can scale at least to mid level.

Silent Image - useable, as about scalability, frankly the illusions in DnD were DM-dependent conceptually vague bullshit since always, not knowing if they want to be mind fuck or holograms. But both mind fuck illusions and hologram illusions are potentially scalable until True Seing or equivalent appears.

Sleep - useable and only not scalable because of added limitations, without which it shouldn't even be where it is. But really, "I put things - eventually including whole kingdoms - to sleep" is a scalable concept in itself.

Speak With Animals - useable but not scalable for the same reason other animal-related spells are.

Summon Monster/Nature's Ally I - not useable at level 1, but scalable and higher-level versions are useable. As with Mount, too conceptually hardcore for a 1-st circle spell.

True Strike - not useable (yes I know of ways to use it effectively, never saw them in actual play). The concept of "I briefly gain an immense accuracy boost" is scalable, though. But in forms that do not require people to blow standard actions it is a high-level concept.

Undetectable Alignment - not useable and alignments aren't going to be in the game anyway.

Unseen Servant - not useable, not scalable. Basically only serves to make your life outside of adventuring more comfy and useless in things that actually happen onscreen.

Ventriloquism - not useable and not scalable.

So, unless I've erred in my count somewhere, we have 71 core spells in total (which is way too fucking many for just one spell level), counting Detect/Protection from Evil spell families as one spell. Out of them 32 are and always were straight-up useless, too weak, to narrow, or too overshadowed by better spells. Needless to say they can just be removed, or at best rolled into less narrow spells. About 4 or 5 of those can be written to be non-useless, if given better mechanical effects. Plus 2 more spells that were marginally useful once (or we just were stupid then), but aren't in 3.X. Plus 5 more spells that are rendered useless by concept changes of my own. Out of 33 useful spells I count 25 spells that can scale to high levels and 7 that just can't. And above-mentioned spells that are useless mechanically but good conceptually also can scale. A good number of the conceptually scaling spells, such as Cause Fear, Command, Cure Light Wounds, Hypnotism, Entangle, Lesser Confusion, Obscuring Mist, Produce Flame, Ray of Enfeeblement, Shillelagh, Silent Image, Sleep, Summon Monster and even Charm Person need to scale, because they represent concepts that need a better representation in the game that the power of 1st level spells allow, as evidenced by their higher-level versions or higher-level spells that do essentially the same thing except a bit differently and better. Admittedly in some cases cases just removing target HD restrictions from a spell makes it appropriate for at least mid levels, such as with Cause Fear, Color Spray and Sleep - which is to me an indicator that those spells should not be at the first level/circle to start with. That still leaves a greater deal of spells which totally can be relevant at high levels than I suspected before going through the list.

The counterargument to my argument is, of course, the fact that making low-level spells (that aren't cut from the game) relevant options into high levels increases option paralysis which did not afflict 3.X sorcerers that much because most of their low-level spells were near worthless compared to their high-level spells and running out of juice to the point of having to rely on them was next to impossible at two-digit levels.

And here we come to the point where talking about fundamentals of daily resource management model for characters is necessary. It is no secret that DnD had always employed and still employs (after some attempts to deviate) the resource attrition model. I won't say that this model is inherently shit. But I posit it was made for survival mode dungeon crawling and does not fit for anything else. So 3.X broke it in half with easy out-of-combat healing (from wands) and great increase in daily spells, many people enjoyed the result rather than being dismayed. What I want from my resource management model beyond the lowest tier are characters than can chew through mooks all day (thus making resource attrition from mook encounters meaningless and indirectly reducing 5-minute workdays), but will be exhausted and short on power after fighting a boss and unleashing your very best moves. As far as specifically spellcasters are concerned, this means that their highest-circle spells should have a limited number of uses only replenishable by resting for a night, and the rest of their spells should be useable as often as they want (meaning adventurer-tier casters witn only one spell circle can run out of juice entirely and others can't). Essentially your top-level spells are your ultimate attacks which you hopefully keep in reserve until facing something serious. With preparation casters this is easy - here's your preparation pool for your top level (about 1-2 spells), spells in which disappear from memory after being cast, and here's your preparation pool for the rest of your levels (2-8 more spells), spells from which you can spam indefinitely. Option paralysis is hopefully restricted to your preparation time in the morning. Both non-linearly scaling spells and different versions of the same spell fit such system, but I'd prerer the former due to reducing the clutter and making characters a bit more flexible - if you nave only 10 basic options to juggle around when attacking Hell and your opponents are not nearly as straihgtforward as those faced by Doomguy, who has just a little fewer weapons, your options better not be too narrow, and having multiple spells doing conceptually the same thing at different levels of power inherently faciliates narrowness of application.

And to think of it a similar system can be applies to sorcerers and other spontaneous casters like them (for example, I believe that clerics should cast spontaneously due to fluff reasons - miracles that you've learned to perform once and never forget fit the concept of "magic from worship" much better than going through a menu of powers to select what you like each day) - X spells (probably also 1-2) known at the current top circle with daily limit on spells cast, Y (bigger than X and slightly bigger than the wizard's preparation limit) for the rest of your spell circles combined. The main advantage of spontaneous casters under this system would be having a spell more to cast daily at their top circle, and a bit more of "tactical" flexibility at the cost of not having "operational" flexibility of preparation casters who can resonstruct their daily lists. This approach to spontaneous casters, of course, requires either the ability to swap known spells very often, perhaps each level, to avoid having a list of obsolete trash, or, again, spells with non-linear scaling. For the reason which you've already mentioned - people tend to not forget powers they once had - I'm again more inclined towards scaling.


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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 10:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I think you've fundamentally screwed up your evaluation of powers up there. Rather than go through it all, I'm going to go out and say that the general problem I notice with your evaluation is that you seem to be counting powers scaling in the sense that they might appear on the same comic book super hero at different ends of the power spectrum as being a continuation of the "same thing," while what you're supposed to be talking about is a game. And within a game, a power is defined as a rules construct. So while it's absolutely possible for a character to be a member of Robin Hood's Merry Men or the fucking Justice League with a power that is narratively described as "Plant Control" or "Projects Fire" or whatever, those characters probably can't be effectively described with a single scaling power entry in a game.

When checking to see whether something can scale, it's probably best to think of it in terms of a Magic card. Basically ask whether the higher level version would make sense as the same card with a higher amount of mana poked into it. So while conceptually Flame Wave and Flame Slash are conceptually similar and you could portray the same character in a comic book or a movie as having the same power and simply having adventures at a different scale, the game mechanics aren't the same.

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So the concept of controlling plants or making mists or having black lightning shoot out of your hand or whatever scales in narrative comic book logic, that's nowhere near enough to demonstrate that they are presentable in game terms as being singular scalable powers. Let's look in closely on Plant Control. Sure, we can say that growing plants so that they entangle people is simply a lower level version of growing plants so that they create a wall of thorns. Conceptually, those are indeed basically the same idea. We can narratively accept that a character who can do the first thing probably ought to be able to do the second if they get more magical power for whatever reason. We can even accept that the tactical role of the power is similar - entangle is a battlefield control spell that serves to slow creatures and deny areas of the ground and broadly speaking so does wall of thorns. But...



Defining these two things in game mechanics as being meaningfully a smooth progression is a non-trivial problem. Entangle isn't just epically smaller in terms of time and space, it also conspicuously doesn't block line of sight or ranged attacks and also doesn't fucking kill people. So while you could say that wall of thorns is just what happens when you cast entangle at a higher level, that would be extremely shitty writing. The level progression would say "At 5th level, the spell has a different area and duration. Also the effects of being inside the area are totally different and it extends into 3 dimensions instead of 2 and it blocks line of sight and line of effect instead of not doing that." That sounds like you're writing a wholly different spell at that point. You've rewritten every part of the spell, including the headers. So what the fuck purpose is there to claim it's the same spell?

Similarly with obscuring mist and cloud kill. While I grant that a "Cloud Mage" or whatever should be casting the first one at low level and the second one at high level, there's no benefit to the game to hiding the latter spell in the advancement protocols of the former spell. They aren't even tactically similar effects, since you mostly use obscuring mist to hide inside, while obviously cloud kill is a spell you dump on your enemies.

-Frank
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FatR
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 30, 2016 11:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

So, in case of casters with limited spell lists, do you think that a class ability allowing you to automatically evolve your Entangle into Wall of Thorns (insert any two spells in different tiers from the same domain/sphere) once you qualify for the latter might be an adequate way to get around the problem you've described while avoiding shafting them mecnanically or expanding the lists of known spells too much? While characters do not just forget powers, developing new uses that pretty much entirely supercede what a character could do before - well that happens all over anime. If I understood Ice9 correctly, he also proposed something like this.

Last edited by FatR on Sat Jul 30, 2016 11:13 pm; edited 1 time in total
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 31, 2016 6:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Thematically appropriate growth is, tautologically, thematically appropriate. Most people would agree that a character who has the power to make plants grow should, as they become more powerful, demonstrate the power to make plants grow in a more powerful manner. Or that a character who can shoot freeze rays should be able to make walls of ice when they become more powerful.

The problem of course is that enforcing that sort of thing within the context of a game is complex and full of peril. Consider the Shadow Caster from Tome of Magic (or the Binder, for that matter). Putting characters on flavor-rails for advancement has a lot of problems. Let's go through a few of them:

  • Let's say you want to have cloud kill when you are powerful enough to use it. In a flavor-rails setup, you end up having to get on the cloud train at a lower level, meaning that you have to read ahead and "make a build" that will get you where you want to eventually end up many levels in advance.

  • Let's say that the demon summoning list at Tier 1 is good but the Tier 2 list is hot garbage. Or the other way around. Either way, a character on the demon-flavored conjurer flavor rails is going to be a good or bad character depending on the level range the game is played at. The whole "suck now to be awesome later" tradeoff is a particularly shitty one when a game might end up being a one shot for any of a number of reasons.

  • Let's say that ray of frost pokevolves into wall of ice. That seems plausible, right? Well, the first one of those is a blaster spell and the second one is a battlefield control spell. The two are thematically related but they are not tactically related. You're allowing the player to keep their flavor, but forcing them to play a different tactical role.

  • Let's be honest: I am not sure what the "low level" flavor version of plane shift is. Nor can I wrap my mind around what a high level version of magic stone might look like. While there are certainly powers like "make waves of fire" that you can easily describe at any power tier just by scaling them up or down appropriately, there are other powers that you really can't - and once you've committed yourself to flavor rails it is not at all obvious where those powers that have entry levels or expiration dates would go.


Now this is not to say that thematic continuity isn't a thing worth pursuing. It definitely is. One of the biggest complaints about the D&D Wizard is that the discontinuity of "pick one power, then pick another power next level" combined with the enforced holding of lower level spell slots leaves players mechanically incentivized to select new powers that are as unrelated to what they already do as possible. A character who can already cast fireball gains relatively little from learning a slightly bigger area fire attack, while they get a lot from learning Evard's black tentacles or solid fog. An optimally played Wizard is a descriptional trainwreck, being a mad jumble of dissonant flavor and disparate tactical abilities. It is very hard to tell the other players at the table what your Wizard "does" without just reading out the entire contents of your spellbook.

What this all goes down to is that I think the best way to handle this particular problem is to divide Wizards into a series of classes that are individually about as thematically tight as Druids or Dread Necromancers. Just accept that there is necessarily going to be thematic and/or mechanical drift when you have to write higher level powers for players to select from - and make sure that every character's class list is as narratively cohesive as you need them to be in order to not get butthurt about it.

Again, back to the Magic Cards example. Chandra's powers are pretty much all slight variations on "throw waves of fire at things" and she still needs a bunch of cards because there are different mechanical effects at different power levels. And Gideon's powers are a lot more "random shit this guy can do," so the fact that it's represented by a bunch of distinct cards doesn't surprise anyone. But Gideon's powers are still all "white magic" and as thematically tight as they need to be to make people not call bullshit.

-Frank
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FatR
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 31, 2016 10:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I do not like the idea of narrow-theme classes and probably I won't ever like it. My problems with them (and solutions I prefer) are as follows:

-If you write thematically narrow classes, you need to write a new class whenever you want to represent a character with a particular specialization and the number of specializations can be fuck huge. I mean, I assume that the bit about Cloud Mage was a joke, but stuff like Darkness and Shadow or Ice and Snow seriously can be different schticks in fiction, within the same series even. I simply do not care about writing a dozen or more of caster classes and it contradicts the idea of simplicity.

-Further, have you noticed that a dispoportionate percentage of bullshit-useless 1st-level 3.5 spells in my analysis above are Druid spells? I think that is not accidental and that illustrates another problem with thematically narrow classes, even though Druid is not that narrow compared to, say, Fire Elementalist or Reanimator Necromancer - that is the result of an attempt to expand a concept so that the spell list won't feel incredibly short. Now what is going to happen if there are like ten caster classes each defined by a specific theme?

-Then there is a problem that while having a narrow theme to your powers is more common in fiction, still, a good number of characters, particularly those who actually write "wizard" in their resumes, do have a massive grab-bag list of powers unrelated except in that they are magic. Negi Springfield, Lina Inverse or Dark Schneider do have fairly extensive spell lists with clearly mutually unrelated spells on them, even if their go-to spells for times when shit gets serious are relatively few. So are mid-to-high league comic books spellcasters, such as Loki (not the nerfed movie version) or Zatanna, except with more weird and situational shit. Then there are characters who obtain powers completely disparare in function as long as they can bullshit even the most tenuous connection between a power and the core theme of their ability past the GM, like a good deal of characters in One Piece; or don't even bother with justifications, like a most of those characters in Naruto who remained relevant in the endgame. So a game where classes have narrow themes and actually stick to them even at high levels also cuts off swathes of source material. And while you can offer a charactes in thematically wide class an incentive to specialize, or to make that class a matrix in which possible ways of development could be placed, you cannot expand a narrow class' schtick without ruining the whole idea.

-So far I envision caster classes not along the lines of thematic power grouping but along the lines of fundamental approaches to magic. Wizard is "magic from science", with math, geometry, and formulas which you learn. Sorcerer is "magic from blood", with a natural gift. Cleric is "magic from worship", praying to have miracle abilities bestowed on him. Shaman (the second preparation caster) is "magic from contract", learning spells from spirit ally(ies).

-Now, about those incentives and matrices mentioned above. So far I'm dividing projected spells into spheres, 12-18 of them depending on how exactly I cut them on a particular day. A spell can belong to multiple spheres in case if a finer division is applied, if there are only a few this is not necessary. As the former option allows to potentially add more spheres, I'm inclined toward it. Spheres are what bestow your tematic specialization. They hopefully can avoid the problem of writing shit spells just to fill the roster because almost every character, and every character period after the bottom tier is supposed to have access to more than one sphere. Wizard is the least sphere-locked of all classes - he either can use all spheres except those exclusively divine (i.e. Cleric/Shaman exclusive) or has to only ban a few of his choice, and his specialization only influences what spells he learns automatically at level up. He should cover the above mentioned "I just know fucking magic" cases. Sorcerer, on the other hand, is the most sphere-locked - he chooses one primary sphere and a couple secondaries, and the known spells of his highest level, i.e. his precious ultimate attacks, come only from his primary sphere. Sorcerer is supposed to represent all those magic-users with a clear theme to their powers. He is compensated for it by having more ultimates to unleash per day and having slightly more daily options (at the cost of those options being fixed). I understand that this will still make a sorcerer's power set a good deal more disparate than those of strict single-schtick characters, but then again, those characters tend to either fight something far below the usual DnD fare, or, as mentioned above, bullshit quite diverse powers past their GMs based on thematic connections, like using a plant control/creation ability for vampiric drain, something which would be necromancy in DnD (because if plants can draw water and nutrients from the ground, magic combat tentacle plants totally can apply the same process to your opponent), and just like I don't want to write lots of classes, I don't want to make every sphere capable of handling every or nearly every situation with the inevitable spell list bloat and duplication of functions.

-I was concerned that sorcerers, who now have considerably less spells known compared to 3.X (possibly very much less) will have problems with low-level spells taking precious place on their short lists, unless their low-level spells remain relevant at higher levels. But now that I thought about it some more, the existing spell swap rules, perhaps with the restriction of only swapping spells within the same sphere, can solve this problem. Plus, even without non-linear scaling in my system low-level spells scale better than they did in 3.X - instead of saves depending on a spell's level, there are just attack rolls, entirely depending on their caster's level. Therefore low-level spells should be fine with only linear scaling of their initial effects.

Also, it is interesting how every DnD design discussion starts to revolve about magic and casters sooner rather than later. I just wanted to test some general ideas on spell design, given that monsters also use them... Quite indicative of what the real heart of the system is.


Last edited by FatR on Sun Jul 31, 2016 11:08 am; edited 6 times in total
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