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clutter in SRD damage spells

 
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Harshax
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:18 pm    Post subject: clutter in SRD damage spells Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Always thought the Player's Handbook wasted too much space on spells, even though they're probably one of the things I like most when I got into the game. I'm curious if anyone has ever figured out exactly how much space would be saved if the damage spells in the SRD were removed in favor of a few page menu style attack spell constructor?

The menu takes inputs for selecting targets and area of effect (spread, ball, burst ...), energy type (lightning, radiant), saving throw type (none, half, null), range (touch, short, long), duration (instant) and To-hit vs auto-hit (magic missile vs. flame blade) and some meta-magic feats like (Identify Friend or Foe). Damage scales with CL and Slot used to cast the spell. Every D&D damage spell off the top of my head is just a permutation of these same inputs, except in certain cases where a spell was a sacred cow. I'm looking at you, magic missile.

I ran some queries against Andragor's SRD database and the spells section (including headers) looks to be approximately 120,000+ word, including the source reference. Note: The numbers below include a count of the internal fields and HTML output for each spell. I could create a view that only includes exactly what the PH would have printed if anyone is really interested in a more accurate count.

'all the spells' wrote:
$ sqlite3 dnd35.db "select * from spell;" | perl -lpe 's|<.+?>||g' | sed 's#|# #g' | wc -w
259051


Nearly 25,000 words are wasted on describing damage spells:
'just spells with XdY Damage in the description' wrote:
$ sqlite3 dnd35.db "select * from spell where description REGEXP '\dd\d.*damage';" | perl -lpe 's|<.+?>||g' | sed 's#|# #g' | wc -w
53457


For reference, here is the magic missile entry:

Quote:
$ sqlite3 dnd35.db "select * from spell where name like 'magic missile';"| perl -lpe 's|<.+?>||g'
422|Magic Missile|magic missile|Evocation|None|Force|None|Sorcerer/Wizard 1|V, S|1 standard action|Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)|Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apart|None|None|Instantaneous|None|Yes|1d4+1 damage; +1 missile per two levels above 1st (max 5).|None|None|None|None|
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 1d4+1 points of force damage.
The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can't be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell.
For every two caster levels beyond 1st, you gain an additional missile-two at 3rd level, three at 5th, four at 7th, and the maximum of five missiles at 9th level or higher. If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

|None|None|None|None|None|None|None|None|
Magic MissileEvocation [Force]Level:Sorcerer/Wizard 1Components:V, SCasting Time:1 standard actionRange:Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)Targets:Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apartDuration:InstantaneousSaving Throw:NoneSpell Resistance:YesA missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 1d4+1 points of force damage.The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can't be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell.For every two caster levels beyond 1st, you gain an additional missile-two at 3rd level, three at 5th, four at 7th, and the maximum of five missiles at 9th level or higher. If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

|SRD 3.5 SpellsM-O


EDIT: My math is probably shit.


Last edited by Harshax on Mon Jul 31, 2017 11:24 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Hicks
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 01, 2017 8:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Well, your first point is wrong. Spells are how you do intresting things in 3.x, and unlike feat bloat they are modular enough to slot into any full casting preperation class. And all the intresting monsters interact with the spell system through either spell like abilities or just straight up having bard/cleric/druid/sorcerer casting.

I'm totally serious, the spell system just lords it over the skill system as far as player agency is concerned.

Damaging evocations being a waste of ink is a seperate issue, but that issue is creature HP bloat from 2e without being updated to deal more damage.
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Last edited by Hicks on Tue Aug 01, 2017 8:06 am; edited 1 time in total
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 01, 2017 9:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The most minimalist spell description you can get while still being complicated enough to be interesting are the combat spells in Shadowrun, which basically consist of a name, several pre-determined tag categories, and a formula. You can't really get that condensed in D&D.
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Emerald
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
The most minimalist spell description you can get while still being complicated enough to be interesting are the combat spells in Shadowrun, which basically consist of a name, several pre-determined tag categories, and a formula. You can't really get that condensed in D&D.


Maybe not, but you can get pretty darn close. The basic blasting spells are all simple enough to be respresented Shadowrun-style; the Shadowrun version of Fireball is thus:

Quote:
Fireball (Indirect, Elemental, Area)
Type: P • Range: LOS (A) • Damage: P • Duration: I • DV: (F ÷ 2) + 5

These spells create an explosion of flames that flash into existence and scorch the target(s). These spells deal Fire damage (p. 164).

These flames burn out after striking the target, but their secondary effects may ignite flammable materials that will continue to burn after the spell is exhausted.

while the D&D fireball is, if spells are compacted the same way, thus:

Quote:
Fireball Evocation [Fire]
Level: Sor/Wiz 3 • Components: V, S, M • Targeting: LoS, Point, Projectile
Range: Long • Area: Spread 20 • Duration: I • Save: Ref half

A fireball is launched as a glowing pea-sized bead that blossoms into a pressureless explosion. The fireball deals 1d6/level fire damage to creatures and unattended objects in the area.

Combustibles ignite and metals with low melting points melt.

Material Component: A tiny ball of bat guano and sulfur.

with things like default spell templates, launching spells through openings, choosing points in space versus creatures, which spells allow SR, area spells blasting through barriers, and so forth being defined with keywords appropriately.

While a lot of more complex spells are very special-case-y and couldn't easily inherit a lot of information, like simulacrum or rope trick, D&D already has a lot of stuff defined at the school, subschool, and descriptor level that could be reused. Formalizing and standardizing some things like figments and polymorphing, and adding some additional subschools and descriptors to further categorize things, would go a long way toward achieving Shadowrun-like levels of standardization.

[EDIT: Actually, come to think of it, the wordy parts of simulacrum are how to determine how convincing your illusions are, how to exercise control over a summoned/animated/created minion, and how to repair an artificial creature, and the wordy parts of rope trick are how creatures and effects interact with extradimensional spaces, so if those are well-defined the spell descriptions shrink nicely. But there are plenty of actually harder ones to choose from.]

For instance, Shadowrun has a "Detection" spell category that defines which actions they require, several spell subtypes for targeting, standard ranges and actions, abilities and skills used with those spells, and so forth. D&D has a fairly similar standardized setup with its own detect [stuff] spells (they all detect in a cone, require active concentration, give more information over 3 rounds, and give information in several broad categories), it just repeats all the information with small variations in each spell description and gives only vague information in the actual Divination description:

Quote:
Divination

Divination spells enable you to learn secrets long forgotten, to predict the future, to find hidden things, and to foil deceptive spells.

Many divination spells have cone-shaped areas. These move with you and extend in the direction you look. The cone defines the area that you can sweep each round. If you study the same area for multiple rounds, you can often gain additional information, as noted in the descriptive text for the spell.


Those sorts of divinations could just as easily be set up like this (spoilered for space):

Click here to see the hidden message (It might contain spoilers)


and so forth; they could be further compacted if the spells are tweaked a bit to be more uniform (like standard level equivalents for aura cutoffs or how things are detected out of line of sight) instead of keeping them exactly as they are now.


Last edited by Emerald on Wed Aug 02, 2017 2:30 am; edited 1 time in total
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 9:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Quote:
[EDIT: Actually, come to think of it, the wordy parts of simulacrum are how to determine how convincing your illusions are, how to exercise control over a summoned/animated/created minion, and how to repair an artificial creature, and the wordy parts of rope trick are how creatures and effects interact with extradimensional spaces, so if those are well-defined the spell descriptions shrink nicely. But there are plenty of actually harder ones to choose from.]

Well, that's the thing: D&D never established good metaphysics for how its magic works (or "what it can and cannot do"), so every single spell becomes a "special case" requiring explanation. This was sometimes taken into weird territory.
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:46 am    Post subject: Re: clutter in SRD damage spells Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Harshax wrote:
Always thought the Player's Handbook wasted too much space on spells, even though they're probably one of the things I like most when I got into the game. I'm curious if anyone has ever figured out exactly how much space would be saved if the damage spells in the SRD were removed in favor of a few page menu style attack spell constructor?

There have been various attempts at creating a choose-your-own-effects power system in D&D (e.g.Words of Power and Spheres of Power for Pathfinder). There's even a version of Mutants & Masterminds where they boil down almost all attack powers to "apply status condition".

But the important thing to note is: Fluff Matters. Both in a mechanical sense (e.g. a lightning bolt, a cloud of electrified gas and a flood of electrified water will all play somewhat differently even if they all do electricity damage in a 100' line) and in a literature sense (good fluff makes spells fun to read and bad fluff makes spells tedious to read).


Last edited by hogarth on Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:46 am; edited 1 time in total
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Mord
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 5:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I think Harshax is on to something really good here. He's not suggesting cutting down on the amount of fun fluff on spells, the number of spells, or really anything noteworthy at all. Introducing standardized, compressed notation for damage spells is only a positive for both writers of expansion material and players who want to refer to game material.

Emerald's point about offloading information from individual spell entries onto school or other tags is also excellent.

The real fear here is that when you compress the spell entries down to the minimum of wasted space, freelancers would have to write more actual content to meet their word count quotas. If there were still freelancers getting paid by the word for working on D&D content, losing all that spell entry word padding would make them sad.


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MGuy
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 12:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I'm pretty sure what Harshax is on about isn't really a new idea. Monte did it many years ago and PF did it not so many years ago. I'm doing it in my own game. I'm not sure how much space is saved (there are a lot of books) but I don't know why page space saved is an interesting topic.
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Emerald
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 1:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
Quote:
[EDIT: Actually, come to think of it, the wordy parts of simulacrum are how to determine how convincing your illusions are, how to exercise control over a summoned/animated/created minion, and how to repair an artificial creature, and the wordy parts of rope trick are how creatures and effects interact with extradimensional spaces, so if those are well-defined the spell descriptions shrink nicely. But there are plenty of actually harder ones to choose from.]

Well, that's the thing: D&D never established good metaphysics for how its magic works (or "what it can and cannot do"), so every single spell becomes a "special case" requiring explanation. This was sometimes taken into weird territory.


Part of it was the metaphysics, of course, and leaving things vague so module writers could put in a bunch of one-off effects, but I think it's less a matter of not having a consistent metaphysics--even if you don't know what magic can or can't do, once it's established that magic can do a certain thing you can write up standardized rules for that thing--and more a matter of how AD&D split spell information between the PHB and DMG both to keep some information secret for the DM and to clarify rules issues that had come up in the year between the PHB's publication and the DMG's publication. If you're writing up a bunch of spell descriptions and don't know how a bunch of rules are going to work because the DMG rules are still in flux, and you don't want to tell the players everything about how spells work, obviously putting everything upfront and in one place is counterproductive.

That's not really an issue these days, though; most magical effects have either worked in generally the same way since AD&D and there's probably a good consensus on how they work mechanically even if the metaphysics stay very hand-wavey (like extradimensional spaces), or have been left totally up to the DM and there's room for them to be codified as desired without contradicting any lore or prior mechanics (like illusion believability).

MGuy wrote:
I'm not sure how much space is saved (there are a lot of books) but I don't know why page space saved is an interesting topic.


Because a lot of people equate lots of page space to complication. People were super excited when 4e put all the rules for individual powers and monsters in the relevant stat blocks instead of making function calls and when 5e cut out a ton of spells from older editions, because apparently they'd rather have boring cookie-cutter powers and fewer options if the alternative is having to read a lot.

There's also the fact that people don't like it when the game devotes 100+ pages to spells, a dozen pages to skills, and between zero and "much less than spells" space (depending on the edition) to special combat options in the PHB and then claims that the combat guys, skill guys, and spell guys are all on a level playing field as far as options and spotlight time go. Which doesn't mean much, since more space doesn't equate to more options necessarily (all blasting spells might take up more verbiage than all fighter feats but would provide fewer options overall), but the perception is there.


Last edited by Emerald on Thu Aug 03, 2017 1:56 am; edited 1 time in total
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FrankTrollman
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 5:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Modern audiences are more tolerant of RPGs being 300k+ word encyclopedias than audiences would have been in the 70s and 80s, such word vomit is still bad. The fact that D&D 3.5 is over 600,000 words for the core books alone is literally and actually the worst thing about 3.5 D&D.

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OgreBattle
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 11:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

it seems to me like Psionics was D&D's attempt at a coherent system of magic with schools* divided in a sensible way and scaling based on power level, though the points system was kinda cumbersome to track.


*Body altering, teleportation, energy/elemental blasting, telepathy stuff, creating matter.
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Harshax
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 3:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I think once all the boom spells are codified and templated, you would end up using as much or more space than the pages you would be trying to remove. Menus of effects require lots of illustrative examples, other wise, they cause choice paralysis. This inability to choose gets worse in kitchen-sink campaigns where anything is possible. You can't get around the problem of needing to use space writing up magic missile and fireball and lightning bolt, because it isn't D&D without these spells. Where you save space, is pages spent on improved, delayed, or energy-substituted varieties of the same effects.

Choice paralysis is different than suboptimal choices. You can work diligently to remove suboptimal choices from player decisions, but whether a ball of fire spell without IFF and a range of touch is suboptimal is a simple Boolean assertion. It either is or it isn't. That assertion will be predicated on circumstance and campaign focus. So the framework for inputs shouldn't waste too much time filtering these choices out.

Ideally, the PH would explain the tags and keywords for boom spells. Then a list of iconic spells for each class. The list is the introductory point to the physics of spell construction.

The spell constructor is supplemental material meant to work like a harness for hanging new classes or be a tool for enthusiastic gamers to deconstruct illustrative spells and create meaningful choices for every energy type and every level. It would explain the thematic energy and shape limits set for the spells associated with each class. It's also to introduce the space to create consistent powers of new energy types. You could create a Qi based energy type to represent Wuxia like powers or metal/mastery powers for Book of Nine Swords type abilities, or even real spontaneous casting for players competent enough to make spells on the fly. I clearly remember the 3E DMG providing damage guidelines for new spells. A spell constructor takes that codification to its logical conclusion. So while core content might move down in page count, space for add-on material increases can be made more consistent and easier to integrate and judged for balance.


Last edited by Harshax on Thu Aug 03, 2017 4:00 pm; edited 1 time in total
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MGuy
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 7:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I don't think you understood my confusion. I don't understand the value in discussing exactly how much space is saved by it. As mentioned thisc has been done before and yes it obviously would save space but this is an idea that has been done. The fact that 4e and 5e writers did not do it might be because they can fill up more pages in a book and this get cheap easy bloat without working hard.

Are you planning on just doing the same thing that PF did (because it fits your description) or are you trying to do something new but haven't gotten around to revealing?
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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 2:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Well, consider how many different ways there are to set someone on fire. And realize that at any given time, D&D probably had several different unique rules for each of those, and what the effect was.
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Emerald
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 3:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

OgreBattle wrote:
it seems to me like Psionics was D&D's attempt at a coherent system of magic with schools* divided in a sensible way and scaling based on power level, though the points system was kinda cumbersome to track.


*Body altering, teleportation, energy/elemental blasting, telepathy stuff, creating matter.


Psionics disciplines aren't really any more or less sensible than spells schools. They're basically the same divisions minus Illusion and Necromancy since psionicists aren't supposed to be good at those, they only seem more focused and thematic because there are much fewer powers overall.

If you look at Complete Psionic, where they start giving psionicists necromantic powers, alignment-based powers, actual summoning powers in addition to creating astral constructs, and other like-spells-but-totally-not powers, the disciplines start looking more and more like the old spell schools.
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