20 September, 2010

What Accession, Pandelume?

The first thing we house-ruled in our Moldvay Basic game back in 1981 was wizard magic. None of us had read Vance, and the otherwise excellent Moldvay book was singularly reticent in providing a convincing argument for use'n'lose spellcasting. Thus, our initial attempts were overwrought and forgettable. Forgettable because.. well, I can't remember what we did.

Years later, I read The Dying Earth. I finally got the magic system. Not only did I get it, it was cool. It was intriguing. I could not only see why Gary had used it, but actually agreed with him.

So why tweak it? I'm a tweaker, it's what I do. The spells used by Turjan are arguably more powerful (iirc) than those available to the players of the Moldvay game, or any version in the earlier levels. It stands to reason that more powerful spells could easily have this effect on the mind, but should they all? Light? Magic Missile? Actually, I think that can be perfectly acceptable (as long as the DM provides appropriate accompanying flavour,) but the fact remains that the beginning wizard is severely limited in his options when compared to his comrades.

Although this can often be worked round when playing in-person, it's particularly a problem when running a game over a message board. A single day, to examine just one factor, can last upwards of a month in real-world time.

Thus, on the third week of play, along with the induction of the other week-three house-rules I detailed yesterday, I put up the following:
As of today, all magic-users may employ cantrips. These are minor magical effects, usable without recording any related formulae within the spellbooks of the thaumaturge. Neither do they take up any specific space within the mind of the mage.
Cantrips are not so much specific spells, but rather a general minor magic, which effect is determined at the time of use. The effect may cause damage, but no more than 1d2. It may also cause the recipient to make an ability check or saving throw to avoid some inconvenience, such as dropping a held item or tripping. Any attempt to affect the items or clothing of a target, such as igniting a flammable material in the possession of another, will also allow the victim a saving throw vs. spell to entirely negate the effect.
In most cases, no more than 5 pounds of weight can be moved, and generally only to a maximum distance of 10 feet. It can affect a flat area of 10 square feet or less, or a volume no more than a cube 1 foot per side. Most effects will last no longer than an hour, with some lasting only 1 turn. However, extremely minor effects, such as a subtle change in colour, might last indefinitely, as would the removal of dust, grime or dirt from an object or individual.
Cantrips may be used only once per round, and then only if enacting the magic is the only action taken. Sustained effects, such as floating a small object, may be maintained as long as the magic-user can continue concentration.
The variety and nature of the effect is limited only by the imagination of the employing wizard.
We'll see in the coming weeks whether this will cause any problems, and I'm including in that any sense of an alteration in the tone I'm trying to shoot for with the game.


rainswept said...

Cantrips are not so much specific spells, but rather a general minor magic, which effect is determined at the time of use.

This is a cool idea - on the fly cantrip creation would really allow the player to give a unique flavour to a PC without compromising her effectiveness in the dungeon. I think this might be a good place to use the MU's INT score, say as the difficulty for the saving throw you mention later.

I would take the basis for judging an on-the-fly effect as either the MU's raw INT score for effects with a magnitude of 3-18 (like range, mass or area) or an INT mod ±3 for number effected, damage & other times you want a small number.

I am worried that this might leave Fighters feeling a little un-cool... MUs will have something to contribute in every round of a combat that is bound to more interesting than swinging a sword. Hmmm... perhaps if there was a constraint that cantrips in combat always be described as assisting the action of an ally. ie the dropped item is the shield of a foe facing the Dwarf, a distraction provides a INTmod% bonus to a Thief moving silently, and so forth.

Yes, keeping the effects very small and focusing them on party success would be key for me.

Unless it was an all MU party... then the players could go crazy trying to "out cool" each other :)

migellito said...

"I am worried that this might leave Fighters feeling a little un-cool..."

I can see your point, and one thing I planned on doing is making it more 'assist-friendly' than 'damage-dealing.' Any damage wouldn't be able to be increased in any way, just the straight 1-2. Also, there would be a save to avoid it all together. The m-u would see over time that more effect is definitely to be had through creative assistance ideas, while the damage option would still be there for a clutch move.

Ethan said...

I am worried that this might leave Fighters feeling a little un-cool...

It's an RPG! You are only as lame as the character you play (or don't play)!

Disclaimer: I am the red-haired dwarf in the Troll's OD&D experiment. Now that I'm on to your blog, Troll, you'll have to be careful you don't give anything away ahead of time... or inflate the dwarf's ego by espousing his roll-playing abilities to no end!

The downfall of the latter D&D versions is that they seem to be geared towards the battles; people end up running from fight to fight, doing nothing in-between.

Where's the fun in that? This isn't DOOM!

My dwarf (fighter-class) has the dexterity of a rock - I developed my background story around this (being run out of the village because of an incident in an axe-throwing contest) and came up with the idea that he starts off every battle by throwing his hand axe and then charging with his battle axe. He wants to prove to himself that he doesn't have the dexterity of a rock. Notches are carved in the handle of the hand axe, not for every kill, but simply for every hit.

Who is he kidding? This isn't DDO where he can eat a +4 tome of Agility or raise his attribute every six levels... he will always have the agility of a rock. I'm sure that will come into play at some point...

But only 1/5th of our time so far has been spent in battle. We've found just four rooms so far, but I get just as much fun wandering the corridors, trying to peek around corners, figuring out puzzles and searching for traps, determining just how to get to the secret bottom of the chest, as I do from deftly tossing my hand axe into a goblin's skull (woot!) in the very first round of combat with this character or cleaving a zombie in half (Nat. 20 to hit with a max damage roll!).

My character will only become un-cool when I stop playing him.

migellito said...

Welcome Finnigan!! er.. Ethan :) Great to have you here to keep me honest.

Ethan said...

I hardly think you need me to keep you honest, Troll.