... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

DCC-Like Random Spell Effects

I am at once horrified and intrigued by what I've heard about the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG's spell system. Aside from the fact that there's both a spell-use roll and a saving throw roll (which seems like overkill,) all spells have a random degree of success. The better your spell-use roll, the better your spell effect. You consult the spell description for the random effects table unique to the spell you cast.

I've made it clear before that I like terse spell descriptions, as you would find in the original three booklets or Microlite74. My dream would be the one-liner spell list: use a unified range, duration, area and effect system (as I've previously suggested) and a single-line spell description to improvise any spell details you need. So, it seems unlikely I'll be migrating to DCC. But the idea of random effects, with more powerful effects being more likely for higher-level casters, does have a certain appeal. If only there were some kind of universal random spell effect table that could be quickly adapted by the GM to each spell...

I'm imagining something like this: each spell description would include a 1-to-3-word phrase for 4 degrees of success:
  • Fizzle: a minor magical effect with limited usefulness.
  • Basic: the standard spell effect.
  • Extended: a more powerful spell effect.
  • Overdrive: a truly spectacular success.
It would be nice if the phrases could all be fit into one descriptive sentence, with each 1-to-3-word group bolded to make the four degrees stand out. Examples:
  • Charm Person: the target reconsiders hostility and even befriends the caster until betrayal, becoming fanatically loyal.
  • Fireball: burning embers fly from the caster's finger to burn those in the target area, setting fire to flammable items and exploding in a shower of ash.
For the actual random effect, we could use the standard 1d6 damage roll, even if the spell normally doesn't do damage. For spells that do multiple dice of damage, use the lowest roll for the descriptive effect. Those using a scroll to cast a spell they haven't learned subtract 1 from the roll; those who have learned the spell have no penalty, and those whose level is twice the spell's level get a +1, with another +1 for each doubling. Use the following easy-to-remember target numbers:
0 = Fizzle
1-4 = Basic
5-6 = Extended
7+ = Overdrive
So, your 5th level M-U casts Charm Person on an orc and rolls a 2, adding +2 for a total of 4. The orc is charmed if it fails a save, but the standard effect might only last a few hours. If the roll had been a 3, the effect would last as long as the caster didn't appear to betray the orc. Later, the M-U casts Fireball at an ogre and rolls 5 dice of damage: 1, 4, 5, 6, 6. The fireball is normal, doesn't start any continuing fires, and doesn't cause a burst of ash that might choke or blind victims. If the M-U had been 1st level and used a scroll of Fireball, the "fireball" would have just been a spray of embers that wouldn't have affected the entire area, just a single target, although it would have still done 22 points of damage on a failed save.

This approach would, of course, require rewriting all the spells, plus some kind of guidelines on how to select appropriate effects for new spells. I'm not sure that's something I want to do, but it's interesting to think about.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I kind of like the approach. It would be nice to see somebody flesh it out as you describe.