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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Spell System Design Table

This table is the start of an idea I’m working on for designing magic systems. There are a few more columns to add, and probably a graphical tool to go with it.

A-Z Chant Gesture Material Z-A
Y thought None None B
Z 2+ words 1 hand free A
A 1 round 2 hands 20 coins Z
B 1 turn 1 round 100 coins Y
C 1 hour 1 turn 250 coins X

This is not a table for designing individual spells, or for on-the-fly spell improvisation. It’s meant for designing entire spell systems or subsystems. If you have one spell system as your default but want a second system that doesn’t seem OP, or if you want to alter the way spells above Level 4 or Level 6 work to make them harder to use, you could use something like this.

The middle columns describe what spell casting looks like:
  • Chant is time needed for an uninterrupted incantation. Silencing or otherwise interfering with a caster during the listed casting time means the spell is foiled and must be begun again. If only a few words are required, spells take effect in the same round they are begun and are difficult to interrupt, although casters can still be gagged to prevent them from beginning an incantation in the first place. Magic that requires only a thought cannot be prevented with gagging.
  • Gesture is the time needed for mystical hand motions, ritual dance, or other body movements. It can also cover crafting times, if used in combination with the Material column. Tripping, binding, or injuring limbs can be used to spoil the spell, if the spell requires gestures at all.
  • Material is the substances needed to cast spells, expressed in terms of the cost. If the cost is free, the material is so common it can probably be gathered moments before the casting.
These, of course, are equivalent to the Verbal, Somatic, and Material components of AD&D, but more open-ended, in keeping with OD&D’s looser approach.

Row A or Row Z, or some mix of the two, seems to be the default for OD&D. My preference is for Row Z. But suppose I wanted an alternative form of magic based on pure mental strength that resembled mesmerism more than traditional fantasy sorcery. I would shift Chant up one row to “Thought” and Material up one row to “None”, but to compensate would have to shift Gesture down two rows, to “1 round”. The mesmerist would have to make mystic passes for a full round before casting their spell.

The final column (Z-A) is meant to aid the process of balancing, but it might not be necessary if I make a proper tool for it. There are additional columns I could add governing things like targeting (line of sight vs. touch required,) spell prep (max number of spells memorized,) or boosts to effect spell level. But all of that will be dealt with later.

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