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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Conceptual Magic: Delays and Triggers

I’ve been doing a series of posts on conceptual magic, linked below:

My boilerplate “too long, didn’t read” definition for the series has been:

[Conceptual Magic] treats spell duration, range, area of effect, and other details not as stats, but as concepts: the spell lasts as long as a candle remains lit, or is cast at the point where a thrown talisman lands, or affects everyone who hears the magic words.

So far, I’ve covered duration, area, and range. What other spell stats are available for conversion?

There’s spell level and saving throws, of course. But I consider these to be GM-facing mechanics, not player-facing mechanics. One of my design principles is that players should not be requesting classes, races, magic items, or spells based on what mechanics they’d like, but based on what they want to happen in the fantasy world.

I want a spell that gives me a +5 to hit


I want a spell that makes my hands as sharp as knives.

So my inclination is not to let players research spells with better saving throws or lower than normal spell level, but instead set these details based on what the spell actually does or uses.

Another traditional stat is casting time. This may also be in the same category as spell level and saving throws, but to some extent casting time can be shortened based on other concepts being used in the spell, for example a circle of protection has a casting time that is partially governed by the time needed to draw the circle. This is a topic I’m still thinking over.

But there is one conceptual area similar to casting time that seems very player-facing: delays and triggers. If a spell caster wants a spell to take effect later instead of immediately, spell components could be used to tie the spell either to an event that acts like a timer or a condition that acts like a power button.

A lot of the same concepts used for spell duration would be useful for timers as well. A spell could be set to begin when a candle burns out, or when a flower blooms. Linking a spell to an egg could delay a spell until the egg hatches. A spell caster could even cast a spell on some kind of Rube Goldberg device, such as a flame burning through a rope to drop a packet of incense into a brazier so that the spell is delayed until the smoke fills the room.

Triggers would work basically like magical traps. The condition that triggers the spell becomes a tripwire. See the conditions for nearly-permanent spells as examples that could also be used to trigger the start of the spell effect, instead of the end. A 6th level spell, then, could have a total of six conditions total, which can be split between spell delay and spell dissipation, although some components of spells may naturally affect both.

The most used trigger is Magical symbol, glyphs, and runes, which can be used for 1st level spells and affects both the delay and the duration. Seeing or touching the symbol triggers the spell effect. The method of creating the symbol affects the duration:

  • Symbols are written with ink on paper, vellum, or other material, and will end when the ink fades or the material bearing the symbol is destroyed.
  • Glyphs are written with paint, but usually on a more durable surface, like a stone wall or floor. The spell ends when the paint peels, but the surface itself will probably last much longer than a piece of paper.
  • Runes are etched into a surface, usually wood or stone, and must be scratched or chiseled off to dispel the effect.

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