Tuesday 8 May 2018

Part2 of What Exactly is the Problem Here?

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Okay that last post got more traction/attention than I thought and now I got to clean up my points somewhat.

And look at some more spells to see if there is other conclusions to be drawn.

So in the last post I was trying to dissect my own disinterest in all these spell lists , but it's become blurred in/ or resonant with enough other people , that it's coming across as  a "objective" critique of the spells.

In this post I will try and be clearer about What I want from a Spell and how/if/does various spells fit that, but also be mindful about how this spell could be successful for other player preferences.

Some Concepts Will Use
Hijink potential:
Both how easy it is to use the spell in a variety of ways and how much unexpected things could happen from the spell.

Red Key Card:
A spell that just solves a particular problem , particular a problem created just to have that spell.

 the spell doesn't exist or barely exists outside the game mechanics for it. Magic missile, shield, true strike.

Like the opposite of abstract, what the spell does that then might needs game mechanics or reference existing game mechanics. A example of a spell that creates mechanics by its material is fireball or grease. A spell that doesn't even have game mechanics for what it creates is something like fabrication. Very often a factor in the spells Hijink potential, but not always (unseen servant)

Push Back:
push back is how hard you make it for any player plan to work, either through complication, dice gating or out right failure. Spells with high hijink potential can get a lot more push-back than abstract or red-key-card ones and if the d.m pushes back harder that the player likes then spells that don't risk it are going to be more appealing , example:

Everytime you use burning hands without thinking extremely careful about it, the d.m has the now on fire goblin crash tackle you or the resulting smoke choke you or the smell of cooked goblin attract a snake bear .

Push-back can done because the d.m likes the players to think really hard, or things to be very chaotic, or in some cases is trying to discourage the player.

Might be useful to define Push-Back that promotes chaos vs Push-Back that just prevent things happening at all. However not doing it now.

 I don't know how to segue into this bit:
There's spells I condemned because they created an easy to grasp real world object rather than a weird magic one (but still one with actual physical propertys unlike magic missile) .
So Mount creates a Horse rather than a weird organ beast.

However as players are familiar with horses they could think up more things to do with a horse than an organ beast, thus more hijniks potential so shouldn't it be regarded as less boring?

Also this one:

 There's trusting the d.m to make rulings about edge cases and then there's writing up Telekinesis as "move 2000 coins of weight"
which is like writing up magic as "the wizard can use spells to change reality. The d.m will decide the limits and restrictions of this"

Because players are going to want to know how fast it can move things, can it move small things fast enough to injure , how delicately , if you can target a held item , if someone gets a saving throw if you are trying to lift them up, can you lift someone up by specific body part like eyes or genitals, can you use it to crush or squeeze a throat, can you use it disable a limb or at least interfere with it enough to make attacking difficult , do I have to see something to use telekinesis on it , etc

The only use of the spell that won't require an immediate ruling is just picking something inanimate up and moving it somewhere else when nothing else is going on and somehow I feel this is going to be a less common use to any of the above

Compare to  "imagine the telekinesis as a mystic leaf blower like force which can push or even lift but can't specifically target or manipulate things with any more skill than you could do with a leaf blower < then some game effects if you use it against someone to slow them down or shove an object at someone>

(not saying telekinesis should be that limited but just giving an example of something that gives me something to work with as d.m)

Wizard Role:
Some people like some spells because they allow wizards to do things that wizards should be able to do like Obscure object or other Single Use spells or allow Wizards to be useful without having a complicated plan.

Actually I'm going to a terrible job trying thinking about spells in ways other people like them. Sooo


Arcane LockM: Magically locks a portal or chest. I guess it's something wizards could do but like could this be broader in application so you can use it on mouths  . It's hard to care about this spell
Obscure Object: Masks object against scrying. This is so red card key door I think it's the archetype
Protection from Arrows: Subject immune to most ranged attacks.  Boring but useful and you could see high level wizards getting to not worry about snipers oh wait that's hitpoints. Moving on
Resist Energy: Ignores first 10 (or more) points of damage/attack from specified energy type. Boring but useful

Acid Arrow: Ranged touch attack; 2d4 damage for 1 round +1 round/three levels. Alliteration and it has some materialness  I like it
Fog Cloud: Fog obscures vision. There's a level 1 spell that does this , can it just be one spell?
Glitterdust: Blinds creatures, outlines invisible creatures.  C+
Summon Monster II: Calls extraplanar creature to fight for you. covered previously
Summon Swarm: Summons swarm of bats, rats, or spiders. This is a good way to do a low level summoning , and is creepy and there's prob always a swarmable creature nearby
Web: Fills 20-ft.-radius spread with sticky spiderwebs.  C+ oh wait you can burn it B+

Detect Thoughts: Allows “listening” to surface thoughts.
Locate Object: Senses direction toward object (specific or type).
See Invisibility: Reveals invisible creatures or objects.
Detection spells need a whole post on themselves I think , but Detect thoughts and Locate Object are better than See Invisibilty

Daze Monster: Living creature of 6 HD or less loses next action.  Maybe if said why , like a mind jolt or vertigo but without any thing other mechanics it's boring and feels like it's here to give enchantment another spell
Hideous Laughter: Subject loses actions for 1 round/level. Is this still contagious?  Kinda like the Sleep / Colour Spray , I'd get sick of having happen in every combat.
Touch of Idiocy: Subject takes 1d6 points of Int, Wis, and Cha damage.  Bad. What about the touched target next time has to make a decision just does it really dumb?

Continual FlameM: Makes a permanent, heatless torch.
Darkness: 20-ft. radius of supernatural shadow.
Flaming Sphere: Creates rolling ball of fire, 2d6 damage, lasts 1 round/level.
Gust of Wind: Blows away or knocks down smaller creatures.
Scorching Ray: Ranged touch attack deals 4d6 fire damage, +1 ray/four levels (max 3).
Shatter: Sonic vibration damages objects or crystalline creatures.

A bunch of Okays. Maybe not you Shatter depending on the g.m lets it get used

Blur: Attacks miss subject 20% of the time. I mean okay I guess. Wizards should have some protective spells and it does it in a way with materialness
Hypnotic Pattern: Fascinates (2d4 + level) HD of creatures. What I said about Fog Cloud but also what said about Hypnosis
Invisibility: Subject is invisible for 1 min./level or until it attacks. Sure
Magic MouthM: Speaks once when triggered. Could there just be a "trigger illusion spell?"
Minor Image: As silent image, plus some sound. SO this is why those level 1 spells couldn't do both at once : (
Mirror Image: Creates decoy duplicates of you (1d4 +1 per three levels, max 8). A example of protective Wizard spell that has some special effects to it that make good
Misdirection: Misleads divinations for one creature or object. What the fuck is with all the boring spell : The Return ?
Phantom TrapM: Makes item seem trapped. This actual could be great if was so it made everyone unease not just specific trap detectors

Blindness/Deafness: Makes subject blinded or deafened.  Debuffs are forbidden unless they have some flavour to them , not literally the effect they do as their name. call them "The Devil's Note" and "Unbearable Word" and the effect happens to those exposed.
Command Undead: Undead creature obeys your commands. I mean if you going to have necromancers a thing couldn't they just have this as ability? I guess it's simpler to have it as spell. Bland but forgivable
False Life: Gain 1d10 temporary hp +1/level (max +10). Bland but unforgivable
Ghoul Touch: Paralyzes one subject, which exudes stench that makes those nearby sickened. 
Add that if you touch food or drink it affects the consumer. I know the stink just makes it to tie in with the ghoulness but dunno it gives it something
Scare: Panics creatures of less than 6 HD. What I said about blindness , also there was a level 1 spell that did this. I hate this. Just pick how strong the effect is and give it a single spell.
Spectral Hand: Creates disembodied glowing hand to deliver touch attacks. I feel like this was crude fix for all the necromancer touch spells but a glowing hand flying around combat Sucking the life from people is fine , so sure

Bear's Endurance: Subject gains +4 to Con for 1 min./level.
Bull's Strength: Subject gains +4 to Str for 1 min./level.
Cat's Grace: Subject gains +4 to Dex for 1 min./level.
Eagle's Splendor: Subject gains +4 to Cha for 1 min./level.
Fox's Cunning: Subject gains +4 Int for 1 min./level.

Owl's Wisdom: Subject gains +4 to Wis for 1 min./level.  
Darkvision: See 60 ft. in total darkness. F-

Whispering Wind: Sends a short message 1 mile/level. Bland but forgivable

Alter Self: Assume form of a similar creature.  What I said about Scare

Knock: Opens locked or magically sealed door. The classic red key card door spell and the beginning of the wizard starting to do everyone's jobs. I guess it's the "resource management" aspect to d&d challenge so if that works for you, fine. This spell is a pariah to me
Levitate: Subject moves up and down at your direction. Bland but unforgivable

Pyrotechnics: Turns fire into blinding light or choking smoke. Feels like it should be level 1 and/or replace the spells that do stuff like this without needing a fire

Rope Trick: As many as eight creatures hide in extradimensional space.  fine
Spider Climb: Grants ability to walk on walls and ceilings.  fine


Dispel Magic: Cancels magical spells and effects.  I guess wizards should be able to do this : /
Explosive Runes: Deals 6d6 damage when read.  fine
Magic Circle against Chaos: As protection spells, but 10-ft. radius and 10 min./level.
Magic Circle against Evil: As protection spells, but 10-ft. radius and 10 min./level.
Magic Circle against Good: As protection spells, but 10-ft. radius and 10 min./level.
Magic Circle against Law: As protection spells, but 10-ft. radius and 10 min./level.
everything I said about the first level one

NondetectionM: Hides subject from divination, scrying.  holy shit how many spells did this??
Protection from Energy: Absorb 12 points/level of damage from one kind of energy.  make it one spell please

Phantom Steed: Magic horse appears for 1 hour/level.  it's a level 2 mount spell
Sepia Snake Sigil: Creates text symbol that immobilizes reader.   I mean it's okay but 2 spells to trap reading necessary?
Sleet Storm: Hampers vision and movement bland but forgivable

 Stinking Cloud: Nauseating vapors, 1 round/level. fine
Summon Monster III: Calls extraplanar creature to fight for you. covered already
Arcane Sight: Magical auras become visible to you. this is divination kinda alright.
Clairaudience/Clairvoyance: Hear or see at a distance for 1 min./level. bland but forgivable
Telepathic Bond, Lesser: As telepathic bond, but you and one other creature.  I mean it sounds wizardy but would anyone miss it if it wasn't here?
Tongues: Speak any language. as what I said for comprehend languages

Deep Slumber: Puts 10 HD of creatures to sleep. this is my face for when a higher level spell is identical to a lower level spell - _ -
Heroism: Gives +2 bonus on attack rolls, saves, skill checks. Number increaser
Hold Person: Paralyzes one humanoid for 1 round/level. Like there's snake sigil and that ghoul touch one that I guess are limited versions of this but can we just have those?
Rage: Subjects gains +2 to Str and Con, +1 on Will saves, –2 to AC.  Still no
Suggestion: Compels subject to follow stated course of action.  Fine

Evoc  I was deleting the schools But I guess I should leave them because I refer to them
Daylight: 60-ft. radius of bright light. a 3rd level light spell -_-

Fireball: 1d6 damage per level, 20-ft. radius.
Lightning Bolt: Electricity deals 1d6/level damage.
Sometimes people say these are boring but there's a lot of plans that go around trying to get dudes all in the one place so these spells ruin them the most and a lot accidents that happen because not enough of plan happened before they got used. So don't estimate the "hi jink potential" of spells with high "materialism" I feel weird about making terms now like Ron Edwards

Tiny Hut: Creates shelter for ten creatures. A spell carefully written to only get used for this one thing and makes it so any characters that are good at wilderness survival are redundant boo
Wind Wall: Deflects arrows, smaller creatures, and gases. bland but forgivable

Displacement: Attacks miss subject 50%.
Illusory ScriptM: Only intended reader can decipher.
Invisibility Sphere: Makes everyone within 10 ft. invisible.
Major Image: As silent image, plus sound, smell and thermal effects.
The only one of these that isn't an existing effect could be 1st level and is pretty limited in scope . Could there just be a Wizard writing that allowed you to do the Snake Sigil, The Explosive Runes and Say Different Things To Different people?

Gentle Repose: Preserves one corpse.
Halt Undead: Immobilizes undead for 1 round/level.
Ray of Exhaustion: Ray makes subject exhausted.

Vampiric Touch: Touch deals 1d6/two levels damage; caster gains damage as hp.
boring but forgivable

Water Breathing: Subjects can breathe underwater.
Flame Arrow: Arrows deal +1d6 fire damage.
Blink: You randomly vanish and reappear for 1 round/level.
 Fly: Subject flies at speed of 60 ft.
Gaseous Form: Subject becomes insubstantial and can fly slowly.
bland but forgivable 

Haste: One creature/level moves faster, +1 on attack rolls, AC, and Reflex saves.
Slow: One subject/level takes only one action/round, –1 to AC, reflex saves, and attack rolls.

Buff debuffs should always be like these 2

Keen Edge: Doubles normal weapon’s threat range.
Magic Weapon, Greater: +1/four levels (max +5).
Secret Page: Changes one page to hide its real content. See Illusionary Script
Shrink Item: Object shrinks to one-sixteenth size.  Sure it could be used in someweird ways but does it have to be a spell?

Okay that's all the 2nd and 3rd done , this getting boring , stopping here.

How to fix :
Obviously if you don't have a problem with these spells then they don't need fixing.

A lot of people mentioned reskinning, or just adding enough materialness to make it interesting.

So Fly gives you wings or something. There's argument for the spells being presented in simple bland ways so you can then modify them for each wizard.

However if the cosmetics (like Fly's wings) don't have any materialness (like being able to tickle the inside of a throat with the wings) then it could be just additional description that gets skipped over. "The enemy wizard makes a glowing carpet appear and/ Yeah he's casting a fly spell I shoot him"

But if the carpet means you can body the wizard off his carpet and flying around on it , then that's good.

However then if each wizards spell flavour actually has materialness it makes their pressure to try a game that.

So either roll with that or just give spells that bore you materialness until they don't.

The same version of a spell but it's a different level. Just have it be the one spell and you can cast it as a second level spell if you want the more powerful effect.
If you just want a bigger spell list for conjurers etc , how about don't and give them some ability other wizards don't have , then stuff like Summoning , Protection Circles, Raising Undead could get its own mechanics rather than cutting it all up and putting it as spells.

I guess that's kinda a simpler solution but I dislike it for some reason.

An alternative to Materialness of effect is making the spell have a circumstance to its use that make hijinks happen around it.
  Like Comprehend language requires a shared meal or the tongue of the creature (attached or not) in your mouth. 

However if the circumstances seem too difficult or involve too much push-back for the players tastes they might hate you.

A way to make this more palatable to players is having the circumstances be exploitable in some way or the spell more powerful than it was.

So Obscuring Mist, Stinking Cloud and Blinding Light (Wait was it called that) all require fire you use because you also folded them into Pyrotechnics make it so the bigger the fire the more powerful effect.

Or Spectral Hand actually involves having real severed hand to animate make it be able to effect more people if get your hands on a bigger hand. Or you can use it on a living hand and fight the owner for control

Friday 4 May 2018

What Exactly Is The Problem Here Re: 1st level Spell List

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF A spell list doens't really need to be interesting.
As long as interesting emergent situations happen from players having them
And yet , and yet, I am still IRKED by trying to choose a spell list to include in my game.

They are boring. All of the ones I looked at (it was SEVERAL) 

I will now go through the SRD wizard 1st level spell list and discuss why I hate them or dislike them or like them and see if I can draw some conclusion or its just contrariness and over-familiarity (factors that cannot be entirely discounted)

Just because it says "1st level" doesn't mean this will be a series. 

1st-Level Sorcerer/Wizard Spells

Alarm: Wards an area for 2 hours/level. narrow utilitarian, no real appearance other than a generic magic-ness. Like if was a floating eye ball or something.  

Endure Elements: Exist comfortably in hot or cold environments.  If you could do with normal equipment why make it a spell? 

Hold Portal: Holds door shut. Spells that are going to be same every time because what they do is so narrow bore me A fireball has the potential to play out different depending on how much care you had when you cast. This holds a door shut

Protection from Chaos/Evil/Good/Law: +2 to AC and saves, counter mind control, hedge out elementals and outsiders. "this spell increases numbers and has some janky effects that everyone forgets because how does it work exactly and does a first level spell really stop a demon , ugh no"

Shield: Invisible disc gives +4 to AC, blocks magic missiles. adding a weird specific interaction to a number increaser doesn't hell

Grease: Makes 10-ft. square or one object slippery. This is good spell. It's nearly impossible to think about this spell without going "and what about if there was a pit or spikes or we stood on the high ground so they couldn't get us etc" I mean sure I did just say a spell was bad because it basically did the same thing as mundane item and this literally has the name of the item but this is instant and you can be far away so it gets a pass

Mage Armor: Gives subject +4 armor bonus. a number increaser existing slowly so you can ask "what is the difference between mage armour and shield" at a d&d trivia night

Mount: Summons riding horse for 2 hours/level. Despite them trying to be boring by making it a horse the fact you can use it as literal meat shield or get it to walk off cliffs on top of people is kinda fun. "animal refuse to attack it" is interesting because you can put it between you and bear and the bear will never attack it fuck you bear. The Wizard should vomit up an fragment of an internal organ which then grows into a meat beast though. Spells that always go for a really boring thing instead of thinking of an interesting thing are bad (see shield's invisible disc ) though sure an argument for ease of communication to player and adaptability could be made.  

Obscuring Mist: Fog surrounds you. It's not great but at least it facilitates hi-jinks better than +4 to armour class

Summon Monster I: Calls extraplanar creature to fight for you. The effect is fine but considering the absurd richness of cultural detail that goes around summoning and commanding spirits and otherworldly forces this spell is an insult. Because even if you put that stuff in there , this spell still exists and makes all that goat blood look redundant. 

Unseen Servant: Invisible force obeys your commands.  The capability for hi-jinks out-weighs any lack of flavour or weirdness  

Comprehend Languages: You understand all spoken and written languages. "A instant specific solution for a specific problem!" ugh why not "you can speak or read a written language but only if you get a speaker/reader to share the same food as you or something that makes the "solution" have some emergence 

Detect Secret Doors: Reveals hidden doors within 60 ft. Fuck every detection spell

Detect Undead: Reveals undead within 60 ft. You heard me

Identify M: Determines properties of magic item. If you have too many magical items so you balance it by making the players fuck around , don't , just give them less or make them single use. A staff which just sits in a backpack not getting used because you don't know the command word is dumb. Anyway if you have to have things identified it should be hags and talking eyeless albino savant apes and not just "yeah use the specific solution to the specific problem"

True Strike: +20 on your next attack roll. this is some MMO shit fuck off

Charm Person: Makes one person your friend. Ugh I guess kinda hijinky but I hate the save or nothing happens and it feels played out but that's me being petty

Hypnotism: Fascinates 2d4 HD of creatures. This is even more boring than real hypnotism

Sleep: Puts 4 HD of creatures into magical slumber. I feel like this shouldn't be a spell because it's cool when Sinbad throws some powder or lets the magic bird out but when every combat has 4hd of enemy go to sleep it's kinda naff? Like imagine if it was staple for every fight scene in a visual medium , 4 hd of people just lie down?

Burning Hands: 1d4/level fire damage (max 5d4). Not going to lie, setting things on fire always gets a pass. 

Floating Disk: Creates 3-ft.-diameter horizontal disk that holds 100 lb./level. Redundant because of unseen servant 

Magic Missile: 1d4+1 damage; +1 missile per two levels above 1st (max 5). Let's make hurting people boring. Bad. No

Shocking Grasp: Touch delivers 1d6/level electricity damage (max 5d6).  If it had something like it could "set" on an object and then touching that object makes it go off, or didn't require magic words and finger waves i.e something hijinky, but right now it's damage spell that no-one wants to use and doesn't even result in much special effects

Color Spray: Knocks unconscious, blinds, and/or stuns weak creatures. It was kind fun when Crazy Quilt did but like sleep it's kinda wack when it keeps happening.

Disguise Self: Changes your appearance. Just make this part of the illusion spell

Magic Aura: Alters object’s magic aura. This is literally the worst spell except maybe the implied challenge in killing someone with it. "a partial solution to really specific and minor problem"

Silent Image: Creates minor illusion of your design. Fine it's a illusion spell. 

Ventriloquism: Throws voice for 1 min./level.  Okay. I guess. Couldn't it be part of the illusion spell? Like you can make a sound without an image or an image without a sound?

Cause Fear: One creature of 5 HD or less flees for 1d4 rounds. Save or minor debuff. Ugh. What about makes a object weirdly scary even though the viewer can't explain why? So you could throw it at someone , offer it as example of haunted object, leave it as ward etc. Too specific and unspectacular 

Chill Touch: One touch/level deals 1d6 damage and possibly 1 Str damage. See shocking grasp

Ray of Enfeeblement: Ray deals 1d6 +1 per two levels Str damage. It's pretty MMO but "enfeebling" is a fun verb. It's not the very worst but that's only because the competition is FRAIL. But still I can't really dump on this spell just because it's just sounds like something Skeletor would declare his intention to use. "How Do you LIke that Muscle Boy? Not so strong now that I've used my Enfeeblement Ray MeeheheHEHEHHE"

Animate Rope: Makes a rope move at your command. If it's clear what this can do and what unseen servant can do it can get a pass

Enlarge Person: Humanoid creature doubles in size. Okay there's all these weird caveats on this spell to make sure it only exists as 1st level buff spell (can't crush people, only increases certain abilities but not everything being bigger would) but can it just be higher level and it does all the shit making someone big would do?

Erase: Mundane or magical writing vanishes. See Magic Aura

Expeditious Retreat: Your speed increases by 30 ft. See True Strike but a point for "expeditious"

Feather Fall: Objects or creatures fall slowly. Barely acceptable

Jump: Subject gets bonus on Jump checks. Fuck you

Magic Weapon: Weapon gains +1 bonus. Fuuuuuck you

Reduce Person: Humanoid creature halves in size. See Enlarge

Patterns so far:

Involves Fire

The ability of a spell to be combined with other actions and lateral thinking is a major factor in me in regarding it as not-boring . The "hijink" factor.

Sounds like Something Skeletor Would Say


Does World Building I didn't ask it to and the World being Build  seems to work a lot  like a video game(Protection From Evil/Good, Monster Summoning)

Does something another spell does close enough that it's hard to remember what the difference is (shield and magic armour)

Does something another spell does and it's memorable different but just doesn't really bring anything fun to the table (magic disc vs unseen servant is bad, while unseen servant vs animate rope is passable because the rope is more distinctive objects with its own rich history of dumb gags)

I could just make this all one spell right? Wait are these only different spells because you've got these spell categories like "illusions" and "necromancy" and you've failed to do anything that interesting with them for like 4+ versions of d&d now yet you still have them and have to pad out "illusions" somehow? (disguise self, minor image etc)

Spells that just increase a number are the worst.

Spells that are a "red key card" for "red key card door" are also nearly as bad.
Like , a spell that just makes a specific problem vanish. Compare a "battering ram" or "disguising yourself as an inspectator" as solutions to the "red key card door".
The results are not certain but will result in something (as opposed to it works or nothing happens) happening and both "solutions" can be used again in a varied of situations. 

Spells that have a "special effect" (like if it was t.v series it would involve a special effects budget) but the special effect is a failure of the imagination like Mount or Floating Disc. Again sure ease of reskinning and explainability but the standard it fails is my standard not a universal usefulness standard .

It's d&d classic that I'm arbitrarily sick of  , maybe because it never really was that clear about how it worked (charm person)