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


  1. Some random thoughts:
    I agree & don’t know how to fix magic other than having wizards be unwholesome weirdos and use leveless magic?


    I’ve always used knock with a lot of hijinks potential by defining things like “buckles on armor” and “safeguards on a winch” as meeting the description in the 2e book but that may be an argument I internalized and now think of as cannon but I think it can have some hijinks potential also by targeting trap mechanisms (also if it is a second level spell I feel like doors and traps would have some weird pushback in the ecology of theft deterrence?)

    I have a weird soft spot for flaming sphere because it’s this weird bridge between burning hands and fireball (in spells I loved as a kid until I figured out grease, knock, shatter and rock to mud are the ultimate murder spells) and is a spongiform flaming ball that (if I recall spell descriptions right) can kinda bounce and like getting it to bounce over walls and start fires or dropping it down a shaft to ignite anything guarding the enterance or etc. is kinda fun?

    It feels like so many spells justification is “we need to balance wizards” which seems silly?

    1. I also like the Flaming Sphere spell. I think it's "Materialness" adds a kind of powerful flavor. like having a Sorcerer who summons these basketball sized spheres of flame that they can handle or send around setting things ablaze is pretty cool.

      I also like the idea of a line of similar spells, like Otiluke's Freezing Sphere so you can make a magic user who maybe has a thing for summoning weird elemental orbs around them. That's good flavor. The RIFTS RPG used this approach as a way to fix the Sunlight spell as well, since wizards in that can summon a Globe of Daylight, which has a much cooler feel when you bust out a tiny copy of the sun to kill those pesky vampires.

  2. My random thoughts:

    Some minor tweaking can take a spell from Red Key Card to Hijinks Level 9000 without making it game breaking. Take Featherfall: As written it is a Self only spell that is the Red Key Card solution to the specific problem of falling to your death. If you just tweak the spell to work on objects, last at least a round or until the object touches the ground, and give it this:

    Featherfall: An object or creature touched by the wizard becomes the weight of a feather. This lasts for one round or, if in the air, until it touches the ground.

    So now your Wizard can cast Featherfall on that apple cart and flip it over with one hand. Or he can cast it on that goblin hacking at his knee, and punt them very, very far.

    1. P U N T. I love it. Any more of these?

    2. I'm imagining a scenario where someone is having a bet on which of several objects will fall down quicker and a wizard could cheat the wager by casting featherfall on one of the objects.

  3. I'm thinking maybe we don't need spell lists or magic classes and skills and all that. To me at least, magic should be rare and special. If it was limited to scrolls or specific abilities gained through adventuring, then a lot of these would be more exciting, such as sleep and mage armor. It would also lead to a different design philosophy which would probably give you better scaling spells and less red card keys and red doors. Just my opinion on the matter, maybe I'll make a magic powers list of my own!

  4. Scrap if I showed you a bunch of spells I wrote would you criticise them quickly?

    1. Alright groovy, I'll use your email in the blogger profile.

      Your idea basically seems to be spell complexity (ie. number of properties and, by extension, functions) = Good, materialness being a kind of complexity, hijinks potential being the function of that complexity. "Abstract" spells are those with clearly defined inputs and outputs (ie. Red key/Red door being simplest example of this). Materialness roughly = Spells adding complexity by referring to existing laws re: Friction, fluid dynamics, etc. Rather than inventing their own nonintuitive ones. Do you get me??? I'm designing a game about only wizards where the aim is to maximise this. Really I don't think wizards can be done properly in an otherwise mundane party. Peace be with you.

  5. Instead of a multitude of spells, what if wizards had only a single power or super spell that works fairly consistently but does only one thing. However, it's a power that can be used in a number of creative ways.

    Think of some of the X-Men superheroes, or the characters Voyd and Elastigirl in The Incredibles 2. Elastigirl has a single magical "spell": she can stretch her body into various shapes. But this single power allows her to fly (by gliding) or sail on water, pick locks, slingshot herself or other objects, slow down speeding trains, etc. Voyd can pull off a number of stunts by creating worm holes: sneak behind foes, teleport opponents away or else drop them into a "pit", swallow up and redirect missile attacks, etc.

    There are a number of other spells that can be multipurposed in this way, even allowing players to discover new uses. A "Fire" spell could allow casters to light fires, shoot fireballs, provide propulsion, create defensive walls of fire. "Polymorph" is an incredibly powerful spell & has a range of uses. Or a "time shift" spell that allows players to move a few seconds into the past (and future?). Telekinesis is another.