Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cleric Spell "Bless"

This is the first in a series of the Cleric Spells (levels 1-3) that have effects that deal with the "Create Advantage" action.

Bless (Conjuration / Summoning) Reversible


Difficulty: 1
Range: Up to 2 zones away from the caster's zone (60')
Duration: 6 minutes or the full conflict
Components: V, S, M (Rare: Sprinkling of Holy Water)
Area of Effect: 50’ x 50’ or an area of two adjacent zones
Casting Time: 3 exchanges
Opposed By: n/a


A successful casting will Create an Advantage of Blessed on all characters within the Area of Effect at the time the Casting is completed. This advantage lasts 6 minutes of game time or the full conflict.

The advantage is only available to those within the Area of Effect who are not already in combat (i.e., is not attacking or defending). The effect is sticky--so if that Blessed character then enters combat, the advantage is still available.


A successful casting will also generate free invocations:

  • Successful casting (Cleric generates a Spell Power of +1 through +3) = 1 free invocation
  • Succeed with style (Cleric generates a Spell Power of +4 or better) = 2 free invocations

Example: Cleric with a Will of +2 Casts Bless (Difficulty: 1) rolls 2dF+2 and gets a +0. Assuming no other modifiers, this means the spell has a Power of...

(Skill "Will", +2) + (Dice 2df+2, +0) - (Difficulty, 1) = +1 Spell Power

...which means everyone within the Area of Effect gets the aspect Blessed, and the party can leverage (between them) a single free invocation.

All other invocations require the invoker (user) to expend a Fate Point.

The aspect can be invoked for mental or physical uses.


The reverse of the spell Creates an Advantage of Cursed within the Area of Effect. The reverse requires a different material component: sprinkling “specially polluted” or profaned, water instead of Holy Water.


A curse can either be Invoked or Compelled (Fate Core, p.71). If a player character cast the Curse, he may use an invocation as a Compel on a target that was impacted by the curse. The target may accept the compel (for a Fate Point) or pay their own Fate Point to avoid it.

Once the casting's free invocations are used, the cleric could continue to invoke compels at the cost of the cleric’s own Fate Points.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Boiling the Ocean

Despite a lack of posts, actual work on spell translation has been proceeding. While the first batch of spells is going through an editing pass for some consistency, here’s some thoughts about the process I took for spell translation.

  1. Define the Scope of the Spells to be Translated
  2. Organize the Spells into Similar Categories
  3. Batch the Translations in Each Category.


For the initial effort, I limited my translations to a “Blue Box” approach of only doing spell levels 1-3.

Only levels 1-3? That’s not enough!

Says you. The source material spell tables for levels 1-3 (remember that “Blue Box” = Cleric and Magic-User classes only), which leaves “only”…

  • Cleric spells: 36
  • Wizard spells: 78

…I think 114 spells is pretty good starting place.


Starting from those 114 spells, I organized them into categories. Since the goal is to translate these spells into use for Fate Core, it made sense to make each of the Fate Core “Four Actions” a separate category:

  • Attack
  • Defend
  • Overcome Opposition
  • Create Advantage

A quick read of each spell’s description allowed each spell to be categorized into one (or more) of the Four Actions. Additionally it had the benefit of further narrowing the scope of each effort.

For example looking at the Cleric spells in level 1-3, an initial review gave the following breakdown…

  • Attack: 1 spell
  • Defend: 0 spells
  • Overcome Opposition: 6 spells
  • Create Advantage: 37 spells

…You might have noticed that this adds up to more then the 36 spells I listed above. The reason for the higher number here is that a number of spells that were “reversible” would have the reverse effect fall into a separate Action category.

So looking at this categorization, it becomes a lot clearer where to spend time to do the most good.

Batch Translate each Category

So now even within each category, you could probably start picking and choosing spells with similar spell effects or descriptions, and limit from there.

Focusing again on Cleric spells 1-3 within the “Create Advantage” category, that means that you could look at spells like…

  • Bless
  • Detect Good/Evil
  • Detect Magic
  • Detect Charm
  • Find Traps
  • Know Alignment

…knowing that once you’ve worked out the basics of the Create Advantage action within one of the spells, you can leverage that work across similar spells.

This also has the advantage of improving consistency between similar spells and minimizing rework later on if you find yourself in a dead-end.

So what all this is leading up to is an explanation of why you’re not seeing spells being posted in a onesy-twosy fashion.

Look for some spells coming up pretty soon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

More Ambient Music to Game by - John Carpenter

It has been an obnoxiously long time since I posted (almost a year?? I am filled with shame), and my overly-long list of "to-do list" has the next series "real" articles coming up, but in the meantime, here's something that compelled me to write.

In addition to being "Master of Late 20th Century Horror", movie director John Carpenter composed a lot of the soundtracks to his movies.

They had a minimalistic feel and are very successful at conveying a mood. Come to think of it, that was a point I made the last time I wrote about gaming music...

Keeping to another point from my prior entry: unless you (the DM) want the music to specifically prompt a connection in the players to a particular movie, say like...

...You'd do well to look at some of his less recognizable work. You find A LOT of his work here John Carpenter's Music on Spotify

My Spotify Picks for John Carpenter Soundtrack Music

Beyond the Soundtracks

Though he hasn't directed a film since 2001, he released an album of original tracks called "Lost Themes" in 2015. Though it recalls his movie soundtrack work, I believe it's all original tracks. Some favorites for gaming....

Why Now?

The genesis of this writeup was learning that John Carpenter has a new album of original music due out April 15, 2016. But NPR has the entire album available for streaming right NOW. And it is GREAT for gaming.

John Carpenter - Lost Themes II

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ambient Music Suggestions

So it was the summer of 1982, and the first Champions game I ever ran was not going well. It was a new group of guys at the table that I had met from a 3x5" card that had been posted at the hobby store.

That was how we did it in old days, kids.

The feel at the table was very tentative--everybody was used to dungeon crawls (in 1982, Supers games were still something of a novelty in the RPG world). I was getting nervous that maybe this wasn't going to work. Then I tried something different: I put my cassette with the theme song to "Raiders of the Lost Ark" into the boom box and hit Play.

...That's right: a cassette in a boom box. Old School.

And all of a sudden, the mood changed. The "heroes" came alive. Players were physically punctuating their character's moves with a Superman-ish "fist in the air" takeoff. It was awesome.

Ever since then I have been a huge fan of ambient music. Whether it's at the table or even play-by-email, ambient music can be a really useful tool.

So in between SoG articles, I'll share some suggestions for ambient music that's available through Spotify, that might provide some oomph to your games.

My current preference is to look for tracks that are somewhat recognizeable, but aren't well known. I think that makes it easier to slot a particular piece of music into more varied circumstances. In other words, if you're playing Boot Hill, having The Imperial March in the background is probably more a hindrance than a help when it comes to providing a more immersive feel.

I also have been leaning towards music that has a "smaller" feel from an orchestration perspective, although that may be more due to the type of games I've been running / stories I've been telling lately.

For this first installment, I'll set the bar high with one of the more prolific composers of the 20th century.

Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975)

A Hollywood film score composer who worked a lot with Hitchcock and wrote the scores for the following movies (this is only a small sampling):

  • Psycho
  • Vertigo
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth

...And while he was at it, he also wrote a few things for The Twilight Zone. Here's a few samples of his work to whet your appetite:

Journey to the Center of the Earth Lost / Bridge / Gas Cave / Vines
If that's not a dungeon-delve track, I don't know what is.

The Day the Earth Stood Still Outer Space / Radar
Theremin in just the right amount.

The Day the Earth Stood Still Klaatu
Great background "tension" track.

Mysterious Island Escape to the Clouds

Mysterious Island The Island

The Egyptian The Nile and Temple
Exotic without being distracting.

The Twilight Zone episode Where Is Everybody?:The Door

The Twilight Zone Where Is Everybody?:The Plea

Citizen Kane Rain

Jason and Argonauts The Feast
The party started off so nicely...

Jason and Argonauts The Vase
Good "prepping for the finale" or the Big Reveal before it all goes crazy.

North by Northwest The Wild Ride

Note About the Links

If you have Spotify, you can paste these links into the search window in the Spotify app and go right to them.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Translating Spells

The following is a list of general guidelines for translating the spells from the source material into Spirit of Greyhawk.

General Note about Translation

Anything that the spell description "states" can be generally assumed to be true (Fireball is still a 3rd level spell). However in terms of the actual implementation when it comes to measurable metrics may vary somewhat, though still trying to stay as true as possible to the expected magical effect.

So every spell has the following properties in the source material:

  • Level - This is the difficulty of the spell.
  • Range - Distance as a measure of how far away the caster can be from the effect.
  • Duration - Time as a measure of how long the spell lasts.
  • Area of Effect - Distance as a measure of a spell's effect.
  • Components - The requirements to cast the spell.
  • Casting Time - Time as a measure of how long the Wizard is engaged in generating the effect.
  • Saving Throw - The means by which the target could resist/reduce/negate the effect.
  • Explanation/Description - The writeup of the spell.


The source material’s most granular unit of time is 6 seconds (1 Segment) and SoG will consider that the equivalent of a single Fate “exchange” (or Full Action). Though I think that 6 seconds to cover only a single combat exchange is a bit long, it’s not bad enough to warrant trying to make a more complicated translation.

However there’s a bit of a translation challenge associated with going from an absolute time scale (in the source material) to Time as expressed in the Fate Core system. Fate Core tends to look at the impact of time more from a dramatic perspective. Additionally, even the use of a Time Ladder is a holdover from earlier Fate implementations--I currently only use it when I need a translation guideline--during gameplay, time tends to more closely resemble Fate Care.

Source Material Casting TimeSoG Game Duration“Actual” Time in Game
InstantAction (not full action)About 3 seconds or less
1 SegmentFull Action (1 Exchange)6 seconds
2 Segments2 Exchanges12 seconds
3 Segments to 1 round3 Exchanges18 seconds to 1 minute
1 round to 1 turnLess than a Scene1 - 10 minutes
1 turn to 2 turnsEntire Scene10 - 20 minutes

(The full ladder for time goes further than this, but again this is enough for translation purposes.)

I have an untested theory that it might be possible to add a dramatic dimension to protraying time and spell duration for games occurring in real-time (around the table) and suggest that a GM to actually assign a real-world "time" to a spell's duration.

So if a Shield spell was cast at 12:45pm (real world time at the table), the Wizard player could just write down that the spell was in force until 1:25pm (reflecting a spell duration of 40 minutes).

Given the relatively quick pace of Fate Core combat, I think this might be a fun way to log a spell's duration, as something easier than counting the number of exchanges, but more granular than just having spells last "the remainder of the scene", or "the rest of the session."

Translating Distance

Distance is used when considering both Area of Effect and Range. Fred Hicks posted a great guideline about how to adapt Fate to D&D maps (where 1 map square = 5 feet of game distance) that serves as the basis for SoG distance assumptions. SoG works with both zones and maps, but here’s the bottom line for purposes of SoG spell translation:

  • Most source material dungeon maps that I care about scale at 1 map square = 10 feet of game distance.
  • The source material expresses distance for spells (within a dungeon) as 1 inch = 10 feet of game distance.
  • I generally consider a single zone in SoG as 30 feet long and 30 feet wide, which is 3 map squares on each side.
  • When placing characters on a map (should your game choose to do that) the caster stands at the middle of a 3x3 square that represents the Fate “zone” currently occupied.

This means that melee attacks (range "Touch”) can only be executed on adjacent squares or a target occupying the same square as the caster.

Anything further than that adjacent square would mean that the target was in a different zone from the caster.

So what this means for translating spells...

  • For a spell to affect someone in the next zone, the source material spell needs a range of at least 2" (using the measure of distance as shown in the source material).
  • In order to affect an entire zone of targets, the spell must have an Area of Effect of at least 3" square or radius.

Spell Components

Spell Components in SoG represent requirements placed upon the spell caster in order to generate a spell’s effect. If one of those requirements cannot be met, the spell cannot be cast "as is". Remember, trying to modify a spell's formula on the fly changes the casting from Wizardry into Sorcery.

Each category of component (Verbal, Somatic, Material) places a temporary aspect on the caster for the duration of the spell casting.

These temporary aspects could be leveraged by opponents seeking to disrupt the caster and interrupt the spell, or represent some additional challenge. Remember that aspects represent a narrative "truth"--so if the caster has a "verbal casting" aspect on him, the narrative truth is that the Wizard is verbally speaking a portion of the spell.

If the spellcaster cannot maintain those temporary aspects during the course of the casting, then the spell is interrupted.

The source material states there are three categories of spell components, any or all of which could be required for the Wizard to cast a particular spell:

Verbal Component

This requires that the caster must speak certain magical incantations in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that the caster would likely have to speak at a normal tone or louder. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Example: A party is trying to hide from sentries, and the party's Wizard casts a spell with a Verbal component. The GM could then compel that aspect to give the sentries a +2 to Alertness.

Somatic Component

The caster must use certain gestures or movements in order to cast the spell. SoG’s assumption is that freedom of movement for both hands is required. This places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast. Bear in mind that if the caster is forced to move during casting (for example, dives for cover), the Somatic Component is interrupted.

Additionally, you could liken this to the experienced gunslinger stopping and standing still to reload his six-shooter, while an opponent's bullets are hitting all around him.

Example: A Wizard is being attacked while casting a spell with a Somatic component. For the duration of the casting the attacker could have access to the normal free initial use of the aspect for +2 to an attack, or pay a Fate point to use the aspect after the free tag.

Material Components

The caster must expend certain magical reagents (Material Components) in order to cast the spell. The caster must be able to access these components during the casting, and this places a temporary aspect on the caster for the entire time the spell is being cast.

Rather than worry about specific material components, consider the collective rarity of the material components relative to the situation.

Currently SoG uses four categories of Material component rarity:

Common Material Components

Common materials are something that would be readily available to the Wizard under normal circumstances.

Examples: dirt, grease, chalk

Rare Material Components

Materials that are considered as "Rare" require some effort on the part of the Wizard to obtain or require some sort of skill to distill/prepare.

Examples: crystal, sulfur, mercury, ash

Very Rare Material Components

Very Rare materials reflect something beyond the ability of most Wizards to create for themselves, or require a much larger effort to obtain.

Examples: a hair from the spell's intended target, a demon's True Name, gems of 10,000 gp value, tears from a unicorn gathered under a full moon

Unique Material Components

Unique materials reflect something that would typically be story-driven in order for the Wizard to obtain, or would be all but impossible for any but a guild master to even attempt to collect.

Examples: Blackrazor, a golden apple from Mount Olympus, the skull of the demi-lich Acererak, a four-leaf clover found in the Sea of Dust

Game Impact of Component Rarity

Compelling Aspects

The category of component rarity can serve as a guide as to how often this aspect might be compelled:

Example: If a Wizard has the aspect of “Impoverished”, and is attempting to cast a spell with “Very Rare” components, the GM could compel the Impoverished aspect and essentially block the casting by declaring the Wizard does not have the resources available to possess those components and thus can't cast that spell as Wizardry (and credit the Wizard a Fate Point).

Component Rarity and Impact to Magical Effects

The rarity of a material component will also have an impact to the On The Fly Magical Effect Economy (NOTE: This hasn't been published yet).

RarityImpact to Difficulty
Very Rare-3

You might also consider that "impact to difficulty" as also being relative difficulty in acquiring those components. So, a Very Rare material component might be considered as a +3 diffculty against a character's Resource skill.

Look in this article I wrote over at Spirit of the Blank for more information about the concept of a separate stress track for Treasure, and the impact of the Resources skill on it.

Spell Translation Examples

A quick recommendation! If you are looking for a good, no-nonsense online resource for PHB spells, you should go here. Thanks to you guys for keeping it old-school and functional.

Spell “Tenser’s Floating Disc”

To keep this post's size a bit smaller, click on Tenser’s Floating Disc for a writeup as it appeared in the version of the PHB that SoG references.

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 20 feet (2 squares)
Duration: 30 mins + (20 mins * Skill level)
Area of Effect: See below
Components: V, S, M (Rare: drop of mercury)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a
Effect: Create a magical construct in the shape of a concave disc 3' in diameter that holds an amount of weight that can be expressed as either:

  1. 2,000 gp x Caster’s Skill Level
  2. 200 lbs x Caster’s Skill Level
  3. Might Skill of -1 (Poor) + (Caster’s Skill Level * 2)

All three represent the same weight, just expressed by 3 different standards.

It maintains a constant 6 foot distance (adjacent map square) to the caster unless otherwise stated by the caster's command, but the disc itself cannot push anything out of the way. It will remain at 3 feet off the ground, and stays level. If it is blocked from the caster and more than 20 feet (2 map squares) is put between them, the spell is broken.

If the spell is broken or expires, the disc construct dissipates and what ever was being carried by the disc falls as normal.

No positive shifts are considered for this spell, and unless in combat or otherwise challenged during casting, there is not a need to roll dice to cast this spell.

Example:Someone with a Wizard Skill +2, casts this spell and creates a floating disc that will last for 70 minutes (30 + (20 x 2)), and can carry 400 lbs (200 x 2) or has a Might of +3 (-1 + (2 x 2))

Example:Using Wizard Skill +7, this spell would create a floating disc that will last for 170 minutes (30 + (20 x 7)), and can carry 1,400 lbs (200 x 7) or has a Might of +13 (-1 + (7 x 2)). Or 14,000 gp, if there was a way to stack the gold pieces on the 3' diameter disc!

Design Notes:

  • One definition of weight (DMG, p.225) is that 10 gp = 1 pound. That means 1,000 gp = 100 lbs. The SotC Weight Factor table (SotC, p.258) reflects that a Might skill of "Poor" (-1) means being able to hold and move (slowly) with 100 lbs, which is the “base” capacity of the disc.
  • The variable in this spell is based upon the skill level of the Wizard, which then is used for both the "strength" of the spell's effect, as well as for the duration. Unless otherwise stated, when looking at a factor of "(something) per level" you don't just consider the Wizard's skill level, but rather the net result of the Wizard's skill level, the dice roll, and the impact of any aspects or other casting modifiers.
  • For this particular spell, any positive shifts during this casting are discarded. For game play purposes, unless someone was trying to interrupt the wizard this casting wouldn't require a dice roll.
  • Also remember that when dealing with a "per level" factor, every +1 of Wizard skill counts as two experience levels in the source material.

Spell “Magic Missile”

Magic Missile writeup at Pandaria

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 60 feet + 20 feet / skill level (see below for table)
Components: Verbal, Somatic
Duration: Special
Area of Effect: One or more creatures in a 10 foot square area (1 map square)
Casting Time: Action (3 seconds or less)
Opposed by: n/a
Effect: The spell creates magical missiles (the amount depends upon the result of the Wizardry skill roll, shown below) which dart forth from the caster's fingertips and unerringly strike their target with no chance for the target to dodge or defend. Mundane armor does not count for protection. Certain magical protections may be used.

The caster can determine at will how many of the missiles will strike each target within a single zone. So if a Wizard generates 3 magic missiles and a zone within range of the Wizard contains 2 targets, the Wizard can determine how the 3 missiles are used between the 2 targets.

Each individual missile counts as +1 physical stress. Because each missile counts as a separate attack, when multiple missiles are aimed at a single target, the cumulative “rollup” effect can be devastating.

The number of missiles created is determined by the Skill result (Wizardry + die roll 2dF+2), then dividing the result by two and rounding down.

Skill Roll Result# of Missiles
11 Missile
22 Missiles
32 Missiles
43 Missiles
53 Missiles
64 Missiles
74 Missiles
85 Missiles
95 Missiles
106 Missiles
116 Missiles
127 Missiles

The maximum range of the Magic Missile spell is 60 feet + 20 feet / skill level. This can also be expressed with the following "skill level to Zone" table (assuming a 30' per zone).

Wizard SkillMaximum Range
+13 zones away
+23 zones away
+34 zones away
+45 zones away
+55 zones away
+66 zones away
+77 zones away
+87 zones away
+98 zones away

Example: Trevare (Wizardry +5) is duelling against a sorceror. He casts Magic Missile in the hopes of getting in the first blow. The Wizard rolls 2dF+2 and gets +2 for a result of +6 (+5 skill + 2 shifts - 1 difficulty = +6). This creates 4 missiles that streak toward the unfortunate sorceror, who could be as far away as 5 zones.

Unable to dodge and having no other defenses already in place, the sorceror receives 4 separate missiles each of 1 stress, wiping out the first 4 physical stress boxes (if the sorceror even has that many), or to take consequences.

Example: The wizard Morgeaux (Wizardry +3) is beset by a group of 3 foul bugbears. An earlier fireball by Morgeaux has left many of them damaged, and she knows that even a simple spell might finish them off. Casting Magic Missile, she rolls 2dF+2 and gets a result of 1. This means she has generated (3 skill + 1 shifts - 1 difficulty) 3 positive shifts, for a total of two missiles (1 + (3/2)). Morgeaux chooses to aim one missile each at two of the three bugbears and deals one physical stress to each, leaving her to deal with a single remaining bugbear rushing her...

Design Notes

  • A single hit die is a D8, so technically each stress box counts as 2 hit dice. Which also means that the average hit points from 2HD would be about 9 or 10. Which would also place the average damage per missile at 4 points (3 + 1), which would then mean 2 missiles would be needed to do enough damage to take out 1 stress box. Rather than worry about the exact number of missiles in the description, I would rather just simplify to 1 missile equal 1 stress box.
  • Because the variability in the original spell (the dice roll) was about the damage and in translation the damage roll was too granular for Fate, the variability in the spell has now changed to be a modifier to the number of missiles. This was how the shifts-to-missiles formula was created.
  • I believe there needed to be a variable impacted by the dice, given that this is a combat spell. The idea of a combat spell having no variable power of any kind didn't feel right.
  • However, with the above point in mind, this is a rare combat spell in that it has no opportunity for target to oppose the spell (no Dodge, etc). The casting could be interrupted, if someone was capable of action at the same time as the casting.
  • Later versions of this spell in the source materials required line-of-sight to the target / targets, but the original AD&D listing did not. So the implication is that the Wizard just has to “know” the target is there (around the corner, invisible, behind cover, etc) in order to use this spell. Given that Fate Core's default methodology is zones and doesn't normally get in to things like "line of sight", I'm currently sticking with this version.

Spell “Shield”

Shield writeup at Pandaria

SoG Translation

Skill: +1 Difficulty
Range: 0
Components: Verbal, Somatic
Duration: 5 minutes x Skill Roll Result
Area of Effect: Special (in front of Wizard)
Casting Time: Full Action (1 Exchange)
Opposed by: n/a
Effect: An invisible shield is created in front of the Wizard that acts as physical armor. Though the shield moves with the Wizard, it is bound to the Wizard's "front". This means that attackers with an advantage (i.e., aspect, boost) that involves out-flanking, back-stabbing, or some other similar manuever will be able to bypass the Shield spell's benefit.

This spell is one of the few effective defenses against the Magic Missile spell and will totally negate the damage of that spell.

Against all other types of physical attacks (arrows, spears, melee) the spell is worth +6dF armor benefit.

Design Notes

  • The spell's duration was given in "real world" minutes to put some variability in the spell's casting. If that's inappropriate (i.e., play-by-email) then have the spell last until the end of the scene.
  • Remember that a magical spell could still count as a physical attack (eg., Ice Storm spell damage is a result of physical damage).

Friday, March 6, 2015

Foundations of Magic

NOTE: Folks who have read my prior posts over at Spirit of the Blank will likely recognize many elements of the following, though there are some important updates within.

So it's time to get back to magic, having gotten some of the other foundational elements written down.

Within the game world, I think it's important to document the assumptions of how magic works for both the players and the GM. Just as players with experience of one sort or another with combat can get a lot of additional "bang for the buck" out of Aspects when playing in a physical combat scene, I think you have to give players the ability to understand how Magic works in a particular game world to provide a similar opportunity.

Enough preamble. Onward.

Assumptions about Magic in SoG

Magic exists as a "force of nature", like magnetism or wind. But while characters may understand the principles of Magic, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to generate magical effects. Conversely, characters may have the ability to generate magical effects but have no knowledge of the underlying principles that they are using.

So the following statements reflect the reality of the game world:

  • Magical Effects exist in the game world as a force of nature.
  • Spell casting is but one method of generating a magical effect.
  • There are other methods of generating magical effects that do not require a spell.

Generating a magical effect in SoG could be compared to being able to make a sailboat go where you want it go. You need a sailboat and you need wind. You also need a degree of knowledge to be able to use the sailboat to harness the wind to get where you want to go.

Depending upon where you’d want to go (or how big a sailboat you use), you need different degrees of knowledge: consider the difference in knowledge and type of ship needed to sail across the ocean versus sailing across a lake.

Character Requirements for Generating Magical Effects

Keeping with the sailing metaphor, consider that all magical effects generated by characters require the following:

  • There must be "wind". In other words, Magic must be present. This also implies that it's possible to be "becalmed"...
  • There must be a sailboat. Expressed within SoG, you have to have the stunt "Magic" in order to harness the magical forces.
  • The characters require knowledge to guide the sailboat. In other words, a character must have a Skill tied to the Magic stunt.

Restated, this means that a SoG character must have:

  1. Access to magical forces of the game world, which are generally (though not always) present.
  2. The stunt "Magic".
  3. A skill that can be narratively connected to the Magic stunt.

Stunt "Magic"

Any character can have the "Magic" stunt and it is a prerequisite for generating magical effects. Without it, magical effects cannot be generated by the character (barring a potion, scroll or an enchanted item).

Like many other stunts in Fate, Magic is tied to a skill. The caster can determine what skill is used to generate magical effects. The particular skill that is tied to the Magic stunt would then play a part in the narrative expression of magical effects.

Powering the Magic stunt requires the application of a Fate point. How that Fate point is assessed depends upon if the character is using Sorcery or Wizardry (see below).

Skill "Wizardry"

This skill represents the study, research and understanding of the underlying principles of Magic as well as the application of predefined magic spells. In other words, attaching the Magic stunt to the Wizardry Skill is what establishes someone as a Wizard and is the requirement to allow them to cast predefined spells. Using any other skill with the Magic stunt constitutes Sorcery.

Someone could elect to learn the Wizardry skill without having the stunt "Magic", but would not be able to actually cast spells. This would be more like a Magic researcher, rather than a Wizard.

"Wizardry" versus "Sorcery"

In a departure to the source material (though not necessarily in conflict with it), SoG makes a distinction between "Wizardry" and "Sorcery" as methods of generating magical effects.

Because of the High Fantasy nature of magic in this world (i.e., it's not scarce), you don't necessarily need the Wizardry skill to generate magical effects.

Think of Wizards as the "ivory tower scientists" of magic, whereas Sorcerers are typically closer to "garage tinkerers" or "savants". This is not to say that sorcerers aren't effective magic users, but they can be just as dangerous to themselves and their allies as well as their enemies. Often the term "sorcery" can have a negative connotation, at least among Wizards.

Wizardry is defined as generating magical effects through the use of predefined spells that have been thoroughly researched and are generally considered "known quantities". This means that the character is generating magic effects by the combination of the Magic stunt and the Wizard skill.

Sorcery is defined as generating magical effects without much (if any) prior research and can be prone to unexpected outcomes. In terms of game mechanics, this means a character is using the Magic stunt with a skill OTHER than the Wizard skill.

For example:

  • Wizards have their Magic stunt tied to the Wizardry Skill.
  • Bards generating magic effects might have a Magic stunt tied to their Craft/Performance skill.
  • Rangers generating magical effects might have Magic stunt tied to their Survival skill.
  • Monks generating magic effects might have Magic stunt tied to their Discipline skill.

Though this distinction between wizardry and sorcery was not laid out in the source material, I like it for a number of reasons:

  • I feel it enables players who want to leverage the more flexible nature of Fate mechanic with respect to magic, but still leave the "predefined" nature of source material spells intact.
  • Distinguishes Wizards from other characters that generate magic effects.
  • Narratively, it allows non-wizard characters to generate magic effects not due to any training by the Wizard's Guild, but rather as a function of their "agency" within the gameworld and the magical forces it contains.
  • The source material appears (to me at least) to contain assumptions that the use of actual spells within the gameworld world was a relatively rare currency but yet almost every class of character at varying levels of achievement could either cast spells or in some way generate magical effects (to say nothing of the frequency of crafted magical items appearing within games). This seemed a fun way to reconcile any perceived disconnect without contradicting gameworld assumptions.

Generating Magical Effects

In SoG, there are three basic means of generating a magical effect:

  1. On the Fly
  2. Casting a pre-defined spell (formula, recipe, ritual, etc)
  3. Via a predefined Stunt

On the Fly Magic Effects

"On the Fly" magical effects (sorcery) occur when the sorceror states the intention to generate a desired magical effect. The player and the GM then determine the difficulty of the spell by costing out the magical effect using a “magic economy” by defining the benefits (increase difficulty) and costs (decrease difficulty).

The character wishing to create an on the fly magical effect does the following:

  1. Determine the difficulty of the magical effect. This would be determined by the player looking at the "Magic Economy" of effects (positive and negative) to come up with a net difficulty. NOTE: The Magic Economy hasn't been published yet.
  2. Expends a Fate Point to power the Magic Stunt.
  3. Determine success by rolling 4dF against the skill to be used with the Magic stunt.

If successful, the effect is generated as desired by the caster. Positive shifts count towards an improved result in way or another.

If the caster fails the difficulty, then the magical effect does not occur as desired and Bad Things Happen (see "Casting Failures" below).

A conceit of SoG is that casting failure and negative effects were always present in the gameworld but as long as a Wizard followed a pre-defined spell that was within the limits of his Wizardry skill level, it can be assumed that there were sufficient fail-safes built into the spells to prevent any sort of negative impact to the caster or those around them.

The source material dictated that spells might fail to have the desired effect on targets, but that was due to some property of the target (saving throws), not because the spell "failed" to be cast. Even if the spell was interrupted during the casting there was no generally negative impact (past the loss of the spell).

Another SoG design conceit is that if casting failure was possible but never mentioned by the source material, then it must be pretty bad... (mwa-ha-ha)

Casting Failures (aka Magical "Recoil")

If an attempt to generate a magical effect results in a failure then the desired effect doesn't occur--at least not under the control of the caster.

The magical power that was focused in the attempt to create the effect has to go "somewhere". So the power of magical recoil is determined in SoG like this:

The effect’s original difficulty + the number of shifts by which the caster failed the roll.

Example 1: If a Sorceror attempts a +4 magic difficulty and fails by 1, a (+4 + 1 = +5 Superb) magical recoil is generated.

Example 2: A Sorceror’s Apprentice (I couldn’t resist) with a +1 Skill attempted to cast a magical effect of +5 difficulty and then rolled –2 on 4dF. The result would be a failure by 4 shifts (+5 Difficulty against a result of -1 ((-2, 4dF) + (+1, Skill) = -1). The hapless apprentice would have to deal with a magical recoil of +9 (+5 difficulty + 4 shift failure)

Dealing with Magical Recoil

Any shifts of recoil are expressed as stress (physical or mental). When recoil occurs, the character must choose either/or/some combination of:

  • Accept the recoil as stress upon the character.
  • Reflect the recoil out into the environment.

The character can choose to split it up (i.e., the caster take some stress, the rest goes into the zone around them). I like the roleplaying potential inherent in allowing the character to choose.

Remember that 1 shift is equivalent to 10 hit points. So a +4 recoil would mean 40 hit points worth of recoil!

This would also narratively reinforce why Wizards keep a very close eye on apprentices. Or why sorcerors tend to live alone. In isolated areas. Quite possibly surrounded by a bleak, desolate landscape... Hey, those tropes might exist for a reason!

The character's choice of how to deal with magical recoil could have a potential impact upon a character's alignment: projecting magical recoil into the world could very well represent something of a chaotic, or evil, or selfish act. Casters electing to take the stress of magical recoil upon themselves could represent more of a lawful, or good or selfless act.

Once that has been stated by the character, the GM and/or the player agree upon the nature of the recoil.

The particular nature of recoil is determined at the time the failure occurs. The GM normally determines the nature of the recoil, as the character has lost control of the magic.

For other ideas, review Fate Core p.189 under "Succeed at a Cost" (Fate-SRD Link) for more ideas about how to assign recoil.

Spell Casting

A Wizard casting a pre-defined spell to generate a magical effect does the following:

  1. Notes the pre-determined difficulty of the spell.
  2. "Commits" a Fate Point, which means it is allocated for the scene but not actually spent (see below).
  3. Rolls 2dF+2 to determine any positive shifts.

The Fate Point "Commit"

The Fate Point Commit is a new rule and is different from spending a Fate Point. At the casting of the spell, the Wizard commits a Fate Point instead of spending it.

If a Fate Point is committed, the Wizard cannot make use of that Fate Point for the rest of the scene. Similar to physical or mental stress points, the Wizard gets back any committed Fate Points at the end of the scene.

Conversely, if the caster chooses to actually use a Fate Point in the normal manner during the casting, the commit is met by actually spending it, and the caster would not get it back at the end of the scene.

Dice Roll 2dF+2

The 2dF+2 roll produces a range between 0 and +4, so unless there is some outside factor (aspects, some sort of attempted interruption, etc.) to increase the spell difficulty, there would be no chance for spell failure (consistent with the source material), since the difficulty of the spell is never greater than the Wizardry skill.

The benefits of the Fate point Commit and the 2dF+2 die roll are only available so long as the following occurs:

  • The difficulty of the spell must be less than or equal to the caster’s Wizardry skill. In other words a character with a Wizard Skill of +3 can cast spells of +3 difficulty or less.
  • The caster can fulfill all the requirements of the spell (having components, being able to make gestures, etc.).

If these cannot be met, than the caster may still attempt the pre-defined spell, but must now actually spend (no longer Commit) a Fate point, and roll 4dF instead (no longer 2dF+2), and risk a casting failure.

Wizardry and Casting Failure

In short: doing just wizardry wouldn't be an issue. Under normal circumstances a Wizard cannot fail to cast a predefined spell equal to or less than the spell's difficulty, though it is possible to increase the situational difficulty of a casting via Aspects being compelled, or some party attempting to interrupt the Wizard.

If the Wizard does actually fail to cast a predefined spell, there is no magical recoil and no negative impact, beyond the loss of the memorized spell (or the loss of the scroll being read).

As the source material had no overtly negative impacts as a result of a spell being interrupted and lost, SoG's assumption is that Wizard spells are considered to have integrated various fail-safes so that if a spell was interrupted, the energy focused by the spell would be safely dispersed.

Magical Effects Defined by a Stunt

These are typically tightly-defined magical effects that are specifically allowed by having a particular stunt. A stunt powered by magic still requires magic to be present in the environment in order to function. This would be more the typical, single-application, no real flexibility, type of magical stunt.

This would include things like a troll's ability to regenerate and so forth.

These single-use Magical Stunts have no other requirement (i.e., you don't need the stunt "Magic", in order to have a Magical Stunt). Conversely, having a Magical Stunt doesn't act as having the actual stunt "Magic".

Clerical Magical Effects

The source material treats clerical prayers and magic-user spells as being mechanically identical, though the underlying principles by which magic-users and clerics generate magical effects are very different.

The source material states that clerics themselves don’t actually harness magical forces--they are a proxy for directing the magical forces generated by their deity. Clerics pray to their deity (singular/plural/whatever) with the desire for a particular prayer’s magical effect to occur. The deity’s power structure (for lack of a better term) then determines whether or not the cleric’s prayer will be fulfilled or not and then entities within the cleric’s faith system actually generate the magical effects on behalf of the cleric.

So to apply another metaphor (earlier I made the analogy that Wizardry and Sorcery were like sailing), clerical magic could be considered like “calling in an airstrike”.

  • The Cleric acts as the "forward observer" for a particular deity.
  • A particular clerical spell (prayer) is a specifically worded request for that airstrike.
  • If the cleric has "valid authorization," the airstrike request is filled and the effect is generated by the deity's power structure. In the event that the cleric doesn't have a valid authorization, there is a danger that the deity's power structure will respond with a possible "smiting"...

Clerical Spell Requirements

While the underlying narrative around clerical spellcasting is pretty different, the game mechanics are pretty similar. The requirements for a cleric to "cast spells" are:

  1. Serve a deity that is able to access to magical forces of the gameworld, which are generally (though not always) present. That deity must have a narrative connection to the plane of existance the cleric is on. Similar to wizardry/sorcery, this is USUALLY true.
  2. The stunt "Divine Favor". This is separate (though similar) to the "Magic" stunt for Wizards. This represents the ability to have clerical spells by channelled by the player.
  3. A skill that can be narratively connected to the "Divine Favor" stunt. For clerics (and Paladins), this skill may not be decided by the player, but rather by the deity. So for example, a cleric of the deity Bacchus (Greek god of wine and excess) might need the skill of Carousing as the "connected skill". St. Cuthbert might look at the cleric character's skill of Resolve. Again, a departure from the source material, but it appeals to my goal of providing players as much opportunity as possible to support a player's role-playing opportunities.

Clerics and Spell Casting Mechanics

Casting a clerical spell to request a magical effect requires the player to do the following:

  1. Notes the pre-determined difficulty of the spell (prayer).
  2. Player "commits" a Fate Point (see above)
  3. Rolls 2dF+2 (see above) to determine any positive shifts.

Clerics and Sorcery

Clerics don't have an opportunity for Sorcery, unless they approach it similar to how anyone else would: with the Magic stunt.

Clerics and Magical Recoil

Narratively, there is no magical recoil as such from the attempted casting of clerical spells. However from a mechanics standpoint there is a parallel.

If an aspect of the cleric (or paladin) is considered in conflict with his stated deity, it's possible that a GM could do a Compel and require the cleric to roll 4dF instead of 2dF+2. Any failure would then be considered as the deity's wrath (to one degree or another), and be treated as magical recoil.

Though playtesting will out, this seems like a fun way to put some game mechanics and narrative tension into the faith-based magical effects.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Character Statistics and Skills

The prior post talked about the expression of the characters' general "level" within the framework of Fate Core. This post will get a bit deeper in to the translation (I prefer to think of it as "translation" instead of "conversion") of a character's properties.

Character Properties

A character is largely defined in the source material by the following properties:

  • Attributes (STR, DEX, CON, etc.)
  • Class (Fighter, Wizard, Thief, Cleric)
  • Race (Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, etc)
  • Abilities (Picking Locks, Turning Undead, Casting Spells, etc)

Those properties can all be expressed within the normal scope of the Fate Core system of Skills, Stunts and Aspects.

  • Skills would be for translating properties that are a matter of learning, experience or achievement.
  • Stunts are for those properties or abilities that represent something special, something is something special that would not be otherwise available or achievable by a character.
  • Aspects represent the expression of a narrative "truth".

Now of course these categories can get a bit blurred in a game world of High Fantasy, but nothing beyond what Fate Core can handle.


SoG expresses character attributes as Skills. Strength, Constitution, Wisdom, Dexterity and Charisma are all Skills.

They can hypertrophy with use, and atrophy with age or disuse. So yes: Strength is a skill. Dexterity is a skill. Elite athletes don't get to have elite characteristics without a lot of hard work to develop those skills.

Intelligence and Wisdom are Skills?

Currently there's a design decision in Fate Core that properties of Intelligence and Wisdom shouldn't be skills and I generally agree with that decision.

But on the other hand, the source material's reliance on those attributes for use by the Wizard class and the Cleric class might be best served by adding those attributes as Skills.

I previously talked about what might be done to address those needs without resorting to actual skills of Intelligence and Wisdom over here.

Translating Attribute as Skills - Qualitative Method

When it comes to Attributes that don't really have a measure ( do you measure Dexterity?), rather than stress too much about it, I'd rather apply something like this...

  • Attributes in the source material have a "normal" value between 3 and 18, with the potential to go as high as 25.
  • The source material's statistic range below 8 represents a "less than average" to "poor" range, whereas Fate Core's depiction of the "average" skill starts at +0.
  • Additionally, Mike Olson's Strange Fate reflected a design decision that +4 was representative of the high end of "normal" human potential before you "level up" into heroic and fantastic power level.

Putting those ideas together, SoG uses the following qualitative translation of Character Attributes...

9-11 = Skill +0
12-13 = Skill +1
14-15 = Skill +2
16-17 = Skill +3
18 = Skill +4

What About Low Attributes?

Rather than spend a lot of time on dealing with translating low attributes of 8 or less, I'd think I'd rather abstract this into two levels:

  • A low attribute (translate as a "-1" FC skill level)
  • An abysmal attribute (a "-1" FC skill level plus an overtly negative Aspect)

Abysmal Attribute Aspect Examples:
(Low Wisdom) "A Sack of Hammers has nothing on Me!"
(Low Intelligence) "Tetched in the Haid"
(Low Constitution) "A life spent studying scrolls"
(Low Strength) "Could you give me a hand with this two-handed sword?"
(Low Charisma) "Obnoxious"
(Low Dexterity) "Painfully klutzy"

Translating Attribute as Skill - Quantitative Method

I use this method wherever possible in SoG, based upon the conceit that the game world represents it's own reality--the rules just help quantify and define the boundaries of that reality. When you have a skill that relates to some quantifiable measure, then it's just a matter of figuring out where the levels "line up" and go from there.

A notable example of this process would be Strength. Compare the following two passages:

DMG, p. 15:

Exceptional Strength: Assume further that a strength of 18 indicates that the creature can lift weight equal to its own body weight, or 180 pounds, whichever is the greater, above its head.

A human with an 18 strength and an additional percentile dice roll is able to lift 1 additional pound for every percentage point up to and including 50%, 4 pounds for every percentage point from 51% to 90%, and 8 pounds for each percentage point from 91 % to 00%.

Spirit of the Century, "Lifting Things", p. 258:

Characters have a default amount of weight they can lift and still do something with that weight (like moving slowly, or trying to place it carefully), shown on this page in pounds. If purely lifting without moving – like, say, a heavy portcullis so others can scurry through – they can roughly double that capacity.

Those are sufficient to create the following convenient metrics of strength:

Max overhead lift (STR Attribute)SotC Weight Capacity (Might Skill)
9 = 90 lbs 
10 = 100 lbsPoor (-1) = 100 lbs
15 = 150 lbsMediocre (+0) = 150 lbs
18 = 180 lbs 
18/20 = 200 lbsAverage (+1) = 200 lbs
18/50 = 230 lbs 
18/60 = 270 lbsFair (+2) = 250 lbs
18/70 = 310 lbsGood (+3) = 300 lbs
18/80 = 350 lbsGreat (+4) = 350 lbs
18/90 = 390 lbsSuperb (+5) = 400 lbs
 Fantastic (+6) = 450 lbs
18/00 = 470 lbs 
 Epic (+7) = 500 lbs

Attributes Could Be One of Multiple Skills

With the existing skill list, there's some source material statistics that could be translated to one of a few skills...

The source material attribute that could have the most interpretations against the current skill list would be Charisma. Applications of that attribute could be any one of the following: Contacting, Deceit, Empathy, Leadership, Rapport.

For purposes of translating a character from the source material, pick the single application that is the best definition of how the character most directly uses that skill.

  • A Paladin might easily choose to have a good Leadership skill, and use that distinction to help define the character for the player as being different from a Paladin who might choose Empathy as the skill that represents her Charisma stat.
  • A thief with a high Charisma might choose to translate to a good Deceit and define his class as a Con Man. Or a thief would be distinguished as a Fixer if he chose Contacting.

This also fits with one of my guidelines of being on the right path--does the decision help the player portray his character more clearly? If yes: you're doing it right.

The Actual Skill List

The following is the current skill list for Spirit of Greyhawk. The following table shows the entire skill list, then each character class has access to a subset of the total skills from which to define their skill pyramid.

SoG SkillClericFighterWizardThief
Agility (DEX)YesApexYesApex
Alertness (INT)YesApexYesApex
Contacting (CHA)YesYesYesApex
Deceit (CHA)ApexYesYesApex
Empathy (CHA)ApexYesYesYes
Investigation (INT)YesYesApexApex
Leadership (CHA)ApexApexYesYes
Might (STR)YesApexYesYes
Rapport (CHA)ApexYesYesApex
Resolve (WIS)ApexYesApexYes
Sleight of Hand (DEX)YesYesApexApex
Toughness (CON)YesApexYesYes

For every skill, there's the following "states"...

No means that a character has had no access to any special training in this skill. Again, this was meant to represent a culture that has evolved an educational system based upon guilds.

Yes means that a character can elect one of these skills to go into their skill pyramid in any position in the pyramid EXCEPT for the pyramid's single top slot--known as the "Apex" skill.

Apex means that a character can elect this skill to be in the top position in the pyramid. Considered the skill that most clearly defines the character as being a member of a particular class. In other words, the Apex skill defines the "level" of the character. A fighter with an Apex skill of "Missile" at +3 would be considered to be a 6th level character in terms of the source material.

Once sub-classes like Rangers, Bards and Paladins are ready for sharing, there's also an idea that certain skills would have a numeric value assigned to them to represent that the minimum value that a character's Apex skill must have in order to add this skill.

For example, the "Wizardry" skill is currently only available to the "Wizard" class. Once the Ranger class is added, a ranger could elect to add the Wizardry skill once the character's Apex skill has reached at least +4 (i.e., 8th level Ranger).

In a similar vein, it's likely that certain skills might also have limitations for certain classes, races, based upon other skills (attributes).

Attributes Could Be One of Multiple Skills

With the existing skill list, there's some source material attributes that could be translated to one of a few skills...

The source material attribute that could have the most interpretations against the current skill list would be Charisma. Applications of that attribute could be any one of the following: Contacting, Deceit, Empathy, Leadership, Rapport.

For purposes of translating a character from the source material, pick the single application that is the best definition of how the character most directly uses that skill.

  • A Paladin might easily choose to have an apex skill of Leadership (or even have it as one of the higher skill levels), and use that distinction to help define the character for the player as being different from a Paladin who might choose Empathy as the skill that represents her Charisma stat.
  • A Thief with a high Charisma might choose to translate that to an apex skill of Deceit and play his Thief class as more of a con man. Or a thief would be distinguished as a Fixer if he chose Contacting.

This also fits with one of my guidelines of being on the right path--does the decision help the player portray his character more clearly? If yes: then I say you're doing it right.