Magic Monday: Undoing

Unlike Necropraxis, I’m not building this system on a base of Vancian magic, in which (even without spell levels) each bit of magic is like a bullet that you load, fire, and are left without. So while the post linked above inspired me to think things over, I can’t use what he does as a basis. Instead, I have to think about how I want counterspelling (preventing a magical effect from being brought about) and dispelling (undoing one that’s already there) to work in YAOSC.

I like the idea of there being an art to undoing enchantments. Yes, if Bob is turned into a frog then you can quest to find the cure, hunting down princesses and all, but perhaps a skilled witch or wizard can be called on to un-frog him more directly. The literature is full of magical adepts stopping, redirecting, nullifying and unmaking magic, and I’d like that to be a common tool in the magician’s repertoire. I also like the idea of it taking time, research, and careful work in at least some cases.

I implied earlier that I don’t want either of those to be a “spell” in the sense that “rotes” are, but now I’m not so sure. On the one hand, they seem to call for their own special mechanics that operate differently from how most spells do. On the other hand, I’ve erased several of the things that make “spells” into their own special category in D&D. On the one hand, I feel like they should be just-about-universal tools in the magician’s toolbox. On the other, who says they have to be 100% universal? There’s a decent amount of storytelling to be found in a wizard who doesn’t know how to undo spells, in a world where most can to some degree or other, and of course there’s the matter of giving players more freedom of choice when it comes to customizing their characters.

Let’s consider the basic mechanics we have at our disposal. Neither counterspelling nor dispelling should be automatically successful, which means they have to be rolls. Do we make them into checks or challenges? Logically, counterspelling should be a challenge and dispelling can be either… but the spell being countered was already cast with a normal skill check, right? Do we double up on the rolls necessary for the first spellcaster? Do they just have to choose a roll type based on whether someone is working against them or not? Do we hack out a system for opposed checks to bridge the gap between checks and challenges?

To the hacking: no, definitely not. I just don’t like the repercussions for the system as a whole if we open that can of worms. In fact, now that I think about it, the first option of the three seems most logical. If you cast a spell there’s a possible point of failure there (from you screwing it up), and if someone tries to counter it, there’s a possible point of failure there as well (from them screwing it up for you). Two rolls it is: first one caster checks as usual to cast a spell. Then anyone trying to counter it rolls a challenge against them. If the first check fails, then anyone attempting a counter loses some time, but no other resources. If the check succeeds and the countering challenge fails, then the spell is cast as normal and counterer has wasted their time and energy.

The first caster uses the sum of their skill levels for the spell plus their choice of Arcane Lore (diverting the threat with their knowledge of the magical forces at work) or Concentration (pushing the magic in the right direction with sheer force of will). The countering caster can do the same, although if they don’t know the spell then they’re depending on the base skill alone. Either caster can spend energy (fill up their survival meters) to add to their result. I’m thinking there should be some base cost to a countering attempt as well. Should it be equal to the cost of the spell being countered? Less? I’ll need to think about much later, after getting a feel for the energy economy of spellcasting.

That gives a bit of an advantage to the first caster, which is fine. But here’s an optional twist that we can throw in. The countering caster can use their power to tear at the weaving of the spell, without caring about the results, instead of unraveling or blocking the magic more carefully. In this case, the countering caster makes two rolls for the challenge. If either beats the first caster’s roll, then the counter is successful. And if they both succeed, then nothing more dramatic comes of it than a fizzle and pop. But if one succeeds and the other fails, then the magic is redirected but not dissipated. It goes berserk, and you get to roll on a table for crazy results that probably give everyone a hard time.

Another option is adding in magnitudes of success. Maybe a counter attempt that overwhelms the first caster (beats them by ten points or more) allows the counterer to take control of the spell and change its parameters or re-target it. Maybe an overwhelming response to the attempt allows the first caster to take their opponent’s energy and add it to the spell, or put some kind of whammy on them with feedback.

Where does the time for a counterspell come from? From the same place it does when you want to counter a physical attack: I like the idea of a character’s “actions” being refilled at the end of their turn, and they have (a limited set of) options for spending these before their official turn comes around again. Part of the choices you make in combat will be trying to balance self-defense with the ability to respond when you get an opening. This means that, unlike 3.x D&D, you don’t need to hold back and wait in order to defend yourself. You can try to stop an incoming attack, magical or mundane, at any time; it just might leave you off-balance and unable to respond. This corresponds with real-world combat, where it can be easy to get put on the defensive.

That takes care of countering. How about dispelling? The problem with trying to use a challenge roll here is that someone may want to undo a bit of magic when you don’t know the skill levels of the original caster. In some cases it may not even be applicable. Couple that with no active force opposing the dispell attempt, and it makes sense for us to go back to a rolling a check. As with a counterspell, you can use either base skill, add the skill level of the specific spell (if you know it), pay a base price in energy, and pay extra energy to make your roll easier. Difficulty can be based on the check die for casting the spell in the first place. And again we can offer the option to roll twice and either fail, succeed perfectly, or succeed but with funky, unpredictable results.

The question I’m left with is whether I want to make “dispell” and-or “counterspell” into mini-skills (or one mini-skill for both), to reflect aptitude in unweaving patterns of magic. Probably yes: the application of skill points put into this are broadly useful across a lot of situations… but also focused, in the sense that they can only be brought to bear when enemy magic is targeting you. It gives characters something to specialize in if they want, but a minimum energy cost and consequences to failure keep it from being too powerful. If this still seems unbalanced, then we can take steps to bump up the difficulty or costs in some way, or at least allow optional situational modifiers. (For example, knowing a caster’s true name might give you a big bonus to counter or dispell their magic; working without certain specialized tools might give you a penalty.)

In brief:

  • To use a rote, make a check, adding your skill with the spell to a relevant base skill.
  • To counter a successful rote, roll a challenge. Each side uses the skills for casting the spell, spending a base energy cost plus extra as desired.
  • If the challenger succeeds, the spell is lost and the magic may run amok.
  • If the challenger fails, the spell is pushed through their defenses and manifests as normal.

We’ve spent all this time talking about rotes, and it’s already over 1400 words. Next time I think I’d like to take a look at rituals and gnosis… I’ll try to be less long-winded. As they say, I didn’t give myself enough time to make the post shorter.

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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One Response to Magic Monday: Undoing

  1. Pingback: Magic Monday: Undoing, part 2ing | landofnudotcom

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