Fan of Complex Spell Systems? The beast is unleased...

Sacrosanct

Legend
Some background: One of my favorite things about playtesting is how the testers can find things you never thought of. The collaborative nature of multiple view points has an opportunity to do some really neat things. The key is that as a designer, you have to put your pride aside and be willing to let your favorite mechanic or rule fall to the cutting room floor if the players are having more fun doing something else. That brings me to Rune Magic.

In GEAS (the project I'm currently working on), there are really two types of "wizardly" casters. Sorcery is pretty straight forward and easy to use. Rune magic was for those who wanted the ability of many options and the ability to flex their creativity. TLDR version: you combine various runes to create a spell effect. Nothing super novel in that idea; I recall playing a computer game in the early 90s that did basically that. So let's say you create a flame rune, gust rune, and burst rune together. The effect would be to send out the flaming rune to a distance where it explodes. Your basic fireball spell.

That by itself has led to a fairly complex magic system, as you need to consider how players will look for loophole combinations that could break the game. Initially that's how rune magic was written. But after playtesting, it's really exploded into more complexity, much to the pleasure of the players who are testing this.

Combining runes is still the core feature, but now you've also got many more options open to you. I need to explain the core mechanic a bit to put it in context.

System: opposed dice pool. You roll your pool and compare the highest # to the highest # in your opponents pool. Whoever is higher wins. Like Risk. The dice in your pool factor in skill, bonuses, etc. For example a low level PC might have a pool of 1d8. I higher level PC with bonuses might have 3d12.
AP: Action points. Each player has X amount of points they can spend each turn. Each action costs a certain amount. In the context of runes, you add the AP of each rune together.
Successes: beating the highest die with your highest is a success. If more than one of your dice beats the highest die, that's a spectacular success and extra effects take place (extra damage, duration, etc.). If all of your dice result in a '1', it's a disaster effect (yes, there's a risk for casting magic).
Vigor: you use vigor to power many of your abilities (not just spells). You don't need to use vigor to cast a a spell, but you can use it to boost the effect or even add extra dice to your dice pool if you want.
Tiers: Spells are broken down into 4 tiers. Each tier is progressively more powerful. In D&D terms, think of tiers like they are in the game: level 1-4 is tier I, 5-10 tier II, etc. When you gain the ability to cast a spell at a higher tier, you choose one effect from that tier and one from each lower tier. So at tier IV (max), you're including up to 4 effects for that one spell. (an example will be below)
CD: Core die. This is based on class and determines base damage, vitality, vigor, etc.
PD: Proficiency die. Depending on how experienced you are, your PD may be a d8 all the way up to d20. This is how your dice pool is determined.


So now we've got complexity from making hundreds of rune combinations, and now we're adding multiple effects for each rune, and we're able to boost it, and we adding effects based on # of successes? That seems...complex.

Here's a sample rune:
Bloodsign
(life-durational) AP: 4
This power is invoked when the caster draws the rune upon a weapon using a creature’s blood. Against that type of creature, attack effects for the enchanted weapon are modified.
Disaster: The weapon inflicts half damage to the creature type. Duration is one minute.
Failure: Rune fizzles.
When Boosted: For every 3 vigor you invest, the damage is increased by 1 point.

Tier I:
Accuracy: Add a +1 PD bonus to your attack rolls. (Spectacular: For every die in your ASP that beats the TCN, an additional +1 PD bonus is gained).
Damage: Any melee attack against a creature with this rune will suffer 1 point of necrotic damage. (Spectacular: For every die in your ASP that beats the TCN, damage is increased by 1 point).

Tier II:
Damage: Any melee attack against a creature with this rune will suffer 1 point of necrotic damage.
Overpower: Eliminate the DR from the target creature.

Tier III:
Damage: Any melee attack against a creature with this rune will suffer 1 point of necrotic damage.

Tier IV:
Damage: Any melee attack against a creature with this rune will suffer 1 point of necrotic damage.
Stunning: The AP cost for movement is doubled until the end of the creature’s next turn.


So if you cast this as a Tier II spell, you choose one II effect and one I effect. Let's say you choose Accuracy (I) and Damage (II). So this rune alone grants you a bonus +1 PD to your attack dice pool and if hits, inflicts 1 extra damage. If more than one of your dice beats the creature's hightest die when it's defending, you inflict an additional point of damage.


What it can look like
That's just one rune. The simple example. Here's what it can look like for each tier (yes, that's 4 effects for each rune at Tier IV):

Fireball
Runes: blaze, burst, and gust
AP: 2+3+2 = 7
Description: A flaming rune streaks out to a targeted distance, where it explodes.

Tier I (flame, burst, breeze): Rune travels 30 feet, exploding in a 5-foot radius, causing 1 CD of heat damage to all within the radius who fail their ability check.
Tier II (burning, flame, burst, burst, gust, breeze): Rune travels 50 feet, exploding in a 10-foot radius, causing 1 CD of heat damage to all who fail their ability check. On the next turn, creatures that failed take another 1 CD of heat damage.
Tier III (flame, burning, flame, burst, burst, burst, gale, gust, breeze): Rune travels out to 100 feet, exploding in a 15-foot radius. Base damage is 2 CD of heat damage. Creatures failing their checks suffer 2 CD of heat damage on the next turn as well.
Tier IV (burning, flame, burning, flame, burst, burst, burst, burst, wind tunnel, gale, gust, breeze): Rune travels to 150 feet away, exploding in a 20-foot radius. All creatures must succeed on an agility check or suffer 2 CD of heat damage and be knocked backward 15 feet and fall prone. Creatures failing also suffer 2 CD of heat damage every round for the next three rounds.

Caustic Bubble
Runes: acid, bubble
AP: 2+3 = 5
Description: You form a protective bubble around you that glows with an acrid green glow.

Tier I (protection, air bubble): A 5-foot radius bubble of clean air surrounds you. You are granted resistance to any corrosive damage while inside the sphere.
Tier II (corrode, protection, reinforced bubble, air bubble): the 5-foot radius bubble provides you with clean air and resistance to corrosive damage, prevents non-destructive liquid from entering, and any creature that touches the bubble or makes a melee attack against anything in the bubble must succeed on an endurance check or suffer 1 CD of corrosive damage.
Tier III (protection, corrode, acid damage, floating bubble, reinforced bubble, air bubble): The bubble can now fly, grants immunity to corrosive damage to all within, and creatures touching the bubble or making melee attacks to creatures within the bubble suffer 2 CD of corrosive damage.
Tier IV (acid damage, acid damage, corrode, acid damage, indestructible, floating bubble, reinforced bubble, air bubble): You may decide you no longer to need the protection effects from the acid rune because the indestructible effect keeps out mundane acid and gives you a +4 DR bonus against magical acid. Instead you decide to bump of the damage to any creature touching the bubble or making a melee attack against a creature within the bubble to 4 CD of corrosive damage.



That seems...like a lot of stuff to keep track of
That's true. It is a lot. And it gave me pause. I was worried it would really slow down gameplay as the player goes through all types of combinations they want. However, you start at tier I and stay there for a while. Long enough to get a good feel of how the system works and to get familiar with your runes. So by the time you reach those higher tiers, you're pretty experienced and know what to expect. In play, it's not speedy play, but it's not nearly as long as I worried it would be.

Opinions
So...if you're a fan of having lots of options to customize spells, and don't shy away from complexity, what are your thoughts? I know folks who prefer a faster or simpler system probably won't like this, and that's OK. As mentioned, sorcery is probably the option you'd prefer (it still has spectacular successes and being able to use vigor, but each spell is separate and only has one effect). The player who is playing a rune mage is a self-professed optimizer, and really likes how this system has evolved. I'm not an optimizer myself, but I want room in the game for those who are to have options.

dwarf rune caster copy.png
 

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TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
I'm confused about one aspect. The system is an opposed skill check; who provides the opposition when you're doing something like drawing a rune on your weapon?

There would seem to be a whole category of magic that wouldn't have an obvious opponent, is the opposition then a static difficulty or somehow environmentally derived?
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I'm confused about one aspect. The system is an opposed skill check; who provides the opposition when you're doing something like drawing a rune on your weapon?

There would seem to be a whole category of magic that wouldn't have an obvious opponent, is the opposition then a static difficulty or somehow environmentally derived?
If a spell has a target, that target makes the opposed roll. If a spell does not have a target, it instead has a static number you need to beat based on tier level of the spell.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
If a spell has a target, that target makes the opposed roll. If a spell does not have a target, it instead has a static number you need to beat based on tier level of the spell.
Interesting. So for a targeted spell, the opponent is rolling something similar (conceptually) to a saving throw? Does proficiency with runes give any bonus to the target? Or is there something like a null-magic/counterspell rune?
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Interesting. So for a targeted spell, the opponent is rolling something similar (conceptually) to a saving throw?
Yes. For a direct damage attack, they roll their defense roll (like making a spell attack in D&D goes against AC rather than save). For area of effect or non-damage spells, they get an appropriate ability check, which has a pool based on the attribute. For example, if your Mental score is 2, then you add 2 dice to your pool when making your check that would fall under mental (like resisting a mind-affecting power). The type of dice in that pool is based on if you're proficient in that ability or not. Usually the die type for non-proficient is two categories less. E.g., proficient = d10, then non-prof = d6.
Does proficiency with runes give any bonus to the target? Or is there something like a null-magic/counterspell rune?
Not for runes, but sorcery has a counterspell option (so do arcane warriors with bladecasting, but that's another kind of magic--arcane warriors absorb the chaotic energy of combat, converting it to vigor, which is used to power spells. The longer combat goes, the more they absorb).

As an aside, the reason I'm going with opposed dice pools is because there isn't any math during actual combat. You know your pool beforehand 90% of the time, so you roll and compare. We're finding it much faster than rolling a d20 and then applying various modifiers.

On another side, related to flexibility, there is also a trade up and down rule. Let's say you have 3d8 in your pool. You can trade 2d8 for one die of the next higher, so your pool could be 1d8+1d10. Alternatively, you could trade down, turning 1d8 into 2d6 for a final pool of 2d8+2d6. This really comes into play when you either need a higher die for an opportunity to beat an opposing number you couldn't otherwise beat, or if you know the opposing number is going to be really low, so you choose to trade down hoping you get more successes. Thematically, that means a high level caster with a dice pool of something like 3d12 going against a whole bunch of mooks (dice pool 2d6), you could trade down to get a lot more dice, increasing your odds of getting more successes against them.
 

Must be so something in the air because one of the two magic options in 'Runelords & Relics', my very soon upcoming KS, uses words of power to create spells, and as you say, hundreds and hundreds can be made. R&R has barely 36 differing words.
Good luck with your project.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
How is power acquisition handled? Do characters acquire some base runes as part of progression, and then slowly learn more through time? Or get them all at character creation?

Are the compound effects (like the listed fireball and caustic bubble) acquired as a part of progression (must be purchased/learned), or do they become available as soon as the component basic runes are learned?

If a spell has a target, that target makes the opposed roll. If a spell does not have a target, it instead has a static number you need to beat based on tier level of the spell.

On another side, related to flexibility, there is also a trade up and down rule. Let's say you have 3d8 in your pool. You can trade 2d8 for one die of the next higher, so your pool could be 1d8+1d10. Alternatively, you could trade down, turning 1d8 into 2d6 for a final pool of 2d8+2d6. This really comes into play when you either need a higher die for an opportunity to beat an opposing number you couldn't otherwise beat, or if you know the opposing number is going to be really low, so you choose to trade down hoping you get more successes. Thematically, that means a high level caster with a dice pool of something like 3d12 going against a whole bunch of mooks (dice pool 2d6), you could trade down to get a lot more dice, increasing your odds of getting more successes against them.
Sounds solid. I think my only observation is that I might have a baseline rule for non-targeted effects that uses a die roll, not a static number. (Like instead of rolling against a 4, you roll against a 1d6 or 1d8).

For one, that means there's more uniformity in the resolution; you're always doing an opposed role. Secondly, with a static number, it becomes relatively trivial to calculate the optimal choice of dice pool; with a static 4, of course I'm going to roll 2d6 rather than 1d8, since I'll have a 75% chance of getting at least one success (assuming player wins ties) compared to 62.5%, and the possibility of 2 successes. A roll-off makes sure the gambling/risk element of trade-up/trade-down (which is a strong mechanic) is always present.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
How is power acquisition handled? Do characters acquire some base runes as part of progression, and then slowly learn more through time? Or get them all at character creation?
Players are awarded experience points for typical things. 1 point for X amount of challenges, DM fiat, whatever. You use those points to purchase more maneuvers, traits, or spells. Every 10 xp, you advance to the next tier. So something like this:

1691085815435.png

Are the compound effects (like the listed fireball and caustic bubble) acquired as a part of progression (must be purchased/learned), or do they become available as soon as the component basic runes are learned?
As soon as you learn the rune, you can learn the various ways to use it. But you do need to have learned that tier first. I.e., you need to be in 2nd circle and spent XP on tier II runes before you can use tier II effects.
Sounds solid. I think my only observation is that I might have a baseline rule for non-targeted effects that uses a die roll, not a static number. (Like instead of rolling against a 4, you roll against a 1d6 or 1d8).
Default is to use a roll. There is an option for "take half" that the GM can use, if they don't feel like making all of those rolls. That's where the static # comes in.
 

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