In the Year of Our Lord, 1066, Uther Pendragon, Duke of Normandy, sailed his army across the English Channel and defeated King Vortigern at the Battle of Hastings. He moved quickly to consolidate his rule over the island, which lasted from A.D. 1066 until his death in A.D. 1215. In that year, the boy Arthur, foster son of Sir Ector of the Castle of the Forest Sauvage, was revealed to be Uther’s son and heir by pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone. Although he had the backing of Merlin, and the miracle to substantiate his claim to the throne, Arthur was immediately beset by rebellion, led by King Lot of Orkney. With war brought the usual scavengers; monsters who seized the opportunity to pillage and wreak havoc on a defenseless people. Arthur, guided by Merlin, re-established the national Adventurers’ Guild that his father had previously abolished. A royal stipend was given to the Guild to train up new heroes to fight the darkness which had spread over the land.
Torchbearer is a relatively new set of tabletop role-playing game rules. It is actually more of a resource-management game set in a Dungeons & Dragons style world, with dwarves, elves, and wizards and the like. The book is 200 pages, and contains detailed rules about how much characters can carry, what happens to them when they fail tests, why they would actually want to fail tests, etc.
This is normally the type of game I would avoid; keeping track of how many arrows you shot in the just-concluded battle, and how many days’ worth of rations you still have seems a little more micro-management than I prefer, if I am more interested in telling an interesting story while using rules to adjudicate conflict.
Reading through the rules, however, I see that Torchbearer is, as I mentioned, a resource management game, which describes one of my favorite all-time computer games: The Oregon Trail by MECC. In The Oregon Trail, you begin in A.D. 1848 in the town of Independence, MO. You decide which profession you are (Banker, Carpenter, or Farmer), and use the alloted funds to purchase supplies. You pick your starting month, and head out. Over the next several hundred miles, you’ll watch your little wagon pace along the screen, and deal with various random events (Your kid gets dysentery; you find wild fruit, you find an abandoned wagon with an extra set of clothes, you get robbed by a thief). Every now and then, you reach a historical landmark, where you can talk to people. But the core of the game is resource management. To get the highest score, you must choose to be a Farmer, and start the game with only $400 (Carpenters begin with $800, and Bankers with $1600). This means you’re limited to how much you can buy. Want to get the recommended 3 yoke of oxen (that’s 6 total creatures)? Then you must do with less extra wagon parts, or less food, or go with a single set of clothes for each member of your party. During the trek, if you had the foresight to purchase bullets, you can stop and hunt for food to replenish your supplies. But managing your physical resources isn’t the only thing you have to worry about; you must also manage your time. You decide the pace at which to travel. Do you keep at a steady pace, which will keep everyone in more or less good health, or do you pick a grueling pace, which can move you more miles in a day, but can affect the health of your party? To say the least, you want to arrive in Oregon with everyone alive, and preferably in good health (which gets you a higher score).
As I say, grand fun. Which brings me back to Torchbearer. It is said to be a set of rules to evoke the feeling of early versions of Dungeons & Dragons, especially the “dungeon crawling” aspect of the game. The mechanics of Torchbearer bear little resemblence to D&D, however. Player characters have 3 (or 4) stats, instead of the traditional 6. Encumberance is based on how much space you have in your pack (or on your person–you only have two hands, after all!) rather than on how much everything you’re carrying weighs. Lighting is core to the game, and the basis for how the passage of time is measured, rather than a rule that one must keep remembering to apply.
There was a discussion of the game a year ago over on therpgsite.com; most of it is people sniping at each other, but I am reading through it and found this description of one group’s game (scroll down to the post by “fuseboy”).
I swiped these from the Quest For Glory RPG/Adventure computer games. Some of the spells in the game (like “calm”), I am using for a compilation of alternate Cleric spells.
Fetch — Fetch is used to grab small non-living objects and bring them to the wizard. With practice, the wizard can also move objects from one place to another.
Juggling Lights –When cast, a series of floating lights will circle about the wizard. This can be used to light up an area.
Dazzle — When cast, a blinding flash of light will be created. If a monster is charging the wizard, it will stop moving. This will allow the wizard to beat a hasty retreat. After a few seconds, the effect wears off and the monster will resume the chase.
First Level Spells
Zap — The wizard’s primary weapon is enchanted with a magical charge that increases the wizard’s damage from hack ‘n slash to 1d6 for the next attack. After the attack, the spell’s effect ends (whether the attack was successful or not).
Open –The function of Open is to open doors and locks. Also, this allows the wizard to hang back from his target, in case opening it would be dangerous.
Flame Dart — As an offensive spell, Flame Dart’s main function is causing damage to enemies. It has a secondary function of being able to set things on fire
Detect Magic — When cast, the wizard will receive a message regarding the state of magic in the area. If there’s nothing particularly magical in the area, the message will state as such. The wizard will only detect magic within the immediate area.
Fascination –When cast, a few small colored lights will appear at the targeted area. If a monster the wizard is facing is of particularly low intelligence, it will move towards the lights and stand among them watching for a few seconds. Soon afterwards, the lights will detonate, causing light damage.
Third Level Spells
Force Bolt –As an offensive spell, Force Bolt can be used to cause damage to enemies. Its primary function, however, is to provide the caster with the means to push objects from a distance. Force Bolt can thus be used to flip a distant switch, push an object over, or knock an object off a ledge. Another facet of the spell is that the globe of energy can rebound off targets.
Reversal –When cast, the Hero is protected by a field that will reflect magic cast directly at him. Spells cast at him will bounce off, either directly back at the caster or sometimes at an angle, depending on the situation. While this spell is ongoing, the wizard takes -1 to cast a spell.
Summon Staff– The wizard crafts a magical staff that he then stores in an extradimensional space until he summons it with this spell. The staff adds +1 to the wizard’s hack ‘ slash move, and increases the wizard’s damage from hack ‘n slash to 1d6. While this spell is ongoing, the wizard takes -2 to cast a spell.
Frost Bite –When cast, the wizard will fire off a small ball of ice, which can damage enemies. What separates Frost Bite from other offensive spells is that it has an area-effect, which means it is not subjected to Reversal.
Hide — When cast, the wizard will become completely invisible as long as he remains standing still. Most enemies charging towards the wizard will wait a moment, then leave the area and the wizard will have avoided the battle. If the wizard moves, the spell will be broken and the enemy will resume the attack.
Protection –When cast, the wizard will be protected by a personal shield. Any claws, bites, sword slashes, or punches that the enemies use will have less effect. Magical attacks and elemental attacks (like breath weapons) will still do full damage. While this spell is ongoing, the wizard takes -1 to cast a spell.
Resistance — When cast, the wizard will be protected by a protective field. This field will reduce the amount of damage taken from fire, frost, and electricity. This works against both spells that use these elements, and from natural occurrences of these elements. While this spell is ongoing, the wizard takes -1 to cast a spell.
Fifth Level Spells
Lightning Ball — When cast, the Hero will fire off a blast of ball lightning. Out of all the direct offensive spells, Lightning Ball is the most damaging, yet costs the most.
Levitate — When cast, the wizard will enter a “floating” state. The wizard can then move up and down, but not side-to-side without some mundane means of propulsion, such as pushing off a wall.
Advanced Resistance—This spell has the same effect as Resistance, but can now be applied to nearby allies as well. While this spell is ongoing, the wizard takes -1 to cast a spell.
Farsee –Far-see (aka Farsee) is a spell that allows a caster to see things far away. It uses some form of magic item such as a crystal ball or a mirror.
Seventh Level Spells
Boom –When cast, a skull will be thrown where the spell is targeted. The skull can only be thrown so far and so high, so it is possible that it will bounce off a wall before settling in a spot. The skull will remain in place indefinitely, and will only explode once a living creature gets too close to it.
Trigger — Trigger’s function is rather multipurpose. It requires that a spell is prepared and primed to specifically react with Trigger, based on conditions designated by the wizard during preparation. It can also be used ad hoc to trigger some other magical effect that the wizard discerns is nearby (say, triggering the evil warlock’s fireball spell early).
Shrink –When cast upon an enemy, they will shrink to about a third of their original size. Most enemies shrunk will immediately begin to flee. For some reason, Goons will continue to attack until a second Shrink spell is cast upon them, shrinking them further.
Level 9 Spells
Dragon Fire –When cast, a red dragon head will appear in the air. It will roar and unleash a torrent of fire breath.
Thermonuclear Blast –When cast, the wizard will cause a gigantic nuclear explosion that will destroy everything in a ten mile radius and make the area uninhabitable for several centuries thereafter. This will also destroy the wizard.
Whirlwind –When cast, the wizard projects a tornado at the targeted area. This tornado will spin enemies around for a few seconds and cause damage until they’re able to pull themselves from the spell. If the spell is not targeted, the whirlwind will appear around the wizard. Fortunately, the wizard is immune to the spell’s effects.
For rituals, look up “King’s Quest 3″ spells and “King’s Quest 6″ spells.
“Understanding the Language of Creatures”, “Teleport at Random”, “Transforming Another into a Cat”, “Flying Like an Eagle or a Fly”, “Causing a Deep Sleep”, “Brewing a Storm”, “Becoming Invisible”
“Make Rain”, “Magic Paint”, and “Charming a Creature of the Night”.
All the above were designed for adventure games, and so fit well with the Dungeon World rules, in my opinion. Much better than “Roll INT vs FORT, 1d10 damage and target is stunned until the end of your next turn”. As I say, I’m working on a list of Cleric spells based off the QFG games; I’m including some of the magic user spells and all of the paladin spells.
Any suggestions concerning the level placements of spells (i.e., “Resistance should be 5th level instead of 3rd”) will be much appreciated.
In the original iterations of D&D, generating and assigning the ability scores for characters involved rolling 3 6-sided dice and writing down the result for each ability score, in order. The resulting scores didn’t actually give one a bonus to hit or to damage, but it gave the character a bonus if the primary stat of a character’s class was above a certain number. This meant that a fighter with a strength of 18 did not actually hit more often or deal more damage than a fighter with a strength of 9, but the former fighter gained experience more quickly, and thus became more skilled faster than the weaker fighter. With 4th edition, every two points above 10 in an ability score gives a bonus to hit and to damage of 1. For example, a Strength of 12 would give the character a 1 point bonus. A Strength of 20 would add 5 bonus points. The proper formula is: Ability Score – 10 and then divide by 2, round toward zero.
In any case, I like the idea that ability scores don’t grant such wide bonuses, because it makes powergaming that much less necessary. I also like the idea that characters are more or less stuck with the ability scores they start with. 4th edition, however, makes it necessary to keep investing in ever-higher ability scores just to keep up with the monsters. I started a thread over on enworld.org a couple of years ago asking how much the famous 4e math would be broken if the ability bonuses were limited to something closer to an earlier version of D&D. The bonuses followed the formula: Ability Score – 10 and then divide by 4, round toward zero. That means that an ability score of 14 gives a +1 bonus, an 18 gives a +2 bonus, anything less than 7 gives a -1 penalty. You can read the discussion in the link above.
So, I am returning to this idea; no increases to ability scores, and a limit on the bonuses granted. However, I am also adding in an idea stolen from 13th Age: the escalation die. Beginning with the second round of combat, each player character (but not monsters) gets a +1 bonus to attack rolls, skill rolls, and saving throws (including death saves). This bonus increases by 1 each round, until it reaches a +6 bonus at round 7.
To sum up, a player will roll 3d6 for each ability score, in order. He can then add his racial bonuses to ability. An ability score between 6 and 14 grants no bonus or penalty. A 6 or less imposes a -1 penalty, a 14 to 17 gives a +1 bonus, an 18 gives a +2 bonus. If a character can pump his ability score up to 20, he still only gets a +2 bonus. These ability scores do not increase, except perhaps rarely, by some magical means. The characters still get a bonus to attack rolls, skill checks, defenses every even numbered level.
I’m still not sure how this will mess with the game’s math, and there is still the problem of defenses. 4e splits a character’s defense into Armor Class, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will, and I’ll need to figure out how to keep the defense progression intact, or else the monsters will be thrashing the player characters at higher levels as if they were so many red-headed stepchildren.
I watched a “review” of D&D 4e the other day on Youtube. The reviewer claimed to have run a 4e game for several months; I have no reason to question this assertion, but something about his review seems a little off. He spent some time complaining about “Healing Surges”, saying several times that it equated to “infinite healing” (he may have phrased it differently, but that was the meaning I inferred from his description), and was unhappy that characters could heal themselves. On a related note, he complained that 4th Edition did not have the “resource management/attrition” aspect that he enjoyed in earlier editions.
Additionally, I just read on a message board where someone thought that 13th Age‘s “Recoveries” were better than “Healing Surges”, because the former were not magical healing.
I think both critics clearly misunderstand the game’s rules. Healing Surges are, in fact, an attritional aspect of the game. They represent a limit on the amount of healing that a character can receive in a day, and definitely are not “infinite healing” (once a character spends his last healing surge, drinking a potion of healing does him no good). A character, once during each battle, can take a “Second Wind”, which is equivalent to pausing to take a deep breath and get psychologically renewed to continue the fight (even if the character has been physically wounded; think of Inigo Montoya’s getting back into the fight after being stabbed in the stomach, shoulder, and other shoulder). It is not “magically healing physical wounds” (unless, of course, the players wish to portray Second Wind in that manner).