Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rationalizing Damage Spells in GURPS

GURPS Magic presents a variety of combat spells that do direct damage: Stone Missile, Fireball, Sunbolt, Deathtouch, Lightning Bolt, Explosive Fireball, and many others. They're scattered across the colleges, and while there's something of a theme of a touch spell, a jet spell, a basic missile spell, an explosive missile spell, a rain spell, and a breath spell, not every college has all of those spells and the damage and side effects of the various spells vary tremendously, even within the same college. A lightning bolt has different side effects than a shocking touch, even though they're both supposed to represent hitting someone with a huge jolt of electricity.

Arguably, magic should be mysterious, organic, and off-beat. Not every college should have every type of spell, and maybe the effects of lightning should differ depending on how it is used. I don't hold to that view. Magic in GURPS is consistent and organized.

This is an attempt to rationalize the spells, so that there is a common list of elemental effects and common list of spell forms. It also makes most direct damage spells a bit cheaper, so as to encourage blaster style casters over utility casters.

Revamping Missile Spells

Currently, missile spells in GURPS have their own set of rules. A missile spell creates some object that can be thrown, with a base damage related to the caster's Magery. If the caster has time, she can concentrate on it more, building up the damage for up to 3 seconds - if she has the energy to do so.

In practice, this model is not particularly satisfactory in play. Spellcasters normally only build up spells in ambush situations, when they know they have time to do so safely and recover the energy before starting the fight. In those circumstances, a caster creates a 9d missile spell, and then potentially does a huge amount of damage to a single target - more than anyone else in the game with a single strike. The rest of the time, the caster only builds the missile spell for a second, and does somewhere between 1d and 6d damage, depending on Magery and available FP. Sometimes a caster will use an explosive spell to damage multiple targets, but the poor damage propagation makes this futile, as even an explosive spell that does 18d to the target at the center of the blast does only 3d to people 2 hexes away, and the more reasonable 6d explosive spell rarely penetrates the armor of targets more than a yard away.

I want a system where wizards can contribute reasonably to fighting a single big monster, without having to burn all their fatigue on a single all-or-nothing attack, and can also do reasonable amounts of damage to clustered targets. So I'm changing the rules for Melee, Missile, and other damaging spells.

Fast progression damaging spells (such as Lightning Bolt or Flame Jet) can do a base damage of Sw damage based on the caster's IQ+relevant magical talent by Concentrating on it for one turn (this may be modified by the spell's element, just as swung shortsword and a swung halberd do different damage). By enlarging it, the caster can increase the damage by +2 or +1/die, whichever is better.

Slow progression damaging spells (such as Rain of Fire or Explosive Lightning Bolt) can do a base damage of Thr damage based on the caster's IQ+relevant magical talent by Concentrating on it for one turn. The caster can spend additional turns concentrating to either increase the area of the spell's effect or increasing the damage by +4 or +2/die, whichever is better.

The Elements

Any damaging spell is built out of two components: the element that determines the college, damage type, special effects, and bonus damage of the spell, and the form that determines the range, area, and cost of the spell.


Lightning (Air): -1 damage per die. Treat as a Tight Beam Burning Innate Attack with Double Knockback, Arcing Surge, and Side Effect (Stun). Ranged Attacks are Acc 4, Range 50/100. Double knockback, in this case, lets it do knockback damage as though it were a crushing attack.
Thunder (Air, Sound): +3 damage per die. Treat as a Crushing Innate Attack with Armor Multiplier 5, Double Knockback, and Hearing Based Side Effect (Stun). Treat attacks against swarms or vaporous creatures as area effect attacks, even if the spell form is normally a single target spell. Ranged Attacks are Acc 3, Range 30/60.
Blight (Body): +0 damage per die. Treat as a Toxic Innate Attack with Cosmic (Ignores DR), Cosmic (Affects things with Immune to Metabolic Hazards), Accessibility (Only living or previously animals and humanoids; cannot target locations). Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50.  Deathtouch should affect zombies, but not stone golems or trees.
Deprivation (Body, Food): -2 damage per die. Treat as a Fatigue Innate Attack with Cosmic (Ignores DR), Hazard (Starvation or Thirst, chosen when the spell is learned), and Resistable (HT -4). Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 50/100.
Enervation (Body): +0 damage per die. Treat as a Fatigue Innate Attack with Armor Divisor 2. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 50/100.
Stone (Earth): +2 damage per die. Treat as a Crushing Innate Attack with Double Knockback linked to another Crushing Innate Attack with Double Knockback and No Wounding. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50. Essentially, calculate knockback based on quadruple the rolled damage.Fire (Fire): +1 damage per die. Treat as a Burning Innate Attack with Incendiary and Armor Divisor 2. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 50/100.
Poison (Food): +3 damage per die. Treat as Toxic Innate Attack with Blood Agent, Cyclic (3x10 seconds), Resistable by HT-5. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50.
Sun (Light): +1 damage per die. Treat as a Tight Beam Burning Innate Attack. Ranged Attacks are Acc 8, Range 100/200, and get +1 to hit. Sun attacks are laser beams, and should benefit from having a built-in laser sight.
Ruin (Making and Breaking): +0 damage per die. Treat as Toxic Innate Attack with Cosmic (Ignores DR), Cosmic (Affects things with Immune to Metabolic Hazards), Accessibility (Only never living inanimate objects; cannot target locations). Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50. Making and Breaking spells can't affect golems, zombies, or housecats, but they can destroy cars and furniture.
Force (Movement): -1 damage per die. Treat as a Cutting Innate Attack with Affects Insubstantial and Double Knockback. Ranged Attacks are Acc 3, Range 50/100.
Cessation (Necromantic): +3 damage per die. Treat as Toxic Innate Attack with Cosmic (Ignores DR), Cosmic (Affects things with Immune to Metabolic Hazards), Accessibility (Only zombies; cannot target locations). Targets that take damage have a 1 in 6 chance of being forced to flee out of sight of the caster for one day. Ranged Attacks are Acc 2, Range 25/50. 
Sound (Sound): +2 damage per die. Treat as a Crushing Innate Attack with Side Effect (Stun). Ranged Attacks are Acc 3, Range 25/50.
Ice (Water): +0 damage per die. Treat as a Burning Innate Attack with No Incendiary and Armor Divisor 5. Ranged Attacks are Acc 3, Range 50/100.
Acid (Water): -1 damage per die. Treat as a Corrosive Innate Attack. Ranged Attacks are Acc 1, Range 25/50.

Obviously, a specific spell might use a variant of the elemental or form name, or even both. Lightning Storm sounds better than Explosive Lightning Ball; Sunbolt is better known than Sunball, and so on.

The Forms

Each form determines the physical description of the spell, including its range, area of effect if any, and energy cost.

(Element) Ball: Creates a single target Missile that does fast progression damage at the cost of 1 FP per 2d of base damage. Double the cost to enlarge the spell. Prerequisites are Magery 1 and Shape (Element) and Create (Element) or 6 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
Explosive (Element) Ball: Creates an area effect Missile that does full slow progression damage in up to Magery yards radius, at 1 FP per yard of radius. Enlarging the spell can either increase damage, at double cost, or increase the radius of effect by Magery yards, again at 1 FP yard of radius. At the caster's option, the attack is also explosive for 1 FP, with double cost if the spell damage was enlarged. Prerequisite is (Element) Ball.
(Element) Jet: Creates an elemental jet extending from the caster's fist. It can be used to attack using DX or Innate Attack with any normal Attack maneuver, and cannot be parried, nor can it parry. The jet does fast progression damage, cannot be enlarged, and costs 1 FP per 2 yards of reach (up to a maximum of 4). The jet has a duration of 1 second, but the duration doesn't begin until the caster has an opportunity to make the attack maneuver. Prerequisites are Magery 1 and Shape (Element) and Create (Element) or 6 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Breath (VH): Allows the caster to breath out a cone of the element by taking an attack maneuver and rolling against DX or Innate Attack (Breath). The cone does slow progression damage and cannot be blocked or parried. The cone has a combined length and width in yards equal to the caster's magery, and the caster may enlarge the spell for more damage or for more length or width normally. The base cost of the spell is 1 FP per 2 yards of length or 4 yards of width, doubled if the damage is enlarged. Prerequisite is (Elemental) Jet.
(Element) Touch: Imbues the caster's hand with elemental energy, allowing him to transfer that energy to a foe with a touch. This is a Melee spell that does fast progression damage at the cost of 1 FP per 2d of base damage. Prerequisites are Magery 1 and Shape (Element) and Create (Element) or 6 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Weapon: Imbues a melee weapon with elemental energy that does slow progression damage as a follow-up attack on any successful attack with the weapon. This spell takes 2 seconds and 4 FP to cast and has a duration of 60 seconds, with a maintenance cost of 2 FP. The weapon is not harmed by the elemental energy. Prerequisites are Magery 2 and Shape (Element), Resist (Element), Create (Element) or 9 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Missiles: Imbues a missile weapon with elemental energy that does slow progression damage as a follow-up attack on any successful attack with the weapon. This spell takes 2 seconds and 4 FP to cast and has a duration of 60 seconds, with a maintenance cost of 2 FP. The weapon is not harmed by the elemental energy. Prerequisites are Magery 2 and Shape (Element), Resist (Element), Create (Element) or 9 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Armor: Surrounds the subject with a sheathe of elemental energy. Anyone who attacks the subject with a melee weapon takes slow progression damage on a successful hit. Anyone who grapples the subject take fast progrssion damage upon securing the grapple and cancels the spell in the process. Elemental Armor takes 4 FP to cast, 2 FP to maintain, and has a duration of 1 minute. Prerequisites are Magery 2 and (Element) Jet, Resist (Element) or 9 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
Rain of (Element): This spell can only be cast outdoors, and creates a rain of elemental energy inside the target area. Anyone inside the target area at the end of his turn takes full damage; anyone who enters or starts in the area but moves out during his turn takes half damage. This spell does slow progression damage and is an Area spell with a base cost of 1 FP, the same maintenance cost, and a duration of 1 minute. Prerequisites are Magery 2 and Shape (Element), Create (Element) or 9 spells from the college, whichever spell count is easier to achieve.
(Element) Volley: Creates a missile that does fast progression damage to a single target with RoF 4 and Rcl 3. It can still be used for suppressive fire, walking fire, or to otherwise engage multiple targets using the normal RoF attack rules. It has a base cost of 4 FP per die of damage. Enlarging the spell can increase the damage at double FP cost, increase the RoF to 10 at double the FP cost, or both at triple FP cost. Prerequisites are Rain of (Element), Element (Ball), and Element (Breath).

Examples

Lenia is a typical DF wizard with IQ15, Magery 4, and a collection of combat spells, including Stone Jet, Sunbolt, Lightning Storm, Force Touch, and Acid Armor (all at skill 17). Her single target spells do a base of 3d+1 and her area effect spells do a base of 2d-1.

Confronted by an orc on a high stone wall, Lenia Concentrates for a second and casts Stone Jet for 2 FP, giving her a Reach 4 jet attack on her next turn. She strikes the orc who fails to dodge, and does 3d+7 damage, rolling high for 19 cr. The orc's mail armor has DR3, so he takes 16 injury, and suffers 68 knockback. Since he has only 13 HP for knockback purposes, the orc is knocked back 6 yards and sent flying over the wall.

After climbing the wall, Lenia is attacked by a manticore. She Concentrates and casts Sunbolt, but decides to enlarge it for a round for extra damage. Normally her Sunbolt would do 3d+4 damage for 2 FP, but she has to spend another 2 FP to enlarge it to 3d+7 damage. Aiming carefully, she gets a net +9 to hit, enough to easily nail the manticore in the vitals for 17 burning damage. Since manticore flesh is only DR4, it takes 39 injury and falls to the ground.

Continuing on her way, Lenia is confronted by three knights in a line abreast, each separated by two yards. They all have crossbows and are aiming meteoric bolts at her. She quickly casts a Lightning Storm (Explosive Lightning Ball) and throws it. The Lightning Storm has a radius of 4 yards, just enough to catch everyone in the blast, so she doesn't make it explosive or try to enlarge it, and it costs her 4 FP. She targets the attack at the central knight's feet, and each of them takes 2d-3 damage, mostly unprotected by their metal armor thanks to the Arcing Surge, and possibly stunned from the Side Effect.

Past the knights, Lenia enters a haunted tower and is accosted by a ghost. Diplomacy fails, and Lenia casts Force Touch for 2 FP before punching the ghost. The ghost fails to dodge and takes 2d-3 cu damage, which normally wouldn't affect the insubstantial threat, but the spell's effects include Affects Insubstantial.

In the tower's dungeon, she sees the treasure she seeks, down a hallway filled with wasp swarms. She casts Acid Armor on herself for 4 FP and runs down the hallway, driving off the wasp swarms by doing 2 corrosive damage to them every time they touch her (she'd normally do 2d-3 damage, but they're diffuse and can't take more than than 2 points from a non-area attack). Finally clearing the wasp hall, she reaches for the Grimoire of Improbable Spells when she's ambushed by a throttler. The throttler grapples her from behind and immediately takes 3d-2 corrosive damage. Lenia rolls a 12 for the damage, which is enough to send the throttler staggering back without any DR. Still, Lenia recognizes this is going to be a challenging fight.

3 comments:

  1. I like it. Mind if I steal it for my games?

    Too bad you posted it here, it would have made an excellent Pyramid article. I guess that if you don't have too many views, you could unpublish it and submit it.

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  2. Go ahead and steal it. I'm big on sharing my random gaming thoughts.

    The effort/reward ratio for Pyramid is way too low for me for this kind of one-off work. If I ever get off my butt again and write up some DF adventures, those I'd submit to Pyramid.

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  3. This is pretty fantastic, considering I was looking for exactly this - a comprehensive formula for breaking down spells to build your own.

    I'm playing in a new fantasy GURPS game and I was looking to have force and entropy (disintegrate) spells. I think I'll use this formulaic method for creating a Force Bolt and Decay spell. Though, I may reinterpret Acid (cor) as a form of entropy magic (instead of water). I had reached that similar conclusion trying to build out spells as Powers.

    Sorry, just thinking out loud. Anyways, thank you for this amazingly comprehensive guide!

    ReplyDelete