[PnP] "Game Cracking" spells

Scott Adams longshot at darktech.org
Thu Feb 1 01:53:10 CET 2007

>How does everyone deal with the various spells that effectively give
>the players a “win the game button”? In the standard Book 2 set
>of spells there are certain ones that, even for mid-level characters,
>are effectively an “easy button” that can short-circuit any
>reasonable plot difficulties a GM might present to them. Â An example
>spell is “Insubstantiability” – forget ever havinng the threat
>of imprisoning the players.  Likewise for teleport or interworld travel.

The email may have translated thsoe words differently or as you meant
to cover up something else. :)  I am a strong GM of the Balance orientation.
:)  I believe Fate has its role as well as Destiny.  However spells
should have a Plus and a Minus.  Not all spells are super good or super
bad.  For Insubstantial therew ways around it.  Purified ground prevents
the spell casting.  Plus you could have "found" or made non-insubsntantial
matterial that prevents movement into or when entering actually causes
damage to energy level.  Theres always ways to prevent something but
players are unique can can foul up GM plans alot.  I hate it when
they interrogate bad guys and you have to spill the plans.  So usually
have to invent osmething to balance that :) (Geas, etc.).  If you know
your players you tend to know what they'll cast.   If you know their
spells then you can plan around it.  Problem occurs when you have
magical items and natural magicians who know everything.  But even
then I've learned some tricks.  

>Obviously the first warning flag is mass-effect spells – if the MDV
>is just the highest MDV of the target area, you can wipe out a hundred
>men with the ease of wiping a single man there is no mechanic in the
>canon rules to increase difficulty based on increased numbers.  I’m
>not sure what the best way to deal with this is perhaps MDV for a
>single target, +1 for each additional target possibly affected?  I
>saw this in my last game where the elf could easily toss off a sleep
>mist at a 10 or 20 man squad (average man MDV of 4) and pretty much
>nullify the entire threat with a single snap of the fingers.  Granted,
>for high level characters it still is not much of a hindrance, but
>more mid or low it does force them to re-evaluate tactics.

Well for me it depends on the spell.  A fireball is hot, heat and
flames.  it should affect everyone thus the highest MDV type
thing.  But a sleep mist may be more magical than enviornmental
or chain lightning or soemthing.  Then I may do a MDV per MDV
basis.  Most mass effect spells can be abused for sure.  A good
GM will setup a battle to give bad guys cover though to give
them a chance from the Flame Boy in the party.  
>In a related vein, how do you deal with spell failure?  We have a
>house rule, carried forward in all our games, of a “triple wipeout”
>if yyou fail 3 times with a spell, or skill, you are simply unable
>to cast that spell or perform that skill for the rest of the “scene”
>(limited to the end of the current session, or the next 24 hours of
>“game” day).  With our recent return to P&P, we have also decided
>that one Abysmal will have the same effect.  This has had the effect
>of having players who try to do something (usually low skilled, or
>skilled with high modifiers) at least some chance of retry, but
>eliminates trying forever – they eventually have to think of
>another tactic.

I've never thought of doing that.  If I were to go on that rule
which I probably wouldn't (too much bookkeeping for me) I'd add
flavor to it.  For example I'd do say 3 failures for anywhere.  But
say 2 failures in a temple/religious site.  This reflects the
gods anger/disappointment.  Then maybe only 1 failure allowed say
ina  sacred temple.  If the person forgets and tries again it
could massively backfire.  For me again Fate always has some role.
So even if a spell has a 110% chance of success I will ALWAYS have
a chance of failure.  It may only be 1% chance but its always there.
Just like theres a chance of a super critical (gods really likes you).
To that regard I also allow gods to get peeked interest by spell use.
One could say magic comes directly from yes/no views of the gods
themselves and channeled down either consciously or subconsciously.
But if say a wizard is EL11 in Teleport and can travel across entire
contients in one second.  That might peek the interst of the god
of transport (or teleport, yeah I actually found one in the list who
might be that :)).  So maybe he finds that wizard of interest and
will send his Avatar (his best faithful person in the MW) to track
that person down for contact.  Same as a EL12 Death Powers chaos mage
might be looked at by the God of death.  This will/may influence their
magic use.  At that level if the person is not say praying or actively
being religious maybe the god might get upset and make life harder
casting wise or if the person is truely faithful maybe the god can
make him a future Avatar.   That's one thing I've done over the years.
Sorta a bonus or drawback (always the balance) to getting to high
Max ELs in spells.  

Most people tend to be worried about Abysmals.  But in fact most
don't kill.  They only backfire.  I've gotten players who do
anything and everything to avoid them and in fact to me this makes
a warning flag to maybe ENSURE they get one :).  Compared to the
simple first level wizard who doesn't care.  (Balance).  As GM
I tend to use Absymals to help the plot or hinder it if the players
are doing well.  Like the wizard in the PBEM 2 adventures ago tried
Sound Power spell and it abysmalled.  So everything he stepped or
spoke it was amplified 20x. So his breathing sounded like a fan.
Their stealth was kinda ruined for a few minutes :)

>Some troublesome spells, and my ideas on toning them down somewhat:

>­       Astral Fire: Ignoring the MDV limit, which is a pretty weak
>   limit, it’s basically a low-level nuke that will screw over any
>   decent sized gathering.  It is effectively an instant death spell,
>   but the ability to target a possibly huge area screams for the
>   increased MDV for multiple targets.  This call for increased
>   difficulty applies to all damaging/neutralizing and a case could
>   be made for other area spells.

   Yeah not a big fan of this one.  Trying to recall how I balanced
   this one but its possible.  Being on a semi astral plane and
   MW on another.  I've toyed with the idea of the physics of
   the spell.  But been awhile since I've had.  
>­       Compulsion: This is one of those spells our group will be
>  flagging as a “Ceremony” spell ccasting speed result is rated in
>  hours, not phases like a combat spell.  It makes no sense that
>  you can whip this off (at EL0 even since EL has no effect on MDV
>  limits or duration) left and right on targets in the enemy battle
>  line and have them effectively neutralized as they run off to get
>  you a tuna sandwich or something.
   Well I've balanced this by making it Eye contact and language
   specific (same language).  If no eye contact then maybe it
   fails automatically or if it goes then the player must get
   eye contact in order to give orders.  Otherwise thrall is
   just waiting for orders.  So a GM could make a compelled person's
   head fall and thus eyes on ground.  Thus in a battle it would
   take awhile to get that contact.  Until after and then the
   person's head can be raised and talked to.  Balance works there.

Others with balance....

* Abandon.  Have fun.  Characters could go in random directions and
  end up in dangerous places or even the count's wife's bedchamber
  and cause some ill gotten booty gain.

* Akasha - This can ruin any GM's day.  To reveal everything a spell
or item or event ruins the plot.  So the way to help here is
purified ground or protections. 

* Astral web: The "all enemy" effect of this spell is way too powerful.
  So I've had to balance it by needing to SEE your enemy.  Or
  just keep piling on enemy and can't zap them as often.  Three
  enter a room.  Have 3 more waiting behind them.  Then 3 more
  and 3 more till mana ends

* Blindness - Can restrict to eye contact for spell use?

* Blood Vengeance - Not have much abuse here but one could add
  DNA like restrictions like needing something from victim or such.

* Chaining is powerful - So maybe environment can help out.
  Terrain could add or hinder the spell.  All I'll say here :)

* Choking Mositure - Good Wind spell can offset thsi one :)
* Conceling Mist - Same here.

* Cold spell - Balancce it with Cold Resistance

* Damage Reversal - Could balance it by alignment or race.  In
  that Elf reverses Elf damage but not human or reduced for
  humans.  Something like that.

* Darkness powers - balanced by light powers

* Death Blast - powerful so MDV limit has to apply here.

* Death Powers - powerful as well so MDV must apply.  These
  are hard to balance.  Unless its skin on skin not death
  hand with gloves.  GM can reduce hadn of death to touch
  say only the heart area.  Stuff like that.  

* Fatal spear - hrm.  Forgot how I balance this spell.

* Fire Powers - Fire Resistance helps here.  

* Invisibility - easy to balance but very abusive.  Ground can
  be protectedo or Revelation or protected.  Ground can reveal
  foot prints.  Tons of easy ways.

* Invulernability - Hard to balance so I've thought about over
  the years maybe making it to certain things like all magic
  or just iron weapons or arrows.  But not ironed out those details.

* Perm Magics - Magical items have to be balanced.  Some wizards
  think a Fire Sword of Doom should be able to fire fireballs,
  flaming death AND fire darts unlimited amounts of times per
  day.  So the EL use per day is good.  But I tend to balance
  it further by deciding which spells can be made perm and which
  have to be triggered.  Some decisions of those have to go
  about the character what he/she already has if religious and
  other factors.  A diplomat might be fine with a Tongues Talisman
  but a wizard with such ruins plots to simply pull it up and
  talk to everything and everyone.  Langauge is a easy barrier
  to prolong plots.  So may limit it to per use for them.

* Silent terror - another eye contact thing.

* Time Powers - This is probably my biggest problem.  I mean oh gee
  we just lost 4 players and the big Magic Super Item was destroyed.
  I know!  Let's go back in time and REDO It.  ughh.  Not fun.
  So again Fate and Gods have a say here.  Going back may set the
  scene back in order but obviously there may be different reactions
  from things making it worse for the players.  So one must balance
  it with fate.  Otherwise you have any EL0 person fixing everything
  from redoing sex scenes in a hotel to not ordering that meatloaf
  cause it made him sick in the tavern.

*  Teleport - Easy to prevent escapes by purified/protected grounds.

*  Watchful sleep - Players figure this will always alert them to
  danger.  But danger is relative.  a demon might come up to a
  party and smell the food burning on the campfire.  Might just
  be hungry.  Doesn't mean hes danger to YOU.  Just to the dead
  pig.  Now once he eats it and spits some food in your face and
  wakes you then that's danger.  :)  So use of the danger relative
  term can balance this.

* Knowledge/Insght - Spelsl to reveal that secret code or reveal
  that secret phrase to pass the gatekeeper.  Bah.  A classic.
  but who says a God might want to miss fun in his court playing
  God stuff to tell you that secret.  So while the spell may work
  who is to say the answer isn't cryptic or vague or in a different
  language.  There may be strange items that you don't want to
  reveal till later so you can have the gods actually know nothing
  about it.  I could go into more here but would reveal too much
  email me if you want :)

*Deafness - Spell might not work if your ears are plugged up.
 The magic should go through the ears and touch the eardrum. A
 way to balance that.

* Cosmic Powers - Should be balanced since its coming from the
  heavens the gods may have a direct say in its use.

* Sound Powers - While sound affects ears if a person or creature
  has no ears they can't be affected.  Course sound waves affects

* Armor: Can be powerful at high levels.  So one could make
  it that the person has to know the armor in some form
  like through Armorer skill.   Like say in order to make
  AV3 Armor should have at least Armorer EL60 (EL/20).  Something
  like that.

* Nature powers might be better with Druids.  But for a chaos
   wizard who loves his Withering EL10 spell maybe nature
   powers doesn't work so well for him? The Tree spirits don't
   like that stuff!  So person and environment balance it.

* Power Strike / Critical Strike - When I made these it could be
  abused so one if wanted to could make it that person should
  know anatomy in some form.  I mean if an Assassin knows the
  12 points to kill a person in one touch then maybe he knows
  these spells well.  But a butcher who is scared to look at
  his wife naked might not know how to use these spells well. (+/-)

* Iron Skin - Could backfire in many ways with an inventive gm like
  Rain or Cold some such :)

* Archery - Eye contact to see the target should be a plus but
  GMs can say yes or no.  For controlled shots that might actually
  go around a corner a Wizard should have knwoledge of its target.

* Shield powers - Powerful spells and can be balanced by being
  rare to find and learn.  Theres ways to short change each though.

  Hope my players don't see this post....:)

Crud.  I'm not sure why teh color has changed in replying ot your email.  I know when I reply it messes up.  You must have some format code in the email messing it up.  Hope you can read this.  If not cut/past to some editor like I did :)

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