Monday, August 21, 2017

On Arcane Background (Ritual Magic), and the Cold and Heat Trappings

Since we're talking about powers and magic anyways, I wanted to bring up a couple of small things that I'd noticed for the benefit of my good readers.

In the Fantasy Companion, one of the new Arcane Backgrounds is Ritual Magic: the idea is that a chracter is slower and less powerful than a full-blown wizard or sorcerer, but is far more safe and consistent in the use of his abilities. Unfortunately, the mechanics that back this up are that these casters have fewer power points, a lot more penalties, and are less likely to recieve backlash—overall, they're strictly worse than other casters.

I address this by adding a new mechanic: Ritual Preparation. Ritualists may concentrate for a full round (taking no movement or any other actions)—if a character is Shaken, wounded, or Fatigued during this time, he must make a Smarts roll to maintain his concentration. If he's successful in his concentration, the ritualist may add +2 to cast any power on his next Action. This change presents ritualists with 2 casting options every round: they can rush their casting to simply cast the power as usual, or they can exercise a smidge of patience to make their spell practically guaranteed to fire or increase their chances of getting a raise. This also makes a good ritualist more position-oriented, as their spells are more consistent and powerful (due to a higher raise chance and lower Backlash chance), but they are far less mobile then their counterparts.

If this isn't enough to make Ritual Magic viable, GMs might consider allowing the user to utilize one of the Ritual Casting options from the Horror Companion when casting his abilities, specifically the extended range, duration, or effect. If including the damage option, the GM may wish to halve the effect from +2d6/4d6 to +1d6/2d6.

The other thing I have recently discovered is a likely misprint in SWD, possibly due to rushed inclusion: the section on Trappings in Chapter 5 of Savage Worlds Deluxe was based on a similar section from the Fantasy Companion, but was formatted to be cleaner to read. In it, Cold/Ice and Fire/Heat both include options to Fatigue an enemy. However, the Cold/Ice Fatigue notes the downside of either halving range or doubling the PP cost, while the Fire/Heat Fatigue does not. This has led to some confusion as to why the Heat Fatigue Trapping is strictly better than the Cold Fatigue Trapping.

The short answer is that it isn't. The original wording from the Fantasy Companion states that the Fatigue caused by Fire/Heat functions identically to the Cold Trapping—this detail simply didn't translate into SWD. [This has been verified by the publishers to not be the case; the Vigor roll or suffering Fatigue apparently is a "free" Trapping, whereas the ability to suffer a –2 to the roll on a raise is the "expensive" part. Personally that feels backwards to me—a Vigor roll for Fatigue is a very powerful effect to get for free, at least comparable to an entire new power, but I don't want to spread misinformation.]

I know this post was short, but I wanted to mention it before I forgot. I may do an entire post on Trappings later on but for now I hope this helps someone somewhere out there.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Power Lists in Savage Worlds

Hoo, it's been a while. I'm hoping to start posting more of my general Savage Worlds design thoughts here alongside the usual character builds, but seeing as the builds business has been slow recently I figured this is as good a return to form as any. This recently came up on the Savage Worlds Discord Server as a question, but my response was abnormally large and I wanted to elaborate on some parts of the post. 

Spell lists are an... interesting concept in Savage Worlds. It's not at all acknowledged by Savage Worlds Deluxe and is only touched upon in the Fantasy Companion, but it is an integral part to most Savage Settings. Deadlands50 FathomsLankhmar, and Weird Wars RomeWeird War I, and Weird War II all have Power Lists for their various Arcane Backgrounds. So, should your setting include Power Lists for your Arcane Backgrounds?

Well, that's a complex question. Power Lists serve a variety of functions, and different game worlds need them (or don't) to fulfill different purposes. 

The primary beneficiary from Power Lists is your world. Examples from established settings include:
  • 50 Fathoms has Elemental Magic, with short spell lists for each element. For example, only earth mages can cause earthquakes, only air mages can fly, only water mages can heal, and fire mages have the highest variety of directly offensive magic options. This allows the single Arcane Background to have multiple different identities within it (creating inherent variety) with well defined roles. Furthermore, each identity has 13–19 different powers available to it, requiring a character to invest almost his entire career from Novice to Legendary just to master the spells of a single identity, allowing for enormous amounts of combinations for character distinction. Few fire mages are alike, at the end of the day, but all of them can be labelled and sought out in-setting.
  • Deadlands has several Arcane Backgrounds: hucksters, blessed, and weird scientists to name a few. Not only do all of these Backgrounds have wildly different core mechanics (setting them apart in play), but they have large varieties of powers for each type of caster. Some powers (like hunch) are even only available to a single Background. The enormous amount of powers allows for most casters to use a large portion of the book's powers, but predefined Trappings and a few spells unique to certain casters allow any character from each Background to feel wholly unique, powerful, and focused on their core concept.
  • Weird War I (minor spoilers ahead) has three Arcane Backgrounds: Magic, Miracles, and Psionics. In WWII, these only become available to specific individuals, but in the Great War these arts were only just being discovered. Psionics is primarily an offensive power, miracles (implied to be granted through Christianity) is more geared towards biblical powers such as healing and blind, and black magic is far more utilitarian. Powers such as growth/shrink, summon ally, and teleport are wholly unavailable in the setting. All of these reinforce the tone of both the horrors of war and those of the supernatural, while allowing each Background to be defined beyond the amount of starting Powers and the arcane skill's linked Attribute.
  • The Fantasy Companion includes (outdated) spell lists for different deities, as well as a set of predefined "Sins" for each. This will be further defined below, but it is worth mentioning here as much of my discussion is going to revolve around a more or less "generic" fantasy setting.
Power Lists grant an in-game and out-of-game distinction between different kinds of casters, allowing them their own unique identity not just in the setting, but across the character's gaming career as a whole. Someone playing as an air mage in 50 Fathoms will play very differently from Black Magic in Weird Wars, a huckster from Deadlands, or a wizard in a swords and sorcery game, both because of the powers available and the way that the world around the casters interact with them because of the capabilities that they're expected to have. For players choosing between Magic, Miracles, and Psionics, this provides a more interesting and engaging choice for players, helping to enter the mindset of "what does this Arcane Background say about my character?" rather than "I don't like Backlash so I'll take Miracles."

Power Lists, Miracles, and Worldbuilding
Speaking of Miracles, however, the concept of Power Lists is particularly integral to casters of a more religious bent. We will be referencing the way that Power Lists are implemented in the Fantasy Companion, since as a toolkit it's much easier to imagine scenarios within without knowing any specific setting. However, the design principles here ripple out to just about any setting.

Rather than Backlash, these casters suffer from Sins. That means that miracle-workers will almost never be hit in the face with their Sins in the middle of a battle, while other arcane casters normally can, significantly or entirely cutting back on the Arcane Backgrounds' detriment in combat. On top of that, the less restrictive the caster's Sins are, the less likely they are to come up at all

Let's assume that a hypothetical GM opted out of Power Lists for his campaign. As a player, if a character could take an Arcane Background and sacrifice one power up front to never have to deal with the consequences of rolling a 1 on their arcane skill die, why wouldn't they? This is especially bad if the GM doesn't define his Sins very well, or if they are defined but easy enough to avoid that they are effectively nonexistent.

Beyond simple "balance" reasons, though, this is another aspect of worldbuilding that is exceptionally important. The reason a god or pantheon exists, in any realistic culture or setting, is because they can offer something that no one else can: this is why individuals dedicate their entire lives to the study or praise of these deities. Let's take a simple example from the Fantasy Companion in the Goddess of Healing. Supposing the same hypothetical world as before, where every Power is available to normal magic users, why would a culture worship a Goddess who's entire goal is to heal people when men can go off and learn this power of their own accord, through magic? This can be expanded to apply to all the deities in a given world; conversely, why have magic if any god or goddess can grant all of the same abilities with less risk involved? And furthermore, in settings with a pantheon, why worship a particularly restrictive god/goddess when a less restrictive deity will grant the same capabilities?

Power Lists address all of these issues, granting a counterbalance to the benefits of Sins vs Backlash and providing a point of "balance" between the restrictiveness of different deities from both a mechanical and lore standpoint. This is likely why the Fantasy Companion opted to grant different spell lists to the distinct deities, and why wizards and sorcerers aren't able to take healing-oriented powers. While a side-effect of this is that it makes worlds feel a little bit more like traditional D&D fantasy, the overall effect produces consistency and unique pools of casters.

In addition, always remember that any powers available in your setting are available to both your players and your nonplayer characters, and make sure to construct your challenges and lore around that. If the divination and grave speak powers are available to any priest, wizard, or ritualist, then not only can the party sidestep most mysteries, but any powerful casters worth their salt should be able to sidestep them as well: the murder of a high-ranking official or ruler should only rarely remain unsolved, and if they are then they simply cannot be solved through the use of these powers. 

It is also always valid to limit the availability of certain powers to better fit the tone of your setting: for example, the above example of Weird Wars disallows several powers that grant the players too much to escape or overcome the horrors they face, ensuring that one character taking the summon ally power doesn't upturn the entire premise of the setting.

One complaint I have seen about the Power Lists for deities in the Fantasy Companion is that they are far too restrictive, only allowing a small handful of powers at most. This claim is partially valid, but there is an equally valid reason for that: the original publication of the Fantasy Companion does not include content that it introduced in any of its tables or lists anywhere in the book (check for yourself: not a single piece of weapon, armor, or power introduced in the Fantasy Companion is present in any Magic Item Tables, spell lists, or Bestiary Entries). 

The edition of Savage Worlds that was published at the time only included 30 spells; of those, deities only possessed roughly between 15 to 25 powers, giving miracle users a decent selection to work from while still limiting their spells to be in line with the severity of their Sins. I actually attempted to do a little bit of legwork here, providing both Deity Power Lists and Magic Item Tables that include the spells and abilities introduced in the Fantasy Companion.

As two examples, the Spell List originally granted by the Goddess of Healing only provided 16 spells. My new list includes all of the spells on the original list, along with ten more. Similarly, the God of the Sun provided 24 powers—5/6 of the entire power list at the time. I've granted him an additional 17 powers to remain proportional. I've listed all of my personal power list additions in a separate section below: let's keep the article moving.

Another thing that I have seen mentioned is that power lists can make different kinds of casters within the same Arcane Background feel less distinguished from one another: if all patrons of the Goddess of Healing can only choose from 16 different powers, there are going to be a lot of priests that begin play with *healing* and *boost/lower trait*, right?

I disagree with that notion. Aside from my own rules increasing this potential number of powers to 26 instead of 16—only going by the original Fantasy Companion printing—there are 78 possible starting combinations of powers, 120 with the "Born a Hero" Setting Rule (allowing the taking of the Seasoned Rank powers). With the new list, that increases to 153 combinations, or 325 with the new list. [Source: math]

I suppose a counter might be that as characters Advance and take more of the possible powers, they might begin to mold into the same subset of powers. That, also, is poppycock. Using the original Fantasy Companion lists, a character would need to spend 70 XP solely on acquiring new powers to have every possible spell available to him: no Power Points, no Holy Warrior or Champion or Rapid Recharge or Faith increases. Using my updated lists, a character that spent the same 70 XP on nothing but powers has over 5 million possible combinations of powers they might have taken, and would need 160 XP of nothing but spells to have every available power.

And these examples are only for characters who chose the Goddess of Healing, which is far and away the most "restricted" Deity available with regard to power choices. Sun priests have 120 possible starting combinations with the original list without Born a Hero, and have 253 with the new list—they would require a full 210 XP of Advances to completely fill out their powers list, and one with 70 XP of powers has 200 billion possible combinations—double the total number of humans to have ever lived ever. Remember also that none of these take into account Trappings that change the mechanics of powers, which further increases the potential variety significantly—you can have half a dozen characters with the bolt power alone, with different Trappings and mechanics for each one. [Further counterpoint might be that without powers list, the same 70 XP miracle-worker has a combination of up to 200 trillion powers, but honestly that's starting to leave the realm of conceivability and likely doesn't add much to the game.] 

Considering that all of this is before even considering different Edges, Skills, Attributes and Hindrances that make characters unique (along with their gear), really, variety isn't much of a problem with Spell Lists.

On the contrary, I would like to propose the idea that running a game without spell lists runs more of a risk of losing variety than running with. Remember that every distinguishing feature in an Arcane Background helps set it apart from every other feature, having major impacts on all groups and characters involved in taking the background. Every group of casters should feel unique through Backlash, powers, and Trappings, allowing all kinds of casters to feel unique. Casting this net too wide (without power lists) means that, when every character can take every power, no Arcane Background is going to have one of the three above distinguishing features. The difference between Magic and Psionics in SWD core is just the Backlash: starting powers and PP are identical. Instead of having "magic users" and "miracle workers" and "alchemists" and "psionicists," now you simply have "casters" with different kinds of backlash.

Cons to Power Lists
As with any kind of design decision, including or not including something can vastly change the tone and consistency of your game. While I've listed many of the benefits of Power Lists above, there are a couple of major cons that come with this stuff.

The primary drawback isn't really game related: making these lists takes time. Depending on how many Arcane Backgrounds/Deities inhabit your world, this kind of project can take hours to complete, and may people are too busy working or planning or family-ing to really manage something as minute as whether or not one of your players could maybe hypothetically take the slumber power if they wanted to.

The secondary drawback is one that I've heard a few times as well, though it's one that is a bit more wishy-washy in terms of whether or not it holds water: the concept of pre-defining what powers a character can take before the character is even conceived can limit player concepts. Personally, I don't believe that it does—the available power lists aren't particularly restrictive without reason, and many times the powers available to a certain background are only available by virtue of how that background functions within the setting: e.g. mages in 50 Fathoms having to choose what kind of Element they specialize in channeling, or Healing priests being disallowed from taking blast or burst (why would a Goddess of healing and peace grant her followers the ability to level buildings?).

Which is Best For You?
Different approaches work better for different tables. Some of the more common scenarios and situations will hopefully be listed here: 

I'm running an existing Pinnacle or third-party Savage Worlds Setting: If this includes Power Lists, then use them. I've outlined all of the above benefits of utilizing them, and the best part of existing content is that they've already done the legwork for you. It will benefit your world and your casters will have more interesting choices than what kind of Backlash they'd prefer in their Arcane Background.

I'm running an original homebrew campaign, or adapting an existing setting for the use at my table: Unless you're planning on running lots of people through your campaign, or you're expecting some really long-term stuff or for characters to come in and out very frequently, a pre-defined Spell List isn't super necessary. The function that Power Lists should serve is to make sure that characters stay within the capabilities of your world and the lore within, keeping consistency for everyone involved and giving players the ability to peruse what powers are available to them without constantly consulting the GM. If you still wish to create Power Lists, and you have the time to do so, feel free.

The alternative is simple as well: restrict players by concept. If your acolyte of the War God wants to take "Summon Ally," figure out why, and use your god-given GM veto powers if you can't see why the God would or could grant their follower that ability (summoning warrior angels is good; summoning shadow fiends probably not so much).

I'm running a one-shot or convention game, but not in an existing Setting: If you're here, chances are you're just using pre-gen characters, so Power Lists really don't matter—they exist so that players know what kinds of powers are appropriate for their Arcane Background, so unless players are choosing to build their own characters then Power Lists would be a waste of time (and even then, the above "restrict by concept" solution is a better fit anyways).

I am running or designing a Setting designed for other groups to play in: It is crucial that you include Power Lists in your setting, for all of the worldbuilding, aesthetic, design and balance purposes listed above. Not only does it keep consistency, but it means that anyone else coming along to pick up a copy of your setting will fall into the first category here, and it is your job to do the legwork for them to play in: that's why you're designing a setting for other people anyways. It keeps your world coherent, makes your casters memorable, and makes sure that everyone knows what your intent was behind "the God of the Harvest."

Hopefully this covers all the major bases. If Power Lists are available, or if you have the drive and time to make your own, I strongly recommend doing so.

BONUS: Expanded Fantasy Companion Power Lists
For those who would like to try a Fantasy Setting with Powers Lists but aren't fans of the lists presented in the Fantasy Companion due to how limited they are, here are expanded entries that should feel a lot more open for player choice. This section is gonna be pretty much useless without that Companion, so don't expect full lists for most of these (because of copyright stuff). 

Light/obscure may be taken as a single power, but if a Power List from the Fantasy Companion doesn't list both, their Trappings preclude the caster from using the unlisted effect.

Goddess of Healing
In addition to the original 16 powers available, add the following 10 powers: banish, bless/curse, blind, concentrate, divination, drain power points, legerdemain, slumber, succor, and summon ally.

God of Justice

In addition to the original 19 powers available, add the following 15 powers: analyze foe, banish, bless/curse, blind, concentrate, confusion, divination, drain power points, intangibility, legerdemain, mind reading, slow, succor, summon ally, and warrior's gift.

God of Knowledge

In addition to the original 19 powers available, add the following 14 powers: analyze foebanish, bless/curse, concentrateconfusion, darksight, divination, drain power points, farsight, legerdemain, mind reading, succor, summon ally, and wall walker.

God of Nature

In addition to the original 23 powers available, add the following 18 powers: banish, bless/curse, burstconcentrate, confusion, damage field, darksight, divination, drain power points, draining touchgrowth/shrink, havoc, intangibility, jet, pummel, succor, summon ally, and wall walker.

God of the Sea

In addition to the original 21 powers available, add the following 16 powers: banish, bless/curse, concentrate, confusion, darksight, divination, drain power points, draining touch, havoc, intangibility, legerdemain, pummel, slow, succor, summon ally, and warrior's gift.

God of the Sun

In addition to the original 24 powers available, add the following 17 powers: banish, bless/curse, blind, concentrate, confusion, damage field, divination, drain power points, farsight, growth/shrink, havoc, jet, legerdemain, pummel, succor, summon ally, warrior's gift.

God of Thieves

In addition to the original 20 powers available, add the following 17 powers: analyze foe, banish, blind, concentrate, confusion, darksight, disguise, divination, drain power points, farsight, growth/shrink (shrink only), intangibility, legerdemain, mind reading, slumber, succor, wall walker.

God of War

In addition to the original 19 powers available, add the following 13 powers: bless/curse (Strength, Vigor, and combat skills only), blind, damage field, divination, drain power points, farsight, growth/shrink (growth only), havoc, jet, pummel, slow, summon ally, warrior's gift.

Arcane Background (Alchemy)

In addition to the original 18 powers available, add the following 18 powers: blind, concentrateconfusion, damage field, darksight, disguise, draining touchfarsight, growth/shrink, intangibility, legerdemain, puppetslow, slumber, succor, telekinesis, wall walker, warrior's gift.
> Additional Targets: For powers that grant the option to affect additional targets for additional Power Points, the GM may allow this to instead be additional potions from the same “batch.” This allows for a single Alchemy roll for multiple potions of these powers. Remember that this also affects the cost to maintain the power after it has been consumed as well. [This is per a suggestion on the now-defunct Savage Worlds forum; I'll link to the post if I can find it in the archives later.]

Arcane Background (Troubadour)

The Troubadour Edge in the Fantasy Companion always seemed odd to me. It almost tries to function as the Adept Edge by changing the nature of the Background, but the Troubadour Edge takes it an extra step further by requiring a different arcane skill and removing Sins in favor of Strain.
From the Edge itself:
"Despite using the rules for Arcane Background (Miracles), Troubadours typically don’t worship a specific deity for their power. They believe in the power of the arts, so their Arcane Skill is Perform (Spirit) instead of Faith."
Considering its requirements (Arcane Background (Miracles) and Perform d6+), this creates an odd scenario where to take the Edge at character creation, that requires two entire Edges for effectively a normal Arcane Background. Additionally, taking the Edge after character creation is almost worse, as the character is affected by Sins until he takes the Edge, and must still use a Faith die which becomes useless after the Edge is taken: either he cannot reliably cast spells until he takes Troubadour by neglecting Faith, or he invests in Faith but the Edge and now never has a use for the Faith die again.

Instead, I use Troubadours as their own Arcane Background, the rules for which I've listed below:

Arcane Skill: Perform (Spirit)

Starting Power Points: 10
Starting Powers: 2
Spell List: armor, banish, barrier, beast friend, bless/curse, blind, bolt, boost/lower trait, concentrate, confusion, deflection, detect/conceal arcana, disguise, dispel, drain power points, elemental protection, entangle, environmental protection, farsight, fear, havoc, healing, intangibility, invisibility, light/obscure, pummel, puppet, quickness, slow, slumber, speed, speak language, stun, succor, teleport, wall walker, warrior's gift.
Troubadors are traveling entertainers who bring news and amusement to people across the land. They use the same system for Strain (Backlash) and for "mundane" uses of the Perform skill as listed under the now-defunct Troubadour Edge in the Fantasy Companion (page 7). Their Power List contains 37 powers.


I hope you guys like this kind of "Insights and Ideas" content; I'm hoping to do more in the future. If you have any thoughts, comments, whatever, leave a comment, and feel free to join up in the Savage Worlds Discord channel; I'd love to see some new blood come in sometime!