Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why Enchantments Work the Way They Do

I wanted to explain a couple of things as a game designer. Try as we might, most people wind up being reactionary instead of, well, action-ary. I played many RPGs before I wrote Legend Quest. So I had a much better grasp of the pros and cons of certain gaming functions then Gary Gygax did when he first wrote D&D (and AD&D). That’s not a slam - I had the benefit of hindsight that he did not. I never liked the whole wands and staves thing. Case in point - the wand of fireballs. If the party gets one at lower level, it takes the game balance of restricting the number of spells a mage can cast and throws it out the window. Now the low level mage is constantly throwing one of the better spells in the game, instead of waiting until the most opportune time. On the other side of the spectrum, if higher level mage gets his hands on one, it is mainly useless because it only does damage of 6d6, when his spells are likely doing double that or more. At that point it is effectively a lawn mower for eliminating rabble you don’t care about. I forget if there was a level required or not, but I recall having an enchanter in the game open his shop during a siege of the city and a bunch of apprentices went walking out to the city walls and annihilated an attacking army. One item I did like was the staff of power/magi - I know - two different items, but they were very similar. As a GM, I would assign extra powers to these staves. Not only did it cast a whole bunch of spells for you, but when you cast your spells through it, it enhanced your spells - It made it as though you were a higher level caster. That was the way I wanted wands to work: They enhanced the magic you were using, not giving you magic you had never had before. It was this point that created the talismans in Legend Quest. In LQ, talismans (and they can be anything, including wands and staves) can add to the power of your spells or to the area of effect, range, or accuracy (or some combination). So there’s some strategy here, not simply putting nearly limitless power in the hands of a young mage. (For those of you who think 100 charges in a wand of fireballs is putting a limit on it have never actually played a D&D mage.) Honestly, the Jurassic Park concept of having to have some concept of the power (knowledge of science in their case) you are wielding instead of just wielding power that others developed and built on plays here. You cannot use a talisman in Legend Quest to cast a spell you never learned. Another one in the same style - I remember huge fights erupting around finding gauntlets of ogre power and/or belts of giant strength. Let’s say you have a fighter with a 18/88 Strength. You find ogre gauntlets, this will take him from a +2/+4 (I think) to a +3/+6. I would argue that the thief with a S 14 needed the gauntlets far more than the warrior guy did. After all, he would go from +0 to +9, not +6 to +9, and when those extra points were doubled or tripled in the back stabbing, the +6 damage went to +18. Clearly, the fighters opposed this idea. And I should have too, but not for the same reason. According to those rules, I could take a five year old and have him start heaving boulders. Again, I wanted Legend Quest’s magic items to enhance the player, not remake him. Strength or Agility items add +1, +2, +3 - not automatically go to Strength of 10. What’s the difference? I think Legend Quest’s use of enchantments gives power bump ups, and ones that can be controlled. The control lets you increase the power as you go, but in multiple ways. A character with a S 7 and a +1 enchantment could get a +2 strength enhancer and use character points (experience) to increase his attribute score. So yeah, that looks like he got a lot better, but it was only through the normal character progress and a touch more magic. I like to think that while our magic items are definitely beneficial, they don’t put the character completely outside the ability of a non-magically enhanced character to compete. Humility amongst player characters is important!


  1. I especially enjoy when my GM doesn't tell me what enchantments my item or weapon may have. How would I know?? It makes for great freedom for the GM, both in where the item came from, what it can do, who wants it back! or what it brings with it.

  2. I like doing that as a GM, but the truth is that it gets to be too difficult to manage. We play some pretty high magic campaigns, and trying to remember every magical item I gave out is not reasonable. I do often "forget" to tell them about some aspect of the really important ones. That way they think they know what it is, but don't know all its secrets.