Sunday, July 25, 2021

Building Bhakashal - The Spell Casting Classes - Comparison and Discussion

Image by Wen M at Deviantart:

Spellcasters in Bhakashal are different than those in AD&D. I love the base system for AD&D, and I think it works well, but it gives you one kind of play, Bhakashal offers something different. The key is that I have retained the existing spells, so the mechanics to capture and describe spells is the same as AD&D. What I have changed is how it is used, and how many overall spells are available.

The use is worth highlighting.

In AD&D, all classes have to “memorize” or “pray” for spells every day. The cleric/druid gets access to the entirety of their list, level appropriate, and magic-users and illusionists have to find their spells, roll a “to know” and if successful and level appropriate, can be memorized.

In this system, you could cast a higher level spell than you would normally be able to, with chances of failure or harm. So it was pretty flexible; if you failed your “to know” roll on a spell, you could still cast it from a scroll. And more good news, spells come up regularly on the treasure tables, and they are weighted heavily towards magic-users as they have to find their spells. Illusionists are more or less out of luck with their odds.

I ran the system BTB for about 8 years, with random allocation of spells for scrolls as loot and varying degrees of choice with “level up” spells. And I noticed that certain spells were never used, if found on scrolls were sold or traded, and that certain spells became the “default” for most magic-users, in that they chose from a small cluster of spells as their “level up” spells, and focused on killing NPCs who cast these spells to get their spell books.

So it was spells like magic missile, sleep, invisibility, web, lightning bolt, fireball, etc, etc. There was some variation, but the longer we played the more certain spells were quite predictable. And part of the reason for that was that the spell casting system required magic-users to find and memorize the correct spells. A niche spell like lower water, or ray of enfeeblement, shatter or extension simply didn’t get used very often. 

One reason for this is that in AD&D if you choose the wrong spells from your list, you may miss out on something you could otherwise do. I’ve seen this happen so many times it’s dizzying. You arrive at a situation that is very amenable to that comprehend languages, or that Leomund’s Tiny Hut, but you don’t have it memorized, or you passed that over for a damage dealing spell that is *always* useful.

So in essence, all of the spells that aren’t immediate or obvious combat buffs are comparatively less important, as they are usually more contextual. 

So when I set up Bhakashal, I wanted to address that problem.

The next thought I had was to balance things out a bit, if I was going to add to the flexibility or power of the class, there should be a loss to compensate. The immediate answer to that was reducing the overall number of spells. That was a Vancian thought, Vance’s magicians don’t memorize AD&D numbers of spells. So I reduced it to 1 spell per level per day.

But in Bhakashal, you can memorize up to your INT+Level of spells, permanently, that can be cast at any time subject to the daily casting limit of one spell of ANY LEVEL you have memorized per level per day. So for warlocks the level of the spell only matters for the potential consequences of failure, if you cast a 1st level spell your failure odds are based on your INT and your level, not the level of the spell. The HARM odds, however, are based on the level of the spell. So more powerful magic is inherently more dangerous, no matter what the caster’s level.

That’s the stuff.

This all means that those “niche” spells that are context specific are worth your time, you can still have offensive spells, but the ability to cast any of your spells up to the daily casting limit means you have access to everything.

It’s still not as good as the priests (seers in Bhakashal), which we will get back to, but it is better than their AD&D cousins. Every spell the PC finds they have to decide if they want to “fill up” their quotient of spells with the new addition, it is a resource management/strategic decision that’s fun to put into the process.

The other part of the story is randomization. Randomization is suggested in AD&D but with lots of caveats, and I suspect most DM’s wing it a bit, placing a lot of specific spells and magic items for the party. 

Spell allocation in Bhakashal is fully randomized, so over time warlocks in Bhakashal get an absolutely unique allocation of spells that are used frequently in the game. Eliminating the need to pick spells to memorize opened up the use of more non-combat spells and thus more non-combat strategies. 

Randomization of spells also makes enemy spell casters tactically opaque, it’s harder to guess what spells will be used against you, and thus makes them more formidable in the players’ eyes and in the setting. 

The other big difference between arcane and divine casters in Bhakashal is casting time. Almost universally, seer and beastial (cleric and druid) spells are slower than warlock or phantasmist spells. Most warlock spells are 1 segment casting time per level of spell, most seer spells are around 3-4 segments slower that those of warlocks.

In the setting, this is explained as seers are praying to their god for the magic, which takes more time. Warlocks are tapping magical forces directly, so it's faster. But the trade off is that every warlock or phantasmist spell has a chance of failure or a reverse/harmful result (based on level and “to know” percentage), divine magic from seers and beastials do not have these odds, they can’t “misfire”. 

That’s the warlocks, what about the seers?

As mentioned, casting times are all longer, just like in AD&D 1e, so that’s a disadvantage. They don’t find spells, they get access to their whole level appropriate selection of spells. Given the increase in overall number of spells in Bhakashal, this boosts seers and beastials significantly. And they don’t have to “pray for” spells ahead of time, just when they cast them, so they don’t have to pick any selection from their lists, they can just cast a certain number of spells of certain levels as they advance, from any level appropriate list. Unlike warlocks who can cast a spell of any level they have memorized, as long as it does not exceed their castable spells per day, the seer follows the casting pattern of the 1e AD&D cleric. So seers and beastials will get more spells per day as well.

And that is another important distinction, seers and beastials have many more spells, in the case of seers this is significant, as the size of spell selection was significantly smaller. Bhakashal boosts both of the divine casters and gives them a lot more choice.

At the table, this means that players of divine casters have to be OK with having lots of choice. 

It also makes the class ridiculously flexible, for example, in the outdoors beastials are formidable. This will make certain aspects of the game much easier, and as a referee that is worth noting as well. 

And let’s take a look at the options for say a 3rd level seer with a 15 WIS in terms of spells (4 1st and 2 2nd level spells per day at 3rd level with a 15 WIS):

First Level 

1. Bless

2. Combine

3. Command

4. Create Water

5. Cure Light Wounds

6. Detect Intent

7. Detect Magic

8. Endure Cold/Heat

9. Invisibility to Undead

10. Light

11. Protective Circle

12. Purify Food and Drink

13. Remove Fear

14. Resist Cold

15. Sanctuary 

Second Level 

1. Aid

2. Augury

3. Chant

4. Collective

5. Detect Charm

6. Dust Devil

7. Find Traps

8. Hold Person

9. Holy Symbol

10. Know Intention

11. Mantle of the Oracle

12. Resist Fire

13. Silence 15’ Radius

14. Slow Poison 

15. Snake Charm

16. Speak with Animals 

17. Spiritual Weapon

18. Withdraw 

19. Wyvern Watch

So that 3rd level seer gets access to 10 more spells than their AD&D equivalent, and doesn’t have to pick them and pray for them ahead of time. That’s a lot more flexibility. And it makes all those niche spells that have very few applications worthwhile. Note that seers do not have to find spells, they automatically get access to all spells of the appropriate level. So spells like remove fear, detect magic, holy symbol and detect charm actually get used. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that PC clerics in my game chose “utility” spells in their regular prayed for allocation before an adventure. Sometimes they would rest a day and pray for the spell they needed, risking wandering monsters and such, but most of the time they simply did not bother praying for these spells at all. So they were rarely used. In Bhakashal they get used. And I think that is to the advantage of the game, there are massive numbers of AD&D spells that are simply unused in many people’s games, as the advance memorization/prayer requirement made them a bad choice. Bhakashal eliminates all of that by allowing casters access to all their spells. For warlocks/phantasmists, they get access to all the spells they have found and successfully rolled “to know” for. For seers/beastials, they get access to all spells of a given level (keyed to AD&D spell progression for both classes) as soon as they reach the required level.

In both cases the challenge changes from picking the right spells ahead of time not knowing exactly what will happen, to managing your overall number of spells cast per day so you don’t end up without slots when the time comes. Divine casters are slower, but they don’t have failure and harm odds on their spells, arcane casters are faster, but every spell has a chance of failure. Divine casters have more “spells per day” than divine casters, but they can’t pray for spells above a certain level based on class. Arcane casters can cast any spell they have memorized, regardless of level, but have fewer spells per day. Divine casters have access to more spells at any given level (e.g. a 5th level warlock might have say 10 spells memorized of various levels to choose from, whereas a 5th level seer has 60 spells of 1st to 3rd level to choose from.

These changes make divine and arcane casters very different. 

Another difference is material components. The material component for almost every seer spell is that seer’s holy symbol, the material component for almost every beastial spell is thornwood tree vines, they use the thorns to prick themselves for a drop of blood to cast their spells. If the beastial loses their thornwood (usually worn wrapped around a woven sithak reed sleeve) there are ample amounts around naturally in the setting, but it is needed for spell casting. A seer that loses their holy symbol has a 2nd level spell that allows them to get a new one.

For warlocks and phantasmists, the material component requirements vary widely, so they have a bit more work to do to secure components. However, warlocks and phantasmists have the ability to substitute out material components to alter the effects of their spells. 

Component Substitution: Listed material components for spells help the warlock to focus the spell by using a sympathetic component.  However, the warlock may replace a material component and change the spell effect. The component must be specified mundane or fantastic. When substituting components the ref can assign an effect or roll for it as seen to be appropriate.

Mundane: d20

1-2: spell is harmful to caster

3-6: spell fizzles and is lost

7-10: spell underperforms (50% where appropriate, otherwise ref preference)

11-16: cosmetic change to spell

17-20: spell performs as written

A warlock can +/- 2 to the die roll with every 5 levels of experience .


Fantastic d12

1-4: backfire: spell is harmful to caster

5-6: spell fizzles and is lost

7-8: cosmetic change to spell

9-10: spell performs as written

11-12: random spell parameter is enhanced

A warlock can +/- 1 to the die roll with every 5 levels of experience

Also, as they gain levels warlocks become proficient enough to cast those spells without a material component for focus. To reflect this, as of 6th level, warlocks do not need material components for their 1st level spells, at 7th they do not need components for their 1st and 2nd level spells, at 8th they do not need components for their 1st, 2nd and 3rd level spells, etc.  

Then at the level of individual class groups, seers have very different spells than beastials, and warlocks have very different spells than phantasmists. Seers have divination and necromantic spells, and a lot of buffing magic. Beastials have animal, plant and elemental magic, phantasmists have illusory, mind and negative plane energy magic, and warlocks have a bit of it all. 

This makes all of the spell casting classes in Bhakashal different. There are also a number of subclasses that select from the large spell lists available in Bhakashal. A jinx gets beastial spells related to plants, a cavoral focuses on evocation spells. 

Also the subclasses have variations, chimerists have alteration magic and improved casting of certain base alteration spells, conjurors cast conjuration spells as if 2 levels higher, cavorals have only somatic components for spells, vox’s have only vocal components, thaumaturges cast from scrolls only, theurgists don’t need material components as their spells are like mental powers, gyre’s have generic magic that can be shaped to do various things, spellbinders have to call on spirits and their spells get mixed up, and myrmidons create all spell effects with potions.

In short, with 15 magic-using classes in Bhakashal, each of which with variations unique to them, there are a lot of options for players who want to do something different with their magic using classes. 

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