Thursday, December 6, 2007

Spell Hazards and rare events

First off, I leave for Africa next Monday. Yikes! I'm almost ready to go though, which is good.

So, now on to the gaming stuff. I've noticed that as my game has evolved, rare events have become more common, and simpler. The spell hazard is probably the best example of this. Basically, in the world of Illeria, magic is still somewhat not understood, and not fully controllable. Because of this, whenever a wizard fails to cast a spell, there is a small chance that something bad happens to them. In my original game, every time you fail to cast a spell, there is a 1 in 10 chance of spell hazards, and there are 10 possible things that can happen. Later I changed it to 1 in 10 and 6 types of hazards. Then it became 1 in 6, and now I'm thinking of making it 1 in 3 (and the beauty of the most recent one is that there is only one dice roll, rather than two).

I think I might know what's been causing this transition, and that's a shift in my view on what flavor rules like this are for. Originally, they were mostly just for that, flavor. I know that in Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition (my first real wargame), there was a 1 in 100 chance that a Terminator squad would be lost in the warp when tele-porting, and a 1 in 216 chance that an assault cannon would explode when fired. AD&D used to have a 1 in 400 chance of an insta-kill whenever an attack is made (I think, I can't quite remember how the rules worked out, but I think it was something like that, or maybe less). There are also magic items which are randomly generated <.01% of the time. I've never once seen any of these things happen, but the idea is that they could. It gives you an interesting look into the game universe, and *maybe* once in your gaming career affects the outcome of a battle.

The more I think about it though, I feel like if I'm going to put all the effort into making a special rule, if the gamer is going to need to learn it, and *especially* if the gamer is going to have to roll extra dice for it, then really there should be a chance that it really happens. It always seemed a little silly that my DM's Guide had two pages devoted to intelligent magic items, given that it was basically impossible to find them randomly. What's more, I kind of like the idea that in some ways it will effect strategy. In my game with my roommate, he said that he never really worried about spell hazards, since failing a spell check was so uncommon (especially the way he played), that a 1 in 6 chance on top of that was really not something to be concerned with. It was a fluke, not a calculated risk. On the other hand, now it's a 1 in 3 chance, and that might discourage risky spell casting. And this has seemed like it would be a way to counteract a built-in advantage of spells: that they give you options. (I know he complained about, "Why would I get 'Call Animals' when I could get a spell group that would allow me to cast both 'Summon Elementals' and 'Fireball'?")

And I guess the thing about skirmish games is that you need high probabilities, otherwise they're never going to happen. I mean, I remember this analysis once, where someone said, "If you make a rule that says there is a 1 in 5000 chance that a person will decapitate themself in melee, and you have 10,000 soldiers, each making 10 attacks, then you will get 20 self-inflicted decapitations in a battle." However, if you have 10 soldiers making 5 attacks, then a self-decapitation will only occur once per 100 games (and thus falls into the random fluke category).


"It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it." – General Lee

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