HD&D: Sorcery

It’s been a while, but now that the retreat is out of the way I feel as though I can devote more time to the blog. The remainder of the Combat section is still pending, but I’ll get around to it in due course. In the meantime, I have been more closely considering Sorcerers in HD&D.

Those of you who have suffered through the last year of blog posts will recall that we have been down this road before. Previous posts on HD&D: Magic, HD&D: Recharge Magic and HD&D: Instinctive Magic all touched upon this area. However, no decision was made over how we were going to handle Sorcerers in HD&D. Until now. But first let me quickly remind you of where we stand at the moment.

Innate vs Acquired Magic

Broadly, magic falls into two different categories: those who are born with the intrinsic skill to cast spells, and those who work and study their whole lives to master the art. Most spell casters fall into the latter group. Wizards, Clerics, Druids, Rangers, Paladins, Bards and Psions have no instinctive understanding of magic. These are the classes that use the Recharge mechanic for spellcasting, as discussed in many previous posts. Sorcerers, Mystics and Wilders are examples of the former group. They were born knowing how to cast spells, and as such the mechanic they use for spellcasting is rather different.

The difference between these two fundamental magical divides is easily summed up. Those that practice acquired magic have no limit on the number of different spells they can know. However, they can’t repeatedly cast the same spell. Once a spell is cast then it becomes unavailable until the acquired caster has rested. For innate casters the situation is reversed. They know a finite number of spells: a fixed total that they can never exceed. However, they can cast the spells they do have access to at will.

And if you think this makes sorcerers too powerful, then read on.

The Magical Traditions

In addition to the way in which they cast magic, all spell-casters can be grouped into specific magical traditions. Their “Power Source” in 4e-speak. The most common traditions would be: Arcane (Wizards, Sorcerers); Divine (Clerics, Mystics, Paladins); Primal (Druid, Healer, Ranger); Psionic (Psion, Psychic Warrior, Wilder); Sonorism (Bard). Spellcasters within each tradition will share certain characteristics, even if they are innate or acquired casters.

So although sorcerers, mystics and wilders will have mechanical similarities as they are all innate casters, the classes are more likely to ressemble others from the same tradition. The Wilder, for example, would have more in common with the Psion than with the Mystic. Or to put it another way, the Sorcerer will feel like an arcane character first, and an innate spellcaster second.

The Arcane, Divine, Primal, Psionic, and Sonorant traditions will all share unique mechanics that set them apart from each other. Primal magic has the whole Darksun preserver/defiler vibe about it. Psionic characters will be able to supercharge their powers at the expense of their mental health in a way that other spellcasters cannot. But the actual rules for casting, retaining and casting spells again, will still depend on whether the class is an acquired or innate caster.

This blog post considers the mechanics for innate spellcasting, and then looks at the Sorcerer in isolation. As a result of this I often use the term “Sorcerer” and “Innate Spellcaster”; and “Wizard” and “Acquired Spellcaster” interchangeably. It all still makes sense though.

How Innate Casting Works

Just like wizards, a sorcerer’s spellcasting powers come from his talents. There are nine Sorcery talents (imaginatively named Sorcery I through to Sorcery IX). Selecting a talent gives the sorcerer access to next level of spells, and also increases the number of spell levels that she knows. For example, a sorcerer who has Sorcery I gains access to two spell levels. That means she can know two first level spells, and only two first level spells. If her charisma score is high enough, then she may get bonus spell levels to add to this total. Each time a sorcerer gains a level she has the power to reallocate a number of spell levels equal to the highest level spell she can cast – effectively ‘forgetting’ some spells in favour of others.

As an aside, cantrips are level zero spells. They don’t count against your spell levels. Access to cantrips is unlocked by the Sorcery I talent. Sorcerers know a number of cantrips equal to 4 + half their level (rounded down). They acquire new cantrips as they gain levels. A twentieth level sorcerer is therefore likely to know 14 cantrips. Which is probably most of the ones available in the game.

When that sorcerer selects Sorcery II as a talent (prerequisite Sorcery I and 3rd level) the number of spell levels increases from 2 to 6. She gains an extra four spell levels. She can divide these up between any levels she likes, as long as she doesn’t know any spells of greater than second level. So the sorcerer who selects Sorcery II could gain two first level spells and one second level spell, two second levels spells, or four first level spells. At the other end of the scale, Sorcery IX gives the sorcerer access to spells of levels one to nine, and a total of 142 spell levels. Which is a lot, but doesn’t come close to the number of spells a wizard of the same level would know.

Obviously, feats and talents will exist that enables the sorcerer to modify his number of available spell levels. That should be taken as read by this stage. I’m merely laying down the bare rules for you. Feats and talents always create exceptions to those rules.

Once the sorcerer knows the spell, she has the power to cast it at-will from that point on. No running out of magic missiles or fireballs if you’re a sorcerer. You should be able to blaze away all day. Well, you should but you can’t. You see, innate spellcasting is extremely tiring to the mind and the body. A sorcerer that keeps casting spell after spell after spell is likely to get plumb tuckered out. My third edition house rules had spells inflict subdual damage on the sorcerer equal to the level of the spell. Easy to keep track of, but not particularly satisfying. In HD&D, we’ll try something a little different.

The Act of Casting a Sorcery Spell

Every time a sorcerer casts a spell (except a cantrip) the sorcerer must make a Will saving throw. The DC of this save is dependent upon the level of the spell being cast. If the saving throw is failed, then the sorcerer’s health moves one step along the Languor Track on his character sheet. This doesn’t have any effect on the character’s hit points, but the more saving throws that are failed the more deleterious conditions are heaped on the sorcerer, until the character reaches a point where further spellcasting is impossible without rest. The Languor Track has five stages that are defined thusly:

Rested: The first stage is the default setting of a rested sorcerer.

Weary: Fail one saving throw and the sorcerer becomes Weary. Being Weary has absolutely no game related effects. It is only important in as far as it is the next step on the way to more significant conditions. If the sorcerer is able to take a short rest (five minutes) then he stops being Weary and resumes the Rested condition.

Fatigued: A Weary character that fails a saving throw becomes Fatigued. For consistency’s sake, this condition is exactly the same as Fatigued as defined in the combat section. A fatigued character can neither run nor charge, and takes a -2 penalty to all defences, saving throws, skill checks and ability checks. Doing anything that would normally cause fatigue, causes the fatigued character to become exhausted (q.v.). After one hour of complete rest, Fatigued characters become Weary.

Exhausted: A Fatigued character that fails a saving throw becomes Exhausted. Again, this is same condition that we have already described in the Combat section. An exhausted character cannot run or charge, and moves at only half speed. He also takes a -5 penalty to all defences, saving throws, skill checks and ability checks. After an extended rest (about eight hours), exhausted characters become Fatigued.

Unconscious: If an Exhausted character fails a saving throw, then they fall unconscious. Unconscious characters fall Prone, cannot take any actions and are Helpless. They may be attacked automatically, and are susceptible to coup de grace or similar attacks. Unless otherwise revived, the sorcerer remains unconscious for about five minutes before awakening. When he awakens he still has the Exhausted condition.

As you can see, the Fatigued and Exhausted conditions apply negative modifiers to the sorcerer’s saving throws. Therefore when the sorcerer starts to succomb to the enervating effects of spellcasting, the process quickly accelerates. So what are the DCs of those Will saving throws? Glad you asked:

Spell Level Will Save DC
First 10
Second 11
Third 12
Fourth 13
Fifth 15
Sixth 16
Seventh 17
Eighth 19
Ninth 20
Tenth 21
Eleventh 23
Twelfth 24
Thirteenth 25
Fourteenth 27
Fifteenth 28

 The DC is set to be Easy for a skilled character. The game assumes a first level sorcerer is likely to have +5 on her Will saving throw, meaning that the save will be made 75% of the time. Characters with higher than average Ability Scores, or who augment their Will defence with the Iron Will feat or other advantages will have an even easier time of making the saving throws. However, a natural 1 is still a failure. The spectre of failure is still hanging over the head of every sorcerer.

And before any one asks: ninth level is still the most powerful spell you can cast. But caster level is dependent upon your character’s overall level in HD&D. A 30th level character with the Sorcery IX talent could cast a spell with an effective level of 15th, by stacking numerous metamagic effects on the same spell.

The Sorcerer’s Heritage

A sorcerer has more tricks up his sleeve than just spellcasting. All sorcerers have their magical power for a reason. Maybe they inherited it from an ancestor, had it gifted to them by a deity, or had it thrust upon them after handling an ancient artefact. The origin of a sorcerer’s power is called his Heritage, and all sorcerers must choose one at first level (or at the point of multiclassing). This Heritage enables the sorcerer to choose certain special talents and feats that are denied to other sorcerers.

The rules for Sorcerer Heritage borrows heavily from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. You can have a look at the Pathfinder Open Gaming Licence for how that game handles Sorcerer Heritage, or “Bloodline” as they call it (which is a cool name, but Bloodline means something else in HD&D).

Most sorcerers in HD&D will come from the Dragon Heritage. That is the default position. In the current campaign, Elias Raithbourne’s sorcerer powers undoubtedly come from a Dragon Heritage. Other possible heritages would include Aberrant, Celestial, Demonic, Destined, Diabolic, Elemental, Fey or Undead. The “Arcane” bloodline described in the Pathfinder rules doesn’t sit well with my understanding of how magic works on Iourn. Other heritages (even unique heritages) are certainly possible. For example, Ravenna is the only known example of the Potentate Heritage. The first draft of rules for Potentate sorcerers will be winging their way to Jon shortly.

Each heritage allows gives a character access to about five talents and ten feats that they can choose to take if they so wish. For example, sorcerers of the Aberrant Heritage can choose the talents Aberrant Scion (better at casting Polymorph spells), Aberrant Form (transform into aberration), Alien Resistances (resistant to poison and acid), Bile Strike (shoot stomach acid at foes), Gangling Form (elongate your limbs), Tentacular Attack (grow tentacles) and so on. All this would be in addition to the spells they know. I’m surprising far along in working out the details of Sorcerer Heritages, and I’ll hopefully be posting some meat before too long.

For Discussion

To a degree this approach to sorcery can be seen as a cop out. Back when I made my initial post on Instinctive Magic, I gave you four options of the way that Sorcery could work. I have, perhaps, chosen the least imaginative of the four. However, it is in keeping with what we currently have in third edition. Sorcerers still cast spells from the same spell list as Wizards. It’s comfortable, and it doesn’t rock the boat too much. It’s a system that isn’t a million miles away from either third edition or Pathfinder, and there’s a lot to be said for having a system that works as opposed to one that is simply flavourful.

As for whether it will work… that’s another matter. I’d like to give it a shot. A sorcerer needs to “roll for languor” every time she casts a spell. That does mean more die rolling at the table. That may be a problem. But the sorcerer isn’t the sort of class that makes many multiple attacks per round. Having a sorcerer sitting at the table would be more dice heavy than a wizard, but less dice heavy than having a fighter or a monk. A poor run of saving throws has the potential to cripple a sorcerer in short order. I’m not sure if that’s a problem, or whether if should be considered a feature.

So what do we think? Will this work?

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14 thoughts on “HD&D: Sorcery

  1. As to the tracker and recovery…

    for ease after the aforementioned rest period at that languor level they return to rested (1hr vs 1hr 5mins is trivial), you are better off in coming up with rules for interrupted rest.

    After unconciousness’ 5 minutes I’d probably state they are in a deep natural sleep unless disturbed. After all I’d like to parallel this with getting drunk… sober, merry (under the limit), drunk (driving is a bad idea), pissed as a fart (yet suddenly it’s a good idea again), unconcious (waking in the morning with a traffic cone in Cardiff).

  2. Neil,
    As an old Ars Magica addict, the langour track seems very familiar to me and I like it.

    Nothing I have read in that article fill me with anything other than joy.

    As long as I have the chart of will saves I can make then myself – I don’t “generally” need you to wait for me to tell you if i’ve saved – I can just do it as part of my turn – and keep my langour track current myself.
    It feel like no extra work than tracking my HP (actually it feels easier to me – less writing/erasing)

    One point that struck me while typing this. Areas of magical boon (sorestrae sp?) where the arcane magic is enhanced – does that make “spellcasting easier” i.e. drops the will save.

    Also – I think and additional Feat/Talent/basic choice – “unknown heritage” should be created – which turns the backstory over to the GM….

  3. In response to Marc:

    I’m inclined to agree with you. Under the rules stated above, an Exhausted characters needs to rest six hours to become Fatigued, then one hour to become Weary, and then five minutes to become Rested. It does seem a bit unnecessary.

    Of course, changing the way that the Fatigued and Exhausted condition works for sorcerers would also mean changing the way they work in all other situations. But that’s no bad thing, I suppose.

    However, it would mean that there are no gradations of languor. You can’t be exhausted, rest a bit and then be Fatigued. Rules for interrupted rest do exist for recharge spellcasters, but they tend to be rather brutal: you don’t get the rest you can’t cast spells.

    I’ll have to give this some more thought.

  4. In response to Jon:

    As the only full-time sorcerer in the game, I’m thrilled that you’re happy with these rules. It’s definitely my intention that the player would manage his own saving throws. As long as all the information about DCs and the effects of the various conditions are to hand, then there should be less book-keeping.

    The Weave in Sorostrae allows spellcasters to cast spells at a higher level than they actually are. It didn’t make the spells themselves easier to cast. However, no-one knows how the Weave has changed recently. It’s certainly an idea I’ll explore.

    Unknown heritage is obviously an option. Although it may be tricky to implement as players need to actively choose talents to unlock their Heritage abilities. But as long as you have a good GM and an imaginative player I don’t see why it couldn’t work, and work well.

  5. Hey Neil

    I also agree that the changes are for the better. There will be far fewer characters going through sorceror for one level. I think that maybe the saving throw should be fortitude rather than will though. You would imagine a tough sorceror being better able to resist unconsiousness than a strong willed one. Under your previous house rules sorcerors tended to have high con scores to boost their hit points. By going with fortitude then sorcerors would continue to choose high con scores leading to a bit more consistency. The alternative would be that all sorcerors suddenly became wise instead of tough.

  6. Hi Steve,

    I was undecided as to whether to use Fortitude or Will as the defence of choice. There’s a very strong argument for using Fortitude (that you’ve made very well).

    What does everyone else think?

  7. I think Steve makes a good case.
    But I also dfon’t feel that will save hurts teh verasimiltude (sp?) overly.

    It depends on whether you think that the casting of sorcerous spells is channelling the power through the mind or the body.

    I can see a case for both.

  8. Hiya,

    Ignorant me in the ways of magic. I recall something in 3rd ed about sorcerers taking longer to cast spells than wizards. Somethings tells me that if this was carried forwards then perhaps fatigue, etc. should be re-considered in the light of this (i.e takes longer but is less draining). Mind you, if HD&D sorcerers cast at the same speed as wiards, then fair play to the fatigue rules.

  9. I think I’ve been convinced by Steve. On the whole it’s more in keeping for HD&D to sponsor a Con/Cha sorcerer than a Wis/Cha one. It also succeeds at distancing the sorcerer from other spellcasters a little more. The instinctive sorcerer won’t automatically come equipped with a high Will Defence, but he will be tough as old boots.

  10. In response to Jake:

    I think that if sorcerers can’t rattle off spells in combat as quickly as wizards, then there are few players who would think there’s much point to playing a sorcerer. In third edition, it took sorcerers longer to apply the effects of metamagic feats to their spells, but the spells were still cast within one combat round.

    Casting time definitely has a role to play in limiting the use of certain spells, but I’m not sure that it can replace the fatigue system for sorcerers in the way you are suggesting.

  11. Neil says:

    Just read your sorcery post, interesting but I do have a few problems with it that you have, to be fair, seen yourself.

    The fact that a few bad rolls could knock the character out, or severely disadvantage him at least, is a big one in my opinion. You could have the scenario where the character has just come fact to face with his nemesis after a protracted investigation, and he casts a powerful spell. He fails the saving throw but blasts the enemy for a good deal of damage. No problem another few like that and he’ll be begging me for mercy, thinks the sorceror. Unfortunately his enemy casts a spell of his own which reduces the sorceror to a jibbering wreck for a short while (reduces Will) and he fails the next saving throw. He is now at a major disadvantage since the fatigued state reduces his Will still further! Perhaps unsurprisingly he fails another save and is now close to unconciousness and at a huge disadvantage compared to his enemy.

    I realise that spells can also reduce the other saving throws or ability scores, such as strength against a fighter, but the fighter can still fight and not be running the risk of iminent unconciousness. I guess con and fortitude would eventually but I believe that it would be a lot harder. Also, as you say, a simple run of bad luck could render the climactic fight frustrating very easily.

    Cantrips shouldn’t have a level placed upon them, you can use them at will as much as you like and as many as you like; they are simple tricks which are basically there for colour. You can use them to scare impressionable guards or help you out in a bar brawl but they are not really that useful. I think the sorceror class lends itself well to the idea of cantrips being exercises of magic manipulation and as such the player should be encouraged to come up with his own ones.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding you, you seem to be suggesting that as the character increases in level he ‘forgets’ the lower level spells and gains the higher level ones, but surely that would require the player to constantly update his spell list which sounds a pain (at high levels anyway).

    A level 9 spell requires a DC of 20, does that track with the increase in Will?

    You are making rolling a ‘1’ a very big deal for one class, well actually a succession of 1’s but I’m sure you get my point. A fighter, for example can roll a 1 and simply miss, no biggie.

    Does this ‘langour’ stack with ‘fatigue’?

    I think that a possible feat or talent could be that the sorceror could use spells of a higher level (with some sort of saving throw DC based on the extra oomph desired).

    I still think option 4 was the one to go for…

  12. Hi Neil,

    As its currently written, any player entering the sorcerer class knows that there is going to be a trade-off when it comes to their abilities. On the one hand they can do something that no other class can do: cast their spells at will. On the other hand, there is the ever present danger that such spellcasting can completely incommode them.

    Statistically speaking, I’m not sure how often this will come up. The average HD&D combat is supposed to last six rounds. The sorcerer would have to cast spells and fail saving throws against languor on four of those six rounds to be unconscious before the combat ended. You’d have to be extremely unlucky for that to be the case.

    I see the languor rules as a means to curtail frivolous spellcasting outside combat, rather than governing the sorcerer during the combat round. If, outside combat, a sorcerer is fatigued he may not want to cast another spell for fear of becoming exhausted. He’d rather rest and do it an hour later. In combat, the sorcerer is likely to have no choice but cast the spell and consequences be damned.

    Don’t forget that magic or events can put any character out of a combat for an extended period of time. Simple spells like Web, Sleep or Charm Person are more effective at incommoding characters than the languor rules, and will come up more frequently.

    Maybe you’re right. Maybe this will be a problem. Mayeb the sorcerer is unfairly penalised for failing saving throws. Playtesting should be place to reveal that. The only way to truly know for sure would be to give the sorcerer to the unluckiest dice-roller in history and see what happens. You don’t know anyone like that do you?

    Cantrips

    By calling them zero level spells, we are effectively removing cantrips from the languor system (and the recharge system for other casters). They can be cast as often and as frequently as you like.

    Sorcerers can obviously come up with their own cantrips if they want (although the published lists are fairly comprehensive). However, the effects of the cantrip would still need to be formalised into a spell to make play run more smoothly.

    Forgetting Spells

    There is no onus on a sorcerer to forget low level spells when he gains access to higher ones. The rule is only there because I acknowledge there may be occassions when a sorcerer would want to.

    For example, a 9th level sorcerer selects the Sorcery V talent, and gets access to the fifth level spell, Teleport. All well and good. Then at 13th level the sorcerers selects the Sorcery VII talent and decides that he would really like to know the seventh level spell, Greater Teleport.

    Now Greater Teleport is just all round better than Teleport. There’s less chance of error, you can teleport ‘off the grid’ from an established teleport network. It’s awesome. But there’s no point having both Greater Teleport and Teleport in a sorcerer’s repetoire. It wouldn’t matter for a wizard, as there is no limit to the spells he can know. For a sorcerer, it is a problem.

    So the rules say that the sorcerer can junk that Teleport spell. The sorcerer doesn’t need it anymore, after all. And the rules also say (because they’re fair, and because I’m a nice GM) that the sorcerer can then reallocate those five spell levels he spent on getting Teleport on something else that will be useful to him. Maybe he thinks Magic Jar would be a giggle.

    DCs

    The DCs do look rather low, but the DCs in HD&D do tend to be a bit lower than the ones we are used to in third or fourth edition. The DCs are based on the average saving throw of a character who deliberately decides to specialise in the governing defence, and the level at which the talent to cast a spell becomes available. They are also designed to be Easy – requiring a 5 or more on a 1d20 to pass.

    The minimum level a character can select Sorcery IX is 17th level, so the DCs are based on those of a 17th level caster.

    The game assumes that choices made in character generations would give the sorcerer +3 to the Defence/Saving Throw in question. To this he adds half his level, rounded down (+8), and his Charisma score modifier. The average 17th level sorcerer would have a Charisma of 18 (+4).

    Add all these together and you get a Defence of 25, and a Saving Throw of +15. That means a 17th level character would need to roll a 5 of more on 1d20 to make the saving throw. That’s makes it an “Easy” save as defined in the skill rules.

    Obviously a higher stat, munchkinised decisions in character gen, and the application of feat like Greater Fortitude would radically skew the odds in the sorcerer’s favour. Also, players playing wholly against type (or playing a multiclass character that dabbles in sorcery) may well be failing those saves much more frequently. But that would be player choice.

    Languor and Fatigue

    Languor uses the fatigue rules. You can’t be Exhausted from languor and Exhausted from running a marathon and have -10 to your saves. So they don’t stack in that regard.

    However, they use the same system. So a sorcerer who has become Fatigued by hustling across country for an hour, will become Exhausted the next time he fails a languor check on his spellcasting.

    Casting Beyond Your Level

    That’s a definite possibility. Sorcerers have been synonymous with Wild Mages across two editions of D&D, with a wildly flucuating caster level as a result. I was sort of holding those mechanics back for psionics, but I can see how they might work for a sorcerer.

    However, there is a difference between supercharging a spell with power beyond your level, and getting access to spells of a higher level. That would be tricky fit into the talents system. Although not impossible.

    Option Four

    Yes. More evocative surely. But when I looked at it more closely, I was having difficulty hammering the concept in both HD&D and also the wider remit of making this Hybrid game feel as ‘D&D-like’ as possible. There are distinct advantages to creating a system that is similar to what has gone before.

    And, practically, I think it would have been too much work.

  13. How about letting the sorceror cast a number of spells equal to his CON modifyer per day before having to make saving throws? Having say 2 to 4 spells free of risk shouldn’t unbalance the game too far. It would also mean that if Neil S were to play a sorceror that he wouldn’t be snoring by round 5 of combat!

  14. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. It looks like an acceptable compromise if some of Neil’s fears about the languor mechanic are realised. Perhaps something to keep on the backburner and only bring in if we are sure it is necessary?

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