House Rules and Languor Checks

Over the past year or so the new rules for spellcasting have been put through their paces. They’ve taken a bit of a hammering at various levels, and numerous changes have been made. The original playtest documents can be found over in this post. I’m currently working on updated versions, but there’s something I need to thrash out in the meantime. While I’m pretty happy with the recharge system that Acquired casters such as wizards and clerics are using, the languor system as used by Instinctive casters such as sorcerers or inquisitors is still causing me concern. So I’m proposing a change. And I’d especially like those of you who play these characters to let me know what you think.

Instinctive Casting: where we are now

The full rules for instinctive casters can be found in the magic document. But I’ll summarise them briefly here. An instinctive casters knows a finite number of spells based upon their “spell levels known” which increases as the caster gains levels, and is influenced by their ability score. Instinctive casters can cast their magic spells as often as they like, but each time they cast a spell they need to make a languor check. If this check is failed then the instinctive caster begins to tire.

With one failed check, the caster is weary. This has no game effect, but is the first step on the path to more serious conditions. A short rest will remove the weary condition, but if the instinctive caster doesn’t have time for a short rest, then the second failed languor check makes them fatigued, the third makes them exhausted and the fourth renders them unconscious.

In order to make a Languor Check the caster must roll 1d20 + Caster Level + the ability modifier of the score that governs their spellcasting. So for example, a 10th level sorcerer with a Charisma of 18 would roll 1d20+14. The DC of the check is based on the level of the spell they are trying to cast, as expressed on this table:

Spell Level

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

DC

18

20

22

24

27

29

31

33

36

38

40

42

45

47

49

On the whole the rules work pretty well, and at its core this system does govern languor casters in the same sort of way as the published rules. The only part of the system I have an issue with  is the difficulty of the languor check. Although manipulating the system to get easier languor checks takes some work (unless you’re Steve), you can also get easier languor checks without even trying. If you’re playing a bard instead of a sorcerer, for example, the checks are easier by an order of magnitude. The trick is plugging this loop-hole without penalising the those PCs for which languor checks aren’t easy at all.

Changing the Difficulty

The DCs are supposed to give characters a 25% chance of success at making a languor check when they caster a spell of the most powerful level they have access to, and an increasing chance to make the check when casting spells of lower levels. In order to set the DCs I’ve made a few base assumptions. Firstly I’ve assumed that the character’s relevent ability score is 15 at 1st level, and that the character increases that score at every opportunity as they gain levels (i.e. levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 under Pathfinder). Secondly, I’ve assumed that the character is a full spellcaster who gains access to spells at odd-numbered levels and can cast ninth level spells by 17th level.

That’s where things begin to fall down.

Let’s take two character classes: a sorcerer and a bard. Both are eighteenth level, both have a Charisma of 19, and therefore both make languor checks by rolling 1d20+22. Now look at the spells they can cast. A sorcerer’s most powerful spell is 9th level, so the DC to cast that spell is 36. The sorcerer needs to roll a 14 or more to cast that spell. A 35% chance. However, the bard’s most powerful spell is only 6th level, and the DC of a 6th level spell is only 29. The bard has a 75% chance of casting her most powerful spell.

This isn’t fair. And it’s not what I want the system to do. The bard is a weaker spellcaster. If you look at the rules as they are actually written for sorcerers and bards (not something I often do for magic in D&D) you’ll see an eighteenth level sorcerer can cast three 9th level spells per day, and an eighteenth level bard can cast three 6th level spells per day. The rules are telling us that it’s as difficult for a bard to cast a sixth level spell, as it is for a sorcerer to cast a ninth level spell. And yet, my system makes life much easier for the bard.

And frankly, as the house rules are written, I can’t see a way around this.

The problem stems from the DC table I have constructed, and the assumptions I have made. The table might work well enough for full spellcasters who gain access to all nine levels of spells over their career, but it doesn’t work for casters whose maximum spell level is only sixth. And any instinctive spellcasters that follow the paladin or the ranger progression would become an even greater aberrations in the system.

So what’s to be done? Well, I could create three different tables for languor checks dependent upon character class, but that’s seems fiddlesome. And it would also cause issues for anyone multiclassing. What table does the sorcerer 12/inquisitor 6 use? My solution is far more prosaic than that. The system is jumping through hoops to try to manipulate a massive number of variables, and boil them down to the following goal: You have a 25% chance of making a languor check when casting your most powerful spells. So why bother with the hoop-jumping? Why bother with any of these variables? Why not just pick something consistent, and that works?

The Percentile Roll

The d20 system doesn’t use many percentile rolls. I guess, the clue is in its name. My solution isn’t particularly elegant, and it’s not that intuitive compared to the rest of the Pathfinder system. However, it does work and it’s also pretty much player-proof. Remember, there’s nothing in the magic rules-as-written that allows sorcerers or other instinctive casters to cast more spells per day, so I don’t see why my system should allow players to make the languor check easier (which is essentially the same thing).

So the languor check becomes a flat percentile roll, against the highest level spell you can cast. Observe the following table:

Spell Level Languor Check
Highest castable spell 25%
Highest castable spell -1 30%
Highest castable spell -2 35%
Highest castable spell -3 40%
Highest castable spell -4 45%
Highest castable spell -5 50%
Highest castable spell -6 55%
Highest castable spell -7 60%
Highest castable spell -8 65%
Highest castable spell -9 70%
Highest castable spell -10 75%
Highest castable spell -11 80%
Highest castable spell -12 85%
Highest castable spell -13 90%
Highest castable spell -14 95%

The mechanics should be obvious to any CoC player. The languor check now simply involves rolling a d100 and getting a result that is equal to or less than the figure on the table. A 17th level sorcerer casting a first level spell would have to roll 65 or less on percentile dice.

Having crunched the numbers from the existing languor table (I won’t bore you with the figures here) I noticed that there was some drift even in the base figures for an standard spellcaster. The base chance of casting some spells wound up at 35% instead of 25% just because I got the figures wrong. In equalising that, the difficulties have increased. I’m happy with that, although even taking it into account this table looks a bit harsh. That said, I wanted to create something that was simple, so a 5% boundary between the tiers seemed appropriate. The most obvious figure (10%) would have made it too easy to cast spells.

So we could use the standard table above for languor checks, or if you think it’s too severe, we could do one of three things:

1) We increase the chance of casting the highest level spell you know from 25% to 35%. By keeping the 5% increment between the tiers, this would have a knock on effect of making all languor checks easier to make.

2) We allow the roll to be modified by the character’s ability score modifier. So that 17th level sorcerer with a Charisma of 19 would actually have a 29% chance of making a languor check. The ability score makes less of an impact in a d100 system than it does in a d20 system, but we still provide a nod to characters with very high scores. However, spells or magical items that increase ability scores would also have the effect of modifying the languor check – which is something I’d like to get away from.

3) A combination of the two. Up the base chance to 30% and then apply ability score modifiers on top of that.

I honestly think this is something that needs to be addressed. The status quo created by the house rules can’t be allowed to continue, as it just isn’t robust enough to cope with the all the options presented by such a complex system as third edition. This proposal mitigates the excesses of the system, while at the same time creating a level playing field for all classes. But it is a utilitarian solution. It’s a bit like the saving throws in fourth edition: regardless of your level you have a 55% chance of making a saving throw. It keeps things balanced as characters advance in levels, but at the price of customisation.

Let me know what you think.

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