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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14 thoughts on “House Rules and Languor Checks

  1. Hey Neil.

    I really don’t think it would be any more work or more fiddlesome to simply have different DCs based on the maximum spell level for each class. In your example the sorceror 12/inquisitor 6 uses the ‘max 9’ spell DCs when casting sorceror spells and the ‘max 6’ spell DCs when casting Inquistor spells. No more complex than any character that has spells from more than one spellcasting class.

    I am not keen on the percentages being identical for all characters of the same level and it should be possible to manipulate these numbers to a small degree. If a character picks a bunch of feats or a high ability score or a spell to make languour easier it would be at the expense of other feats and spells. It is just a different way of building the character although I will definitely concede that it was far too easy for Syrah to cast spells and I agree that the system cannot stay as it is.

    If I had a gun to my head I think number 3 is the way to go as it does allow for differences based on the casters ability check. If you decide on option 1 then I don’t see why you don’t convert it to a D20 roll just to be consistent with the rest of the system as all of your %s are divisible by 5. So instead of a 35% chance you need 14 or more on a D20 for your highest level spells, becoming 1 easier as you descend the table.

  2. Hi Steve.

    Firstly, can I say how thrilled I am that someone else is using the word “fiddlesome” – as I’m pretty sure I made it up.

    The advantage (and the curse) of Pathfinder/Third Edition is the options it gives you to customise your character. It’s been 12 years since 3rd Ed. appeared, and the breadth of published material is such that there’s pretty much no shape you can’t bend you character into. However, there are still some aspects of the game that are very hard to abuse.

    Under the rules as they’re written, it’s very hard for either wizards or sorcerers to cast more spells than their allotted number each day. There are a handful of magic items, permanent or sustained stat bonuses … but there aren’t any feats that do it.

    In the Iourn system (as I might as well call it now), the Languor Check replaces the limit on a sorcerer casting an infinite number of spells each day. This is the check on the power level of the class. So, like the ‘number of spells per day’ in the official rules it shouldn’t be something that you can change. Or at least not change very easily.

    The base check (as seen in the table above) does take into account caster level, in as far as it becomes easier to cast lower level spells if you have access to higher level ones. So high level spell casters will find it easier to make Languor checks than low level ones.

    I think that adding the ability score modifier in as a sweetener is probably a good thing, as it does help to differentiate characters with high ability scores. In fact, that’s the reason I’ve gone with the d100 and not the d20 (as you suggest) because I wanted to use this element. If I wasn’t, then I agree, using a d20 would be a lot more in keeping with the system.

    So… there would be ways to either mitigate the languor check or make it a little easier. You can cast magic to increase your ability scores…. and you can also rely on magic items that either mean you don’t need to cast the spell at all (scrolls or spell-storing devices) or are able to remove fatigue or exhaustion after the event.

    Is this customisation enough for you? What else would you like to see that enables characters to customise the languor check.

    Finally, I do have to disagree with your assertion that it’s just has easy to have three different languor tables and DCs based on your spellcasting class. Surely it’s got to be easier just to reference one table – a table that Jon’s helpfully put on the back of the new Iourn character sheet?

    The truth is that a system such as this isn’t going to work unless languor checks are failed, and failed frequently. That’s what I really need to implement.

  3. Ok,
    The first thing I will say – and this goes back to my troubles with recharge magic – is your whole premise is that an Instinctive caster should only be able to cast their most powerful spells without fatigue 25% of the time – why? That seems wholly arbitrary to try and LIMIT spellcasters. If you we’re to make the same ruling for fighter types ; then you should make them roll a percentile dice every time that attack using their highest BA value (ie using their BEST ATTACK), and they should tire themselves 25% of the time when doing so.

    The point of Magic users is to cast magic. If you feel that there shoudl be a limit on how many top level spells that they should be able to cast in any one day – then I don’t see what was wrong with PF/D&D original rules which specifies levels and numbers / day.

    personally – I would prefer to tick off from a list of specified numbers (ie as per the published rules) for EITHER sorcerer or Wizard than roll % dice.

    from a more Ravenna based personal note – when we started – the Sorcerer system was based on HP – so she took Toughness.
    Now it’s based on Langour….. which was fine : but is apparently broken for high level casters (bard etc).

    You could for each class introduce a new column (like BA/Saves) called Langour Level. This would increase by +1 for all pure spell casting classes (eg sorcerer) but not so quickly for non-spell casting types. This could keep your langour track static and solve the progression for the other classes.
    It would also mean that people who have invested feats etc to improve their spell casting reliability wouldn’t be penalised.

  4. Well, of course it’s to limit spellcasters! Every roleplaying system that uses magic seeks to limit the power of spellcasters so they don’t break the game. You can’t have a system where all magic-users can cast any of their spells whenever they like. And you especially can’t have it in a game like D&D where there is such a depth and variety of powerful spells.

    Spells and martial attacks are completely different things within the system. That’s why there’s always fatigue points, or spell points, drain or some other limitation on spellcasters.

    If instinctive casters used the published rules then, each day, an 18th level sorcerer would be able to cast six spells each level up to level 7, five level 8 spells, and three level 9 spells. And that would be it. Your Charisma wouldn’t affect the number of spells you could cast, and there are zero (absolutely zero) other ways in the system that you can increase that number (aside from spell-storing magic items and scrolls). All the such characters would be exactly the same.

    The languor system is supposed to provide the sorcerer with more freedom, while at the same time making them think twice about casting spells all the time. That’s what I’m aiming for… simply discouraging the sorcerer from casting a knock spell every time the rogue gets out his lockpicks.

    It’s not a question of limiting the number of top of level spells that can be cast – because the languor system doesn’t limit them in a hard way. It’s a question of regulating magic across the board in a slightly more abstract way than spell points.

    Also failing a languor check doesn’t really matter does it? Failing two makes you fatigued, but again: how does that really effect a sorcerer? It doesn’t affect his spell casting. It’s only when he fails four checks and falls unconscious that it becomes an issue. And of course there are magics can remove fatigue and exhaustion. You don’t want to fail a languor check obviously, but if you do it doesn’t cripple you as a spellcaster. It’s not the end of the world.

    I think it’s a much better limit on the sorcerer than nonlethal damage. That caused all manner of terrible issues around multiclassing. You could be a first level sorcerer and then multiclass into fighter at level two and stay there for the rest of your career. As good as a fighter an any other fighter, but also with a nice collection of first level spells you could effectively cast at will because of your high hit point total. Those house rules were definitely broken.

    I could introduce the Languor Level. I can see that working in the abstract, although there would be some points to iron out. Why would anyone other than an instinctive spellcaster need it? How would it work with multiclassers? A Sorcerer/Bard for example. How would you balance that.

    But here’s a thought…

    If the languor system isn’t working, and there’s a lot of opposition to it… what’s stopping us using a spell point system for instinctive casters instead?

    Acquired casters like wizards and druids keep the recharge system, but instinctive casters use spell points. They can cast any spell whenever they like, but they’re limited by the number of spell points they can cast in a day. Same system as we’ve been using for years on and off.

  5. multi class character would have to specify from which tradition each spell is known… I reason that is why Bard can cast soem spells at lower levels that Sorc/Wiz. when you cast a spell of a tradition – you use you langour check for that tradition. I would say Langour levels only stack when you are instinctivly casting from the SAME tradition.

    And given the Damage that Teion/Brack can dish out – I can see no argument AT ALL for limiting Spell Casters.
    I also think that if you are going down this route – then you should drag supernatural abilitites into the mix, ‘cos all your monsters don’t have these recharge/limitations……

    No, If you are not goign to consider the whole panoply of “non-mundane” abilitites in your rejigging – I think that going back to “as published” might be the best solution.

    But not percentile dice.

    oh…. and if Langour Failure is so irrelevant – then why bother with it… it’s not going to stop sorcerers “Knocking” locks.

    I am of the opinion that LIMITING the NUMBER of spells instinctive casters have ACCESS to more urgently and using spell points maybe a better plan. Having just written that – i’ve had another idea though.

    You could even go so far a introducing some form of FLUX statistic, i.e. how much of their total daily power (now controlled by spell points) an Instinctive caster can channel through their body in a given time period – lets say 2 minutes (20 rounds?) for the purposes of combat. This could open the way for a few interesting feats, some “overcasting” risks (with associated damage/mental issues) ; it could be modified by relevant STAT and would reduce the “dice rolling” in combat situations (ie no langour checks) and then the player would have to decide how much of their power they blow early/later and in what size chunks.

  6. So if pure Instictive casters (IC) get say +2 flux / level ; semi-IC types might only get +1 flux / levels (which means High level bards can’t whip out LOADS of spells )

    So at 19th level Ravenna would have 38 + 6 (CHA) flux = 44 spells levels / 2 min.

    So thats four 9th level spells and one 8th Level

    River would have 19 + 5 = 24, which is Shadowbard (6) ; quickened eagles splendour(6) ; then 12 levels ONLY left…. that seems …. more reasonable.

    You could add in feats which added to this total ;
    Smooth flux “You gain an additional 1 flux per 2 caster levels as you body processes the energy of the weave more efficiently”

    Overcasting : for every spell level over your flux capacity roll a Will save of 20+spell levels exceeded ; failure means the spell fails and the caster is nauseated from the overload of uncontrolled magical power. The total of exceeded spells is cumulative until the charcater rests, and adds to the amount of time the body needs to recouperate before the weave can be tapped again.

    Thoughts?

  7. Addressing your first post first.

    The languor check (or whatever it is) would need to be based on class and not tradition. There are some classes (e.g. ranger and druid) that have spells spell progressions, but are part of the same tradition.

    Brack and Teion can dish out a lot of damage, but I’m not bothered about damage. If all spellcasters could do is chuck out 150 damage to one target per round then they could cast spells at will as far as I’m concerned. It’s all the other spells: the utility spells, the divinations, the teleports and so on…. that’s what needs to be limited in some respect.

    Supernatural abilities can be limited in the same way, and most mosters will have some sort of limitatio on their abilities. They still use the same system as PCs after all. You’re right that this isn’t a can of worms that is worth opening.

    I don’t think playing the spellcasting rules as they are written is the way forward. I really don’t. I’d take a spell point system for instinctive casters over using the published rules any day of the week.

    As to reducing the number of spells in an instinctive caster’s repetoire… well, maybe there’s some merit in that. Maybe the numbers are too high at high levels. After all, the main advantage of the Acquired caster is supposed to be that he has more spells in his repetoire than anyone else. I don’t think that Nicos or Arvan have any more spells than Ravenna, and that’s something that I should have avoided.

  8. And now all about Flux….

    So what you’re basically saying is that at its heart, Flux is a spell-point system. Only in this system sorcerers and bards have less spell points than I would probably give them, and the number represents the spells that they can cast in a very small period of time. Two minutes in your example.

    Okay, I can see how that might work – but some things need to be clarified.

    Most importantly: What happens after the two minutes? Do the spellcasters have to rest to recharge their Flux? How long do they rest? A short rest (5 minutes) is probably what it would have to be.

    If the Flux/Spell Points all come back after two minutes then we’re in a situation where Flux is only a handicap for a spellcaster while in combat. It’s not a limitation outside combat, where I’d prefer the limitation to be.

    Or is it?

    Assuming that instinctive casters need a 5 minute rest to renew their flux (spell points), the question is how much of a limitation on their power is having to rest for five minutes? Of course, Acquired casters can restore all their spells by resting for five minutes. So the precedence is there in the system.

    I’ll have to ponder this further.

  9. yes I invisaged a small rest period as you say.The time period would be FROM THE LAST SPELL you cast.
    This would be extended by overcast levels. you could say by a number of minutes equal to the total overcast levels (including any failed attempts) squared.

    1 OCL = +1 minute
    2 OCL = +4 minutes
    3 OCL = +9 minutes etc etc

    so if for example you are sitting on 5 OCL and you try and cast a final fireball – and screw up the OC roll, you now sitting on 8 OCL, you’re nauseated for 8 rounds (total OCL) and must rest for 69 (5 + 64) minutes before your flux resets.

    If you do not “rest” for the allotted time – your flux total doesn’t reset and you pick up where you left off (either mid flux – or in our example above – the nausea dissipates – but they are jumped by some kobolds 30 mins later – a fireball cast now would take a roll [I said will save – but could easily be CL check] of 31 (20 + old 8 OCL + new 3 OCL ) otherwise spell fails and you’d now be nauseated for 11 new rounds and the rest time would now be 126 minutes (5 + 11 squared [121]) which STARTS NOW.

  10. I would also say that there must always be a chance of failure on the OC roll, otherwise mathematically there are certain levels of “safe” OC that could be done – therefore – a 1 on the OC die roll is always considered a failure.

  11. Right, sorry Jon. Haven’t been ignoring you just found myself rather distracted over the last few days.

    I think an overcast system for could work. I’d have to see how well it plays alongside the existing overcast system. However, I think your formula for working out the length of the rest-period would need to be simplified. Anything that requires a calculator is probably too complex for this bear.

    So let’s summarise these flux rules, although I’m going to call them spell points because that’s what I understand.

    1) All instinctive casters have a pool of spell points available. This pool represents the number of spells they can cast before taking a short rest (5 minutes). Spells are cast on a point per spell level basis, with a 1st level spell costing 1 point, and a 9th level spell costing 9 points. After taking a short rest this spell point pool is completely restored.

    2) Characters whose spell casting progression goes all the way up to level 9 (e.g. sorcerer) have a bigger spell point pool, than those whose maximum spell level is 6 (e.g. bard) or 4 (e.g. hexblade). However, no character’s spell point total is that large. For example the pool could be (2 × class level) + Cha Mod for a sorcerer; and (1½ × class level) + Cha Mod) for a bard; and (1 × class level) Int Mod for a hexblade. Obviously, the ability score that is added to base spell points depends on the stat that governs that class’s spellcasting powers.

    3) It is possible for spellcasters to cast spell above this spell point limit. But to do so is very difficult and dangerous. Each time they do, they need to make a d20 check. I don’t think a Will saving throw is appropriate here, so instead I’m going to say that they need to make a Concentration Check (may as well use rules that already exist, after all). The DC is the same as caster defensively: 15 + double the spell level + spell levels over your normal spell point total. If you fail the check then the spell fails and you are nauseated for a number of rounds equal to the spell level. Successive overcast attempts result in further Concentration checks, at an increasing difficulty as the number of spell levels you have tried to cast over your normal total also increases.

    4) Regardless of whether the Concentration Check is successful or not, the amount of time it now takes to regain your spell points increases. The first time you try to overcast a spell in this manner the time you must rest to regain your spell points increases from 5 minutes to 1 hour. For each successive attempt, the rest time increases by one further hour, to a maximum of 8 hours after eight attempts.

    5) This system works best if the number of different spells that instinctive caster has access to is reduced.

    I know that’s not quite the system that your proposed, but i think it’s more or less the same in principle. You may wish to point out how that’s not the case, of course! So based on the above system, here are my thoughts:

    Critique of this system

    My initial thought is that the overcasting element of the system is more complicated than it’s worth. I can see ways of simplifying it while still retaining a little of the flavour:

    If a sorcerer casts over his spell point limit, then his spell goes off normally but he is autmatically nauseated for a number of rounds equal to the overflow. So if a sorcerer with a maximum of 20 spell points, had already spent 18 and decided to cast a 3rd level spell she’d be one point over her total. The spell would go off normally, but she’d be nauseated for one round. Going over your total wouldn’t affect the length of time that takes to regain your spell points, but you can only ever cast one spell that goes over your total between rests.

    My other problem with this system is that although it does a good job of regulating the sorcerer in combat, it doesn’t go a great job at regulating them outside combat. By recharging your spell points every 5 minutes, you effectively have a character with near-infinite spell-points over the course of the day.

    Now, I’ll grant that this may not be a problem if we drastically reduce the number of different spells available to instinctive casters, thus limiting their versatility. In fact, may be limiting the spell down as far as the rules as written may be required. Rather than using the “spell levels known” rules for instinctive casters, we instead identify specific spells at specific levels.

    So a 10th level sorcerer instead of knowing 44 levels of spells, would instead know six 1st level spells, six 2nd level spells, six 3rd level spells, five fourth level spells, and three fifth level spells. A high Charisma score would grant bonus spells.

    The final alternative is just to do away with the regaining spell points after a short rest, and just say to all instinctive casters: this is your spell point total per day, it comes back after an extended rest of 8 hours.

  12. “Under the rules as they’re written, it’s very hard for either wizards or sorcerers to cast more spells than their allotted number each day. There are a handful of magic items, permanent or sustained stat bonuses … but there aren’t any feats that do it.”

    Actually there are multiple feats that do it. 3.5 has a couple of metamagic feats that let you do things like prepare multiple spells in one higher level slot or re-cast a spell you’ve already cast. Pathfinder has the Echoing Spell metamagic which allows you to cast any spell you make ‘Echoing’ a second time for free in exchange for a +3 adjustment and there’s the Split Slot Arcane Discovery which literally lets you take one spell slot of X level and prepare two spells of X-2 level in that slot instead.

    Casting more spells per day than you normally can is definitely hard, but if you want to do it is entirely possible with nothing more than a single feat.

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