6d6 RPG: Testing Magic

Magic systems are a real pain in the derriere when you are designing universal game mechanic.

The problem with magic is that it has to be, well, magical. And that means something above and beyond the normality which, for the game designer, means breaking your carefully balanced physics engine. Those mechanics that nicely model real activities like running or fighting suddenly have to allow magic users to do the impossible but still prevent the mage from being over-powering.

Consequently magic has taken sometime to develop in the 6d6 RPG but there is light at the end of the tunnel and tomorrow we are doing a playtest.

The Goldilocks Zone

The 6d6 RPG is a modular system where cards are combined to create actions so having each spell as a standalone card doesn’t work. Every card has to be able to interact with any other appropriate card. In theory this is easy, just break down spells into their components – range, area, type of effect etc – and allow the players simply combine the ones they want when they cast the spell.

The problem is that this produces too many cards making decks hard to manage. It also means that by the time the caster has got all the cards they need in to play, the monster has either been killed by everyone else or had the mage for lunch.

We are hunting for a sweetspot. A game mechanic where there is lots of flexibility but without swamping the caster with too many cards or making it impractical in combat plus ensuring that casters are balanced with non-caster characters. It is hard but I think we are getting close.

Magefest

Tomorrow the entire party will be spell casters of one type or another. As the purpose of this test session is to try the mechanics, and in particular their playability, the party will be facing some easy to kill goblins. I want the party to let loose with everything have.

The four character types are:

Arcane Archer with two powers. Farlan’s Ghost Arrow is a cross between Magic Missile and an enchanted bow that is a test of a straight forward magical attack mechanic. The other is Arcane Hand, a utility spell that summons a large hand. This can be used to attack, to defend or catch someone falling down a cliff. This uses the Locus keyword which covers the basic mechanic for ongoing spells.

Elemental Mage, also with two powers. Rune of Warding is a protection spell that degrades every time it is hit and Pillar of Fire summons a fiery pillar that the caster can move around to attack with. Both use the Locus keyword but the key difference is that the elemental mage can adjust the locus after it is created. This allows greater flexibility but my be overly complicated or powerful.

The Monk has just a single power that allows melee attacks against opponents at range. This character is design to test how fighter types can incorporate magic into their character.

The Commanding Cleric is as close to a 1st Ed, AD&D cleric as I can manage. Capable in combat but with a variety of spells at his disposal. Including Commanding Word (force a creature to play an action), Hold Creature (make it very hard for a creature to move), Vow of Silence (prevents noise) and Death Proof (protection against undead creatures). The purpose of this character is to test how spells that do more than simple damage will work. This is probably the most interesting of the characters in the test because we have tried variants of all the other character’s powers before. The clerical spells are brand new.

Click the links to download the character decks but note that these are not properly balanced characters. They are missing their Race and Path cards and have almost nothing that isn’t directly related to the planned combat. As a party they would suck but each character would work as a specialist within a more balanced party. In terms of power, they would be slightly better than a starting character.

Present Imperfect

The fact we can have four separate casters is a major step forward in the system. Not long ago, we were lucky if we have one spell in a playtest. This iteration of magic system is not the final one. I’m sure tomorrow will find problems but we are close to perfecting the basic mechanics. After that, all we have to do is write a spell book.