Monday, March 24, 2014

Proposal for Tweaked Spell Duel for DCC (WIP)

It should be apparent by now that I love the DCC.

Of all the great things I love about it, simple mechanics, clarity of PHUN, wildly pseudo-randomized tables, hearkening back to the old school days that a lobe of my brain says MUST BE RIGHT GODDAMIT...

Nostalgia is a liar, but the go-motion Vermithrax is the best dragon of all dragons.  The Rankin and Bass Smaug rocks, also.
The spell duel is none of that stuff.  It's clunky.  It's awkward. It's a great idea on paper but even playthroughs I've heard on e.g. the Spellburn podcast fizzle out within a few mere rounds or so.  I've done 2 or 3 in play sessions and it wasn't great.  It seemss like it should be AWESOME and RAWKING but it doesn't feel that way.  I feel dirty and confused.  Why?  It feels like a lot of chart referencing and dice rolling and it literally pauses the action of everything else.

Because I saw some Harry Potter, and some Dragonslayer, and The Sword in the Stone, and Big Trouble in Little China.  A couple of wizards or ENTITIES e.g. a big-ass Dragon (it doesn't matter their relative powers, for drama's sake) go at it for a couple of rounds - a wand explodes, the protagonist maybe takes a wound or is routed, if he (always a he!) is Lucky he gets away with a singed forehead or something.

Accio Better Endings!
No offense to Mr. Goodman and Company.  I love the whole of DCC.  All of it.  This one part never gets used much, although it has a great deal of potential.  How would I fix it, then?  Well?  That's why you came, right?

It seems that one problem is that with the Rules As Written, a high level Wizard is going to smash right through a low-level one.  No question.  Also, the spells that cancel each other out are sort of baroque and way too precise for games.  The rules say that Clerics can counterspell Wizards, but there's no spells on the counterspelling list for Clerics, and even Patron Bond/Invoke Patron - it isn't on the Cleric spell list.  I mean, not everybody's going to have the right one, and that puts paid to a unprepared Wizard.  Wouldn't it be better if, instead of specific spells countering each other, ALL offensive spells countered each other?  The common sense rule on page 99 of my PDF says that it ought to be clear, but (hold on, here)...  this is MAGIC STUFF.  There's logic but it's not the logic of the waking world adult.  It's magic stuff!

On three.
So, I propose that all offensive spells and magic effects (e.g. Dragon Breath/Undead Effects/Spell attacks/Whatever) can be used to counter each other, without exception.  In fact, it seems to me that you'll get far more interesting weirdness this way than if specific level 1 through level 3 Wizard spells are able to counter each other and no others.  Obviously, one party will be the attacker and one the defender in each round... so if two parties are engaged in magical combat, then whomever has the initiative that round will be considered the attacker.  Nobody adds any spellburn the first round, since we need to build up steam.  Once the thing is decided, each party makes the action die roll but they're locked in combat for the round - sparks flying/dynamos humming/thunder 'n' lightning.  Nothing happens until the end of the round.  If you really wanted it to be AWESOME, the die rolls can be hid and revealed when the round is up.

The Gorgon's Head Casts Flesh to Stone as a 20th level Wizard

If the rolls are within the higher level caster's level of each other (in the case of the monster instance, the Hit Dice), then sparks fly, smoke drifts, all kinds of neat visual stuff.  Real magickal contests of wills type stuff.  Else, the difference is caused in Hit Point damage to the loser.  When the loser is reduced to zero Hit Points, then the attacker's spell manifests.  Until then, the warring magic powers fight each other for manifestations in the real world.  Next round, each caster rolls a 1d6 and adds their Intelligence modifier, and they may spellburn up to that much that round.  They don't have to, but the aether quivers with readiness.

Nobody loses a spell during a spell duel - this is an exception to the general flow of things.  However, a caster (or both) can incur corruptions.  In fact, the forces that drive magic love these kinds of things since it allows Kaos to leak into the Prime Material plane.  Two bad rolls for both can mean a lot of weird things happening but the duel continues.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I like the "same rolls cause Phlogiston Disturbance" rule.  That's cool.  If either caster spellburns, they can adjust the result up or down to make a Phlogiston Disturbance or to beat the other caster or to beat the level difference to cause damage.

If one caster succesfully casts Dispel Magic, or Holy Sanctuary, or Protection from Evil (or whatever) then the round is a tie.  Go to the next round.  The effects don't occur as usual, they just make all the magic things not happen this round.

For Magic Shield, you get to cancel the Hit Point damage caused by the difference.

For Patron Bond, if one or both parties opt to use it, it's like the nuclear option.  It can only be cast when a party is down to below 2 of their Hit Die in Hit Points.  It's unlikely a Patron will come to the aid of a winning Wizard, in this case.  The thing is effectively over.  The Patron steps in and causes the duel to be over, in addition to whatever effects happen to occur because of the invocation.  The Invocation result is the difference between the rolls.  This could happen in addition to Phlogiston Disturbances, and if both parties opt to Invoke Patrons, a Phlogiston Disturbance is automatic.  The sheer might of two otherworldly entities struggling will bend reality in all kinds of bad ways.

This just gets plopped down on top of regular combat.  For the purposes of the narrative, all kinds of shit related to the spells' castings are happening - fire, lightning, frogs, holy auras, unholy wailing.  All that stuff.  But during the magical combat while the casters are focused on each other, the spells don't cast as usual.  This way, you can't get summarily destroyed by a failed casting on the first round, if you got an 8 and the other guy spellburned for 33 points or something.  You won't lose the spell for after the fight, if you survive.  You may be drained and weak but you can still do the things the party needs.  You vanquished that sumbitch (and maybe could vanquish another if it came to it) but you're not a dagger with legs, now.

This doesn't fix the Cleric side of things - they're included in my version of the rules (not sure if it's the most recent) but it feels like an after-thought.  I think they ought to be able to KABOOM with some divine intervention, too.  Maybe they can request Divine Assistance in the same manner as Invoke Patron, and go for the roll - I'm sure Justicia or Cthulhu would whoop Sezrekan's ass tidily if it came to it, or maybe not.  Maybe that't the point.

The failure of diplomacy is a tragedy.

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