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Wielding Powers

Reigning in the supernatural

So I’m wrapping up the 5th Printing of Chimera (good news: it's a svelt 32 pages, with somehow more info than the previous printing; better news: it’s the editors’ hands now), and Greg (King of said editors) brings up this point about using powers:

In keeping with the mechanic you’ve established, the Character using a Power has to roll for success [but it also allows the] defender to alter the outcome via a saving throw, even to negate the result, and it seems counter-productive. The model for this mechanic was different in D&D where the spell was assumed to succeed, and the defender made the roll to alter the outcome. If you ignore that old model, you’ve factored in your “resistance” to the power as a modifier to  the die roll based on an attribute. Which, probably means that the final saving throw when all is said and done is un-necessary?

Indeed. It actually reminds me that I never really explained my rationale for how powers work in Chimera, and this seems a good time to do so.

Dull Background

A quick primer on Chimera powers: Powers are Chimera’s term for spells. Only, Chimera doesn’t use “spells” because it’s multi-genre, and thus must include stuff like psionics, miracles, and getting bit by radioactive spiders.

Waterhouse The Magic Circle

Making a Wield Roll

To use a power (i.e., cast a spell or release a psionic ability or whatever), you have to make a Wield roll. The more powerful the power, the higher its Target Number, so something fairly routine like light is TN 8 while something highly significant like transmute is TN 16. If your character had, say, Wield +3, he’d need a d20 roll of “5” to cast light or “13” to cast transmute.

The results of the Wield roll are tiered—the better your roll, the better the outcome. Basically, if you succeed, the power works as expected. If you fail, the power may or may not work, and you have to make a Resistance Roll to avoid suffering a Fatigue penalty.

This last bit is important, because it’s really the only mechanical limitation a character has on wielding powers. Chimera doesn’t use a spell point system any flavour of Vancian memorisation. In Chimera, you can wield powers until you (literally) fall over from exhaustion (and, oddly enough, I've seen it happen during a game...great fun).

Given these pitfalls, Greg’s point is excellent, and it comes down to fairness: When a character uses a power with a successful Wield roll, how much does it suck for his target to make a Resistance Roll and essentially negate or halve the effect?

First Things First

Because I do want characters to make Wield rolls to use powers, and because I like the idea of a target resisting a successful power (kind of like physical combat, where a target's defence could negate a successful hit), I’m not inclined to change the mechanics.

But I agree with Greg’s thrust, so here’s my tweak of Wield roll outcomes:

  • Critical Failure: Power fizzles; wielder must Resist Fatigue against power's TN
  • Normal Failure: Power succeeds; target Resists normally but wielder must Resist Fatigue against power's TN
  • Normal Success: Power succeeds; target Resistance Roll penalised by Wielder's level
  • Critical Success: Power succeeds; no Resistance Roll permitted

Right. All sorted, yeah?

The Rationale

Here’s where my head’s at: In D&D and most spell point systems, casting a spell is automatic, which usually means you have to balance automatic success with limited spells selection (i.e., either proscribed level limits or constrained casting frequency).

If balance is important to you, the converse is also true: Removing those limits (e.g., low-level MUs can attempt high-level spells, or high-level MUs could cast multiple instances of low-level spells), requires you to turn off the automatic casting. Hence, a Wield roll (i.e., skill check).

Now let’s get a little abstract: Power use in Chimera simulates the wielder harnessing whatever supernatural energy he has access to. But it's tiring. The more powerful the power, the more energy to be harnessed. Put into this context, most Wield rolls will result in a cast spell—the real question is have you avoided tiring yourself out in the process?

In that respect, the Wield roll indicates one of four possible outcomes (compare these normal language versions with the results above):

  • You fail miserably. Not only did you not harness the energy, but you tired yourself out in the process (Critical Failure).
  • You managed to harness the energy, but you tired yourself out in the process (Normal Failure)
  • You harnessed the energy without undue strain and released it skillfully (Normal Success)
  • CS: You harnessed the energy almost effortlessly and released it with great effect (Critical Success)

Final Words

I think this is a good trade-off between the automatic casting of D&D (and its ilk) and the roll-to-cast mechanic of Chimera’s Wield Ability.

In practice, all but a Critical Failure grants the power's effects, but the outcome of the Wield roll indicates the power’s success, but also its toll on the wielder. This is also a good check against powers getting out of hand (since the only "casting" limitation is the wielder's tolerance for fatigue, which, in practice, is a big concern during game play).

Thoughts? Counterpoints? Violent dissension? Lemme know—5th Printing is due out in a couple weeks.

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  1. April 20th, 2011 at 17:46 | #1

    The Wield roll’s results seemed wierd at first: “Why should a failure still let me unleash my Fiery Ball of Doom?” but the rationale put it into context well enough for me to understand what the different outcomes meant.

    This looks like it’s going to be a great printing and I can barely wait!

  2. April 20th, 2011 at 22:41 | #2

    @Daniel : A little more rationale is needed…

    My players all come from D&D background, where spell use is automatic. It became very frustrating for players to pick spell-casting classes and constantly struggle to loose spells–like, why bother picking a spell-casting class if Wield never worked?

    So this is a workable compromise–even a failed Wield roll “works,” but it really costs the caster in terms of Fatigue. They get to cast spells and I get a balanced mechanic. Everyone’s happy.

    And, in a “meta” sense, this works for me–how many spell-casters from books and movies get “exhausted” from working their magicks? This system fits in well with player expectations.

    Hope you enjoy the 5th printing ;)

  3. deimos3428
    April 25th, 2011 at 14:34 | #3

    I like everything but the effect of a Critical Success…and really, I don’t hate it either.

    I humbly suggest retaining some very hard resistance roll vs. none at all. That way not only is there a slim hope clause, but more importantly a roll exists to be modified by situation, rather than being an absolute.

    eg. Spellcaster does a Critical Success casting a lightning bolt. Perhaps the opponent would save at TN 20 (or 21 if you’re a meanie). If the opponent happens to be Rubber Man they might have TN -12 vs. lightning attacks. This math is assuming I don’t have TN backwards again, of course.

  4. April 25th, 2011 at 21:12 | #4

    @deimos3428 : I hear you on the Resistance Roll…after all, even a Critical Success by the target negates the effects. How about:

    * Critical Failure: Power fizzles; wielder must Resist Fatigue against power’s TN
    * Normal Failure: Power succeeds; target Resists normally but wielder must Resist Fatigue against power’s TN
    * Normal Success: Power succeeds; target Resistance Roll normal
    * Critical Success: Power succeeds; target Resistance penalised by wielder’s level

    Make more sense to you?

  5. deimos3428
    April 25th, 2011 at 21:27 | #5

    Yeah, along those lines.

    You want a resistance roll to exist as a faint hope, but the resistance rolls should not succeed quite as often as in games like D&D where the attacker is certain to succeed.

    My remaining concern would be if the base TN for resistance rolls is tough enough for powers to be successful a reasonable amount of the time. I simply don’t know. I think you’ve struck a good balance, but you’ll need play-testing to confirm.

  6. deimos3428
    April 25th, 2011 at 22:22 | #6

    Lookin’ into it, I predict the default TN of 12 is too easy for the defender, given that you’re adding a bonus for level.

    Something more like TN=16 or even TN=20 would seem to be more appropriate as a default, (first-level resistance success drops from 50% to 30% or 10%) — but salt to taste, of course.

  7. April 25th, 2011 at 22:51 | #7

    @deimos3428 : I agree…TN 12 doesn’t work. However, TN for Resistance vs. Powers equals the Power’s TN…you’ll see when the 5th printing comes out (unless you have a pre-release copy…) ;)

  8. deimos3428
    April 26th, 2011 at 07:52 | #8

    @Erin D. Smale
    Ooh! ooh! Idea!

    Critical Failure: Power fizzles; Resistance Roll vs. Fatigue against power’s TN penalised by the defender’s level

    It’s quite like the defender “cast” a fatigue spell.

  9. April 26th, 2011 at 21:15 | #9

    @deimos3428 Evil. And I like it. This adds insult to injury (literally) for a Critical Failure. Wondering if maybe the power works on a Critical Failure, but you have to Resist fatigue as you suggest?

    There’s a lot of room for variation in the Wield roll results – thinking that the Core might include a few options. Like one set of results for a high-fantasy game, one set for a low-fantasy, and another set for everything else?

  10. Greg MacKenzie
    April 29th, 2011 at 14:14 | #10

    The point of fatigue I suppose is striving not to have yourself impacted the the casting of the spell. I still don’t think the recipient deserves any kind of a saving throw since the Weilder has to make a roll for success. Maybe critical failure should include suffering the effects of the spell, reap what you’ve sown…

  11. Greg MacKenzie
    April 29th, 2011 at 14:16 | #11

    the the… I really should proofread my own writing. TGIF.

  12. April 29th, 2011 at 19:37 | #12

    @Greg MacKenzie : I hear what you’re saying, but I’m coming at this from a slightly different perspective (which I admit may be flawed):

    The Wield roll produces an effect, which like all effects, can be mitigated. A Critical Success on a Fight roll could still end up flat if the target’s Defence absorbs all the damage rolled. Likewise, a target could get away with half-damage by rolling a Normal Success on a Resistance Roll (or no damage if his Resistance is a Critical Success).

    Part of this is (admittedly) for balance–I want built-in checks against “gaming the system.” While not foolproof, they do prevent a player from spending all his IP on Wield and casting sleep or blast or shock on everything that comes his way. Check #1: he has to worry about Fatigue for those times when he Wields poorly. Check #2: his targets could still avoid the effects with a good Resistance roll.

    IOW, the responsibility for Wielding is the caster’s, while the responsibility for defending is the target’s. The caster may roll really well (just like a fighter with a good Fight roll), but the ultimate outcome isn’t entirely within his control. A CS on the Wield roll makes it harder to Resist, but the target still gets that chance to Resist.

  13. Greg MacKenzie
    April 30th, 2011 at 07:11 | #13

    I think the wield and powers system is very good as it is. Really, for me at least, this is more of a theoretical discussion about game mechanics. No further change to the rules is required or implied by my drifting thought. What I was thinking about was that resistance to magic could be implied and factored into the roll the Wielder of a Power has to make thus requiring no intervention in the form of a save by the recipient. The idea is to reduce the number of throws of the dice. Having said that, what you have is very workable and good as it is. I like the idea of fatigue which reminds me very much of Tom Baker’s wizard in the o;’ Sinbad movie, visually aging as he casts spells.

  14. April 30th, 2011 at 10:51 | #14

    @Greg MacKenzie : resistance to magic could be implied and factored into the roll the Wielder

    Good call. You’ll see some of this in the Core, where (for example) the result of a Sneak roll affects whether an opponent can Observe you (because I hate opposed rolls, but that’s a different topic).

    Anyway, what you’re saying could also be accomplished with some clever Perks or Sperks or powered items. For example, if you had a magic-resistant creature or item, it might add its level to the wielder’s Resistance Roll on a Critical Failure (like what Tyson suggested above). Or, to your point, an inherently magical creature or powerful item might deny your target’s Resistance roll when you Wield a Critical Success.

    This is exactly the sort of thing that I like about Chimera–the Basic rules form a baseline that might apply to 80% of a given game or encounter or setting. The remaining 20%–the exceptions to the norm, you might say–get special treatment through Perks or Sperks, without actually changing the rules.

    BTW, aging as you cast spells is a great idea. Maybe you pick up a cursed item that converts lost fatique into years lost? Or maybe that’s just the way magic works in the campaign–you fail a Wield roll, you lose years. Of course, one would have to mechanically enforce the effects of old age, but that could be a fun random table…

  15. Greg MacKenzie
    April 30th, 2011 at 18:49 | #15

    Fail a resistance roll, the incomprehensible powers of mystery overwhelm the wizard, Table of flaws anyone?

  16. April 30th, 2011 at 19:05 | #16

    @Greg MacKenzie : Indeed. Upcoming blog post, I think. Of course, feel free to beat me to that punch :)

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