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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