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Elfs spell system

Started by Jack Spencer Jr, July 13, 2003, 07:54:36 AM

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Jack Spencer Jr

I had my third session last night. Mayhem ensued. Various other problems like I have to figure out a way to keep bad guys around because one of the players is just too damned thorough.

Anyway, one of the player took a magic slingin' elf and he noted, and I had noticed this as well, that in practice he doesn't have a spell list. He has a fumble list.

Admittedly, I am playing the game about 2 steps away from freeform, but with the magic rules as they are he has yet to get a spell to work proper because that would require 3 successes.

Obviously, I think we're missing something in the intended play for Elfs. Brian is taking the game rather seriously. He spends more time plotting than I do, ferchrissakes (but that don't take much) But he's not playing much with that division line between player & character, either. I think this is part of it, but he chooses the fallout effect and has to be told to pick a spell that the character is trying to cast because he figures, why bother, it'll never work anyway. And so far he's been right, and he needs 8's or less.

So on the one hand, I'm thinking that an alternative, non-dumb luck version of magic would be useful since the spells are pretty much extraneous in our experience.

On the other, I think the secondary effects table needs some beefing up since it turns out to be the primary effects table.


Hi Jack,

The whole point of Elfs magic system is for the player to choose tactical based on his desires, not the elf's.

Check out page 26 of the rule book.  This is the list of options the player has when casting magic.

As a player, the trick if to choose a spell and player action combo that might be useful.  You'll note that Spurt allows the spell to work as chosen.  Also, you might rule that Fizzle does sometimes as well.
- Alan

A Writer's Blog:

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

The most useful trick for spell-casting is to use Spurt, because then you're all set for improvising off the other spell that gets cast, whatever it might be. It's a fumble list, sure, but as Alan points out, it's not a player fumble we're talking about.

Can't get three successes on 8 or less? That's some lousy luck, too.

Elfs is indeed about player strategizing, and if you're feeling the heat from the players, that's great - time for you to Step On Up and wax their creative asses good with some neat adversaries and situations. My point, however, is that "casting the right spell" is not especially powerful tactic in the game - spell-casting introduces chaos, rather than honing or clearing-out a situation. The challenge for Brian is now how to apply that chaos most effectively.

Brian, you're here on the Forge too. Chime in - I think you'll find, through some discussion, that your strategic and tactical desires can be met with Elfs magic. But to do that, check out p. 26 and get away from the "I cast Spell X because it's the perfect spell for the situation" mindset. Remember, player success is not the same thing as character task success in Elfs.


Ben Morgan

The thing about elfs is that sure, a lot of them can use magic, but very very few of them (if any) can actually use it well. When an elf actually manages to cast the spell he was intending, it's an amazingly rare occasion, and (almost) always by accident.

This fits wth the way they're written in the rest of the book. Think about it: they probably got the ability to work magic by stealing it from someone else, and they probably forgot to grab the instruction manual. In other words, using Dumb Luck to cast spells wasn't simply a way of providing game balance, it was built that way because it fits with the setting and background.

Coming up with a way of letting them cast the spells they want is, IMO, kind of missing the point about elfs and their relation to magic in general. And it's another clever poke at D&D's oh-so-dignified elven wizards.

-- Ben
-----[Ben Morgan]-----[]-----
"I cast a spell! I wanna cast... Magic... Missile!"  -- Galstaff, Sorcerer of Light


Thanks, I will try to be more creative with the fumble list, Spurt sounds good.  I agree that elves are not supposed to be efficient with magic and I encourage jack to make the fumble list more entertaining, of course give the fumble I ask for but screw with the how the results affect things, or even add a second random fumble I if get two failures on the dice.

The game is player fast and loose if an idea sounds fun or whacky but in the real world would have no chance of working, jack does not let that prevent the idea from succeeding and every one having fun.  So strategy is less important than wackiness.

If there is a combat with a dozen foes, when players and the GM get bored with it the remaining bad guys just sort of disappear and we move on with the game. Two thumbs up jack!


Hi Brian,

I'm curious how page 26 got overlooked.  The basic rule of Elfs magic is that you must use Dumb Luck and the player declares his intent from the list on page 26 and also the Elf's intent from the spells the Elf knows.

You get to add your Spuck and Dumb Luck for every cast, so usually you have a pretty good roll and consulting the fumble chart is kind of rare.

Is this not what you've been doing to date?
- Alan

A Writer's Blog:

Jack Spencer Jr

Hey, Alan

No, we know all about page 26. It's just that in play, for us anyway, it just doesn't seem to work all that well for a couple reasons:

Brian just isn't think in dumb luck mode. Not a big deal but low cunning is more how he's working it than dumb luck in everything else.

Brian needs 7's (not 8's as I originally thought) and in three sessions he has yet to roll 3 successes on a spell casting roll.

There are 5 fumble effects and 13 spells. the fumble* effects are the player's choice in what happens for Dumb Luck. SO on 1-2 successes the fumble happens. only on 3 does the spell actually get off. So the 5 fumbles are more likely to happen than the 13 spells. I'm not sure, but I think it needs work. If I find something that works, I'll let you know.

I think that most of the spell fumble effects would be more chaotic if  all the elfs were magic slinging. I oughta bring this up with the others.

*Note: by fumble, I mean the player's choices table on page 26, not the fumble proper table on page 27, which also seems woefully short to me an being short, prone to repetition.


Ah.  I see the word "fumble" is never used in the rules.  In fact the tables aren't labelled per se.  I'd suggest Player Intent and Backfire for future reference.

Hm.  I can see a player having a preference for either Dumb Luck or Low Cunning.  I have the opposite problem from Brian.  When I played, Low Cunning actions were difficult for me to come up with, but Dumb Luck was easy to think of.  

From the time I played, here's some tactical uses of Player Intent:

Spurt - For when you just have to have the spell the Elf chooses.  Great if only your side has spell casters.

Fizzle - a good way to bomb the enemy spell caster, if you can take the damage.

Haywire - Probably the best offensive option  Most of the spells are offensive, so a random selection is almost always useful - and you get to produce spells your character doesn't know.  Lots of fun.

Slurp - if there's more of us than them, the odds are good that we'll benefit from the healing.  Heck, maybe there're none of _them_ at all.

Stop - Hoo boy, that Beholder sure looks nasty.  We'd be better off without any magic at all.
- Alan

A Writer's Blog: