09 June, 2015

Storifying Mage: the Ascension (Part 7) - Skills and Magic

(I was sure that I had posted this bit earlier, but looking through the posts it seems that I had skipped this entry when transferring the posts from my word processor to the blog...so there may have been a bit of a disconnect earlier. Sorry about that,)

I like consistency in my game systems, rather than subsystems here and there each functioning in different ways and slowing the game down as players adjust. But, there are things that are natural and things that are supernatural, so I’ll accept some variation in the mechanisms driving the magic in a system compared to the mechanisms driving the mundane.

Much of a character’s development through the spheres of magick is basically an expansion of flavour text and narrative potential. At the lowest levels most spheres can sense the mystical energies associated with them, at higher levels subtle manipulations occur along specific lines, and at higher levels more powerful and more diverse effects may be harnessed. Spheres can also be combined with one another to produce virtually any effect imaginable (if you have the right mastery in each of the spheres being combined). Level of mastery in spheres may never be higher than Arête score; and since willpower drives magick, Arête may never be higher than Willpower.

Mundane activities work by drawing a number of card equal to attribute + ability, then discarding down to a hand equal to the attribute. So it might make sense to have magickal activities work by drawing a number of cards equal to Arête, then discarding down to a hand equal to the highest sphere rank used in the effect. As an analogue to mundane effects, that’s similar to the way 1st edition Mage handled magic (vulgar magick rolling the sphere rating, coincidental magick rolling the Arête rating), but later editions just modified the way difficulties work. But I want magic to be even more like the later versions of the game and more of a focus for driving the story, so instead of discarding down we’ll just use the full arête hand of cards to resolve magickal effects.

All actions in Mage are basically against the environment, against an opponent, or against the self.

Effects against the environment typically use a static difficulty
Effects against an opponent typically use a difficulty based on the opponent’s Attribute+Ability or Willpower
Effects against the self are typically resolved without dice at all, instead using roleplaying and narration to work through them.  

Static difficulties are fine in a d10 system when they’re around the middle of the range, 4 to 8. I particularly found this out while I was playtesting “Tooth and Claw”, values at the edges started to bring in weird irregularities. The same thing generally applies in Classic World of Darkness. Mage20 circumvents this with the concept of thresholds, where instead of high difficulties of 9 or 10, you can just state that the action requires an extra success or two before it’s achieved. With low difficulties (if your dice pool is higher than the difficulty), you just say that the event passes. With this system, I’m aiming more for conflict resolution, but some actions may require one conflict to be resolved before another may be confronted. But generally difficulties go like this…

3 Trivial (I’m scrapping this one, stuff with a base difficulty of 3 just succeeds)
4 Easy
5 Straightforward
6 Standard
7 Challenging
8 Difficult
9 Extreme (I’m scrapping this one too, instead a character will need to roll an 8 with an extra success to achieve this, higher difficulties simply require more successes to achieve satisfactorily)

Most difficulties are based on common sense, declared up front, and players make the rolls.

Effects against opponents get messy in Classic World of Darkness. In some circumstances the player rolls against a difficulty based on the opponent’s attribute+ability, but this might end up with difficulties of 3 or less, or 9 or more (especially when some supernatural beings have attributes above 5). Sometimes two opponents might be competing to gain the highest number of successes using specific statistics representing their active processes versus difficulties comprising other statistics representing their passive resistances in the situation. Trying to work out the actual dice pools and difficulties can be a major disruption. To keep things simple, when characters compete for the same task, just have each of them aim for the highest number of successes, each with the same difficulty. If one player is more prepared, or has a distinct advantage of some type then they might confront a lower difficulty.

A character can also choose to take some time to prepare. They deliberately break the conflict into two parts, one for prep and one for resolution. For most people, the preparation and the resolution will be mundane, but among mages there could be a mundane preparation designed to make a mystical resolution easier, or a mystical preparation designed to make a mundane resolution easier. It all works much the same way. The character aims to gain more than one success in their preparation, for every success after the first, the difficulty of the resolution drops by 1 (to a minimum of 4, any extra successes convert directly to successes on the resolution). If they fail to gain any successes, they have simply wasted time. They could try to prepare again, or just get on with the resolution of the task.

Magick works off the same ideas as normal.

Coincidental Magick Difficulty = Highest Sphere + 3
Vulgar Magick Difficulty without witnesses = Highest Sphere + 4
Vulgar Magick Difficulty with witnesses = Highest Sphere + 5

With spheres from 1 to 5, that gives us difficulties ranging from 4 to 8 for coincidental magickal effects. Vulgar Magickal effects without witnesses have difficulties ranging from 5 to 9 (but the 9 difficulty gets translated down to 8 with 2 successes required). When witnesses are present, the difficulties move up by another notch (with the most powerful effects requiring an 8 with three successes before they manifest)

The 3rd/Revised Edition of Mage gave magick an element called “resonance”. This was a concept with great story potential, but was never really exploited properly at the time (as explained in this thread). Perhaps, like many of the concepts in Wraith, it was simply an idea ahead of its time. To remedy this, resonance will play a much bigger part in these rules. It will form the basis for modifiers to magical action outcomes (If you do something aligning with your resonance it’s easier but you reinforce this resonance in your pattern. If you do something contrary to your resonance it’s harder, but you break the bond your character has to this resonance). It will affect the type of quiet a mage goes into when they accumulate paradox: Denial (static), Madness (dynamic), or Morbidity (entropic). It will be easy to acquire and hard to get rid of.

Most tasks benefit from the right tools and situations (reduction to difficulties, bonus cards drawn, automatic “virtual face cards” added to the character’s hand), or suffer issues when adequate tools are unavailable or the situation is problematic (increased difficulties, less cards drawn, more successes needing to be acquired). Perhaps too messy and complicated, it probably needs to be streamlined because the whole resolution system with Major Arcana “ands” and “buts” is already adding complications.

Combat is a bit trickier and deserves a post of its own.
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