Tuesday, May 30, 2017

LotFP Spell Point Costs Using "A Spell Point Theory" (Green Devil Face #4)

In Green Devil Face #4, James Raggi published a short article suggesting a simple method of using spell points in D&D as a replacement for the traditional Jack Vance-style "fire and forget" rules. In short, spells that do not scale in effect with the caster's level (which I'm calling "Set Cost" spells) cost a number of spell points equal to the spell's level, while spells that do scale in effect with the caster's level ("Variable Cost" spells) cost a number of points equal to the level of the spell plus the caster level "strength" at which the spell operates. For example, if you want to cast Magic Missile as if you were a fifth-level magic-user (regardless of your actual level), the spell would cost you 6 spell points, because you are casting a first-level spell with a strength of 5.

How many spell points do you get? Well, a PDF of Green Devil Face #4 only costs $5 at the time of writing this post, and the article is only one page, so I'd feel bad giving away James Raggi's whole system for free here without his permission. (I mean, I already gave most of it away.) If you don't already own it, why don't you either buy it or ask a friend who owns a copy to let you read it? If you toss the poor bastard a few bucks, I'm sure your cash will go to a good cause, like buying obscure metal albums, or commissioning beautiful artwork that'll never actually end up in a book but will end up on Tumblr, or putting scratch and sniff stickers in Covered in Sick.

In case anyone wants to give this system a shot while playing Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I thought a list of spell point costs (including the "type" of cost - Set or Variable) for all of the spells in the Rules & Magic book might serve as a handy resource. So, here you go. I'm tempted to try this in combination with my Final Fantasy 1 classes.

Spells marked with "^" are ones with descriptions that I could see being interpreted as either Set or Variable Cost. I listed these spells in the categories which I personally thought were more appropriate, but I could see how some disagreements may arise. For example, if a spell behaves differently depending on the Saving Throw or HP of the caster, I could see how one might argue that the spell should be Variable Cost because the caster's Saving Throws and HP are level-dependent. However, I would personally count these spells as Set Cost (in most cases) because they are not directly based on the caster's level itself, but rather on other characteristics that happen to vary with one's level.

As usual, spells marked with "*" are reversible.

1 Point - Set Cost
Charm Person
Detect Evil*
Detect Magic
Floating Disc
Hold Portal
Magic Aura*
Purify Food & Drink*
Read Magic

2 Points - Set Cost
Delay Poison
Heat Metal
Light, Continual*
Magic Mouth
Wizard Lock

2 Points - Variable Cost
Comprehend Languages*
Cure Light Wounds*
Faerie Fire
Feather Fall
Invisibility to Undead*
Magic Missile
Protection From Evil*
Remove Fear*
Spider Climb
Turn Undead
Unseen Servant

3 Points - Set Cost
Dispel Magic (both versions)
Explosive Runes
Remove Curse*
Secret Page
Speak With Dead
Strange Waters II^

3 Points - Variable Cost
Audible Glamour
Change Self
Detect Invisible
Force of Forbidment
Locate Object*
Mirror Image
Phantasmal Force
Ray of Enfeeblement
Resist Cold
Resist Fire
Silence 15' Radius
Speak With Animals
Stinking Cloud
Wall of Fog

4 Points - Set Cost
Charm Monster
Detect Lie
Dimension Door
Mnemonic Enhancer^
Neutralize Poison*
Plant Growth
Polymorph Others
Seven Gates^
Wall of Ice

4 Points - Variable Cost
Army of One
Cure Disease*^
Detect Illusion
False Alignment
Gaseous Form
Gust of Wind
Hold Person
Howl of the Moon
Invisibility, 10' Radius
Magic Vestment
Phantasmal Psychedelia
Protection From Normal Missiles
Water Breathing*
Water Walk

5 Points - Set Cost
Contact Outer Sphere
Dispel Evil
Transmute Rock to Mud*
Wall of Stone

5 Points - Variable Cost
Creation, Minor
Cure Serious Wounds*
Globe of Invulnerability, Minor
Hallucinatory Terrain
Invisibility, Improved
Polymorph Self
Protection From Evil, 10' Radius*
Protection From Normal Weapons
Shadow Monsters
Speak With Plants
Spell Immunity
Wall of Fire
Wizard Eye

6 Points - Set Cost
Legend Lore
Mind Switch
Move Earth
Stone to Flesh*

6 Points - Variable Cost
Airy Water
Animate Dead
Creation, Major
Cure Critical Wounds*
Faithful Hound
Hold Monster
Insect Plague
Interposing Hand
Magic Jar
Secret Chest
Stone Shape
True Seeing*
Wall of Force
Wall of Iron

7 Points - Set Cost
Bestow Spell Ability^
Control Weather
Holy Word*
Instant Summons
Prismatic Spray

7 Points - Variable Cost
Animate Dead Monsters
Anti-Magic Shell
Death Spell
Find the Path*
Glass Eye
Globe of Invulnerability, Major
Phantasmal Supergoria
Projected Image
Speak With Monsters
Suggestion, Mass
Weird Vortex^
Word of Recall

8 Points - Set Cost
Trap the Soul

8 Points - Variable Cost
Animate Artwork
Grasping Hand
Invisibility, Mass
Magic Sword
Part Water
Phase Door
Power Word Stun
Prismatic Sphere
Prismatic Wall
Remote Surveillance
Reverse Gravity
Spell Turning
Witchlamp Aura

9 Points - Set Cost
Temporal Stasis
Time Stop

9 Points - Variable Cost
Charm Person, Mass
Mind Blank
Polymorph Any Object

10 Points - Variable Cost
Power Word Kill
Shape Change

Some Thoughts:
I would be tempted to change the cost of some spells - Continual Light, Disintegrate, Earthquake, and Heal strike me as perhaps being too easy/cheap to cast - but honestly, I should probably try this system out before I start tinkering with it that heavily. I'm reluctant to ruin the simplicity of the method of determining spell costs. If I do end up changing anything, I think it would be a lot easier to just remove or rewrite the spells I don't like, instead of trying to adjust their costs to my satisfaction.

Some spells would probably become either a lot more or a lot less useful under this system. This could be good or bad, depending on your preferences. I think Lucubration and Mnemonic Enhancer would have to be thrown out entirely, since spells are no longer "memorized." The DM could just replace it with a new spell, of course.

Now that I'm paying attention, it's strange to see which of the default LotFP spells are designed to scale with the caster's level and which are not. I would have expected Dig or Hold Portal to have some level-based effects, for example. I suppose that PCs could spend the time and money researching Variable Cost versions of Set Cost spells, should the DM allow it.

Unless I missed it, the article doesn't say how long one must rest, study, and/or pray in order to regain lost spell points. Since individual spells are no longer memorized, I would imagine that the rules for regaining spells in the Rules & Magic book no longer strictly apply. This can easily be taken care of with a house rule. For example, the DM could rule that every hour of study (for magic-users) or prayer (for clerics) restores 10 spell points, or that every hour of sleep restores 10 spell points (up to the character's maximum).

The only major problem I have with this system at the moment is that the random selection of spells at character creation could result in magic-users starting out without any spells they can actually cast besides Read Magic, which strikes me as unfair (and not in a good way). Maybe the DM could allow magic-users the option of re-rolling whenever they start out with a Variable Cost spell. Of course, the magic-user could choose to just keep one or more Variable Cost spells at character creation so they don't have to learn them later, or so they can just scribe them onto scrolls once they get a bit of money.

Has anyone out there given this a shot? Is anyone considering it? Are there any interesting implications to this system that I might have missed?


  1. I suppose I should read Vance to see what all the hubbub is about, particularly since some designers I love and respect have retained "fire and forget" -- but I've never like Vancian magic, and I've been playing/running D&D since 1977. I've seen multiple spell point systems, "mana", and even bold attempts to do "freeform" magic, but nothing quite as simple and possibly elegant as JEV-IV's spell point system in GFD #4. I love how you've pulled the spells and rated them -- thanks for doing that!

    Originally, I thought about a similar spell point system using a proportional increase of cost and spell point acquisition, based on the Fibonacci sequence, just because math spirals and golden means are cool. Once you get past 10th level or so, though, it gets very unwieldy.

    What do you think about allowing the caster to add the modifier of their casting stat to their spell point total? Not per level, but just once to the initial total? It makes 'em more powerful at lower levels, but eventually evens out. I thought about this just to reflect some individuality for casters based on ability, and just because it seemed like a cool thing to do.

    1. Happy to be of service. :)

      There are SO MANY Appendix N stories I need to read. Vance's work is definitely near the top of the priority list. But yeah, I've never really been in love with D&D's "Vancian" magic system. I'm generally fine with it, but I'd prefer to do things differently if I could find or come up with something else that worked well enough.

      The Fibonacci thing sounds complicated, but also kind of charming. I suppose it's no worse than using a saving throw table or a spells per day table or the to-hit table from B/X. At least the Fibonacci Sequence is predictable to math nerds and not just D&D nerds who have studied the rule book over and over.

      Adding the modifier to the caster's starting spell points could be a good way to get around the problem of starting with spells you can't afford to cast, at least for some characters. I don't think it would "break" anything much more than this system already does as written. It could probably work quite well.

    2. In re: the additional spell points, yeah, I thought it would be a minor tweak worth throwing in, just for the reason you note.

      Note: I am no math nerd, but when I was chatting with my wife (also no nerd) about your article and Raggi's original, she was knitting and spoke two words in reply "Fibonacci sequence." I'm like, huh? Then she ran through a quick explanation, said it's a thing that artists, knitters, and math peeps are big on, and it's like a universal principle. Doesn't scale well at higher levels, with your costs and James's point spend, unless we want MUs essentially devastating the world at 11th level...

      Hmmm... kind of genre apropos. In any event, you can easily column out the sequence to 20th level, but the numbers get ridiculous.

      I saw on G+ the one referee of mixed opinion about the ability of a low-level MU blowing away a bad guy (Lucia from BitCh, in this case). Got me thinking that maybe spell points can be used as counterspells/spell duels a la Wonders & Wicknedness -- an MU could either hold an action or roll to see if they can react in time to spend points to cancel the spell being cast at them.

      But at that point, we're getting into a complexified sub-game, or at least skirting its frontier. I would be interested in knowing what's in the playtest doc, since everyone who has it says it's a big improvement.

    3. Well, here's one take on the subject. :)

    4. Ah, very cool. Thank you! I'll give that a perusal!

    5. No problem. And yeah, I'm definitely not a math nerd either, but I have a best friend who is, and I bet he'd approve...right before proposing some sequence of numbers that is even more esoteric.

      As for the problems of "preventing magic-users from just casting magic missile over and over again forever" and "introducing an interesting new subsystem that is just complex enough BUT NOT TOO COMPLEX," I don't have any easy solutions off the top of my head, unfortunately. But these lines of thought seem worthy of pursuit.