Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The LotFP Disintegrate Spell - Possible House Rules

A few factors in our LotFP campaign are making our group reconsider the way Disintegrate works.

  1. It makes a lot of combat trivial, and thus less interesting as either events to be overcome through clever play or events to avoid through clever play (since combat is supposed to be a waste of resources and a source of unnecessary danger in LotFP, at least sometimes if not always). If there's only one opponent, or one opponent that is clearly a bigger threat than the others, out comes Disintegration. Hello, instant death without a saving throw. The player with the only high-level mage in the group told me outright that he thinks the spell is overpowered at this point and should be weakened to some degree.
  2. On the other side of the equation, the party is going to have to deal with more and more high-level mages who don't like them, and may try to fight them. There's no reason these enemies wouldn't have access to Disintegrate in our campaign setting. I don't particularly want the following scenario to happen: "Suddenly, a wizard steps forth and starts casting a spell. He wins initiative. He casts disintegrate. Raziel, you're dead and all of your magic items are gone. No, you don't get a save." Come on, "horror" campaign or not (and it's pretty much not, at the moment), that's some bullshit right there. In a low-level adventure where the characters are pretty disposable and they've done something to piss the mighty wizard off, sure, I can see that being fair enough, but in a war with powerful casters on both sides and the high-level players pretty much needing to engage in combat with the forces of darkness (or light) on a regular basis, it doesn't seem right.
  3. Speaking of war, I think the campaign could end up needing some mass battle rules at just about any point in the near future. I don't think my group would be very interested in such battles if 90% of the forces on both sides were rendered almost pointless by the presence of wizards (i.e. magic artillery units) equipped with Wands of Disintegrate zapping all of their foes as soon as they get into range. Sure, wands take time and money to make, but there are plenty of paranoid wizards in the world of Myth who have had plenty of both, and the motivation to stockpile such weapons "just in case." From what I've heard, this is very much not the case in the typical LotFP campaign, but when you start getting into more "high fantasy" territory like we have, the rules may have become unsuitable for what we have in mind. The point is that I want non-magical (or at least non-wizard) troops to have a great deal of impact on the outcome of battles, despite the wizards they work for also being involved.

This is where I'm at. The disintegrate spell seems perfectly fine for the kind of campaign James Raggi likes to run, but my own needs are different at this time. House rules are probably in order. I told my players I would post some preliminary ideas here on the blog, for their approval or disapproval, so here's what I have in mind.

I think a Save vs. Magic should be granted to the target of Disintegrate. From my reading, I have gotten the impression that spells in LotFP do not grant saving throws unless the spell descriptions say they do. I'm not 100% sure that's in the Rules As Written, but that's how we've been playing. I think I will go ahead and change that. What I'm not sure about is whether I should allow a saving throw for all spells that do not specify "yes" or "no" on the subject, or just disintegrate. I'm leaning toward the former, but I'm not sure.

I think that if the target succeeds on the saving throw, the disintegration should be negated. If the target fails the save, the target dies, but they can then make a second saving throw. If they succeed on that one, their magic items are not disintegrated along with them. If they fail, all of their inventory is disintegrated, too. If the dying player does not want either their fellow party members or their enemies to be able to get their hands on their juicy magical swag, they can of course forgo the second saving throw.

Should there just be one saving throw for all of their gear, or should each individual item give a saving throw? Should non-magic items get a save? I don't want to slow down gameplay too much with a bunch of extra saving throws, since the party has acquired an awful lot of magic items, but I do want to be fair.

I'm also thinking about limiting the creation of Scrolls, Wands, and Staves of Disintegration somehow. This might not require a house rule. Maybe Disintegration is such a new spell in the world of Myth that not everyone who wants to learn it has been able to, or has had the time to craft items that make use of it. Magic item creation in LotFP RAW is already quite costly and time consuming, and I've already mentioned that a lot of the spells available in the campaign are practically brand new to the world of Myth, having been created or discovered only within the last few years. And wizards are known to jealously guard their secrets, after all, even from their allies. So maybe there's no problem here.

But let's say for the sake of argument that we do need a house rule to prevent the extreme proliferation of Disintegration-based weaponry. Keep in mind that I've already house-ruled that non-mages can cast spells from wands as first-level mages, I may have already made such wands a bigger problem for myself in a war-based setting than necessary! I can just imagine it now: every tenth soldier marches into battle with a Wand of Disintegration, and the other nine soldiers wonder why they're even there, except as a brief distraction.

Again, none of this is a problem if no one holds any preconceived notions of the direction the plot should take, and ordinarily I would agree that I shouldn't sweat this kind of thing, but I think both my players and myself are hoping to stick to certain genre conventions regarding fantasy warfare, and this just doesn't fit.

As a suggested "fix," maybe all spells of Level 6 and above should be limited in how many charges can be placed into their corresponding magic items. For example, a scroll could only hold one single casting of one single spell if that spell is Level 6 or above, and a wand or staff could only hold one spell if it is Level 6 or above, and it could only hold up to 1d4 charges of that spell, with the number determined when the item is created. This way, all of the Avatara or Fallen Lords or whoever couldn't get together and just pump all of their collective Disintegrate charges for the day into a Wand of Disintegration to give it a whole bunch of charges, hand that wand off to their champion of choice, and get that one person to start ambushing armies and wiping them out single-handedly.

Okay, so those are my thoughts so far. Am I off-base with what the Disintegrate spell would do unaltered in open warfare? Are house rules necessary? What do you think of my proposed solutions? Do you think Magic Missile or Death Spell might need a makeover, too? I'd love to hear from anyone with an opinion about anything I've discussed here.

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