Monthly Archives: September, 2016

Off the Path: Words of Power, Part 2

In my last post I outlined some things I’d like to see in the Words of Power system.

  1. Cost based on caster level;
  2. Reorganizing the effects;
  3. Unified power framework.

The unified power framework might seem to be the most ambitious… but I noticed something that might make it a lot less work than I expected. I’ll come back to that a little further below.

Examining Words of Power

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis

Let’s start looking at aspects of the words of power and see where it takes us.


I’m going to use Healing Words as my starting point. In Words of Power there are five healing words that map more or less directly to the stabilize spell and the four cure wounds spells (soothing touch stabilizes a dying creature, then each level of Word after that heals 1d6+level (max 5*word level) points of damage — 1d8+1/level if the spell is boosted).

This is an okay starting point, but I want characters with greater word mastery to be able to get greater effect for cost. It doesn’t matter if you have elder cure (4d6+1/level, 4d8+1/level boosted) if you only use a second-level slot. Also, I really don’t like “per level” calculations in effects. I considered having the same degree of healing for a single point (so having Healing Word IV lets you do 4d6 points of healing for one magic point) but that’s way too rich if I’m going to allow using more than one point.

I’ll back it off. Healing Word I heals 1d6 points per magic point, Healing Word II heals 1d8 points per magic point (just 1 more on average), Healing Word III heals 1d10 points per magic point… and following my smoother damage progression, Healing Word IV and Healing Word V heal 2d6 and 2d8 points per magic point respectively. With the understanding that cantrips are often considered “half” a first-level spell, I’ll include a Healing Word 0 (cantrip-grade) for 1d3 points of healing per magic point.

But wait! 1d3… that’s… half a d6. And d6, then d8 has a mean of 4.5, which is d6+1, and d10 has a mean of 5.5 (or d6+2, or the same as d6+d3… one and a half d6s).

HERO System damage classes (DC) are five points each, and go 1, ½d6, 1d6, 1d6+1, 1½d6, 2d6, 2d6+1, 2½d6, 3d6… the Healing Word I spell does 1d6, Healing Word II does 1d8 and averages the same as 1d6+1, Healing Word III does 1d10 averages the same as 1½d6, Healing Word IV does 2d6, Healing Word V does 2d8 and averages… 9 points, one point higher than 2d6+1. Close enough. Even Healing Word 0 aligns, at 1d3 (½d6), and the (as-yet unmentioned) “Healing Word -1” (because Echelon has a Pre-Basic tier even below Basic tier, for things like rats) doing a single point of healing would align.

So… power words being worth 15 Active cost (in HERO terms) at tier 1, then plus or minus 5 Active cost per tier above or below, there must be something I can do with this. Let’s look at limitations, see how they line up.

Limitations on Words of Power

The Words of Power system expects that all spells have Verbal, Somatic, and Material components, unless otherwise indicated, and take a standard action to cast. The Verbal and Somatic components apply only when casting, and map directly to the Incantations and Gestures limitations, each at the -¼ level. Material components have no special cost, but are easily identifiable at casting time and taking them away is a relatively simple action. Together I’m going to call them an “Obvious Accessible Focus” (OAF), which is a -1 limitation. This gives a total limitation of -1½ on spells by default.

This works well for me. If power words have an Active Cost of 5 points per tier, and expected limitations of -1½, that means the power words have a Real Cost of 2 points (5/(1+1½) = 5/2½ = 2) per tier.

What if I ignore Active Cost here and look primarily at Real Cost? If I require that a power word is worth “2 Real” per tier and allow the Active Cost to swing, I find I could have more variety in the power of the words, with varying degrees of limitation. A ‘simple spell’ (low limitation, such as ‘just Verbal and Somatic components’, a total of -½) would limit the power word to 3 Active Cost per tier. Simple to cast, doesn’t do much. Or I could go the other way and increase the limitations (let’s say requiring more time to cast and spending more magic points — Extra Time and Extra Endurance in HERO terms) but get an effect with more Active Points — harder to cast, but more powerful. The -1½ already present on the spell means I’m not going to get a lot of mileage out of adding more limitations, though. To double the Active Points available (from 5 points per tier to 10 points per tier) I’m going to need to take the divisor from 2½ to 5 — which means increasing the limitations from -1½ to -4! That’s a huge jump, so this is not an easy path to incredible cosmic power.

It does, however, gain me something nifty.

Variations and Unified Casting

I don’t have to stick with Verbal, Somatic, and Material components (Incantations, Gestures, Focus). HERO provides me with all sorts of options for limitations that could be applied.

Concentration: made for a psychic/psionic system.

Requires Skill Check: want a skill-based magic system? Or just the ability to do crazy fantastic things with skill checks? Or…

… or even martial. ‘Sword Magic’ can be a thing! It might use attack rolls instead of skill checks, or not, but this could be a thing.

Aaand I need to get back to work, lunch break is over. I’ll have to continue this more later.

Off the Path: Words of Power, Part 1

The first Off the Path series will take the Words of Power system from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic and make it more to my taste. The general approach is good, and I see room to add a lot more to it.

Words of Power Overview

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis

Words of Power in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game are pretty straightforward. There are many ‘effect words’, and a smaller number of ‘target words’ and ‘meta words’. Effect words ‘do something’ (burn targets, heal subjects, teleport the caster), target words determine what is affected by the effect words, and meta words change what or how this happens.

A wordspell consists of one target word, one to three effect words, and any number of meta words, within the limits of the caster’s ability. A fireball analogue wordspell might be ‘burst fire blast distant’

  • burst: 10-foot radius within close range, or boosted to 20-foot radius within medium range (level 1, or 3 if boosted);
  • fire blast: 1d6 points of fire damage per caster level (level 3, max 10d6);
  • distant: range extended from medium to long (level 0).

This wordspell has a single effect word with a minimum level of 3, the burst target word has a minimum level of 1 (or 3 if boosted, and why not do that?), and the distant meta word does not modify the level. This is a third-level spell doing 1d6/level damage (max 10d6) in a 20-foot radius at long range.

There are more targets, more meta words, and many more effects described in Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic… and yet I see some things that could be added, and while it’s pretty close to what I want, I see a few things I’d like to do differently.

Changes Under Consideration

There are several things I’d like to try to incorporate.

Casting Cost Based on Caster Level

The psionics rules in D&D 3.x (and later in Dreamscarred Press’ Ultimate Psionics) base casting cost not on ‘spell level’, but on the ‘caster level’ of the effect. I find I very much like that, and want to incorporate it here. Higher-level abilities might be more efficient (more benefit for cost — cure light wounds doing 1d8+1/level, and cure serious wounds doing 3d8+1/level, both could be cast at a cost of 5 points, but one would do 1d8+5 points of healing and the other 3d8+5). I like the idea of unskilled but powerful casters throwing heaps of power at a spell in order to achieve what a more skilled caster could do more easily.

Reorganize Effects

There are many (137 effect words across 35 effect types, 10 meta words, and 6 target words)… but I they can be better organized and expanded. In fact…

Unified Power Framework

think I see the outline of a unified power framework that can be used to develop a variety of different power types. Spells, psionics, and martial disciplines (as from Dreamscarred Press’ Path of War) might all be possible here.

Closing Comments

This is a pretty ambitious change, to be sure… but it relates to several things I’ve considered over the years, and I think it can be done.

Off the Path: Exploring Different Ground

Blank Arrow Sign -- William McAusland

Blank Arrow Sign — William McAusland

I’m starting a new series, “Off the Path”.

Off the Path takes an idea currently implemented in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and changes it — much like the old ‘KJD-ALT‘ posts I used to make to

Much of my design is influenced by my work on Echelon. I mostly talk about Echelon at my other site, but since this series is actually about Pathfinder I’m keeping it here.

Echelon Influence

The mechanics of Echelon are in flux, I’ve identified several ways they can be implemented. The only important bits about Echelon to remember in this series are:

  • Many Games In One: D&D 3.x, and by extension the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, has several modes of play hidden within it. At low levels it’s relatively gritty and realistic, in the middle levels the PCs are superhuman, and at the upper levels they are functionally superheroes and demigods (even if they don’t have divine traits — look at human mythology, and what the PCs can do).
  • Power Curve Is In Spells: The true power curve in D&D 3.x is not at all based on fighters and the like, but on dedicated spell casters. The most powerful classes are cleric, druid, and wizard. Tiers in Echelon are mapped to iconic spell levels (the iconic spells are usually at levels 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, and are gained at caster level 1, 5, 9, 13, and 17 respectively). I’ll be remapping back to D&D-esque levels (i.e. PCs start at first level, not ninth), but I’ll still keep “levels 1-4, 5-8, 9-12, 13-16, 17-20” in mind.
  • Awesome Comes From Level, Not Class: Everybody should become increasingly more awesome as they reach higher levels. Spells are fantastic, but fantastic doesn’t need to mean spells. Even the non-casters should not be limited to strictly mundane, can-happen-in-reality options.

These will often have application in the Off the Path series.