Let's Talk About Spellburn

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Vanguard
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Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Vanguard » Mon May 13, 2019 4:01 pm

I've been playing DCC RPG on and off since it was released. I've played long campaigns, modules, one-shots, etc. No matter the arrangement, I've found one thing to be true: Wizards break the game.

This isn't a unique problem to DCC. In every edition of D&D I've played Wizards eventually become disproportionately powerful. In DCC, the problem is maybe the worst it's ever been because, IMO, DCC Wizards are the most Wizard Wizards to ever Wizard within the universe of fantasy games.

I'm also not the first person to bring up this issue. It's appeared online, there are threads on this board dedicated to it, and it's something my group has discussed on more than one occasion. We've tried to introduce potential solutions to the problem like making all spellburn permanent or capping the amount a character can burn on a single casting. All of those solutions have felt inadequate. They either shortened Wizard lifespans, exacerbated other problems (ie, the Wizard holding back until the big bad), or worse, made the class less fun.

I'm proposing a few changes to address this that aren't totally arbitrary and also maintain the DCC flavor.

Spellburn cannot be done at the time of casting. Being able to funnel all of your vitality into a single spell at will is part of why they break the game so easily. In a large party, or with a player that uses restraint, it is very easy for them to hold back and unleash on the boss. More importantly, the act of spellburning does not make sense rules as written. Using table 5-1, some of these actions would take far longer than a round or turn would allow (see: sacrificing a pound of flesh, branding themselves with a hot iron, tattooing themselves, removing a fingernail and burning it).

All spellburn must be done in advance. The ritualistic nature of these actions imply downtime. Before the Wizard sets out for the day, they may commune with supernatural powers of the universe, trading flesh, blood, and soul to those entities. At the time, the Wizard must choose how much to sacrifice. The Wizard loses those stats instantly, and notes the amount of power they've banked for the day.

The act of spellburning is not simply mechanical, but part of your character's story. This is to say that as the GM, they must introduce the supernatural beings you are bartering your vitality with. No Wizard may Patron bond without first establishing contact and proving themselves worthy with that Patrons underlings. Only once they have shown themselves capable of wielding great power will the patron be open to longer term arrangements. GMs are encourage have a table handy for determining who answers these calls. It might be different every time.

Extreme acts of spellburn automatically trigger a debt to a Patron. Being able to pull a critical hit out of your hat is extremely powerful. Creatures do not lend this much power lightly and demand more than just the barter of blood and flesh. Wealth, a deed, or something similar is required. Characters who fail to pay may find their Patrons less amicable the next time they ask for a favor.

Thoughts?
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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by GnomeBoy » Mon May 13, 2019 5:42 pm

For myself, I'd go a simpler route and suggest that the bigger the spellburn, the more attention you draw. I created the Anti-Matternaut in the first run of the GFA as an example of that. Maybe there are a multitude of creatures that are drawn in various ways by the fluctuations in the phlogiston when spellcasting happens, and the bigger the spellburn, the bigger the fluctuation.

I think what you've got could make an interesting aspect of a campaign world, though. It's especially nice how the 'burn coming at the start of the day avoids the consequence-less act of "I'll burn a ton now, at the end of the adventure -- it's just a one-shot afterall!"
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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Vanguard » Mon May 13, 2019 6:08 pm

GnomeBoy wrote:For myself, I'd go a simpler route and suggest that the bigger the spellburn, the more attention you draw. I created the Anti-Matternaut in the first run of the GFA as an example of that. Maybe there are a multitude of creatures that are drawn in various ways by the fluctuations in the phlogiston when spellcasting happens, and the bigger the spellburn, the bigger the fluctuation.

I think what you've got could make an interesting aspect of a campaign world, though. It's especially nice how the 'burn coming at the start of the day avoids the consequence-less act of "I'll burn a ton now, at the end of the adventure -- it's just a one-shot afterall!"
That's one of the big things I'm trying to solve for since smart players can easily keep a reserve for the big bad. Forcing the Wizard to gamble a bit and decide how much to weaken themselves introduces an element of uncertainty, which not only fits magic thematically but also gets at one of the core design features of DCC. I also suspect that Wizards will be more willing to drop a few points into each of their spells with the upfront expenditure since they've already made the investment.

Mechanically, it also does something interesting where losing spells becomes much more serious. Even Wizards who feel relatively safe will probably burn a small amount in case their rolls go poorly.

These changes definitely imply a particular kind of world which might now be the right tone for every group. It adds a level of grittiness and resource management that I'm drawn to in any kind of dungeon crawl situation.
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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by GnomeBoy » Tue May 14, 2019 5:38 am

So up til now, has massive Spellburn had no consequence?

Okay, so they save it up for the so-called "Big Bad".... Does nothing then happen for a week or two after that's done, allowing them to heal it all back?

I've always figured that the action should be unpredictable, so that sometimes they should have time to heal up mostly or completely, but other times they get whisked right into another adventure, or face some huge obstacle on the way home....
Gnome Boy • DCC playtester @ DDC 35 Feb '11. • Beta DL 2111, 7AM PT, 8 June 11.
Playing RPGs since '77 • Quasi-occasional member of the Legion of 8th-Level Fighters.

Link: Here Be 100+ DCC Monsters

bygrinstow.com

Kuruz, Mendicant, N • AC 8, 4 hp • R-1, F0, W0 • S9 A8 S9 P11 I16 L8
Zend, Grave Digger, L • AC 9, 3 hp • R-1, F0, W1 • S14 A6 S9 P13 I13 L6
Mercer, Outlaw, N • AC 12, 2 hp • R0, F-1, W1 • S7 A9 S6 P13 I8 L13
Dejah, Ropemaker, C • AC 10, 2 hp • R0, F1, W-1 • S8 A12 S15 P7 I11 L7

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Jim Skach » Wed May 15, 2019 6:29 am

GnomeBoy wrote:So up til now, has massive Spellburn had no consequence?

Okay, so they save it up for the so-called "Big Bad".... Does nothing then happen for a week or two after that's done, allowing them to heal it all back?

I've always figured that the action should be unpredictable, so that sometimes they should have time to heal up mostly or completely, but other times they get whisked right into another adventure, or face some huge obstacle on the way home....
I wonder the same.

I know in our campaign, the only time it has been an issue is when, right after the end of an adventure where they were in a relatively safe place, the wizard found the Find Familiar spell, spell burned a ton, and then waited a while to let the burn heal naturally. Even then, things were occurring that caused some consternation. In regular play, once she burned there were always repercussions later just through normal game play (lowered HP, AC, Melee Attack, etc.).

Similar to Luck in many respects...

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Ozerulz » Wed May 15, 2019 5:50 pm

I have a suggestion that you’ll probably think won’t work but I’d try introducing a d30 roll for spellcasting. I think you’ll find it changes things quite a bit.

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Fenris Ulfhamr » Wed May 15, 2019 6:30 pm

With the nature of some adventures being things that happen to or around the characters (as opposed to the quests they initiate) I often roll a die to see how much downtime occurred between just for this purpose. Burn all ya like, but the monsters won't wait till your 100% to come callin! :twisted:

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Vanguard » Wed May 15, 2019 6:35 pm

They have definitely encountered something after an adventure "ends" that was a challenge and where a Wizard would have been helpful. I don't also know that it's a solution to throw curveballs at them all the time after a boss. All campaigns have downtime and there are only so many times you could do that before it becomes tired and predictable. (A good example of consequences is when the Wizard burned themselves down and couldn't help in a situation where a spell trap went off and their familiar got killed because they couldn't determine if the door was magical and the Thief failed their check to find traps).

I've also done the thing where large burns attract the attention of supernatural beings. It's a good plot point and probably something GMs should be ready for, but it's not a solution. So a supernatural being shows up and. . .what? Want a spell duel? Wants to employ the Wizard as a thrall in their designs?

A D30 is absolutely going to make things worse (the Wizard in our current campaign currently casts on a D24).

My thinking on this has moved from "this would be neat" to "I'm definitely doing this," so more interested in feedback on the idea/potential issues it introduces as the experience I'm describing is well documented in my group as well as others.
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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Ozerulz » Wed May 15, 2019 7:30 pm

How does a d30 make things worse?

I bought DCC over a year ago and was thinking of using it to start my new campaign. After reading through it I loved the hell out of it but it had a number of holes IMO. What you’ve been describing was one of them. It presents itself has far more deadly yet there’s lots of ways to escape death. Spellburn Luck etc

It took about a year to come up with some ways to power down magic users. Not enough time to devote to gaming I’m afraid.

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Raven_Crowking » Thu May 16, 2019 4:13 am

Remember that every "1" means that a point of Spellburn is permanently lost.

In addition, there is a table of Spellburn actions that you can use to complicate things.
SoBH pbp:

Cathbad the Meek (herbalist Wizard 1): AC 9; 4 hp; S 7, A 7, St 10, P 17, I 13, L 8; Neutral; Club, herbs, 50' rope, 50 cp; -1 to melee attack rolls. Hideous scar.

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Vanguard » Thu May 16, 2019 4:27 am

Ozerulz wrote:How does a d30 make things worse?

I bought DCC over a year ago and was thinking of using it to start my new campaign. After reading through it I loved the hell out of it but it had a number of holes IMO. What you’ve been describing was one of them. It presents itself has far more deadly yet there’s lots of ways to escape death. Spellburn Luck etc

It took about a year to come up with some ways to power down magic users. Not enough time to devote to gaming I’m afraid.
Roller higher on the die chain gives the player access to a range of results that are normally only achievable through the use of spellburn. While certainly no guarantee they'll roll in the mid 20s or higher, it just leads to the potential for more powerful spell effects with and without spellburn.
Raven_Crowking wrote:Remember that every "1" means that a point of Spellburn is permanently lost.

In addition, there is a table of Spellburn actions that you can use to complicate things.
I don't know if my players have gotten extremely lucky, but I don't think this has happened a single time in a year of play. They've definitely rolled 1 on spellcasting and gotten corruption from it, but not the combo of spellburn + critically failing. It's a good rule for sure, just not one that addresses the issues I'm talking about.

And to that spellburn action table, that's one of the things I called out in my post as not really making sense using the in game time economy as written. There is no way that branding yourself with a hot iron, for example, happens in the same round in which one casts a spell, unless the character was actively heating an iron prior to this. I like the ritualistic nature of it, but I think this is why treating it as something the Wizard or Elf does ahead of time makes more sense.
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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Raven_Crowking » Thu May 16, 2019 6:21 am

Vanguard wrote:
Raven_Crowking wrote:Remember that every "1" means that a point of Spellburn is permanently lost.

In addition, there is a table of Spellburn actions that you can use to complicate things.
I don't know if my players have gotten extremely lucky, but I don't think this has happened a single time in a year of play. They've definitely rolled 1 on spellcasting and gotten corruption from it, but not the combo of spellburn + critically failing. It's a good rule for sure, just not one that addresses the issues I'm talking about.

And to that spellburn action table, that's one of the things I called out in my post as not really making sense using the in game time economy as written. There is no way that branding yourself with a hot iron, for example, happens in the same round in which one casts a spell, unless the character was actively heating an iron prior to this. I like the ritualistic nature of it, but I think this is why treating it as something the Wizard or Elf does ahead of time makes more sense.
Within the confines of the rules, Magic Here and Magic There on page 358 might help with over-reliance on spells, although it doesn't address Spellburn specifically. Magic should not seem reliable within the game milieu.

As a judge, you might rule that some Spellburn actions take longer than a round to complete....but I hear you on this. Some of the results don't even necessarily equate to stat loss.
SoBH pbp:

Cathbad the Meek (herbalist Wizard 1): AC 9; 4 hp; S 7, A 7, St 10, P 17, I 13, L 8; Neutral; Club, herbs, 50' rope, 50 cp; -1 to melee attack rolls. Hideous scar.

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Vanguard » Thu May 16, 2019 7:47 am

Raven_Crowking wrote:
Vanguard wrote:
Raven_Crowking wrote:Remember that every "1" means that a point of Spellburn is permanently lost.

In addition, there is a table of Spellburn actions that you can use to complicate things.
I don't know if my players have gotten extremely lucky, but I don't think this has happened a single time in a year of play. They've definitely rolled 1 on spellcasting and gotten corruption from it, but not the combo of spellburn + critically failing. It's a good rule for sure, just not one that addresses the issues I'm talking about.

And to that spellburn action table, that's one of the things I called out in my post as not really making sense using the in game time economy as written. There is no way that branding yourself with a hot iron, for example, happens in the same round in which one casts a spell, unless the character was actively heating an iron prior to this. I like the ritualistic nature of it, but I think this is why treating it as something the Wizard or Elf does ahead of time makes more sense.
Within the confines of the rules, Magic Here and Magic There on page 358 might help with over-reliance on spells, although it doesn't address Spellburn specifically. Magic should not seem reliable within the game milieu.

As a judge, you might rule that some Spellburn actions take longer than a round to complete....but I hear you on this. Some of the results don't even necessarily equate to stat loss.

My players have definitely run into some fun things that impacted magic. Areas where casting is muted, enemies that ignore the effects of spells, unique functions of spells that help or hinder. Similar to introducing post-boss twists, these are good in moderation I’ve found.

My initial post on this is, I think, a good starting place for this but probably needs to be fleshed out. I want to expand that Spellburn table to account for specific rituals as a kind of secret GM table on who the Wizard is asking for. I’m thinking effects tied to what kind of action could influence the outcome (ie using fire might invoke a creature associated with the at element, rituals involving blood would be demonic etc). I’m going to sketch something up this weekend and will share it.
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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Ozerulz » Thu May 16, 2019 12:28 pm

to minimize wizard dominance I restricted spellburn to stamina only and a system shock check when doing so.

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by herecomethejudge » Thu May 16, 2019 4:24 pm

Vanguard wrote: And to that spellburn action table, that's one of the things I called out in my post as not really making sense using the in game time economy as written. There is no way that branding yourself with a hot iron, for example, happens in the same round in which one casts a spell, unless the character was actively heating an iron prior to this. I like the ritualistic nature of it, but I think this is why treating it as something the Wizard or Elf does ahead of time makes more sense.
Like anything else in DCC, use common sense in terms of the storytelling. There are also magic boosts like Circle of Mages which explicitly state they take a long time to perform, so they can't be used within combat. Some spellburn methods could be done on the spot (cutting and pouring out blood, for example), while a day-long fast obviously takes a day.

For my money, spellburn doesn't give *enough* of a bonus, particularly for characters that are already weak, but that's me.

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Raven_Crowking » Thu May 16, 2019 4:33 pm

herecomethejudge wrote:For my money, spellburn doesn't give *enough* of a bonus, particularly for characters that are already weak, but that's me.
In most of the games I run, players are very very reluctant to spellburn...and even when they do, they do not spellburn much...so I haven't had huge issues with it.

And, even then, I have also had casters definitely "feel" weakened by what spellburning they have done, when it comes to crossing a chasm or fording a raging torrent. Or having to make a Fort or Ref save.
SoBH pbp:

Cathbad the Meek (herbalist Wizard 1): AC 9; 4 hp; S 7, A 7, St 10, P 17, I 13, L 8; Neutral; Club, herbs, 50' rope, 50 cp; -1 to melee attack rolls. Hideous scar.

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by Gizrond » Thu May 16, 2019 6:05 pm

Raven_Crowking wrote:
herecomethejudge wrote:For my money, spellburn doesn't give *enough* of a bonus, particularly for characters that are already weak, but that's me.
In most of the games I run, players are very very reluctant to spellburn...and even when they do, they do not spellburn much...so I haven't had huge issues with it.

And, even then, I have also had casters definitely "feel" weakened by what spellburning they have done, when it comes to crossing a chasm or fording a raging torrent. Or having to make a Fort or Ref save.
A few years ago in one of my games the wizard held out until the big fight at the end of the adventure and then pumped 20 points into an epic Enlarge. It kinda broke the final battle and he was pretty much an invalid for weeks after, but the group still talks about that moment to this day.

I wouldn't change that for anything.

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Re: Let's Talk About Spellburn

Post by GnomeBoy » Sat May 18, 2019 9:11 pm

Is anybody doling out less or no XP for these scenes of massive Spellburn, since they make those encounters so easy?

On the one hand, it's resources used up in a big way, which should be worth higher XP.

But just the idea of "I saved up to stomp the evil Duke and his Mage all at once" seems counter to the spirit of things and feels like it should be worth little-to-no XP... "You engineered this win by pure metagaming, so..."
Gnome Boy • DCC playtester @ DDC 35 Feb '11. • Beta DL 2111, 7AM PT, 8 June 11.
Playing RPGs since '77 • Quasi-occasional member of the Legion of 8th-Level Fighters.

Link: Here Be 100+ DCC Monsters

bygrinstow.com

Kuruz, Mendicant, N • AC 8, 4 hp • R-1, F0, W0 • S9 A8 S9 P11 I16 L8
Zend, Grave Digger, L • AC 9, 3 hp • R-1, F0, W1 • S14 A6 S9 P13 I13 L6
Mercer, Outlaw, N • AC 12, 2 hp • R0, F-1, W1 • S7 A9 S6 P13 I8 L13
Dejah, Ropemaker, C • AC 10, 2 hp • R0, F1, W-1 • S8 A12 S15 P7 I11 L7

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