Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Big Now or Bigger Later

I'm noting that a mage could want to recreate all their X-level spells at their max possible spell power. For example, a 1st level mage would create a 1000 SP Magic Missile spell, with 3 Missiles from the beginning. Even if the wizard is higher level, it can be a boon for one's apprentice, and would very soon replace the Magic Missile spell.
The above is excerpted from Vlad Malkav's comment on my post about spellpower.

As usual, Vlad, you're asking good questions. You've raised an excellent criticism here.

Let's get one thing clear above all else: once spellpower and spell-creation rules are firmly in place, spell creation would absolutely not be available to first-level mages, as you indicate. Think of spell modification and creation as authority- or expert-tier abilities in Alexis's sage system. Maybe even sage-tier for spell creation: it's a big damn deal.

That being said, the core of your point -- that a more powerful mage would create a spell which has its powers maxed out already, and pass it on to others -- is completely valid. Off the top of my head, the solution I would use is that damage (or other effect) dealt by the spell when first acquired, without any scaling, would cost X, and damage dealt by the spell as a result of level scaling would cost less than X.

For example, let's take Magic Missile again. Setting aside all other factors to focus on damage, let's suppose that the 1d4 component of the base damage costs 250 (100 * 2.5, average result of 1d4), and the +1 costs 200 (100 * 1 * 2). Because the fixed bonus is more reliable, its price is doubled. This gives us a final result of 450 SP for Magic Missile's damage component.

Then, let's say that for scaling, each d4 and each +1 costs 1/2 of normal. Thus for each additional 1d4+1 missile, the increase in cost would be (2.5 * 50) plus (50 * 1 * 2) = 125 plus 100 = 225. Thus, with two missiles the total damage SP would be 450 + 225 = 675.

You can see where I'm going with this, no? Let's create a spell called Arcane Blast which is still within the (totally hypothetical) 1000 SP minimum for 1st level, but which starts out with two missiles, no scaling needed. Then its base cost is double that of Magic Missile as written above: 450 * 2 = 900 SP.

Now here's the trick. If we continue to assume the 1000 SP ceiling for level 1 spells, then Arcane Blast could not gain another missile through scaling, since that additional 1d4+1 missile would cost 225 points, and 900 + 225 = 1125, which is greater than 1000. (Note that it could gain another +1 damage through scaling, since that would cost 100, putting it exactly at 1000 SP.)

On the other hand, by the above pricing scheme, Magic Missile could gain a third missile. Two missiles was 675 SP. Add another, at 225 SP, and we end up with 900 SP total. Hell, there's still room for another +1 damage, too, just as above with Arcane Blast.

What this all is going to boil down to is a bunch of adjusting variables and price-per-each-variable-from-base and price-per-each-variable-from-scaling. But the above tradeoff (two missiles now vs. three later) is a prime example of the kind of discussion this deepening and codifying of spell logic can produce.

Imagine: the PC mage who invents Arcane Blast has to decide whether to teach that or regular Magic Missile to his henchman-apprentice. Arcane Blast will keep him safer up front and it's only a first-level spell, but with no way to retrain them, isn't it limiting his potential later? And what about feuds between mages who prefer the newfangled Blast, with its more-up-front reward, and the traditionalists who preach the virtues of delayed gratification?

Naturally the above scenarios don't require a spellpower system. The character with the appropriate skills could just come to me and say "hey I want Magic Missile but you get two shots up front instead of three (or four, or five) later." And I could say sure, ad-hoc, and allow it, or say no, ad-hoc, and disallow it. But I think you understand my objection to that kind of thing.

Finally, apart from the above, I want very much to have a deeper logic behind the level a spell is, both simply for the sake of having that logic exist, and for the ever-gratifying feeling that there is more to my world than the players perceive. This is just like how I want there to be a deeper logic behind how items are priced. That's why I follow in Alexis's footsteps and make my own trade system, right? Same idea.

Tattoo Recipes

Today I spent several happy hours working away on adding tattoos to my economic system. Last session my players, having arrived in a port city, were excited (among many other things) about the possibility of finding a sailor who could give them some. Since I recently programmed the recipes needed to produce paper, I was already mentally ready to spend time work researching ink, so a lot of the time today was spent looking into pigments, binders, dyes, and mordants, and looking for historical information on the production of same. A good chunk of that time was spent looking in vain for some example ratios of pigment, binder, and water for pigment-based inks; in the end, for the red/yellow (both ochre) and blue inks, I had to guess.

Afterward, having added black, red, yellow, and blue inks, I was ready to figure out how to price a tattoo. It was natural to decide to price by the square inch, and almost as easy to conclude on three difficulty categories for pricing: geometric (lines, shapes, and tribal patterns); lettering; and figure.

What was tricky was figuring out the volume of ink actually used up in the tattooing process. I looked far and wide, but the techniques of tattooing are too complex for there to be a simple "this many milliliters per square inch of skin" guideline. What I ended up doing was treating the "depth" of the square-inch unit tattoo as being one one-hundredth of an inch deep. This gave me a volume of ink used, which I could then convert to pints of ink. Shazam: my game has prices for three styles of tattoo in four colors (though I've just now realized that so far they are all single-color tattoos, and I should decide how I'm going to treat tattoos with multiple colors in them. Do I price them as multiple separate small ones? As one big one, and as if it used all four colors equally? Should multi-color tats have a higher difficulty? And so on. In practice, these questions are simple enough to answer logically at the table as necessary.)

Now, my players can design an image to their heart's content (or scare up something cool from the web), measure out its area, and be rewarded by having it added to their characters' bodies. The more exacting they are as a real-life designer, and the more spendy they get in-game, the fancier the tattoo they can have.

Or to put it another way ... tattoos are a new kind of goal that players can aim for in my world.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


One of the projects I plan to undertake -- though not at this time -- is to establish a method for quantifying spell effects (by number of targets affected, duration, magnitude of damage or other effect, range at which spell can be cast, and so on) and apply this method to the existing spells. I want to do this so I can compare the relative strength of spells currently considered to be the same spell level. Let's call this quantified spell strength "spellpower."

Once I can perform such a comparison, I can set quantities of spellpower which mark the border between first- and second-level spells, second- and third-level spells, and so on.

The reason I want to do so stems from the fact that some spells, as they are written now, provide a measure of scaling based on the caster's level. To take a well-known and classic example, the traditional Magic Missile spell produces 1 missile of 1d4+1 damage at 1st level, two missiles at 3rd level, three missiles at 5th level, another at 7th and finally another at 9th. Thus, Magic Missile remains a useful first-level spell even when the character has gained a lot of experience.

But why does this scaling of the effect this go as far as 9th level, and no further? That's the question I want to address: once I've quantified how much spellpower each additional missile is worth, then once the point threshold for a 1st level spell would be exceeded by adding an additional missile, the spell has reached its maximum capacity for scaling. To wit: suppose that my calculations determine that the cap for 1st level spells is 1000 spellpower, that the single-missile version of the spell costs 400 points all together, and that each additional missile costs 300 spellpower. Then, the spell would scale to 3rd level (one additional missile: 400 + 300 = 700) and to 5th level (two add'l missiles: 400 + 300 + 300 = 1000) but no further, as additional missiles would exceed the first-level cap.

In addition to the above usage, quantifying spellpower will also lay the grounds for player mages to construct their own spells, first by modifying existing ones, and then by creating wholly new spell recipes ... all at some cost, of course.

Obviously some experimentation will be needed to determine appropriate spellpower thresholds, and once that is done, there will naturally remain the large task of modifying spells which ought to be of a certain spell level so that they are reasonably close to their brethren.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Beer and Ale Revisited

The question of digital character sheets is kicking my ass. Modeling a character as a chunk of data: sure, no problem, I can do that in any language I care to use. The GUI part is all-new to me, but I have at least a stopgap solution for use with Python, the language I am currently coding in.

But the live-update part? That's trickier. I have an idea formulated which I'll code up soon, maybe later today, but for now it remains larval.

In the mean time, I can talk about what I did work on today. I fixed some issues with the pricing of alcoholic goods (so far: beer, ale, and rum) in my recipe system.

Previously, the recipes by which the prices for these goods were evaluated were written such that they were priced on the basis of the unit by which drinks are sold, such as the pint. However, this is not how production of such beverages actually works. They are turned out, not by the pint or by the gallon, but by the barrel. Since this is a game, I can stipulate that all barrels are alike, and that a barrel contains 30 gallons.

What I did today was rewrite the recipes as follows:
  1. The basic beer/ale/rum recipes were rewritten to price each drink as brewed in a 30-gallon barrel (including the price of the barrel, of course.) The rum recipe was predicated on being priced by the half-pint, so I had to rewrite it completely for 30-gallon production; the others required only minor tweaks. Now, the reality of alcohol being brewed in large batches, instead of gallon by gallon, is made concrete in the recipe system.
  2. The recipes which build on the one-barrel recipes, such as "by the tankard" (beer/ale sold to be drunk on the spot, without including the price of a vessel) and "by the bottle" (sold to-go, including the price of a glass bottle), were reconfigured to make use of the new by-the-barrel recipe. This means that now, the realities of a tavern proprietor purchasing a barrel and tapping it for his patrons, or of a brewer buying bottles and bottling his product, are made concrete in the specification of how by-the-tankard and by-the-bottle purchases are priced. These elements were not present before; they were papered over by simplification.
Aside from the fact that real manufacturing processes are more closely represented in the new calculations, the new recipes also lead to slightly more expensive drinks. Conceptually speaking, this is because the cost of the barrel of drink (and the labor needed to operate on it) is now factored into the cost of buying it in smaller units. Let's look at the old and new prices for ale side by side, for the city I had plugged in when making these edits.

Old prices:

New prices:

Not much an increase, granted. But that doesn't matter one bit. Getting it right -- or at least, getting it more right -- is what matters.