Thursday, February 5, 2015

DF Magic Item abuse & possible solutions

One thing I allow in my DF game is ordering custom magic items. This includes ones with the Power enchantment, which can allow for "always on" or items that cast spells that are free to maintain once cast.

This has led to a concern. With sufficient access to defensive, buff spells in magic items usable by non-mages, powered with the Power enchantment, you can get a potentially abusive effect.

For example, Vryce has ordered a Missile Shield item with Power 2. Pricey, but once it arrives, he can put Missile Shield on himself for 3 FP, 0 to maintain.

But that's not really the issue. The problem is that he could put the same spell on another party member on a 14 or less. Another for 13 or less. Still another on a 12 or less. And so on - only a -1 for each spell on, and 0 cost to maintain, this reasonably means 5-7 PCs with Missile Shield on, for free, with no real penalty. After all, the -1 per spell accrues to someone who doesn't care, and the failures would occur in town, when it's fine to rest and cast and cast again until you succeed on all of them. Luck can take care of any Critical Failures, even if I only start the clock on regeneration of Luck at the time they enter the dungeon.

We've always ruled that magic item penalties for spells "on" accrue to multiple castings, but only on the item.

Now, I feel like DF is the place to have ridiculous abuses. But I also know my players find some ridiculous abuses to be fun-killers. After all, this is a few investments away from everyone being Missile Shielded, everyone being Invisible, everyone using Walk on Air, everyone having Haste +2 for free the whole trip, and so on. So I offered some suggestions for curbing the abuse. My players had some comebacks, which I'll also discuss below.

Idea 1) Only mages can use magic items that let you cast spells on someone other than the user. So if the party wizard has a Missile Shield bracelet, he can use it to cast on others. The knight wouldn't be able to.

Impact of change: Minor, but it also means you can't have, say, a Scout with an attack spell item.

Player reply: just means they'd give the item to the mage. Better to have magic items accrue penalties to other items or other spells used by the caster. For example, -1 for every 2 spells instead of -1, so magic items merely defray penalties instead of offloading them entirely.

Idea 2) Power is the total per item, not per casting. So Missile Shield (5/2) with Power 2 means one casting at 3, 0 to maintain, a second casting at 5/2, a third at 5/2, etc.

Impact: Items are much more limited.

Player reply: Weakens magic items too much. Generally, I agree. Power is pricey, and if all it does is reduce one casting, there is a real limitation built in but no corresponding cost reduction. Something like this would help.

Idea 3) Luck can't re-roll spell failures. This one hasn't really come up, at least not recently, so it wouldn't undermine anyone (Dryst wants Luck to avert critical hits, he's already got a way to avoid critical failures.) But it would mean it's risky to load up a party with a bunch of items.

Impact: Medium, I think. Major when it comes up, but that'll be uncommon.

Player reply: Hoses people who want to force re-rolls on Critical Successes against them. Might work if we limited it to just not re-rolling magical item spell rolls.

One thing I decided to just do, though, is say that any Critical Failure on a magic item spell casting instantly, and automatically, cancels all spells up based on that magic item. An 18 would have even more additional bad effects, but all of them would revoke the spell effects. That would discourage pushing things.

The real question is, how much is it fun to limit magic item abuse? Of course, powerful magic items will be out there. Off-the-shelf items, though, might be worth restricting to avoid the "all buffs, all the time" issue.

Any other suggestions out there? We're just running through a bunch trying to figure out what's a the right balance of fun and abusive.


  1. Another option you might consider is to have two classes of magic items: User only, and rechargeable.

    User only items can be self powered or require FP from the user/caster/wearer. Their effects end if the item is removed or passed. This forces everyone to get their own magic gear to get the bonus.

    Then you also have things like "wands" that can cast spells on others. These items do not draw FP from the user, but are self powered with limited amount of FP (charges), as detailed in Pyramid 3/36. I find the cost to recharge given in Pyramid to be a bit steep, and would instead use $5 * FP cost * Charges (same as the cost of recharging Power Items).

    1. That's not a bad idea, but it's too late - we're 50-odd sessions into a game already featuring these kinds of items, and there are already items that violate that two-pronged approach in play, The above rulings wouldn't change the items, just change what happens if they're abused.

      I might have to take a sharp look at non-mages having any items that cast spells on others, which is #1. I know they'll just pass the item to the mage, but that's still a limitation - if the wizard doesn't show, or he's out of commission, so are your items.

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  3. Two suggestions:
    1) The effectiveness of Power decreases by 1 with each additional spell it is supporting. So a Power 2 item can maintain a free Missile Shield and another at 1 FP per minute, while a Power 5 item could maintain 4 Missile Shields for free and a fifth for 1 FP.
    2) Allow Power and general spells to be bought at a 40% discount if they can only be cast on the owner of the item, and transferring the item to another person cancels all current spells. The items aren't as useful, but they're cheaper and possibly less abusive.

    I might run with a combination of the two in my next DF game, but I think Power and maintaining spells for free is generally broken, away.

    1. So 1 is kind of like my option 2, above?

      2 - Yeah, I could see that. I have a few more options I'll post up tomorrow when I'm doing writing them down, and one kind of resembles this in effect, I think.

  4. Your option 2 is Power 4 is 4 points of energy among all spells. So 4 spells at 1 FP each, 2 at 2 FP each, 1 at 3 FP and 1 at 1 FP, 2 at 1 FP and 1 at 2 FP.

    My option 1 is Power 4 is 4 FP reduction for the first spell, 3 FP reduction for the second spell, 2 FP reduction for the third spell, 1 FP reduction for the fourth spell, and no FP reduction for any other spells.

    So it's not as much of a nerf as your option 2, but it means if the PCs want to use one item to maintain a spell for free on everyone, it's going to have a very expensive Power spell on it.

    As a variant, the reduction could be per spell, so if you had an item with Missile Shield, Haste, and Power 3, it could maintain 2 Missile Shields, a Haste 3, a Haste 2, and a Haste 1 for free (though the last Haste spell would be cast at -4 so that might be risky).

    1. Yeah, I see that. That's why I said kind of like, not the same. Tracking a cascade is kind of annoying, though, even though mathematically it makes sense.

    2. Aren't you already tracking the penalty for cumulative castings by the item? It's the same penalty, only applied to Power in addition to the item's skill.

    3. Not at the moment - there are none of these items in play yet. So I don't know if it's going to be a PITA or not.

      I'm leaning towards a simpler, broader solution, though, at the moment.

  5. I'd just underline the few edge cases of Power.

    Firstly, it only provides half in low-mana, I'd make this apply continuously (not just checked when cast and then assumed to be "always on") which means walking into a low-mana zone with the entire party buffed up from one item will suddenly cause the wearer to lose a lot of FP in one hit. This is a very nasty shock, that is hard to spot, but it does effectively discourage needless buffing! Or forces players to buy items with much higher Power levels.

    I'd also say that all spells cast on others are cleared after moving through a no-mana zone, which forces players to regroup and rebuff repeatedly. (I'd allow the item to preserve the spell on the wearer though, which is the primary purpose of any given magical item - fair is fair). Anything that causes players inconvenience generally discourages needless use I find. It also makes for some situations where its just impractical to rebuff everyone, forcing players to make do without the buffs rather than being reliant on them all the time.


    Secondly, the wearer of the item must stay awake to keep the spell/s active. I'd say this includes unconsciousness and perhaps a few other affects that instil wild magic or delirium. I'd then say that its trivially easy for mages to detect spells cast from items, and its source. Allowing cunning magic using enemies (with time to assess the party) to focus fire on the wearer of the item and pull the plug on everyone else at the same time. (I'll admit that this will become steadily harder to achieve once they start distributing who carries what items, but still - its a flaw that can be exploited on occasion).


    Otherwise, I'd just say that failures and crit failures shut the entire item down (and all the spells its already cast, obviously). A regular failure might just shut it down for seconds equal to margin of failure, basically just wiping active spells. Whilst a crit failure would shut it down for a day or something annoying. Perhaps combined with a -2 penalty per spell rather than -1.

    This 'solution' doesn't really curb the abuse too much, it mostly just drags out the time it takes to buff everyone (which might be important when combined with no-mana zones clearing spells cast on others). It also increases the odds of a critical failure when you have to restart the buffing process repeatedly, which has more lasting consequences.

    1. The LMZ/NMZ effects I know, but they bear repeating. Felltower has some NMZ zones but few LMZ areas, thanks to its background.

      I like the other options, though. That's good stuff.

  6. I want to ask, doesn't this violate one of your rules? Don't make up rules to solve problems that haven't happened. If players are abusing power items then something needs to be done. If your players haven't abused power items and think that generally abusing rules is un-fun, you are not doing the right thing changing the rules for power items on the eventuality that one day they might throw out their social contract regarding mechanical abuses in your campaign.

    Why not put a hard cap on the number of concurrent uses? For Power N an item can maintain N effects but casting N+1 either automatically fails or negates one or all previous castings? Or be super strict and allow only one effect at a time per item regardless of Power level. Vryce wants to protect himself, fine. Vryce wants to protect Al Murik, fine. Vryce wants to protect both at the same time? Sorry, go contract a second item to give to Al, because each item can only maintain its effects on a single target at a time.

    I'd go with the single-simultaneous use option. I like magic items being awesome, but limited in scope, whereas casters are more versatile but not necessarily as powerful unless they've been in play a long, long time.

    1. That's a very good question - but it's not a "hasn't happened" thing so much as a "coming right at us!" thing. We don't need to drive off the cliff to know the cliff is a problem. Besides, we've had similar items in play in previous games, where magic items were rare and were not available for purchase on any kind of reasonable timescale or price. So there is some experience about the issue.

      That's where this is - we know what's going to happen from prior experience, and we're messing around with ways to have something different, more palatable, happen, while still letting people benefit from dumping their savings into magic items.

      A hard cap is a good idea, too. We'll see what we end up with - the campaign took a detour into the Cold Fens right before these items started to arrive.


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