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Old 09-29-2016, 08:16 PM   #1
philosophyguy
 
Join Date: Feb 2014
Default [Basic] [Magic] Reasoning behind spell balance mechanisms

In Basic and Magic, there are several balancing mechanisms used for spells. Casting times, energy costs, prerequisites, and skill difficulty (H/VH) are all used to place limits on magic users.

It's not clear how the decisions were made to impose different requirements on spells or why specific tradeoffs were chosen. I'm interested in any explanation to understand how these decisions were made (either from a 4th edition perspective or if there is background from earlier editions that helps explain the choices).

To be clear: I understand that magic balance is a contentious issue in GURPS, and I'm not looking to re-litigate that debate. Nor am I expecting a Grand Unified Theory of Spell Costs. I'm simply looking for some insights on how the designers and playtesters approached these issues so I can better understand the way that they designed the system.
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Old 09-29-2016, 08:44 PM   #2
Fred Brackin
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Default Re: [Basic][Magic] Reasoning behind spell balance mechanisms

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Originally Posted by philosophyguy View Post
. . I'm simply looking for some insights on how the designers and playtesters approached these issues so I can better understand the way that they designed the system.
Sorry, but the roots of the standard Magic system go back to the first edition of Gurps Fantasy in the late 80s and I don't believe anyone who posts around here was there then. I only go back to around 1998.

I think the designer was probably Steve Jackson himself and we don't hear much from him directly these days either.

If you want details of how it works there are people here who can help you but initial "whys" not so much.
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Old 09-29-2016, 11:09 PM   #3
Anaraxes
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Default Re: [Basic][Magic] Reasoning behind spell balance mechanisms

There are some posts from Kromm which might give a little perspective, but of course that's him talking about a system he inherited, and which didn't get any significant re-editing for 4e. Certainly a knowledgeable opinion, but not notes straight from the designer.

IIRC, he's mention that prereq chains are not in fact a significant balance mechanism. They're there to make the magic colleges something of a coherent body of study for learned wizards, as opposed to those other systems where wizards can chuck fireballs yet somehow have no clue how to light a candle.

Balance is mostly in the energy cost. The maintenance cost is also quite important here, so the notes as to whether the maintenance is halved, or normal, or some other value have an strong effect on how long, how often, and how many party members will have that spell on them. How did they choose those energy costs? Playtesting and experience informing their design skills. The rest of us will mostly manage by comparing new spells against existing ones, though there are a few clear trends, some even stated in the spell design rules.

The VH designation is used to mark a few "capstone" spells. But again, that's not going to be a huge balance factor, as it's only going to change the skill level by 1. (Not that one point can't be significant. But it's not going to radically alter your character to push up that VH skill one level compared to the build if it had just been H.) The -1 to skill for each spell "on" is to me a more significant balance factor than the base difficulty. It takes quite a lot of skill to buff the party with several spells, and still be able to cast something else.

Casting times also aren't a balance factor, IMO. They're mostly dividing spells into "combat" (1-2s), "non-combat" (10s+), and the occasional "safe and secure" ritual (minutes, a hour). The durations are also a clue here. The 1-minute duration is "combat time infinity", yet pretty insignificant outside of combat, while the spells meant to be used for "slow time" exploration or less tactical interaction have longer durations. There are a few combat spells where the casting time is just long enough to make you think about the opportunity cost of casting them (Great Haste, frex), but that's fairly unusual.
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Old 09-30-2016, 04:54 PM   #4
hal
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Buffalo, New York
Default Re: [Basic] [Magic] Reasoning behind spell balance mechanisms

GURPS FANTASY first edition had far less in the way of spells than GURPS MAGIC for 4e. To the best of my knowledge, the the system was designed largely by pulling numbers out of thin air, playtesting it, and revising it until it worked reasonably well. More spells were playtested and printed in ROLEcPLAYER (what PYRAMID is to GURPS 4th edition today). Then came GURPS MAGIC 1st edition. Next came GURPS MAGIC 2nd edition. Then came GURPS MAGIC 2nd edition, second printing. I was writing the Alaconius lectures on GURPSNET and even put forth the Alaconius method for using divination and enchantments to create quirkless power stones. The powers that be made the second printing outlaw using magic to influence enchantments. Then came GURPS GRIMOIRE. I stopped the Alaconius lectures about that time due to issues with the direction GURPS was being taken where MAGIC was concerned. I consider GURPS GRIMOIRE to be over the top and largely incompatible regarding the original structure as given in GURPS MAGIC - so much so that I refused requests to include the in the lectures. Then my wife got bitten by the "mage bug". The ONLY book she's ever read from SJGames is GURPS MAGIC. She asked me to continue the lectures and I believe I did one more before before GURPS 4e came out. By then, I was pretty disgusted by what came out in GURPS MAGIC for 4e that I never wrote another lecture again. I've seen the evolution of GURPS MAGIC from start to finish and consider the current edition an attempt to cater to the "over the top" or DnD style magic. That is why I tell people to buy GURP CLASSIC MAGIC in preference to GURPS MAGIC for 4e. In my opinion, it is more balanced than GURPS GRIMOIRE, and gives a less intrusive (world building wise) metaphysical magic system than GURPS GRIMOIRE. Because GURPS MAGIC for 4e includes all the spells from GURPS GRIMOIRE, it too suffers in my eyes as being heavily flawed.

Email me if you want more details

Last edited by hal; 09-30-2016 at 04:57 PM. Reason: Fixed error - meant second ed second printing, not first
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Old 09-30-2016, 05:30 PM   #5
Nymdok
 
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Default Re: [Basic] [Magic] Reasoning behind spell balance mechanisms

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Originally Posted by hal View Post
I was writing the Alaconius lectures on GURPSNET and even put forth the Alaconius method for using divination and enchantments to create quirkless power stones.
Those lectures (which I've just begun reading) can be found here.

http://www.gurpsnet.org/Archive/Magic/Alaconius/

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