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The Other Problem Spells - what magic is too weak?

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When we talk about magic being a problem we usually mean what magic is too powerful, but what magic is too weak? What magic is weak enough that it will frustrate players who pursue a particular character concept, or does not seem to make game rules that fit with the 'fictional' Glorantha? 

And to keep the discussion productive, how would you change it or work around the rules? 

I'll start with two suggestions. 

Shapechanging magic as used by the majority of Hsunchen cults, Odayla and Yinkin, etc. 

And the core Illusion magic for both Rune magic and Sorcery. 

And I'll explain both in separate comments. But add your own suggestions. 

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Hsunchen/Odayla/Yinkin/Gorakiki etc shapechanging rune magic is far too weak. Turning into a wolf/alynx/bear/whatever is cool, but for the rules as written it takes 8 Rune Points, which is a huge number, and would mean most members of those cultures would never get access to their signature magical ability, which makes it a big problem even as NPCs to justify them using shape change magic much at all. Its also a comparitively weak magic* in most cases point for point - turning into a scary bear is cool, but not as powerful in combat as Shield 4 and Trueweapon (or Crush, Slash, etc) for 6 points, and has quite a few disadvantages as well. The (cursed) Telmori get to work around this by always attacking on Wildday, which kind of makes them good NPC villains while keeping them annoying as PCs. 

Fixes I suggest include having these cults have access to cult spirits have access to spirits that have the Shape-Change power (Bestiary page 167), but can do so with passive possession rather than active, as an alternate form of shapechange, and clan wyter powers for hsunchen especially that are capable of mass casting magic on the clan so they can at least have many of then transform on occasion (usually holy days). 

It is also really interesting to compare it to Become <Other shape>, which gets a lot of the effects of transformation for 3 points. Most of the transformation spells do add abilities and/or change characteristics, so they are more powerful, but it does seem to replicate a lot of the power of transformation. But making shapechangers like Hsunchen/Odayla/Yinkin able to do a weaker transformation more easily also seems like it would help, and bring it roughly into lune with Become <other shape> Eg let Transform Self be cast with only 1 or more of the specialty spells? It also seems pretty crippling to me to let Transform self only be cast on Wildday - and this is a new, and fairly crippling, restriction in RQG. 

 

* I shall note that Gorakiki Beetle is actually weirdly great, at least for purely physically melee combat, but I've also never seen one in play, and that taking damage only from magic/rune metals like the Telmori is pretty huge. 

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Illusion magic, at least the core Rune magic and sorcery spells, is far too weak, and any kind of dedicated illusionist magician seems really weak. Its pretty much always been that way for Rune magic, and in the over 30 years since it was introduced in the RuneQuest companion, I don't think I've seen anyone play an Illusion specialist, or even express much interest - its the opposite of a game balance problem, Illusion magic just hangs their limply, present but worthless and unused.

For Illusion Rune magic, it is just far too weak in effect per Rune Point, especially considering that a sophisticated illusion may require multiple types of spell, at vast cost, and the limits of the spell make it basically unable to perform many things you might want to do with Illusion (like have it talk). Consider that for three points you could make a bad smell or a shouting noise - or a Thunderbolt, Shield 3, Sever Spirit. To make an Illusion of a normal human is at least 4 points - unless you want them to move (at least another 2-3 points), feel real (rune points equal to SIZ!), be able to make some noise (at least 2 to appear vaguely, if unconvincingly, normal) etc. 

For sorcerous Create <sense> spells, things are both better and worse. Again multiple spells are needed - and while the Rune spells get the ability to cast it all in one round, sorcery has to cast them separately so would take many rounds for a multi-sense Illusion, and they are all separate casts, including for purposes of ritual magic and most other ways to enhance casting chance. They still have large numbers of magic points needed, if not as bad as for Rune Points- to use an illusion of a human as an example again, 6 points of Create Image, 4 points of Create Sound, again a lot of Create Sensation (up to SIZ to have the same weight, lift things, etc). On the one hand the ability to cast Illusions as an active spell that must be concentrated on to change, move, etc makes things a lot more flexible - an illusory voice, for example, is now very possible. In RQ3 sorcerous Illusion magic was viable just, if not exactly thrilling - you could imagine a successful illusion expert sorcerer NPC, if in practice quite underwhelming for a PC. But a lot of that was down to Multispell allowing a sorcery to cast multiple sorcery spells at once, and combine it with other magic, so you cast a powerful Illusion with the same time taken and chance as other sorcery, and Multispell no longer exists - and the number of magic points used was still notably huge compared to most sorcerers, and it required you to further actively concentrate on your Illusion most of the time, so it wasn't that effective in most circumstance. Again, I never saw one in play. 

Illusion magic of a more specific nature (eg rune spells that have the Illusion Rune but do not have Illiusory <something> in their name) is fine. They range from useful (Clever Tongue, Charisma) through quirky but cool (Hallucinate, Hide Fire, Group Laughter), with some quite effective, and Tricksters are not poorly served with magic. Spells created this way are vastly more effective than the Illusory equivalents - for example, a person trying to simply appear as a different creature would need at least an Illusory Image that masked their whole body, which would probably be more expensive than the Become <othershape> spell, and would still need Motion, Scent, Sound, etc. 

I'm not blaming the RQG designers for much of this. Illusion spells have never been used much, and so they are regarded as unimportant, and most of rules have just been pulled across from previous editions unchanged. They've merely replicated the previous problems. 

I honestly think these rules have simply not seriously been used or playtested much ever since they were introduced. 

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Several of the fertility-related spells, like Accelerate Growth, Bear Fruit, Blast Earth, are on the weak side (although Bear Fruit should be nice in a survival scenario).

Illusion magic is super expensive.

Agree about shapechange magic - surely this isn't how most shapechangers do it, because it's expensive as all heck and lasts for just an hour?

(I would have put Increase Wind and Wind Warp on this list, but that was before I saw them put to use. For PCs with the Rune Points to spare, the effect is impressive.) 

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In Spirit Magic, Parry is really bad. It would make every kind of sense for it to add one point of HP to the shield as well, which would also make it symmetric with Bladesharp.

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I've seen illusion used well by our groups Eurmal type...but it IS really pricey. Which seems counter intuitive. It seems easier to do physical effects using Rune Magic than giving the illusion of them. 

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I think I'd make Transform Self lasting an hour castable any day and make it last a lot longer on Wildday, maybe 8 hours. Its still expensive for what it does.

A bigger change would be to make Transform Self include the effects of the 3 cult speciality spells and cost more, maybe 5 points. Require that the player know the other 3 spells before they can learn Transform Self.

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3 minutes ago, JustAnotherVingan said:

I think I'd make Transform Self lasting an hour castable any day and make it last a lot longer on Wildday, maybe 8 hours. Its still expensive for what it does.

A bigger change would be to make Transform Self include the effects of the 3 cult speciality spells and cost more, maybe 5 points. Require that the player know the other 3 spells before they can learn Transform Self.

5 points seems steep. Places the core ability of shape shifters well beyond the average starting PC or Initiate (of the cult before we get into all that again) 

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7 hours ago, davecake said:

* I shall note that Gorakiki Beetle is actually weirdly great, at least for purely physically melee combat, but I've also never seen one in play, and that taking damage only from magic/rune metals like the Telmori is pretty huge. 

Bagog is excellent, offering an 8-point armor Carapace spell in earlier editions.

Edited by Akhôrahil
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1 hour ago, Thaz said:

I've seen illusion used well by our groups Eurmal type...but it IS really pricey. Which seems counter intuitive. It seems easier to do physical effects using Rune Magic than giving the illusion of them. 

Illusions are real, though. Temporary, yes, but temporary reality. And with an illusion you can do anything*, the flexibility is the "balance**" for the high cost.

* Traditionally, you cannot make an illusion of the absence of something, although I don't think that text made it into the RQG rules***. So no illusory door that you can walk through, invisibility, or temporary smallness. Trickster has always had specific "illusion" spells (e.g. Become Pair Of Smoking Boots) that break this rule, but that's trickster for you, always breaking the rules.

** there I go, using that word that I hate...

*** cue "it's not in the rules therefore it doesn't count"...

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It seems that you can create a "real" illusion of dwarven Blasting Powder. This seems like it could have its uses. That the illusion is temporary becomes less of an issue here...

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10 minutes ago, Akhôrahil said:

It seems that you can create a "real" illusion of dwarven Blasting Powder. This seems like it could have its uses. That the illusion is temporary becomes less of an issue here...

"Real" does not mean "possessing all the properties of" - illusory people are not intelligent, I'd say illusory clouds cannot be poisonous, and Dwarven Blasting Powder is clearly magical anyway.

Edited by PhilHibbs

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1 minute ago, PhilHibbs said:

"Real" does not mean "possessing all the properties of" - illusory people are not intelligent, I'd say illusory clouds cannot be poisonous, and Dwarven Blasting Powder is clearly magical anyway.

I was thinking Illusory Substance, which specifically creates real, damage-dealing stuff.

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24 minutes ago, PhilHibbs said:

* Traditionally, you cannot make an illusion of the absence of something, although I don't think that text made it into the RQG rules***. So no illusory door that you can walk through, invisibility, or temporary smallness. Trickster has always had specific "illusion" spells (e.g. Become Pair Of Smoking Boots) that break this rule, but that's trickster for you, always breaking the rules.

*** cue "it's not in the rules therefore it doesn't count"...

On the other hand, the rules on 331 do say "A sound illusion cast upon a noisy target masks contradicting noises, and the same is true with contradicting tastes, smells, sights, etc." With the final etc presumably referring to both contradicting motion and substance.

Therefore, while a doorway itself may not be possible, an illusionary door you can open, (using substance and sight) presumably could be. If you use an illusion of a bowl of petunias where you're standing, the rest of you would presumably count as a contradicting sight being masked.

This would presumably be part of why Become [Other Shape] can make your size smaller, as the other bits get masked.

It's also why Hallucinate is probably one of my favourite spells, nothing like Hallucinating something only you can use (such as a doorway in a wall, a rope to climb out of a hole, or a pleasant tasting meal when all you're eating is stale bread.)

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The potency of an illusory acid (or other corrosive substance) or the physical damage caused by a material illusion (regardless whether it is visible or not) is limited by the amount of magic invested to create the physical  component of that illusion.

As to making "nothing" out of "something" - an illusion might be able to liquefy a wall or rock when accompanied by an appropriate visual effect, allowing people to dive through this otherwise solid material without removing it from its place. This probably falls under illusory touch. The eternal problem remains here whether part of a continuous medium (like e.g. a wall cut out of a mountainside) can be affected without pouring magic into the entirety of that medium.

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2 hours ago, Thaz said:

5 points seems steep. Places the core ability of shape shifters well beyond the average starting PC or Initiate (of the cult before we get into all that again) 

Effectively its 8 points atm. Lower it too much and theres no reason at all to ever cast the cult speciality spells. I've no problem with the most powerful ability of a cult being slightly beyond the average starting PC or initiate. 5 RP is only 2 beyond what a PC starts with.

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19 minutes ago, JustAnotherVingan said:

Effectively its 8 points atm. Lower it too much and theres no reason at all to ever cast the cult speciality spells. I've no problem with the most powerful ability of a cult being slightly beyond the average starting PC or initiate. 5 RP is only 2 beyond what a PC starts with.

I think I'd rather rework the entire shape shifting thing. Which fortunately I dont need to do as the two hunters in the 'Journey of Hero's' linked campaign space both went with other cults.  

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Also, if the Rune Magic is supposed to be how shapechanging is handled, in most creatures and peoples it doesn't work.

(Doubly so if most of them don't even get to be initiates...)

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I agree that Illusions seem a bit too pricey to get the desired effect. Tricksters are fine with their other available spells. One that wasn't mentioned was Lie. Lie is subject to egregious munchkinery. Let's say your party is speaking with Lunar soldiers. The trickster in the party using Sleight hides a garrotte on the Lunar officer. Then he Lies "The officer is a Thanatari Doom Lord! See, he has a garrotte on his belt!" The rest of the Lunars are REQUIRED to believe that until "incontrovertible evidence of its falsehood". Now, those Lunar soldiers may not worry about Chaos as much as the players do. But everyone worries about Thanatari, it is in the old cult description and I am certain it will remain. And, if the officer casts Madness or Mindblast to 'prove' he is a Seven Mothers devotee of some level - the trickster just says "Proof he is an Atyar and cast Consume Mind on the real Lunar officer who was assigned to this post!" Incontrovertible evidence is impossible, with the Trickster embellishing every bit of counter evidence to his own devices. The only way is something like a Detect Truth spell where the soldiers are also initiates of Humakt and can see the "dark, smoky glow' emanating from the Trickster for themselves. Yanafal doesn't grant that in these rules.

In almost every case, the Lunar officer will soon wake up dead by his own troops. Unless all the Lunars really are Thanatari in disguise - then they would be thinking "How did that (trickster) catch on? We better shut these guys down permanently."

But back to Illusions. I believe the spell descriptions are vague enough that an Illusory spell cast upon a person, stays with that person. So in the example of casting illusory armor (Sight), one RP could make a helmet, and it would move with the substrate on which it was cast. You only need Illusory Motion if the illusion is freestanding. That means if the Trickster casts Illusory Sight on a party member of the right size and wearing the right clothing of a particular face, he will appear as some person for the next 15 minutes. Maybe coupled with Illusory Sound to duplicate the voice of the particular person. I would certainly require an Act roll for fine  control, like giving orders.

There are minor adjustments to Reality that make Illusory spells powerful, with extreme creativity. But if you are trying to cast Illusions of an additional opponent in order to stab a scorpion man until he is dead, that is a massive use of RPs. The designers had to balance the potential for both uses.

Example: Illusory Sight can make a fire appear under an opponent. He would then really try to get out of that spot. But it wouldn't actually hurt him, sans Illusory Substance. Which means the Trickster could cast only Illusory Substance x4 and do 2d6 damage to the opponent standing in invisible fire (specific mention of 'such as walking into an illusory fire' in the description). But the opponent doesn't see what is causing the damage. Maybe it is just some spell effect (it is, in fact). So does your opponent even try to move away? How does he know the boundary? Maybe after the second round of taking damage...And the Substance is real though temporary. So why not use Acid that actually eats the armor and hit points away? Note: Your party members cannot see the 2d6 Acid blob either and may walk through the spot after the opponent dissolves away. Which might amuse the Trickster.

Can the Illusory Substance be a Talosi smashing the pit against him? In which case how deep would the Illusory Substance 4 pit be? Would it do 2d6 damage to each swallowed hit location like an actual Talosi would inflict? Would that require Illusory Motion for the slamming pit? It doesn't need much Move rate. This would require a DEX x3 roll though. The acid may be more generally useful.  Still the Illusory Motion to move the invisible acid would be useful. In a long battle 5 RPs could kill a bunch of opponents. Can anyone not in the Illusion, and/or without magical sight, be able to Dismiss it?

Can I use an Illusory Substance fire against a swarm of Bullsnitch (Bestiary)? The party and mounts should have enough armor to take a few rounds, but all the Bullsnitch would burn away fast even at 1d3 for 1 RP. Then heal. The invisible fire may have only 1 HP, but how do the Bullsnitch even attack it? Yeah, it probably should have more than 1 HP.

 

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4 hours ago, Akhôrahil said:

Bagog is excellent, offering an 8-point armor Carapace spell in earlier editions.

Gorakiki -Beetle has Carapace as well, but their 3 point spell is the killer - Spout Arms! The extra arms can be used for weapons, if a character is skilled with dual wielding weapons, they can potentially get four attacks! Or three and a shield! 

 

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1 minute ago, davecake said:

Gorakiki -Beetle has Carapace as well, but their 3 point spell is the killer - Spout Arms! The extra arms can be used for weapons, if a character is skilled with dual wielding weapons, they can potentially get four attacks! Or three and a shield! 

Bagog has Spout Legs instead, which is less impressive. Aranea has Spout Arms, IIRC (and also a shockingly nasty Webbing spell).

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3 minutes ago, Akhôrahil said:

Aranea has Spout Arms, IIRC (and also a shockingly nasty Webbing spell).

She has Spiderlimbs, just how awesome it is differs between editions, might be as good as the Beetle version in the new Gods book, though it wasn't as good in the RQ3 version - still pretty good though, extra net attack. Think carefully about messing with Cragspider. 

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32 minutes ago, Dragon said:

Can the Illusory Substance be a Talosi smashing the pit against him? In which case how deep would the Illusory Substance 4 pit be?

Siz 4, so really not very big? And with 4 hit points? And not capable of attacking someone unless you added Illusory Motion? And instead of this 4 hit point tiny pretend elemental for 5+ points, you could summon a massive actual Talosi with around 30 hit points that does 3d6 damage for 3 points? I don't really get what this example is supposed to show - that you can use Illusory Substance to replicate other magic, but at a much higher cost and less effectively? Yes, that was my point. 

As for making an invisible fire that attacks people  - well, it needs Illusory Motion if its going to move, a few points if it is going to move at any speed, and it only hits on DEX x 3, and only if you GM decides a reasonable fire is ok (I personally would not - being invisible isn't supposed to be a bonus for not buying the sight component), so all in all, with a cooperative GM, you can make it sort of mildly ok. 

I think the whole thing just shows it is badly designed as a system. If Illusory Substance being used to attack people with invisible fires is the main reason to make Illusion spells so expensive as to make most Illusions prohibitively expensive, then Illusory Substance is egregiously misdesigned. 

 

Edited by davecake

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12 hours ago, davecake said:

And the core Illusion magic for both Rune magic and Sorcery. 

I agree. Since it's first appearance back in the RQ Companion, I've found Illusion magic almost impossible to work with.  There's a great potential there, but the cost to combine the different spells to achieve the effects is exorbitant.  

And it's also not obvious that Hallucinate actually does anything for you (beyond creating an hallucination that only you can see).

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22 minutes ago, jajagappa said:

...

And it's also not obvious that Hallucinate actually does anything for you (beyond creating an hallucination that only you can see).

I believe it creates an "illusion" that only you can see; but Gloranthan illusions are temporary reality.  So you can ride a hallucinatory High Llama, walk across a hallucinatory bridge, climb a hallucinatory ladder (or rope), open a hallucinatory doorway into a building, etc etc etc.

Nobody else can avail themselves of this; and AFAIK you can "wield" a hallucinatory sword but not HURT (or in any way affect) anyone with it.

But (in the cases above) people will see you moving swiftly across the landscape at Llama-back height, "walk on air" across a crevasse, casually scale a sheer wall, walk into a building where no doorway exists, etc etc etc.

It's sort of the ultimate "personal utility magic" spell.

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