: This is sort of a repost of my initial attempts
on a solid pen and paper generic implementation of Wheel of Time channeling. This post will also report on the maturation of my ideas for this project. I've flagged this for 3.5 and 4.0 because I believe the system to be described is possibly extensible to both, perhaps even to other systems. I will initially focus on a 3.5e implementation, however.Project Objectives:
Below is the proverbial grocery list of things I'm trying to accomplish.Resource System: Overarching Goals
Sticking to the Source Material: (Stolen from my old thread on this by and large)
- Resource Limited Balance: There are a number of ways to control how a given system is "balanced" relative to others. In the Pen & Paper environment, abuse and imbalance (in my experience) is frequently a result of players finding ways to uncap resources, be they actions, spells per day, or what have you. One generic objective here is to make the resource mechanic of Channeling the major limiting factor and ultimate throttle on how much a player can do. Properly written and maintained, I feel this should work both as a balancing mechanism and as a way to introduce some strategy to a Channeler's game-play.
- Encounter-scale resource coherence with day-scale management strategy: When using a resource-limited system, the question is, "over what time scale are resources limited"? I call this the "coherence" time of the resource mechanism; ie how long will it be before your actions are independent of previous ones. The answer for Channelers is: per encounter for the most part, but some decisions you make in one encounter can carry over to others later in the day. If Tome of Battle has a purely encounter scale coherence time and the Vancian system has a per day coherence, then my implementation of Channeling should be somewhere in the middle.
- Functional identification with WoT source material: Something that bothers me about a lot of resource systems out there is that they don't really have a physical meaning, or it's often very contrived. WoT's magic system is nice because its 5 elements and the way they're described ground the effects a whole lot more than obscure utterings and arcane materials do for me. I want the resource system to retain as much of that "physical grounding" as possible. See the next section for a very detailed list of what I hope to retain.
- Easy-to-track, table friendly management, but fun to use: Another beef I have with Vancian magic, Psionics, or other systems is that they can be unwieldy on the table. My wizard builds require huge printed out stacks of paper and a lot of erasers to keep track of what spells I can prepare, what they do, and what spells I've left in a day. ToB's Crusader class introduced the idea of a card-based system for managing all their resources. This Channeling system will take that to the logical extreme. I hope to make this system something of mini-game of Magic the Gathering while you play your character. Don't worry, it's not going to be THAT complicated.
The Resource Mechanic:
- Fatigue: The system appears to incur a fatigue on the channeler. Unlike the Vancian system, however, depletion of the channeling resource does not appear to gradually deplete one's capacity to weave "high level" effects. The system appears to be more precipitous, such that one simply keels over in exhaustion if one reaches the fatigue wall. Until that point, strong channeling is possible. There also appear to be varying levels of expenditure. For example, if one is channeling often and in large amounts for days on end (as we see in Grady, as he weaves countless gateways for Perrin later in the series), recovery to full strength can take several DAYS of rest. Similar long periods of rest are seen in the protagonist Rand Al'Thor, after his absolutely epic feat of cleansing saidin. On the other hand, normal usage can be regenerated over night or perhaps after some brief rest. Often times, in the literature, the lower bounds of fatigue and their effects are not discussed. Unfortunately, this shows that in WoT the coherence time of the One Power is very flexible and much longer than I feel is reasonable for a Pen and Paper game. I'm going to limit the coherence time for non-epic characters to 1 day. For Epic characters we can extend that coherence by another day. The goal is that this will be a logical step forward from my method of establishing an encounter to encounter coherence, such that deity level channelers could extend their coherence time even further. I assume my audience is non-epic and non-deific player parties, and in this system, they're not going to be able to "pull a Rand" and go balls out for a day then rest for weeks -- but I'll let you do that if you want to open up epic play.
- Heightened Awareness: A channeler should have extremely enhanced sight, hearing, and tactile sensation while "holding the power". I plan on making this a class-feature which improves with power as one gains levels.
- Level Independent Learning: It would appear that nearly all weaves are learn-able by others on seeing the weave, if not only once, then several times. The weaves are replicable without having sufficient power to utilize them effectively. I specifically remember a Wise One showing an Aes Sedai the gateway weave at one point, though the Wise One was not able to actually make a gateway. Thus, it would be equivalent to a level one wizard seeing a 9th level spell be cast and then showing the weave shape (without it achieving effect) to another high level wizard who might be able to actually replicate and use it. This is very difficult to balance on the surface, but I think it's easily manageable if we simply make a skill check to learn a weave and then a power check to actually gain access to it. The former will be modeled after spellcraft (which will also allow weave identification), the later is a caster level check. I plan on allowing identification and learning to benefit from on-the-fly buffs to skill, but the power check will be stated as to depend only on caster levels gained from class levels.
- Power Advancement: This is, unfortunately, one of the weaker portions of the book -- not because it doesn't work for fiction, but because it makes it difficult to port to a tabletop game. What little advancement is spoken of in terms of power capacity is that men gain power in discretized steps, while women gain it gradually over time. The causality of either isn't well explained. Here we're going to just use standard d20 leveling type stuff to advance power, which means men and women will essentially gain power at the same rate. We don't want any penalties here for gender, I think. In an effort to generalize the advancement, however, what I'm going to do is transform the d20 1-20 leveling system into a point-system. This should facilitate ports to point based systems and hopefully reduce development time in adapting between 3.5 and 4.0.
- Power is Irresistible: With the exception of a few terrangreal (special magic items), I've seen little precedence for resisting or dodging the power. (Rand managed to nearly dodge a fireball and lost a hand instead of his life being one of the few examples of a "partial damage" type effect). I don't think this will be too difficult to implement. We'll just need to make no-resist effects a big part of the Channeler schtick and be sure to balance around that. I'd like to make countering the power be less passive and more active.
- Weaves can be prepared in advance: Countless times in the books, we see that the most complex weaves require preparation. One can be said to have "several nasty weaves prepared". This is done on the fly, typically seconds before engagement. It's not clear, however, that weave preparation is a pre-requisite for success. Frequently, though, weaves that are used in reaction are not complicated, often just flows of air or fire. Furthermore, sometimes all one sees is that the channeler has several "flows" prepared; ie the raw material for a weave is available, but not formed. This is going to be handled fairly organically by the mini-card game associated with Channeling resources.
- Power cannot affect self: The only exception seen to date is illusion. One cannot heal oneself, or augment oneself in any way. That's a blessed boon for balance if you ask me.
- Holding the Power as a Pre-Req: Quite often the biggest hurdle in battles involving the power seems to be holding it. Once power is held, then and only then can weaves be made. A frequently used tactic in the books is to be quicker on the draw and shield someone from accessing the Source, effectively preventing all casting from that channeler until the shield is removed or broken. I'm inclined to use this as an avenue for balancing combat between channelers and non-channelers.
- Circle Magic is integral: Among women at least, but if you can manage to get a female friend as a male channeler, then it's integral for males as well. The process allows greatly enhanced power, seemingly greater than the sum of the parts. 13 linked level 1 wizards would tear a level 20 wizard a new arse-hole, for example -- provided whoever led that circle knew what to do. We'll just have to make rules for this.
- Weaves can miss: There are projectile weaves that miss. Fireballs and lightning strikes are prime examples. Weaves that directly contact the person, however, do not appear to suffer a miss-chance. Lots of precedence for this in the D&D rules.
- Power Damage: You can permanently lose access to the source (excepting very complicated healing procedures). This can either be inflicted upon someone, or it can be self-inflicted by drawing too much power. The mord's disjunction of Channeling. I'll keep this open as a high power weave, but DMs / Players are probably not going to want anything to do with it unless they're strictly on the delivery end.
- Gender & the 5 elements: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Spirit. Men are stronger (generally) in fire and earth, women in air and water. Gender doesn't confer an advantage to spirit, if I recall correctly. This will is facile to implement.
- Other gender differences: Neither sex can see the weaves of the other sex. Men can feel the weaves women make (like you can feel someone sneaking up on you), but get little information aside from presence of female channeling. Women do not have the ability to sense male channeling whatsoever, apart from placing a complex weave on a male channeler. Only females are capable of creating a link between another channeler, although men can participate in such links. Female circles cannot exceed 13 without adding males to the circle, whereupon it appears to extend the circle capacity by another 13 until additional males are added. There are numerous stylistic differences between the same weave effects for the different genders such that a woman cannot teach a man a weave, even by describing it, and visa versa. All of these I think can possible to implement.
- Multi-Weaving: Rand Al'Thor is particularly noted for his capacity to wield and control numerous weaves at once. It is said that this is a function of his power, but I'm not sure it's only that. I posit it's a mix of a certain "multi-tasking" ability and his base power. We can use a concentration check to control how many simultaneous weaves one can manage; possibly work that into divergent class mechanics.
I mention the "mini-game" of Channeling above and hereafter will refer to the resource management system described below collectively as a "mini-game".Fundamentals
- The Deck: As you increase in level, the amount of power one can draw increases. This is figuratively represented by an increasing number of cards in one's deck. Deck size is variable based on class, feat and ability scores. Depending on the system which we are adapting this mechanic to, the number of cards in the deck per level can change. I recommend figuring out some conversion scheme to keep the number of elemental cards to less than 52, for practical reasons. The deck should contain approximately 2.5 to 3 times the number of elemental cards in the hand (see below). A deck will also contain a separate pile of special cards, these special cards again should not exceed 52 in number by max level. Ideally, epic level channelers shouldn't have to deal with more than 2 standard decks of cards and low level players shouldn't even need a full deck.
- Special Cards: These cards are basically descriptor cards. They aren't resources. You can play any special card you possess in any quantity during your turn, provided you have the resource to use them (some cards can only be used x/times per encounter or some require elemental cards in hand to play them). There are two main kinds of special card: weave cards and ability cards.
- Weave Cards: Every weave card will have a brief description of the weave, it's cost in elemental points, and the "slop factor" effects (see below: Sloppy resources).
- Ability Cards: Ability cards are a means of remembering and demonstrating your class abilities, feats, or other effects. If you had an ability to recover 1 fire card per encounter from the burn pile, you would lay down the associated ability card when recovering the fire card from the burn pile. Such a card couldn't be played again during the encounter. In another example, you might have a card which allows you to withdraw fire cards from the stack, paying the inefficiency cost with water insead of fire. This card would be shown while doing so, but could be used at subsequent points during the encounter.
- Stack, Hand, Tapped, & Burned: There are four states a card can exist in: they can be in the stack, in your hand, tapped, or burned. These are explained below:
- Stack: A card in the stack is in purgatory. It represents the unused resource of the power, it's the glow in the corner of a channeler's eye just beyond reach. A card in the stack cannot do anything.
- Hand: Each card in your hand represents a raw flow of elemental Power that you've called after touching the source. You cannot play, in a single round, any more cards than the number of cards you can place in your hand. Your hand can hold a variable number of cards, based on level, feat choices, and class abilities. By design, one will always desire a large hand, because drawing additional power from the stack to your hand requires effort beyond the first withdrawal in an encounter. Each encounter begins with a hand that is dealt to you from the stack. If you desire additional cards to play after you've depleted your hand, or perhaps before you've depleted it, additional cards must be withdrawn from the stack and doing so will require both a concentration check and an inefficiency payment. The efficiency of withdrawing a card from the stack is a function of gender, class, the element of the card being withdrawn, and feats. A level 1 female yellow ajah Aes Sedai, for example, may withdraw water and spirit from the stack at the maximal efficiency of 50%. That is for each spirit and water card withdrawn, an equal number of spirit or water cards must be placed in the burn pile. Fire and Earth for the same Sister are withdrawn at 33% efficiency and would require two burned fire or earth cards for each one withdrawn from the stack to the hand. There is no such thing as a partial card and efficiency mechanics are designed such that rounded fractions needn't be computed. Improvements to efficiency beyond 50% come in the form of burned card recovery or element trading, both gained exclusively from class features or feats. Minimal efficiency is 25%.
- Tapped: Tapped are either fully formed weaves waiting to be unleashed or active weaves that require constant user input (like channeled spells). Tapped cards cannot be re-purposed once committed. (Committed is a synonym for tapping). Once untapped, the cards are released back to the stack. Normal weaves (that don't require input afterward) are tapped and and released to the stack all in one turn. Resolution of the weave's effect is recorded or handled like any other spell after this point and constitutes the "output" of the mini-game.
- Burned: A burned card is usually irretrievable until one rests. If you cannot get by in an encounter with what you are initially dealt to your hand, you'll need to draw additional cards to your hand from the stack and this process will result in burned cards from the inefficient transfer. Eventually, you may completely burn your entire deck down to the point that you cannot afford to transfer any additional cards to your hand. Certain class abilities and feats at higher levels will allow one to recover burned cards in limited quantity or to pay the inefficency cost for cards of a certain element with another element. It is something of a challenge to end the day with every last card in your deck burned, but that's part of the fun. You will certainly find it possible to run out of gas in the latter encounters of the day, even if your stack contains cards, if you cannot afford the efficiency cost of withdrawal.
- Card Multipliers: Gender, Class, and Feats can affect your multiplier for each element. This multiplier is tunable depending on the system to which this WoT mechanic is being ported. Most weaves require two component elements. The idea is that each weave requires some amplitude and proportion of the various elemental powers. In this link, I show some math that extracts the number of max level and max level minus 1 powers per day one can expect out of a psion. You can see that there's a pretty clear progressive increase in number of spells per encounter expected. From there I show a card multiplier scheme which follows these expectations as closely as possible. Should the player choose to use low level weaves (defined as max level minus two or less), the balance breaks down. The idea being that if you want to use weak weaves indefinitely, in this system, you can. But if you want to pull out the big guns, you'll find yourself limited. Because the spread sheet isn't very pretty, here are few numbers in-line so you can see what it looks like:
This would be for a character that has no elemental bias, which is rare. Lets say Rand has a fire multiplier at level 5 of 4 (meaning he's above average with fire), but his air multiplier is only 2 (just below the average multiplier of 3). If he wants to make an explosive fireball that requires equal parts air and fire, he could mix 1 fire and 2 air at full efficiency or 1 fire and 1 air at reduced efficiency (the excess points of fire afford him perhaps some additional damage, but not much -- the exact amount is spelled out in the explosive fireball spell description). At level 5, assuming the above list is accurate for Rand, he cannot use more than 6 cards at a given time. If all of those cards were fire and air, Rand might be in the position to generate an ENORMOUS fireball, but the reality is that Rand's hand is a mix of all 4 elements and adding in other elements to explosive fireball to increase its effect probably is not supported in the spell text (although one could have feats/class abilities to allow such a thing). Specialization of one's hand in a few elements, in this way, can afford greater power, but as always comes at the loss of access to a breadth of weaves. See the next bullet point for some more detail.
- Level 1: 4 pts per hand, 1 pt per card, 4 cards per hand
- Level 5: 18 pts per hand, 3 pts per card, 6 cards per hand
- Level 10: 50 pts per hand, 5 pts per card, 10 cards per hand
- Level 15: 108 pts per hand, 9 pts per card, 12 cards per hand
- Level 20: 144 pts per hand, 8 pts per card, 18 cards per hand
- Sloppy Spell Costs: Psionics offers some slop to their spells in the form of augmentation. You can dump more power points into a power and, as explained in each power's description, you can get varying effects for doing so. In this system, due to the heavy discretization that comes with a small number of cards and un-even multipliers, one will often find themselves unable to generate weaves at their prescribed elemental ratios. There are a couple of ways this problem can be patched up and I think the patching process adds some fun complexity. I want to make it clear, however, that this slop is an intentional part of the mini-game. All the patches discussed below cannot break the fundamental law that when a card is played in a weave, it's full point value is from that point on destined to be spent.
- Special Cards: At higher levels, one may desire to fraction a card's points and power two weaves with it. For example, at level 15 in the above table, one fire card could fuel two weaves granting 4 points to 1 and 5 to another. This type of trick can be implemented and balanced via the use of special cards, possibly limited per encounter, per day, or not at all. Other special cards could be envisioned to address the issue: burning excess elemental power in a weave committal to gain extra, fixed effects. Rand might have a special card, for example, that would allow him to burn excess fire energy from his explosive fireball by granting +fire damage to his sword in some conversion ratio dependent on the excess fire. The sky is the limit for what can be done in terms of special cards.
- Storage Weaves: For multi-component weaves, a large excess will likely be generated, because each component reduces the per-element point cost of the weave. Using balefire will always require 5 cards to even generate the weave, for example, but the full point expenditure will not likely be close to the sum the five cards contain, unless one's elemental multipliers were specifically tuned to Balefire's cost. This problem is only going to be encountered at higher levels and one possible solution is to allow a storage weave. The storage weave would necessarily be a second weave, channeled simultaneously with the multi-component weave, and it would allow a character to store the excess elemental points for some short amount of time (less than an encounter, probably 1-2 rounds) to be used in another weave. Alternatively, one could just use multiple split cards to fraction off another weave directly without the storage weave intermediary.
- Weave Augmentation: For some weaves, adding excess of certain elements could generate additional effects. An extra-fire explosive fireball might have a lingering burn effect, or may just deal more fire damage. This is handled on a per-weave basis and isn't going to be a general solution for unit effect weaves like gateways.