BITS – The Spells ðŸ§™ðŸ»â€â™‚️

Spells, magics, powers, tech abilities – whatever you want to call it, powerful, spooky actions by players in BITS need rules. Healing, harming … that and more BITS takes care of 😁 Just in time for Halloween! 🦇

What Spells Are

As the title has it, spells are unseen phenomena that allow a player to do marvelous and dangerous things. Electricity and technology are as much a kind of magic as what is practiced by fantastical druids and warlocks. BITS being a generalized game design ruleset, the same principles apply to any form of ability a player could have!

Spell Effects

The specific effects of spells or how the effects get conveyed rely on the setting or genre of the game. There are nonetheless traits that reoccur in any spell system, each with intuitive exchange of cost-to-do and effect-of-doing:

    • Switch a location for another.
      • eg teleportation, telepathy
    • Morph what’s in a location.
      • eg alter colors and sizes
    • Bring into or remove from a location.
      • eg conjuration, removing some or all of what’s in a location
    • Act in a location.
      • eg mind control, telekinesis

Some spells do little more than move objects around, but what happens when the effect itself needs to be taken into account?

BITS gives spells the effect of being “magical.” However, for many games, increased granularity is required for a more tactical game feel.

To bring tactics to a BITS game, there are only two other kinds of spell effect:

    • 2Ps
      • “Power” and “Pyro” are the first branches out from basic “magical” kinds of spells. Power is for anything purely magical or electrical, Pyro for (what else) fire or heat-addition and heat-removal 🔥❄

        Sure, one or two additional kinds of effect may be added here or the Ps themselves may be renamed, but they must conform to the theme of the game. (Cellular, Laser, and Software for a game in modern times, anyone?)
    • Dungeons and Dragons-Like
      • D&D kinds of games are the bucket added to the end of the BITS spell toolbox, but this doesn’t mean a game can go off the rails with the kinds of spells they bring to the fore.

        After severe study, even D&D seems to overdo the eight schools of magic it uses, leading to balance issues where schools like Evocation objectively better perform some other schools.

        A better look is a maximum number of different things a player can track (hint: it’s seven). To improve the D&D issue, a modest proposal of six kinds (and never more) of spells for any kind of fantasy game:
        • Divinity – Blessing and cursing targets.
        • Temperature – Heating and cooling targets.
        • Form – Making something from nothing and morphing targets.
        • Life – Decaying and rejuvenating targets. 
        • Mind – Knowing what targets know and bestowing ideas.
        • Sensorium – Altering the senses and using illusions.

      • Those previous six are themed for D&D high fantasy, but what about other genres? BITS handles those to, focusing on the “4” theme that repeats throughout BITS.

        On offering are example sets including: Space, Time, Gravity, Power; Solids, Liquids, Gases, Plasmas; Animalism, Potions, Meteoromancy, Shamanism; Create, Cease, Control, Change; etc.

Spell Systems

There are more ways to convey the awesome power of spells as there are writers of magic systems. Thus, to pick a system of spells for your game, BITS offers some guidance:

    • Take the D&D Approach
      • Dungeons and Dragons is the best known roleplaying game ever. How the game does magic is it restricts a player’s use of a spell to the kind of “magic school” the spell is, and both the difficulty of the spell and number of spells based on player character experience. Further, there are a finite number of spells premade to choose from that a player has to decide on before an adventure, a daunting task as there are hundreds of spells 😱

        BITS mitigates this option paralysis by doing two things: removing the excessive limits, and paring down spells from systems like D&D (BITS has a 120-spell collection taking the best from D&D and balancing out what were previously “must have” spells in D&D).

        There are still limits with this approach any game designer must choose to include or forego: Only magical players or game equipment may cast spells, and, players may only use spells from the kinds of magic they understand. Other than that, a player can use any level of spell difficulty! Though, nothing terribly bad is guaranteed to happen if a player foils up casting a spell… 
    • Slim Approach
      • Which brings us to a slimmer, more deadly approach!

        Following the influence of old-school revival (OSR) games, there is at most a page or two of succinct spells that speak to the theme of the game.

        Further, when players critically fail to cast these otherwise resource-free, ranged, and power spells, BITS requires the spell to target the casting player and any effect turned negative towards the player. That heal spell now hurts, that fireball explodes around the player, the airstrike you called in is on your location. BITS achieves balance here by keeping the game succinct and spell use deadly.
    • Freeform
      • What if players are especially imaginative? There are no walls barring magical ability? Is the game Harry Potter themed?

        BITS solves that too. In a freeform system, a table guide for spell effect and the difficulty of the spell exists to aid not just impromptu game systems, but also for GMs and players who want to introduce their own material to the game.

        Spells range in difficulty from 0 to 4 (from a required roll of 5 to a roll of 13). That 0 to 4 corresponds tightly with the effect of the spell, its range, and its radius of effect.

Default for BITS Spells

As mentioned before, what spells end up in the game depends on the kind of game being gone for. A bucket of spells? A tight selection? A creative ocean of spell possibilities? Regardless, BITS focuses on a set of realities to keep spells both balanced and powerful in any game.

First, the difficulty of a spell roll is the difficulty of the spell, not the threat of what the spell targets. Melee fighters and arrow-shooting rangers have to meet or beat the difficulty of harming a target, but a spell thrower merely needs to account for the spell they cast, leaving them free to focus on their role as magical support.

Second, spells will target and harm the caster if the caster critically fails their roll. If this is too harsh, BITS has the optional rule to allow casters to choose between accepting the negative themselves, or destroying what equipment they carry to completely negate the spell. (Just be careful of naked adventures running around with sacrificed clothing!) 

Third and lastly, spells are what I call “runaway”. Like a train without a conductor, when a spell is cast, it keeps going until it’s finished. Plenty of spells are instantaneous (zap ⚡), but some last the lifetime of a target or until some special rule of the spell is met. Runaway spells lessens the bookkeeping of tracking multiple spells in the game world while freeing up magical players to otherwise continue acting instead of babysitting some effect.

And that’s spell use in BITS! Thank you for getting this far, reader 😁 If you haven’t yet or need a reminder, checkout BITS’s core mechanic, the equipment, and the role of the GM.

Tomorrow is Halloween 🎃 Next week is the US national election 🙃 After all that, look forward to when I review October’s goals and we look ahead to November. Stay safe! Vote! Cheers ~

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