Art Magic Hack: Advantage and Hindrance

Hiya folks

There are a few hacks I have been working on for the Art Magic rules from the Magic Burner. I know it is actually a set of BWR rules, but they transfer pretty seamlessly to the BWG rules.

First hack: “Fixing” the Advantage and Hindrance Effects
The Advantage and, to a lesser degree, Hindrance effects have caused my groups and I some trouble in play. Basically the problem is that they are so easy to cast and so easy to justify under a school that advantage gets cast all the time. Unless there is a really good reason not to, a sorcerer might as well always cast a small spell before any action to gain +1D or +2D advantage. The spells are slow enough for the detailed conflict system, so once inside a conflict they are fine, but outside of extended conflicts they get used too much.

It doesn’t even require the player to abuse the system, not intentionally at least. Create a school like “Spells of the Mind” and you can easily justify a spell granting +1D to almost any mental skill by boosting memory, making your mind faster, making yourself more empathetic and so on.

It just gets a little annoying when a player casts the 4th spell during the same scene, granting himself or his comrades +1D advantage or +2D.

Ymmv of course, but that has been my experience in play from running 1 longer campaign using the art magic rules and a handful of shorter games.

So how to fix this?

A few ideas.

First is to arbitrarily limit what schools can grant advantage/hinder what abilities. Pick a handful of abilities for each school, those are the ones it can hinder. It is a slightly problematic solution as the primary limitation on schools is supposed to be color. How you describe a spell determines if the school applies, if you can come up with a a spell description that fits the mechanical effect and the school color, then you can use the school. Still, it would make sorcery less broad and would easily shut this problem down. Simple, effective, goes a bit against the grain.

The second idea for limitation could be some kind of escalation on difficulties or consequences of advantage/hindrance spells. For example, each advantage and hindrance spell suffers applies +1 ob to the same effect with the same session (or scene, or in-game day). It might be a little harsh though and requires the sorcerer’s player to plan ahead a bit. If he gains +2D to resources for bribing the guard, he will have a harder time casting a spell to give him advantage to talking to the king, etc. Requires a bit of bookkeeping, very focused fix, alters play a little for sorcerers.

The third solution and the one I am leaning towards at the moment is to have art magic require a tax test even for successful spells, similar to traditional sorcery. Requiring an ob 2 forte test for each art magic spell could do the trick. It is low enough that it is almost always going to be a routine test, but assuming a forte of 5-6 it is going to fail occasionally. This make the easy and simple spells as easy to cast, but if you cast a handful of them you will likely fail a tax test and then it becomes more tricky to cast the next one. It is also easy to fit into the fiction - art magic requires a bit of stamina to cast, but as long as the spell is cast well, the strain is negligible. Simple, brings tax into art magic, fits fiction easily.

Are we the only group to have had this issue with art magic? Have I overlooked a solution? Is my preferred solution (the third) not good for some reason? Any input is appreciated :slight_smile:

Not all schools need to let you cast all the various effects. Some schools might only allow you to assume traits. Some might allow you to provide Hindrance but not Advantage. Mind Magic, for instance, might provide access to Arcane Knowledge and allow you to Help or Hinder Persuasion, Oratory, Intimidation, Interrogation, Seduction, Soothing Platitudes and Ugly Truth. It probably doesn’t give you access to Destroy with Sorcerous Fire, Arcane Action, Traits, etc.

Art Magic really needs rigorous application of limitations or it becomes amorphous and unsatisfying just like you describe. If a player really feels that some effect should fit in their school but your limitations say they don’t – that’s great. Tell them they’ve found the limits of understanding of the particular school they follow. They can work to develop a new school that does encompass that effect. Suddenly they have a goal that drives them. You can get a lot of gameplay out of the quest to develop a new school of magic. When the character finally does develop it, the game is only just beginning. Maybe former comrades start dividing over the issue. Some follow the new teachings the character has developed, while others are affronted that the character has abandoned the tried and true way with an ancient lineage. Maybe the new school violates some ancient taboo.

There are lots of possibilities!

Oh definitely.

I think the character in question had two schools - a mind magic school and a bodily magic school. Neither of them had access to stuff like destroy or illusion, but together they could provide advantage and hindrance to every test. That got annoying fast.

In general I am very happy with the art magic rules, it flows easily from having descriptive schools to having effects ingame that makes sense for those schools… except for advantage. It is just too broad and too easily applicable for almost any situation.

And yeah, advancement in art magic with new schools etc is awesome!

Art magic is very potent by design.

I accidentally used the basic Sorcery tax rules when I first started using Art Magic. It works just fine and can put a small damper on things.

Strict limitations on schools of magic is critical. You need to think about just how expansive you want them in your game. “Mind magic” is way too broad for me.

If magic is overused, use fiction to fight back. Have people take interest in the abuse of magic. Spirits and demons might show up alarmingly. Wizards might criticize. Lords might want some of that power for themselves, with or without your sorcerers consent.

Finally, there’s the built-in limitation. It’s not too hard in BW to get a bunch of help and FoRK and advantage dice on rolls. Doing so will make it very hard to advance. There’s balance in the system, and if you point out that advancement has stopped because of overuse of magic players will start rejecting the help.

By the way, do you think the Ob 2 tax test on succesful spells will do more or less what I intend? It is intend to limit spamming advantage/hindrance spells and only mildly inconvenience other spell effects.

What I imagine happening is that when an art sorcerer fails one of those ob 2 tests, which is going to happen from somewhere like 1/3 of the time (forte 4) down to 1/5th (forte 5) and 1/10th of the time, the choice of casting another easy advantage spells becomes less of a no brainer. Especially as lowering your forte means that the next ob 2 test becomes more difficult… though it depends a lot on the forte of the sorcerer.

Perhaps a bit more context. We were doing a 5 session game with some dungeoncrawling, exploration and travel. One character was the art sorcerer, I think he had 2-3 schools, all of them low. They were all ok schools in and off themselves - he fully understood that neither the body nor the mind school would be doing destroy, that the mind could not transform, the body could not do illusion, etc. Still, almost every time we faced some kind of obstacle where the time available was not very pressed, he would cast a spell and grant us or himself advantage. Could often add up to a handful of spells pr travel, dungeoneering or exploration scene.

It got a bit annoying, it made test obs more difficult to adjudicate for the gm (I think). He might as well have had a dice trait granting +1D to all tests outside of conflict systems.

The more obvious abuses of art magic are easy for the players and gm to spot and avoid - such as casting permanent advantage spells, traits, etc. Here we were using everything as written and intended, but the result was rather annoying. It was the degree to which advantage could be spammed.

That’s what one of my friends who is running a game is doing - he has set it in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, in Kislev I think where there are lots of mages and priests around. There are lots of minor magic items around that counter or detect magic and lots of mages and inquisitors who frown on misuse… so in social settings the player in that game uses magic very carefully.

Even so, he has also noticed that outside of settings where the social situation restricts it, those advantage spells are a little over the top.

The schools… it’s been a little while, but I think they were reasonable. I was paraphrasing them above, I think the mind school did tricks of memory, perception and social interaction… which seems in line with the examples in the book. Right there though, you have easy color for using the school to grant advantage to at least half the skills in the book.

And yeah, it can slow down advancement, but it also trivializes mundane obstacles outside of conflicts a bit - finding your way, hunting, crossing a river, etc. A lot of the interesting tests during standard adventuring, basically.

Hmm, finding a mechanical way within the rules to fix this problem seems difficult.

I have a friend who GM’s a Deadlands game, and he noticed the same sort of problem with the magic system in that game. He sort of resolved it by putting a limit on Magic uses per day: The first spell is free, but afterward you have to give up a chip (Bennie, approximates to Artha).

You could do something similar here, perhaps. For instance, you can give three common casts for each type of spell (Advantage, Hindrance, Illusion, Spell Fire, etc), and afterward require them to give up Artha to cast further spells (1 Fate point is enough).

This looks arbitrary, but it is a possible, “House Ruled” solution. It forces them to make hard decisions on whether to hamper their own Artha economy growth.

Or perhaps you can get the Die of Fate involved. 3 common casts, after that, the Die of Fate gets involved, as they are stretching and taxing the source of Magic. A player may be more reluctant to cast a spell if there is more on the line than they want to cope with (A summoned demonic entity that forces a Fight? Not a good plan for a simple Advantage spell).

The “Three common casts” concept is purely arbitrary on my part. increase or decrease that number as you prefer.

Hope that helps.

Good insight, I hadn’t really thought of that solution.

The thing is, the advantage effect is the only thing that really bothers me about the art magic system. The rest of the effects are pretty much perfect in play… and the schools also work well. So I really don’t want to cut into that.

However, one could simply throw the limitation onto advantage/hindrance spells. You get 3 of them pr session, after that difficulties either escalate or you have to buy extra of those with fate… or a mix - the difficulty escalation is steep, but it can be bought off with artha. Every advantage/hindrance effect after the third adds +2 obstacle to further advantage/hindrance spell, starting with the third. You can reduce this penalty for 1 Fate/ob. Or maybe 1 fate/2 ob.

You could try a cumulative cast per day obstacle so that the more often a spell or school is used between scenes, or even rests, the higher the obstacle to access that kind of magic becomes, perhaps allowing one casting per time frame (Scene/Rest/Day) per die of perception, extra castings increase the obstacles by plus one each (4D Perception grants me four spells without added OB penalties per time frame). I would definitely use tax and spell failure for this and cost a will die for the length of spell aide (that plus 1D should come from the mages active concentration, just lIke any sustainable spell).

Another alternative ideas would be to just up the base Ob by 1 (making it Ob 3). That may curb some of the issues as well.

I think this is the key observation. It sounds like what was missing from these scenes was the Say Yes rule. There’s nothing at stake. The sorcerer player is basically just rolling dice for busywork. It’s vital to say yes to these rolls and move on. Give the +1D advantage; it’s not a big deal. But say yes to the sorcery and keep moving.

This os a great point. I think this could extend further to the tests that the +1D bonus applies to as well in some cases. Having a keen eye on what events actually put something at stake is particularly relevant for an issue like this.

If the Dwarf wants to make a pair of trousers, and he is granted +1D from Art Magic…was there anything really at stake? In this case, say yes to both tests.

If the Dwarf needs to craft a pair of extra fancy pants for a social event two weeks from the present scene, and the sorcerer wants to give him some magicky goodness for the test…say yes to the Sorcery test, then make the Dwarf roll for Fancy Pants crafting.

If the Social Event is in an hour, and the Sorcerer is pressed for time trying to prepare his own Magic performance, then make both roll the dice…and perhaps slap on a disadvantage for being pressed for time :wink:

Well the test themselves were fully legit…

It was adventuring, dungeoneering and exploration stuff:

  • Interpreting symbols
  • Finding our way
  • Talking to a pair of Ophidians hiding searching for the same treasure
  • Passing an underground, ice cold river

And lots of smaller stuff. There was something at stake for all those tests. They ran the range from easy to harder.

When you are testing for something, I tend to think that it is also worth testing to see if you can gain advantage, unless you have a trait or something that automatically grants it.

So if you are making a circles test, then if you want additional advantage for that (other than help, reputation, affiliation and normal advantage) it should usually require a linked test. I do not say “yes” for that linked test, because if the circles test is worth doing then things that make that circles test easier are also worth doing. If we start saying yes to the sorcerer’s spells to grant advantage, then it should also make sense to say yes to all those other tests to grant additional advantages.

Once we move outside of circles and resources, where linked tests are enforced it becomes more interesting. In play, we are often doing the equivalent of saying yes to a linked test, when we allow a FoRK. Almost all forks could be made into linked tests and that would be annoying in more or less the same way.

However, it is an additional advantage, added on top of normal advantage (the usual +1D), help and forks. If you start saying yes to all of those, you might as well add the following to the sorcerer’s gifted trait:
If you have the sorcery skill, any test made in your presence by you or an ally gains a +1D advantage. Only in circumstances where social strictures prevent magic or time is extremely limited (as in, you have less than a few seconds), does this not come into play.

Which seems a bit over the top.

One That Was - You are underestimating how fast art magic spells are. They take 2-4 actions (for advantage), so unless you are making the test right now, or you are in an extended conflict, then you always have time to cast advantage spells and you can almost always take your time (+1D advantage to casting). They are really omnipresent. The sorcerer does not need to find time, he just needs to concentrate for a few seconds and say a few words to boost both the dwarf and himself.

I disagree with these statements- just because a test has interesting stakes and is worth rolling for, doesn’t mean every possible test which could give advantage is an interesting test and worth making in it’s own right. You only roll for a linked test if it is a distinct challenge worth rolling for in it’s own right. The fact that the test it’s giving a bonus die is worth rolling, doesn’t tell us whether or not it’s worth rolling for the linked test. Generally, if the only reason the linked test is interesting is because it’s worth a bonus die, you should just grant the bonus die. I’d apply the same rule here- roll the Sorcery test if it’s an interesting test in it’s own right, but say Yes if it’s only interesting because it’s granting a die to another test.

It’s not really any worse than having one more relevant fork. And I don’t think anyone is saying to never roll Sorcery, but if it feels like rolling for Sorcery is slowing the game down and the consequences don’t really matter, it’s a good indicator that you are rolling for it in situations where you should just be saying yes.

Fair point on the time it takes to cast an Advantage Spell. I didn’t have my Magic Burner in front of me when I made my suggestions in that previous post.

What it seems everyone is indicating is that this Advantage Spell scenario almost acts out like Helping Dice (The sorcerer is helping with his sorcerous enchantments), or (if he’s giving himself a boost) as a FoRK via applicable sorcery.

This essentially means that the Sorcerer can’t double weight Help Dice by helping twice (sorcery and other help).

This could skew the Advancement mechanics, however, since helping on a test grants you a test as well (IIRC-Don’t have my books in front of me again). This may need to be looked at if you choose to do it this way.

BUT, as was pointed out earlier, this slows down advancement for the helped player…meaning the “help” via this overused spell gets turned down more frequently, nominalizing its use, and putting the focus back on bigger, more important things.

And it reduces the number of rolls for advancement for the Sorcerer in the end, since he rolls it less and less as his companions want it less, and then he has to use it in more challenging scenarios (combat).

Taking the wind out of the sails of an overzealous player who is abusing the game’s mechanics is a very possible way of setting things back on track. The player may grumble, but if he is getting a perceived benefit in return (Auto-success for his Advantage spells via the Help or FoRK mechanics), he’ll probably grumble less.

I hesitate to call it abuse to use the rules as written and intended - using the spell to grant advantage, it’s easy and the schools allow him to do so. Having players abstain from using abilities because it might become too annoying takes a bit of the “game” out of the game. It is basically the equivalent of not always applying your +1D from affinity for sword because it might be too annoying or something.
Still, the player was also aware that something undesirable was happening so he would also have appreciated there being some rule for this. Having to think along the lines of “I shouldn’t use this rule as written and as it fits with the game fiction because it might be annoying or unbalance the game slightly” is a weird axis to think along as a player and usually indicates that some rule fix should be worked out. Or perhaps that some aspect of how we play as a group needs to be altered.

Kind of an important point for me to make as the player was very much not being abusive. It was just a result generated by the rules, fiction and the way we played that ended up being kinda annoying. Hell, the player in question is often the first to point out when a rule he can take advantage of has the potential for abuse or is broken and then helping with fixing it.


Limiting help when using spells might be an interesting change. Would make some changes in advancement, but the changes and effects are somewhat opaque, at least for a player who isn’t paying a lot of attention to it.

What I think I need to do is to embrace the idea that linked tests, spells etc that grant extra advantage to worthwhile tests, do not need to be tests in and of themselves. Should be an easy fix. Very good points made on that by Luke and crail, on reflection I completely agree. Kind of a mental deadlock for me there, kinda obvious really.

Then I need pay attention to how many of those spells get cast anyway and if it becomes over the top, say that a sorcerer starts spitting out 10/session of those, then apply an easy, direct fix like saying you get 3 advantage spells/session, after that the difficulty scales hard or you have to use artha to gain more. Need more in play observation to decide whether there is anything to fix… especially as you guys seem to not have experienced this as a problem.

Reason this was annoying me is that this was the reason that I have kinda shied away from using Art Magic for a while, as the issue looked kinda hard to fix. I think I can easily start using them again and then just pay attention to this aspect.

Thanks for the help guys, some good insights and comments. You’re awesome ^^