Intent and Task: Engaging with Area of Effect Spells in Fight!

ently in Fight!:“Unless otherwise stated, you only ever engage one opponent at a time.” (430)

That is fine for normal melee and missile weapons as they can only target one opponent at a time and your intent and task revolves around that single opponent and your weapon skill.
But what about magic?

As far as single target spells like Emperor’s Hand, no problem, it’s the same basic principle, intent and task are clearly maintained.

Area of Effect spells, (those that can affect several targets at the same time) that’s where the engagement rules fail us and intent and task go south.

If you can only engage one target, but your spell could target all opponents within your presence, why should your spell be limited to those who have decided to engage you instead of your friends?
It would be better if you could engage your target area when using an area effect spell rather than an individual within the area, or target a group within the area by engaging one and having the others help as per gang of mooks or three on one, four on one, ect.
That way the Intent and Task is back to the player to decide rather than the mages opponents.

I don’t know how badly this could cause a rules break and appreciate any feedback and alternative suggestions on how to deal with this problem.

What’s stopping wizards from using spells to position favorably against all enemies, then frying them all? I think this would just up the power of AoE magic.

I suspect it’s also intentional that AoE only works when multiple people are fighting against you; if you’re trying to engage others who don’t want to it’s too easy for them to split up and leave you to pick which one you go after. It’s all abstract in the positioning rules, but I wouldn’t mess with it.

I can see where that could be a concern, but how would it work if someone were to throw a bomb with ruffly the same AoE into the Fight!, would only the people currently engaged with the bomber be the ones effected by the blast? I doubt that either the bomb or the spell cares who is engaged with you, it just goes off!
The ones that do not make as much sense for this are the ones that have a “selective targeting” to their AoE. like a Presence Based AoE in Fight! Spells like that seem to be able to be targeted against a selected group within the AoE. For that I would prefer to have the caster engage with all intended targets, centering on one and treating the others as per the rules for fighting multiple opponents (begining on pg 459). That way you are still engaging as your intended targets, but the larger the group, the harder it is to successfully engage. (This still violates the spirit of an AoE spell, but maintains some intent and task for it).

I still think that the best way is to maintain true to the intent and task of the caster in Fight! and allow for the Area of Effect spell to do just that, effect their area in accordance to the casters intent.

There are rules for lobbing bombs in Fight on page 471. They aren’t the same as for spells. It’s actually a little bit unclear to me whether everyone in the fight is a potential target by the DoF or just anyone in close-quarters combat with the target. In any case, bombs can easily hit a lot of people, friend and foe.

You don’t get to set intents and tasks in Fight, generally. You operate by the more specific Fight rules. That’s not how AoE spells work in Fight no matter how they work outside of it.

My gut feeling is that some of the confusion comes from a D&D-esque approach to combat, with its tactical and spatial elements. It’s a very skirmish-y thing that might fit better into Range & Cover for Burning Wheel.

Burning Wheel’s Fight rules operate in roughly a 10-20 square foot area. They take place in a span of moments: they’re very close and intimate. D&D’s combats take place in a 50-foot square (or bigger), and are back-and-forth matches of movement, spell-slinging, and going for cover. They’re much more like a firefight.

I don’t see any confusion at all. I’m just looking to fix what I perceive to be a problem with the Fight rules, which are excellent when it comes to standard melee weapons that can only target a single opponent but lack the ability to target a group of opponents with an area of effect spell.

If a spell can effect an area, that’s how it should be targeted. If it can effect a group of opponents within an area while leaving everyone else untouched, then that’s how it should be targeted.

I’m just not sure how to do this fairly within the spirit of the Fight! rules.

The big problem is in trying to engage an area or group rather than a single person.

What we have done in the past was simply engage the opponent in the middle of the AoE and base the spell on that. The two times that it came up, common sense dictated who was and was not able
to be caught-up in the spell effect.

By all means, work on your hack, but do know that those rules are very much intentional and not an afterthought.

I would love to know the reasons why an AoE spell should be engaged the same way as a single target weapon. The spells do not seem to work as written in Fight! due to the limitation of only engaging one opponent at a time, and even that has “Unless otherwise stated” condition (page 430), as an AoE can and should be targeted against multiple opponents, the rules for engagement should be adjusted to represent that. (And thus, otherwise stated)

Four goblins rush you. They roll 3D+1D per helper—6D. You are thus engaged by four characters.

You have a choice of three weapons:
A sword.
The Choking Hand spell.
Fire Breath.

Which would you use?

With a sword, you can at best knock down one at a time.
With Choking Hand, you can probably guarantee you’ll take out one…but then you have to sustain the spell.
With Fire Breath, if successfully cast, you’ll hit one goblin and for each two additional successes you can incinerate another one.

Let’s look at another scenario. Your group of four hardy friends is engaged by four goblins, one each.

You have a choice of three weapons:
A sword.
The Choking Hand spell.
Fire Breath.

In this case, go with your sword. Fire Breath can only target the one you’re fighting. Allowing Fire Breath to target each opponent engaged with by your friends is some sort of awful top-down tactical free magic love over powered stuff that Burning Wheel doesn’t support.


There seems to be some confusion here about what constitutes a caster’s “presence”. Page 507 of BWG defines presence as " the Will of the castor in paces" when outside of combat, and directs you to use the Spells as Weapons rules when in combat. An average caster is going to have a will in the 4-6 range, so a presence area of effect spell will allow you to hit anyone within 4-6 paces of you. In other words, if they’re bunched up around you, you can hit them; if they’re off fighting with your friends, you can’t. This seems consistent with limiting presence AoE spells to targets that you are engaged with.

One level up lies the 10s of paces Area of Effect, which hits everyone in the melee. Sourcery in Burning Wheel is sort of an all or nothing system; AoE spells are not the sort of thing that you can use in close combat, and expect to selectively hit everyone except the ones you don’t want it to. To achieve the kind of effect that you seem to be after, you should probably withdraw to Range and Cover, and then start tossing 10s of Paces AoE spells around. Note that this is going to require you to exceed the obstacle of the spell; this reflects the added difficulty of hitting spaced out opponents (not bunched together, as it Fight) in ranged combat.

Actually, I doubt any mage I burned up would take Fire Breath over Fire Fan, so taking that into concideration I would choose the Fire Fan in both situations as it strikes as fast as a sword (1 action) and hasn’t any draw time (unlike a sheathed sword), and with my typical mage having a B3 Pow and a B6 Will Fire Fan would have the same Mark damage (plus the benefits of a VA2 and Presence AoE). The biggest down side to it is th possibility of losing the engament test and suffering the weapon disadvantage (which could cause spell failure).

4-6 Paces equals approximately 12-18 feet doesn’t it? And most Fights! take place in about a 20 ft. area don’t they?
So if my mage and his three friends run into a goblin scouting party, the only way my mage could use his Fire Fan spell to soften the goblins up for the kill would be in a versus or bloody versus test immediately before going into fight (which is fine if they’re unaware of your party). You should have the same option to engage the opposing group with your opening spell. Perhaps by engaging one as if the others were helping him (thus increasing the difficulty of winning the engagement test). That way, even if the goblins split up to attack the rest of the party, you are still engaged with all of them at least as far as your spell is concerned.

You don’t use another test before the Fight. If you’re resolving the situation with Fight, use Fight; if you’re not, use the Versus or Bloody Versus. Reasoning and justifications don’t change the fact that the rules do not do what you want them to do, and they are intended not to do that thing.

So a spell that only takes one action to cast and has a presence area of effect, allowing it to affect all of the casters enemies within his presence is determined by whoever is actively engaged in hostilities against the caster at that moment in time.
Due to the intensity of a Fight! a spellcaster lacks the opportunity to cast his spells the way that he could in a versus or range and cover conflict.
If a mage has the opportunity to open a conflict from surprise he can attempt to catch his opponents off guard with a spell that effects their area with a versus test before going into Fight!, but once a Fight has been declared those rules must be followed.

Wow. You “Actually…”'d me on my own forums. Point to you, sir.

Where are you getting the 20’ square figure from? That would be about the size of a single engagement to my mind.

Also, sorry I was late replying to the thread. Luke and Taelor mostly said what I was going to, though.

That may have been me, and my wording may have been unclear. To clarify: stormsweeper’s assessment here is accurate. the 10-20 square feet is a single engagement between two combatants in a Fight. If it’s one-vs-many, then all of the many are also crammed into that space. Which is why an AoE works in that instance. But if everyone’s paired up into their own distinct Fights, that’s a different matter.

I think I did get that from you, and it makes a lot of sense to me in regards to a one on one or several on one.
Obviously, each of your party members could be involved in their own Fight! at the same time, it could take place in a much larger area (courtyard, field, ect.)

The rules do not, as written, allow the presence area of effect spells to be targeted against presence area of effect enemies. They only allow you to target (engage) one single enemy and then catch any other enemies who have decided to engage you as well.

So in the four goblins Fight! scenario, our intrepid adventurers enter the same area as the goblins who immediately draw swords. Goblins at one end, adventurers at the other. As the goblins would be in a group at that point, they should be able to be targeted (engaged) as a group at that point. The following exchange, where things have gotten more chaotic, paired-off and spread-out, they shouldn’t.
Even in an abstract system where things are decided by rolls rather than rulers, placement of foes still effect your strategy. Logic and reasoning are the justifications behind most actions.

What I propose is that an area of effect spell be allowed to be targeted against an area.
The way I propose is to allow it to be targeted against those enemies within the area as if they were ganging up against the mage (each extra target of spell grants a +1 helping die to engaged enemy) in the 4 goblin scenario the engaged goblin would get a +3D to the engagement test. (making it harder for the mage to win the test). This would not limit the combat choices for the goblins as it was not done by their choice.

I know that this isn’t how the rules are written, but that’s why it’s in Sparks

Ahaha! All is revealed.