Spell Song failure

So I’m finally digging in deep on elves in preparation for BWCon. My only real brain teaser right now is spell songs and what happens when they fail.

The spell song rules on p142 go to some length to describe what doesn’t happen (no tax, no Sorcery-style spell failure), but remains mute on what does happen.

Now…normally I’d assume standard BW-style failure consequences: this is what you intended, but this is what’ll happen if you eff it up.

BUT! Spell songs sit in this weird little groove. Sometimes they’re very much like spells, in that the task is the intent. I sing the Air of Gates because I want to know what’s on the other side of the door – easy enough, perhaps the door lies to you or, -wises style, says nothing (which can be okay-but-boring when it comes to -wise failures). But if I sing Doom Sayer it’s because i want to inflict this godawful Belief on someone. It’s a purely mechanical outcome, on par with the equivalent Sorcery. Did the Doom Sayer stutter? Misspeak? IOW did nothing happen, or did something squirrelly happen?

Spell songs also sit in the same groove as actions in Fight!, I think, because they have action costs – there’s an opportunity cost to most of these spells. In R&C, at least, the spell song takes up a success on the winning side’s roll (contradicting the “casting spell songs” rules on p144, which state that spell singing always counts as a tandem action, and no “actual actions” are devoted to it. TBH I don’t know how to reconcile those two things, unless the “actual actions” thing is in reference to Fight! and, yeah, singing is a thing you have to script in DOW and R&C). So when you try something in a script and it fails, the consequence is that the thing didn’t happen. But of course the other guy’s thing did happen, and spell songs aren’t opposed, so. Hm.

So do spell songs in fact generate failure consequences or is the consequence that you’ve wasted actions/opportunities and LIR means you can’t re-ask the gate or re-doom your enemy?

I’d say that Spell Songs are one of the most ancient and orderly kinds of magic and normaly don’t lead to negative consequences by themselves. They are wonderfull if song but don’t allways have the consequence of wonderment. If sung “wrong” they don’t create the magic part of the song but usually still get sung the way they are.

Can’t you cover most successes/failures with Roll or Say Yes? The failure cases for Doom Sayer should be fairly self evident (that would be - inflicting the belief on yourself).

The actual actions refers to Fight! In DoW singing is something you have to script (as it takes the place of saying stuff), and in R&C spending a success on the spell song lets you do that in tandem with doing something else (that also most likely costs a success). It’s like specialist actions in Burning Empires: the spell song happens in tandem with the maneuver but you need to spend some of your successes on having it work.

R&C: I think the “in tandem” refers to the actual maneuver itself, rather than singing + shooting (which would actually be singing + shooting + maneuvering).

DOW: It appears the “in tandem” component is just that you can be singing and Rebutting or Inciting or whatever. It doesn’t look like you have to choose to sing or talk. (See Thor’s answer on that in the thread I link to below.)

Doom Sayer: You already have to inflict the Belief on yourself. Seems weak.

There was a prior thread about this but it’s a million years old: http://www.burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?1228-Failing-a-song&highlight=spell+song+fail. The answers feel slippery: LIR except when you don’t want to, consequences aren’t really addressed, might have Wonderment with or without success.

I was thinking that only Dwarven rune casting forced the caster to change a belief.

As far as R&C and DOW, the BWG scripting sheets are pretty clear on that regard.

For R&C: Other Actions - One success to cast spell, say prayer, sing song, open a tomb door, or otherwise make any other type of test in Range and Cover.
For DOW: Magic Actions - Cast Spell; Command Spirit; Drop Spell; Sing, Howl, Pray.

In DOW it’s because you can’t sing and talk at the same time (despite what that previous thread said), while in R&C it’s because spending successes are less about things taking /time/ and more about how you use your advantage.

Lastly, LIR has never fully applied in fight to any action (otherwise we’d only be able to test strike once, test avoid once, etc…). As for the Wonderment question, I’m pretty sure the text under the Wonderment heading addresses failed spell songs and Wonderment.

Doom Sayer is pretty juicy. Also makes writing good doom Beliefs dicey since two different people need to basically play toward it at once.

Yeah…the scripting sheets say one thing but the book seems to say something else. That’s why I’m trying to hash it out! It wouldn’t be the first time there were inconsistencies. No big deal.

Where’d you get that position about singing during DOW? Is it just that Voice of Command is the exception? (<-- Don’t read that as confrontational! I’m just trying to research this stuff out. :slight_smile: ) I took it that scripting a “Sing” was always a Tandem action, which is what it says is going on in the spell song rules on p142. But you still need to mark that it’s happening.

R&C so far is the least ambiguous: If you’re singing, you’re spending successes. I also take this to mean that if you don’t have the actions to spend, the singing is suspended. What happens to a song that’s stopped before its actions are up?

Interrupting Spell Songs:
I believe the same thing that happens when you interrupt a spell song before it goes off in any other way: you stop singing and the effect doesn’t happen as dropping spell songs mid-cast is a lot less dangerous than dropping sorcery. Also, I don’t remember the exact “action equivalencies” for Spell Song actions per R&C action, but odds are anything you’re going to be singing in R&C will take less time than a single maneuver in R&C.

Singing and DOW:
I can’t really see how someone can sing a specific song (Air of Gates, Doom Sayer, what have you) while engaging in an unrelated argument (unless you engage the Elven second face, but that’s a challenging grief test). The reason why you can Pray, Howl, or Sing while in Fight is because you’re doing the one with your voice while doing the other with your hands. In my mind Voice of Command is the exception as it’s less about singing a specific song and more about singing your argument with authority.

20 actions per R&C/DOW volley.

Luke refers to Voice of Ages (I said Command before but it’s Ages!) as “the exception” in that other thread but I still can’t reconcile the tandem action thing. Also it’s a one-and-done effect that lasts throughout the DOW as of Gold. My most charitable reading so far is:

Fight!: Singin’ and swingin’. All songs are tandem actions that take the # of actions listed before the effect fires off AND you make the Steel check for Wonderment at (target’s Will) EDIT: actions exchanges. I’m assuming those are the elf’s actions, and high-Reflex elves can sing really fast, auctioneer-style, while carving you up. So if we start a Fight! and I want to summon up my Blinding Blade via the Song of the Sword, and you have Will 4 and I have say Reflexes 5, what happens is:

  1. I script singing as my tandem action for 6 sequential actions (SotS actions are Ob x 1, and Blinding Blade is Ob6). Five this exchange (I have ref5), at least the first one next exchange.
  2. I script normal non-song Fight! stuff for all 5 of my actions in the first exchange.
  3. On my 4th scripted action, I actually make my Song roll and hopefully generate a MOS EDIT: Deleted because it’s exchanges, not actions.
  4. My opponent, with Will 4, checks for Wonderment (Ob = hesitation + my MOS) EDIT: Also deleted. Ignore all the in-Fight! wonderment stuff! It would have to last 4 Exchanges before a Wonderment check went off, but the song doesn’t take that long so never mind.
  5. We keep doing our thing through my 5th action, start a new exchange, and am committed to scripting at least one more Sing tandem action as my first action of my first volley.
  6. After the first action of my first volley, assuming I succeeded at the song way back on action 4 of the last exchange, EDIT: I make my spellsong roll and hopefully Blinding Blade fires off.

I’m also assuming, in the case of SotS, I don’t get to pre-emptively script as if I added Blinding Blade even if I succeeded and know it’s gonna work, because the blade is in fact not yet blinding when I script. I don’t see any other way logistically to make that make sense.

R&C: Maneuvering and singing is okay. I can only execute (up to) 20 actions worth of song if I can generate at least 1 success and spend it on “Sing,” but I’ll always get to maneuver and singing will not interfere with it. If I can fire a song off in 20 actions or less, it’ll happen inside that R&C volley along with whatever else I’m spending successes on. So I could sing the Song of Burning Bright for say 10 actions (let’s set my Grief to 5, which makes my Ob 5, which makes my actions 5x2 = 10), make the roll, then make that happen along with a bunch of aiming and a shot should my dude get more than 1 success.

Then for songs longer than 1 volley, say Hymn of Victory (60 actions), I’m maneuvering 3 times while singing. Assuming I got a success on the first volley, my opponent makes his Wonderment check then (because unless he has a Will of 20, it’ll def happen) when I make my spellsong roll. EDIT: Assuming the target has Will 4, if the fight lasts 4 Exchanges, make a Wonderment check then. But if I don’t get at least ONE MOS every volley for 3 volleys, and spend that success on “Sing,” I can’t complete the Hymn of Victory and have to start over. Yipes. And like before, I’m committed to those 60 actions whether I succeeded or failed way back in the first Volley.

DOW: No singing-and-talking. Voice of Ages takes 4x Ob actions to finish, and the max Ob is 6 so you MIGHT end up needing a section volley so as to get all 24 (Ob6 x 4 actions) sung out. If you get interrupted (Incite maybe?) you’re screwed. And just like in R&C, during that first Volley we’ll make a Wonderment test. EDIT: If the DOW lasts 4 exchanges (assuming the target has Will 4), make a Wonderment test then. If they fail then it’s like any other hesitation in DOW, yeah? Lose your action? EDIT: And it appears Voice of Ages is the one singing-and-talking exception.

Holy guacamole that’s a lot of Wonderment effects flying around freaking out the non-elves. EDIT: So Wonderment might give the elves an edge but usually it means dragging out a scripted conflict longer than maybe they’d like it to. Probably 3 to 5 exchanges assuming most Wills are in the 3-5 range. Safe to assume Gray will hands out +2 like usual?

“Wonderment takes effect in a number of Exchanges equal to the target character’s Will.” – Special Spell Song Rules: Wonderment, page 142.

“Like sorcerous spells, 20 actions of spell songs can be performed in a Duel of Wits or Range and Cover volley.” – Casting Spell Songs​, page 144.

  1. Does exchanges mean actions?

  2. So in fight, after a number of actions equal to the targets will, everyone, both allies and enemies, must make steel tests if the song is sung successfully? Mighty powerful.

Exchanges! That makes more sense. It also makes sense that VOA must be the exception. (Tyrs: An exchange is one full set of scripting: all your Actions in Fight!, or 3x volleys of R&C or DOW.)

Thor: I thought I was saying the same thing about the 20 actions thing. I’m not sure what you’re clarifying or where you think I got that wrong. Is it that you simply CANNOT continue building up your song across volleys and that anything you sing has to wrap up in 20 actions or less?

EDIT: I went back to my wrapup and edited to reflect my dumbness.

I was just confirming your point. Colin mentioned that he wasn’t sure about the exact action equivalencies in DoW and R&C, so I thought it would be useful to cite page numbers. Sorry for the confusion.

Note that with Songs, you can continue singing them after the actions required for the effect to take hold. In fact, that’s how you Sustain spell songs (see Sustaining Spell Songs on page 144). Song of the Sword can cause Wonderment in Fight. It just has to be a long Fight. Keep in mind that any non-elf within the elf’s Presence (i.e., able to clearly hear the elf’s voice) is susceptible, even allies.

So back to my OP,what’s the word on failed songs?

Aha! I know the answer to this one! It’s in the MagBu, in the chapter on how to write your own magic systems for BW. Basically, there are no failure consequences for spellsongs beyond the song just not working, except in rare cases (such as Doomsayer—maybe the GM gets to say what the Doom is, in the case of failure?). Skillsongs I interpret to have normal failure consequences as they’re just skills with pointy ears :-).

Thor, a question about sustaining spellsongs: if I don’t sustain it, how long does it last? Like Song of the Sword for example, do you have to keep singing it for the entire Fight once you’ve sung it? Obviously, no cheesy bullshit like enchanting someone else’s sword, but can you shout encouragement to a friend or whatever? Also, does that mean that if you hesitate the song drops? And if so, can you sing it again (since LiR doesn’t really apply in Fight)?


Spell songs must be sung to be maintained.

That’s good to know, thanks. Doesn’t answer my LiR question, though—can you sing (most songs) again if you hesitate for an action and thus drop the spell?


What would your call be with a human sorcerer’s spell?

Sure, they can cast it again, though obviously they don’t earn another test.


Forgive me for drawing the thread slightly off topic, but how would you handle wonderment in a Bloody Versus situation? Specifically for swift spellsongs like those of a swordsinger.


That is a fantastic freakin’ question. Thanks for asking it because I’m sure someone would have come up with that at the table.

I think if I was faced with it at the table and didn’t have much time to work out the kinks, I’d roll a Die of Fate to abstract out how many exchanges had “actually happened,” then match that up with the Wills of the various non-human characters.