Monday, May 9, 2011

Strange Fascination 2: Wizard (TFT/Melee) Designer notes

Straight from the 1978 pen of Steve Jackson are the following designer notes he wrote in Space Gamer #15 regarding Wizard.  I could pontificate on why I think it is important, but like any good historical document, YOU should read and interpret it for yourself.  So fellow TFT/ Melee/ Wizard fans..enjoy the gnosis:

A designer’s introduction

WIZARD is the biggest, the most complex, and the generally hairiest game I’ve designed to date. When the big sections of THE FANTASY TRIP come out, of course, they'll dwarf WIZARD (since at least one of them will incorporate some of WIZARD) and probably be ready for a rest home. I’d rather not think about it now.
Part of the difficulty (and size) stemmed from the fact that this is part of an evolving game system. All kinds of things that don’t happen in WIZARD had to be taken into account, keeping later games from becoming illogical. For instance: If you can create an illusion and see through its eyes, what keeps you (when exploring a labyrinth) from simply creating an illusion on the other side of a door and having it report back? Nothing. So ... we had to say (and it seems logical, anyway), a wizard cannot create an image or illusion except in his line of sight. And so on, and on.
The difficulty of abstracting a MicroGame from a large system, when the large system exists only in the form of a steadily growing pile of notes and one ongoing campaign, should not be underestimated. It’s kind of like trying to do macrame with worms.
There were three basic steps in WIZARD’s design. The first, during the construction of MELEE, was when it seemed so simple that we thought MELEE might include magic. The second. after that idiotic euphoria wore off, was when we kept coming up with more and more ideas - and more possible interactions. (Well, suppose you cast a fire into the shadow so it can’t be seen, and an invisible figure walks into it, what happens?) I didn't think it would ever get straight unless we threw out a lot. The third phase was when it all suddenly shook down, until it was just a matter of playtesting and very careful proofreading to make sure that everything was written down the way it was supposed to be. That was when I was very glad that l do all my own typing - it may be time-consuming, but it means I have more opportunities to find a glitch.
But it’s out. Finally.


The general idea behind WIZARD, of course, was to design a fantasy-roll-playing magic system superior to D&D, T&T, et cetera.  The first requirement was a method by which the effects of each spell could be clearly and succinctly stated. This notably lacking in a number of D&D spells, but since the gamemaster can make his own interpretation and enforce it on the players, the lack of clarity in the books can be tolerated  However, WIZARD is meant to be a non-refereed game. Therefore, to avoid arguments, each of the spells has got to be absolutely clear. Otherwise, (as often happens in other fantasy games) the players will spend more time arguing than playing.
Clarity was achieved by making all spells tie in with the established attributes of the game figures. MELEE introduced two basic attributes: ST and DX. Figures in MELEE also have an MA (movement allowance)and can withstand a given  number of hits per turn, depending on their armor. WIZARD uses these, plus a third basic attribute (IQ) as factors on which spells act. All spells affect one or more of these attributes, or directly affect a figure's status in terms of the options it can choose. The spell may affect the target's DX (Aid, Clumsiness) the DX of anyone striking at its target (Blur, Invisibility, Flight), the DX of anyone in the room (Dazzle) ... ad infinitum, almost. ST may be affected by a spell which directly puts hits on its victim. Even IQ can be cut, by a Confusion spell. The more complicated the spell, the more things it is likely to simultaneously do to its subject or his foes in order to achieve its effect.
Spells putting such effects on their target are either Missile Spells (direct wizardly attacks. putting hits on their foes) or Thrown Spells (more subtle, shorter-range spells, some friendly and some unfriendly). There are also Special Spells (weird ones which could not be conveniently classified, such as Teleport, Dazzle, and a few others).
 The other classification of spells, and (I feel) the job WIZARD does best compared to other systems, is Creation. Using a Creation spell. a wizard can put a new counter on the board - fire, wall, shadow, human (including his own duplicate), animal, giant, gargoyle, dragon ... anything. Furthermore, the new counter can be one of three types: real (limited as to type of “summoned” being, but totally solid and real), illusory (acting as a real counter until something successfully “'disbelieves”' it), and image (totally unreal and harmless).
 The illusions work especially well, 1 think. In contrast to D&D, WIZARD strictly defines how an ''illusion'' is disbelieved. A character must pick the specific option of disbelieving (which means doing nothing else that turn), and attempts his IQ roll on 3 dice. The Player has to really think a figure isn't real -- or at least risk the chance -- and the FIGURE has to be intelligent enough to make the roll. Once this happens, the illusion goes away but until then,  it does real damage.  No more of this -- “We said we disbelieved it!” “'Hah. If you disbelieved it, why did you shoot at it?'' -- sort of thing


Another thing I’m rather proud of is the saving roll system. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want saving rolls in THE FANTASY TRIP at all. My thought was, “If it happens, it happens; you don’t get another roll to try to get out of it.” However, I soon realized there were situations where you needed to roll for a bad event -- but the roll should be modified to take into account the person that the bad event was about to happen to. Therefore, saving roll was needed. But I detest the D&D system, with complex matrices and tables of saving rolls for all kinds of characters in all kinds of situations, and multiple adds and subtracts scattered through the books. T&T is a little clearer, but not much.
Therefore, the TFT system for saving rolls works like this:
  1. The basic statement when something bad happens/is happening is “It happens.” You don’t start with a 50% chance of the trap springing, the illusion appearing, etc. -- you assume it always happens UNLESS
  2. the figure in question makes his appropriate saving roll. Therefore, you have the determination down to one die roll -- nice and simple. But you have to take into account the figure making the roll AND the type of danger, so
  3. each saving roll is defined by two things: NUMBER OF DICE and ATTRIBUTE rolled against. For instance, to make in illusion vanish, you need a 3-die saving roll against IQ -- that is, if you roll your IQ or LESS on 3 dice (ALWAYS six-sided dice in this system and NEVER poly hedra) you disbelieved the illusion. To avoid falling down when crowded by a giant or dragon, you make a 3-die saving roll against DX. IN THE LABYRINTH will require much harder saving rolls -- for instance, a 4-die roll against DX to duck a cloud of sleeping potion or arrow, a 5-die (!) roll against ST to knock a door open, or an 8-die roll against COMBINED ST and DX to keep from being squashed by the old moving-wall room trick. And so on.
That way, you don’t need a table. All you need is your own character sheet. And, of course luck with the dice.


The first thing you have to do, when sitting down to play WIZARD, is create your figure(s). To do so, you have not only the ST and DX from MELEE, but also a third attribute -- IQ. The higher IQ you have, the more spells you can learn and the bigger a list you have to choose from. The higher-IQ a spell, the more spectacular it is.
However, IQ is (in my opinion) the least important of the attributes. If you are setting up a “beginning”' figure (8 in each attribute plus 8 more, or a total of 32 for the 3 attributes), you  shouldn't give more than 9 or 10 to IQ unless you are building a team of wizards -- in which case it's okay to have one smart, but weak one.
The reason is simple, You HAVE to have dexterity. A wizard with DX of less than 10 or 11 has no business being where people will try to kill him  He'll act slowly, miss a lot of spells, and waste his strength when he misses. And you HAVE to have strength to power your own spells and to take the hits enemy spells will put on you. A strong, dextrous wizard with a few spells can totally destroy a smart one who is too slow off the mark and too weak to cast all the spells he knows, The trick is to find the right balance. And the right balance for a 32-point (beginning) wizard is nothing like the right balance for a fairly  advanced  (40-point)  one.  Experiment... create wizards with different point totals and see how they work out, And remember, teams are much more interesting than single combats.


There are so many spells in WIZARD that I doubt anyone will ever come up with a list of “best” ones. On the other hand, some are more useful than others. You get more mileage out of a cheap spell like TRIP than an expensive one like SUMMON GARGOYLE.  But sometimes you need that gargoyle. You never can tell what will come in handy.
For those of you who are already playing WIZARD, or think you might like to, a few suggestions on tactics with the various spells:


By all means, take at least one missile spell the strongest one your IQ will allow. Lightning is deadly,  and Fireball is pretty good - but even Magic Fist can get you out of a tight spot, if you roll well.
The missile spells are very useful for putting hits on an enemy a long ways away. However, they put a terrific drain on your strength (especially with the Magic Fist), and it is possible to hurt yourself worse than your foe. Therefore, you shouldn't use a missile spell unless you think it'll end the fight (giving you a chance to rest) or unless you have to knock out one specific enemy to save your own skin.
Taking a very-high-DX wizard and immediately throwing a missile spell is a cute way to end a battle in one round. However, if you do this too many times, your opponent will either insist on the Courtesy Rule (giving ham a chance to put Reverse Missiles on himself and hoist you with your own petard), or take a wizard with (for instance)IQ/8, ST/14, and DX/10. If (for instance) an IQ/8, ST/8, DX/16 wizard throws a 6-die Magic Fist (the best he can do without falling over), he can expect to do an average of 9 hits damage -- leaving you with plenty of strength to get him, with your staff (if you have enough ST left to withstand HIS blow) or with a Magic Fist of your own.


One of the most unnerving things a wizard can do is start throwing creatures of various kinds at his opponent. Images, illusions and summoned (real) creatures are all useful, in different ways.
IMAGES are cheap (1 ST). However, they do no harm and disappear when anything (even another image) touches them or vice versa. Use Images to distract your opponent and to draw his fire (especially when  you're getting weak). An image has to act aggressively (or it won't be convincing), but should try to unobtrusively avoid combat -- for when it hits or is hit, it disappears.
ILLUSIONS are the best all-purpose creation. They cost only 2 ST and can do real damage until one of your enemy's figures disbelieves. If your foes are stupid for don't think you would cast an illusion, this will take a long time  However, if your foes are smart (one of the few great benefits of high IQ), your illusions will be disbelieved easily, and your effort will be wasted.
SUMMONED creatures cost a lot of  strength -- and keep costing it every turn. However, they cannot be eliminated except by their death or yours. Against a high-IQ foe, they're very useful -- especially if he thinks they're illusions and wastes a turn or two trying to disbelieve. Since YOU make the roll for his attempt to disbelieve, he may not catch on right away. (Similarly, you may trick him into trying to disbelieve an Image which won't go away until HIT.) If your foe uses a lot of creations against you, be flexible. Use images of your own (especially wolves, which move quickly) to engage them and hold them away. If the enemy figures are images, a hit will dispel them; if they're real, every turn you keep them busy costs your foe vital strength. Use images or illusions of YOURSELF to confuse him as to which target to attack. Cast fire around you that will stop real animals and images, and put hits on illusions, Or sometimes best of all ignore the creations, and use a missile spell to clobber their creator.


The other creation-type spells are the obstacles -- fire, wall and shadow. Walls are purely defensive. Shadow, however, is useful as an offensive weapon -- cast on a foe, it blinds him and messes up his DX, though it also protects him from your attacks. Cast in front of yourself, shadow is a nice defense -- and can conceal fire, wall, or even an illusionary or summoned creature. Fire is best as an offensive weapon, though it provides a last-ditch defense when cast in a ring around you.


In a one-on-one fight, a fighter can usually kill a wizard if the two have equal point totals ... and if the fighters have missile weapons, the wizards generally die very quickly (unless they have a high enough IQ to use Reverse Missiles at the right time)  However, in a 4-on-4 fight, three fighters and a wizard can generally demolish four fighters.
The wizard's tactic is to stay right behind his lighter friends - as close to the action as he can get without being engaged by a foe. He should have a staff ready, so he can defend if something gets to him. His function is not to attack directly, but to foul up the enemy fighters so his own friends can hit them. The Clumsiness, Drop Weapon and Trip spells are especially useful here; Stop, Slow Movement, and Break   Weapon can also come in handy. He may want to Blur himself, especially If the enemy has bows -- better to lose 1 ST on a blur than 3 or 4 to an arrow.
When this tactic works, the foe will spend so much time picking up dropped weapons, standing up after being tripped, and trying to hit with DX lowered by several points that they will be butchered by the fighters. As a last resort, of course, the martial wizard can throw missile spells or strike with his staff. However, he's usually better off acting as a nuisance and saboteur, letting his fighters do the actual hitting.


Several spells are more useful on an actual adventure, than in single (or team) combat -- they let you get out of a bad situation. All of them can be useful, even in a duel. These include Dazzle (which messes up the DX of everyone in the room but yourself), Speed Movement, Flight, and Teleport (which can put you behind a foe, get you out of the  locked  room, or bury you in a wall, forever).


In general, don't let yourself get in a rut with play style. If you do, you'll have less fun, and be easier to beat. Remember: Although WIZARD looks like a board game, it's really as much role-playing as anything on the market. If you treat it like a role-playing game, and put yourself in the place of your figure instead of just pushing him around on the board, you'll enjoy it more -- and you'll be a better player
PS:  As I write this, the publication schedule for DEATH TEST has been changed. Originally, DEATH TEST was to come out at the same time as the second programmed adventure (which is still being prepared). However, DEATH TEST is now scheduled for publication about the same time as OLYMPICA -- which means It may be on sale even as you read this. DEATH TEST cannot be played without the MELEE rules. If you have MELEE, you can send fighters through - and if you have both MELEE and WIZARD, you can send fighters and/or wizards through. Warning: The Death Test labyrinth eats beginning characters. Give your figures a little experience before they go in -- or they’ll never come out.


Narmer said...

Good stuff.

Fenway5 said...

I agree it is amazing to me, much like to any home gamer, how reactions to D&D informed SJ's designs for Melee, Wizard...and eventually TFT. I like the way he was thinking long term about the entire system and allowing for growth beyond Melee and Wizard. So much good stuff to glean from that article!