Following up on my game design post, I’m presenting some thoughts for a game and world I’m building. Since I’m building off the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition open-source rules, it could work as a variant 5E Dungeons and Dragons rule but is definitely not an official Wizards of the Coast rule. (For those preferring non-game content, don’t worry. I’m not giving up on non-game stuff (some is coming up next week))
The old rule
In 5E Dungeons and Dragons, concentration serves as a limiting factor. There are many things you can do while concentrating, but you are prohibited from casting another spell that requires concentration; you might lose concentration if you take damage; and you lose concentration if you lose consciousness (that last one’s kind of obvious).
In general, this is a pretty good idea. I’d agree with it. Except when I look at the list of spells that require concentration. There are problems, and it’s not just me being salty about someone limiting the magic I can use.
So, I did some thinking and came up with a better way.
Some “concentration” spells make sense; you’re actively controlling the spell throughout its duration. You really should have to concentrate on those. But other spells don’t need active direction, yet they still get hit with the concentration tag.
Yes, the game designers are trying to limit the number of spells in effect and some of these can be pretty powerful. But it doesn’t seem right to “nerf” a player’s spell casting abilities for eight (8!) hours just because they cast a particular spell.
Being both a fiction writer and a gamer, I understand the concept of a spell caster investing energy into maintaining a spell. But the current system asks for too much. So, here’s my solution…
Some spells, the ones you actively direct during their duration, will continue to function under the current concentration rules. Other spells, the ones which should take a bit more power to maintain but shouldn’t suffer the current concentration penalty, will be granted Passive Concentration status.
Passive concentration still limits the number of these spells in play (though it expands the number possible…), but allows the player to continue spell casting and otherwise doing what a magic based character does during the game.
It works like this: each player may have one (1) active concentration (the regular type) spell in play or several passive concentration spells (any number up to their intelligence modifier (generally 1-5)).
Following my suggestion, a player will still only be allowed to use one actively controlled spell at a time. But the player can have several spells that they’re feeding ‘just a bit’ of power into instead. The player is still limited. But they can do more with their magic at one time.
The balance is that the player loses more when their concentration breaks. If they break concentration by taking damage, casting an active concentration spell, or too many Passive Concentration spells, they are losing more magical effects. The risks are higher and the impacts (good and bad) are higher, too.
This change would make magical characters more powerful. But it fits my world better, and it’s what I’m doing. Game design (as discussed in my last post and as will be discussed in my book review in a couple of weeks) is the process of deciding what tradeoffs to make and how to balance the game. Since this change increases risk as well as reward, I think it’s a pretty well-balanced rule. So, since it fits my world better, why not use it?
Even non-game fiction writers are occasionally forced to deal with issues of balance. After all, if your hero’s vastly more powerful than your villain, where’s the fun? You have to balance things so the villain can harm (or at least annoy) the hero. So, this kind of process is important, even for writers who don’t game.
It’s something to think about…
Naturally, since we’re dealing with a game system and commenting on someone else’s rules, there’s intellectual property involved. I’ve respected the property of the creators and owners of Dungeons and Dragons by not directly quoting their material here and limiting my comments to a single relevant concept that had to be reviewed to present my idea. In the same way, I expect others to respect my intellectual property rights and the rules variant I’ve created and presented here.
Good luck in your writing, dear reader, and with balance in your life. I’ll see you next post.