Monday, December 05, 2005

Cold Iron Magic Item System

Cold Iron is heavily based on consumable magic items. Potions are always important because they are the only magic item that supplies it's own MP. The temporary hit point and energy resistance spells are most commonly used in potion form (because their MP cost is so high). Charged items have a chance of failure, and tend to be good for 3-4 uses. Each time they are used, the chance of success drops (they can be used more than 3-4 times, but you have to be a bit desperate).

Magic weapon and armor enchantments are the cheapest permanent magic. They also have an advantage of being more efficient in MP cost (to the point where one generally doesn't worry about the cost unless you have a +5 sword). Each aspect (to hit, parry, damage, and damage reduction [armor]) is enchanted separately.

Permanent magic items are the most expensive.

Permanent and charged items come in 4 flavors, in order of cost: item only, user only (can also affect user's equipment, or another person if the user maintains contact with the other person), combat touch, ranged.

Some example costs:

Iron Flesh (spell that adds 6 damage reduction - separate from armor enchantment), duration 22 rounds (unrestricted for permanent items):
Potion 220 (made by a 6th level mage)
Item charge 390 (made by an 8th level mage)
User charge 820 (made by a 9th level mage)
Touch charge 1340 (made by a 10th level mage)
Ranged charge 2020 (made by an 11th level mage)
Item permanent 9000 (made by a 9th level mage)
User permanent 17500 (made by a 10th level mage)
Touch permanent 31600 (made by an 11th level mage)
Ranged permanent 63100 (made by a 13th level mage)

For comparison:
+1 armor 400 (9th)
+2 armor 1100 (10th)
+3 armor 2500 (11th)
+4 armor 5650 (12th)
+5 armor 10850 (13th)
+6 armor 21850 (14th)
(for reference, the +6 armor theoretically costs 31/hour to maintain - though I have actually tended to run with a more efficient maintanence cost for enchantments - still it's less than the 1/round cost of the iron flesh spell, though iron flesh stacks with magic armor).

In my past gaming, other than armor and weapon enchantments, we saw almost no permanent item use. Charged items allow more flexibility, and allow you to pay as you go. Eventually, clearly permanent items become more efficient to purchase, but you have to be able to afford the one time cost (and there aren't mortgages like we have for house buying...). Charged items for rarely used spells will continue to be popular even for rich characters. And of course since potions supply their own MP, they continue to be usefull.

For the really rich, there are items that store MP, and even items that regenerate MP. The costs of 24 MP (the same MP as in the potion) storers and growers. Storers come in 4 varieties, inneficient costs 3 MP per MP put into it (2 MP are wasted). Internal storers can only power spells in the item they are part of. Growers are internal and external.
3/1 internal storer 24 MP: 8,400 (10th)
1/1 internal storer 24 MP: 21,600 (11th)
3/1 external storer 24 MP: 52,800 (11th)
1/1 external storer 24 MP: 14,400 (12th)
internal grower 24 MP: 1,008,000 (14th)
external grower 24 MP: 1,992,000 (14th)

For the price of the 3/1 external storer, you can buy 240 potions... And you still need to be able to cast the spell or have a magic item... Of course for 17,400 you can get a permanent iron flesh on your armor with a 3/1 internal storer attached to it. Not too bad (and it does have an advantage over a potion, you can choose to use your own MP and make it last longer). Of course the potion still has an advantage. When you get attacked a second time in one day and haven't been able to recharge your storer...

There are a handfull of esoteric "preservation" spells that are very low cost permanent items (nice because it does let you have a magic sword left in a tomb and it hasn't rusted yet).

The one thing we did notice - until they decided to change their treasure distribution, since mages don't use as many potions and charged items, in one campaign, the mage was the first to buy a +5 sword (looking at the handfull of characters I held onto, at the end, the dwarf fighter still did not have a +5 all around sword). After the mage declared this, they came up with a treasure division scheme where they paid for most potion and charged item use out of treasure before division. No one had any permanent magic other than weapon/armor. An earlier campaign went to a higher level, but it was also wacked out because I actually inserted some D&D style magic items (which of course should have been worth millions...and attracted all sorts of unwanted attention...).

Another thing that I noted was that there was a significant opportunity for player skill in item purchasing, which feeds a gamist adgenda nicely. Also, while characters may wind up with more magic items listed on their sheet than in D&D, there is less tendency to forget about them (though I have to say that was mainly a comparison to 1e where characters actually probably had more items than the Cold Iron characters, and they were all sorts of weird things).



At 12:47 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Bankuei said...

I like the idea of items that have a percentage of failure the more you use them- makes me think of Paranoia's laser barrels after the 6th shot- because it wasn't a sure thing, you were basically taking a gamist challenge- a roll of the craps hoping it would hold out one more time.

Question- were/are there specific rules for cash rewards per encounter? That's the other part of item economy that often isn't balanced too well.

At 8:41 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Frank said...

Yea, the effect of the diminishing probability of working has all sorts of nice gamism support.

I never developed any cash award guidelines. That's certainly an area that needs help. I do like the effect the consumable nature of most magic items has in that if you do hand out a little bit too much, you can attrition it down It's nice that one permanent item isn't. going to blow the game. So if you really lose track and someone suddenly announces purchase of a ring of see invisible and you weren't expecting that, you can just trim treasure for a while, and let the guy keep his ring (nicely the players didn't force the mage to give up his +5 sword, they just adjusted future treasure division, a nice way to handle it - and a good lesson for GMs).

I do like the idea that D&D now provides a good measure of expected wealth, and would definitely take that idea into consideration. With the consumable nature though, one can probably get away with good guidelines on how much to give the bad guys that keeps their power in line, and consequently keeps the PCs treasure in line. If the PCs spend 900 on each encounter that nets 1000 treasure, then treasure accumulation will be pretty slow even if one GM gives out half as much XP as another. They might not even have twice as much treasure.

And of course if you're too stingy, you will notice the PCs not having enough healing potions, and you can bump up the treasure rate.

So basically what I really like is that the treasure is very self correcting. In D&D I used to always wind up giving out way too much treasure, but that's never been an issue in Cold Iron.


At 10:23 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Bankuei said...

It seems like a lot of the self-correction though has to come through personal judgement in play. You could probably develop some easy guidelines like, "If the PCs need to rest after X encounters, then raise/lower rewards by Y amount"

And yeah, the usable nature of the items actually seems like a really smart fix for D&D's ever accumulating magic items!

At 10:36 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Frank said...

Yea, when I realized how well the treasure economy worked, I decided that in any future game I developed, I would keep the majority of treasure as consumables. Doing that also helps make the few permanent items stand out (though I'll grant that magic weapons in Cold Iron aren't exactly romantic - but then I've honestly never seen a system that doesn't end up objectifying magic items - though I think you could do some cool stuff with the conflict resolution games - think of how much fun you could have with an intelligent weapon in Burning opposed to how lame they always seemed to be in D&D).

The treasure economics also makes for good gamism.

The other system I like for having a workable treasure economy is Rune Quest where most of the treasure goes into training (and though there is gamist possibilities there, my best RQ play has been sim - but buying training from your temple and looking for temples to buy training from is sim supporting also).

Thanks for your interest.


At 11:55 AM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Bankuei said...

Older versions of D&D had the "training cost" options which worked pretty well for leveling up. For dungeon diving where you regularly went back to town, it worked fine. For games where you went on long journeys, or were very far from town, it sucked mightily.

It also made gold a worthwhile resource in that regard.

Tunnels & Trolls also makes wizards pay lots and lots for new spells. Typically the party would buy their new equipment, which was a fraction of the cost for spells, and the rest would be pooled to buy new spells for the wizards.

Mostly, economy wise for D&D- the problem is permanent weapons, and even more of a problem when you can simply buy them with gold. But consumables for gold works fine, as long as you keep a solid balance.

For instance D&D's wands had consumable charges, but the reason they unbalanced things is that while a mid-level wizard could cast 3-5 Fireballs/day, buy just a single wand and suddenly you can boot out 50 of them in a single day (or more importantly, in a single encounter if need be).

The consumable in D&D wasn't a minor addition of resources, it effectively overwhelmed the normal resources system of memorized spells.

At 12:27 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Frank said...

Good point about the consumables overwhelming character abilities. Though we mostly used wands for blasting minor encounters (since they only did 6d6 damage, a higher level caster was usually better off casting his own spells).

Cold Iron magic items mostly needing the user to supply the MP definitely keeps them from overwhelming the caster's ability (and you can only drink so many potions, and they take a long time to use, so they are used for buffing in preparation for an expected encounter, or healing afterward).

Healing is also slow in Cold Iron (most healing magic is limited to 1 hp per round, plus the clerical efficient heal spells don't start immediately [they really are calling on the deity's power, so the call isn't answered immediately]).

Just the whole way the Cold Iron magic system works focuses things on the fighters and justs helps them do a better job.


At 2:47 PM, December 06, 2005, Blogger Bankuei said...

Healing, of course, is the other major resource issue in D&D.

Probably one of the biggest things D&D needs to really examine is the function of resources in an encounter vs. resources over the course of several encounters.

Iron Heroes also has a slow healing mechanic that prevents "insta-healing" which works better at pacing individual encounters.

At 1:39 PM, September 22, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Frank - It has been a while since the RPI days. I've enjoyed reading Frank's World!

One un-mentioned feature of the Cold Iron charged items system (where the base chance of success goes down with each use) is that there is a tendency for the more powerful and wealthy characters to choose very expensive items and weak and poor characters to pick the cheaper items. So there is some income re-distribution.

Generally speaking, you can get similar results if you are willing to spend either time (melee rounds) or MP in exchange for a less costly option.

Since MP powers rings, charged items, and is used to cast spells - and spending extra MP gives you a greater chance of success, a rich character will use a brand-new (expensive) fly item, spend 2MP and get a +10 (93% chance of success). The poor character can get the same chance of success by spending 10 MP on a used item.

Each of the characters has the same chance of the spell working, but the poor guy saved some money and the rich guy had more MP to cast spells or use items.

The other aspect of the Cold Iron magic item system is that often you can get superior results if you have time to spend. Where fights typically last 10-20 rounds, spending 3 rounds to drink a potion is a major investment. The powerful, party leader often can't afford the time out of combat to drink the potion - but the lowly squire can.

Some of the best loved fights were when a weaker character held off the beastie while the hero got buffed.

Regarding a cash award system that has gone out of balance, a good solution (if done properly) is to give players incentives to spend money in town. The trick is to avoid making this simply a tax. In Mark Christiansen's Sirus campaign players of comparable wealth spend widely varying amounts of "upkeep costs". Some spend nothing; some spending a pretty meaningful amount. What do you get for the extra $$? The details on how you spend it matter (do you spend it on living quarters (safety and prestige), avoiding having to work in town (gives you time to make items for adventures), being generous to NPCs (higher quality rumors).

The key to making this work is that the choice to spend extra money should be the player's and not just a "tax". Mainly, players spend money either because they make magic items and don't want to waste their in-town time on paying for their upkeep or to by-pass the "hassle-factor" that lower charisma/lower social standing/lower generosity have to endure. Mark sets the default that players have a mundane job that provides a sufficient standard of living not to have to dip into adventuring treasure. A typical gaming session is about 50% fighting (less than the old days) and 50% in-town efforts to figure things out. Having run characters in Sirus at the low, middle, and high level of hassle-factor, it is worth a bit of treasure to avoid the NPC put-downs on my characters attire or having to get another character to interview the Sheriff, because I live on the wrong side of thee tracks - but it is NOT impossible to succeed. Again, this process fails if you have to pay the "tax". But it is pretty easy to provide optional clues that either makes the combat easier or more profitable.

In the "very risky, but could be very fun" category is for players to have an expectation that they be attacked/robbed in town. Players could design their own quarters with warning systems, traps, guard dogs, escape hatches, etc. The GM could populate the neighborhood with allies, annoying neighbors (with barking watch dogs), maybe enemies - and depending on the neighborhood - the local constabulary would be nearby to save the day - eventually. I'd expect that often the band of adventurers would share a single house, making it an easy scene for a change of pace adventure.

The two reasons not to have town as dangerous are: It will be harder on the GM and a successful attack on the PCs can leave the players with bad feelings. Since an attack on a player in town would almost certainly be an ambush by an NPC who has a sense of the PCs' power, it would be tricky to write up the encounter in which the PCs have a good chance of survival and yet the NPCs are rational in their decision to attack. It is much easier to have town be safe and static. Lots of exciting games have towns policed by 99th level mages. Once town becomes a dangerous place, players have every right to ask for details about the town and the world that will take GM-time to flesh-out - and once you write up an encounter, you have to use it. Right?

The benefits to a dangerous town, in addition to the benefit of siphoning off treasure (which started my thinking on this rant) are similar to the disadvantages: The world becomes more fleshed out and players are given a great chance (by clever lair design) to control their own destiny.

Sorry for the long rant, it probably should have been at least two posts. Hope all is well!

At 10:23 AM, November 07, 2006, Blogger Frank said...

Hiya Rob,

Thanks for the comments (you really dug through my blog...).

Rob points out another very important part of treasure strategy and tactics. This is definitely the thing I liked best about Cold Iron. Instead of gold pieces being something players just hoarded (to eventually build a castle - with all the attendant problems with rationalness of actually attacking it as an enjoyable game session Rob ranted about later) and magic items just accumulating (forcing GMs to look for ways to divest the players of same), Cold Iron provides a treasure economy. And further, it's easily tunable, even mid-course.

Rob explains very nicely my mantra that taxes are not effective as treasure controls. You need meaningful decisions for the players to make, otherwise, you might just as well not hand out as much treasure (now taxes could be meaningfull if different cities have different tax rates, different markets, and different ease of getting there from the dungeon).



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