the expressed reason for Kennoc spell failure (Pararenenzu not paying attention) doesn't always make sense, either.</p> Not only does an inaccurate result from any of things require a very elaborate ruse on Pararenenzu's part, in many cases it should be blatantly obvious that something isn't working right. To make it consistent with what the caster or subject could otherwise see, yet have the things they normally couldn't, be flawed... yes, a god could probably read the subject's mind and make up bits for the things the subject wouldn't be aware of without the spell, but at that point it's becoming an extremely elaborate ruse, no accident.
Well, the first mention of this says "[Pararenenzu] does not take [Kennoc] as seriously as most of its practitioners do, with the result that detection spells fail about 5% of the time, and occasionally produce bizarre false results"
, and the second says "Kennoc spells are the domain of Pararenenzu, who does not tend his domain very well"
. The book is vague on Pararenenzu's actual motivation (unless there's another section I'm not finding just now) -- as it generally is about the motivations of the gods.
But the book does note that "Kennoc spells tend to err in the alarming direction, making the situation look worse than it is."
, so clearly the failures are at least somewhat intentional or guided.
I guess the core question is, why the heck is Kennoc so common and apparently trusted, when it has such a crippling flaw?
Because there's no magical alternative for most things you do with Kennoc. Sensible people will not trust it completely, but if an information spell says something, chances are that the spell is right, and (depending on the concern) it's time to look for corroborating evidence.
Compare that to real-life lab tests, as in AIDS screening, where a 1/400 chance of false information would be pretty impressive. A quick web search suggests that 1% is a more typical error rate in real life.
And they're definitely better than lie detectors in real life --- which, despite being very unreliable, are still somewhat useful. In many situations, just the threat of a lie detector test can get good results.
Another important point is that, for a lot of information spells, the flaw is pretty obvious, and the spell either works, fails, or lies as a whole. So, if you're trying to detect metal, say, and the spell doesn't point out your steel sword, then it's failed, and if it does point out your tail, then either you're one of the doomier historical figures or the spell is lying. This works particularly well for sensory spells -- e.g, if Edges of the Air (Ke Ai 15) tells you about the walls and people you know about when you cast it, you can be pretty confident that it's working properly and reliably.
And that's particularly important for magic items. Sythyry's "Eye of Mirizan and Melizan" (and city wall monster detection, say) seems utterly reliable. Presumably it had a 5% chance of failure when first activated -- or, if the GM were kind, this would be checked early and folded in to the weekly enchantment rolls. But, once the spell was shown to be correct once, it's trustworthy as long as it exists.
Actually, the point about magic items brings another thought to mind. Does EVERYTHING that needs to have senses of some kind need Kennoc? The answer to that would seem to be no - most magic items need to be able to tell when they're triggered, by command word or whatever, and they typically don't need Kennoc. But where's the threshold? To what degree can the Perception of a magical object be pumped up, e.g. by Finesse (for a mindful or semi-mindful spell; not sure what the equivalent would be for an item that merely sees what is around it, rather than needing to look elsewhere or otherwise do deep divination), without needing to invoke Kennoc?
I take your points about the rest of it, though. Perhaps it'd make some degree of sense to allow for, oh, an Alertness + (Memory? Perception?) roll, hidden, to notice that such spells are behaving in a manner they shouldn't? The difficulty of which would depend on exactly what's being done. Painted Eyes that See should me moderately obvious if it's going wrong, if not to the degree of the examples you cite; but some of the KeCo / KeMe / KeSp ones might need a much trickier Medicine + Perception roll, or something similarly esoteric, to realize they're giving you junk data.
In theory, dropping clues as to the spell's falsity into the description as given might work, if it's an appropriate spell; but if I were to run a whole game on that, it'd be a bit hypocritical of me to ever have a socially-astute character (as I am most certainly not socially astute myself); I prefer leaving it to the dice, especially if the dice are going to be involved anyway.
Anyway: What I hadn't realized was that the spell WOULDN'T make an effort to be consistent if it went wrong; I thought the "double failures" were generally hard to spot. Knowing otherwise changes things.
(Tangentially: Laboratory tests often have different sorts of failure, and different rates of each. Standard AIDS screening, under proper conditions, has an exceedingly low false negative rate; the test does sometimes throw false POSITIVES, though, so if the first test comes back positive, it may be followed by additional screening. The first test is very sensitive, letting next to no positives slip by undetected; the second test is very specific, and might let some positives through if used on its own, but will reliably not report a positive as negative. Doubling up the tests allows one to put the FN and FP rates both to work; use the sensitivity of the low-false-negative test for your first pass, and anything that comes back positive, double check with the specificity low-false-positive. The main problem with AIDS screening, as far as my biology instruction covered, is not a lack of sensitivity where the test is concerned, but the incubation time. This may be out of date, granted; but a mean failure rate doesn't take that bias into account. Such bias may not be present in Kennoc magic; laboratory procedures on Earth, in contrast, are built around taking advantage of it.)
Oh - one of the things I'd been trying to get at, though, was that the section of the book which deals with natural science suggests that primes spurn most nonmagical alternatives to Kennoc, too. Yes, they're crude and inefficient, but they always work to their fullest as long as they're used properly, making them at least a decent way to sanity-check.
That certainly makes sense. I don't think it would be the first hole you've found in our text.
I'm not sure how much time the text took to put together in its entirety, but I think at least part of it is having the advantage of being able to do it all in one sitting.
Mind you, that introduces its own problems! There have been some things that have looked like holes but which, on closer reading, were not. (Binding longevity magic comes to mind. Strength of the Ancient Wizard may be ineffective bound, but the more advanced spells that'd work on anyone aren't explicitly detailed, so...)
We spent about five years on it, all told.
I don't think that everything that needs senses needs Kennoc. In particular, mindful spells and other living things seem to have adequate senses; it is part of being alive, along with having a mind, and they don't need Mentador either.
That Alertness+Perception roll would make sense too. I don't think I'd want to fuss with that level of detail in a game very often though.
I don't think I'd want to fuss with that level of detail in a game very often though.
There is that. It's one of the (relatively few) advantages of online-mediated games; getting a string of die rolls can be a lot easier if you have suitable software.
Said software may also be available to the GM who goes to sessions with a laptop for the purpose of using such aids, of course, but it's still another step involved. And in general, the WT system is distinct enough from the other ones I've seen that a lot of it would need to be built from scratch - no small undertaking! I'd once planned to poke at OpenRPG and/or PCGen and try to make charsheets, but even that proved to be beyond my focus.
Anyway. How often the rolls would become necessary does depend on how often the players use Kennoc in the first place. There's probably a sweet spot. If they never use it for anything of significance, there's not much point in doing the roll on the few times a failure does happen. If they use it a great deal, constant checking would get tedious. What might be a modest compromise is if the players specifically remember to ask "Does this make sense?" At that point, the interruption is still there but is triggered by the players. So long as the dice always get rolled, not just in cases where there's a failure to check. (Arguably, if they second guess the results, a sufficiently low roll on that check might mean that they misremember a truth as not so...)
Still, even in terms of fiction, having a better understanding of how the Kennoc failures work may be useful. I thought the failures were, well, a lot more elaborate than it seems was in mind.