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Thoughts on magic: Spell timing; Kennoc [Jun. 27th, 2011|03:05 pm]
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So there are two things that have kind of nagged at my mind for a while concerning WT's magic system, and I'm wondering how some people reconcile them.

The first one, the one that's bugged me the longest, is (of course?) the chance of Kennoc spells to fail. Let's face it, one in twenty is horrible odds for anything of significance. Mere statistical prediction is generally considered unsound unless you can speak with at least 99% confidence, if not 99.9%. Granted, that's because you might at any time hit on the odd one out, and statistics never offer a guarantee of anything; but nevertheless... There are so many spells invoking Kennoc, and so many of them seem to be taken for granted (Measure the Life Force has its particular use; Eyes for the Small is specifically noted as making microscopes pointless) despite their chance of failing outright or, worse, giving completely misleading results.

Although I can understand not wanting to give reliable information for game-balance purposes, the expressed reason for Kennoc spell failure (Pararenenzu not paying attention) doesn't always make sense, either. The example in the rulebook about Am I Observed? is actually one of the rare cases when it makes perfect sense: Pararenenzu could just slip up in some silly way and give the wrong answer. In general, the main spells where it does make sense are those which ask a question and receive an answer.

Some informative spells get subtler information. It makes sense that the caster could interpret that information as though it's accurate when it isn't - Measure the Life Force and some other healing-assistive spells, for instance. But it doesn't make as much sense that it goes so wrong in the first place - not for the cited reason. Maybe Pararenenzu is playing a joke, but such spells produce awfully detailed and elaborate answers for it to just be a matter of not watching what zie's doing.

And then there are the spells which alter perception, but don't actually plant any information beyond that - I don't mean scrying, I mean things that change the way in which the subject perceives the whole world around them.

If you're trying to look through a wooden wall, or if you're greatly magnifying your vision, or if you're peering through fog, or if you cast a spell on someone that makes them see through dead Co/Hr material... how the heck does that go wrong outside of just plain not working? Even the base 1/20 chance of failure is a bit much for a discipline cited as a foundation of some branches of natural science - microscopes may be relatively crude, but they cost no cley (and the rulebook isn't always consistent on how willing your average person is to throw cley around, or how much they have...) and they always work to their full ability.

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.

Anyway... that's a bit of a digression. I guess the core question is, why the heck is Kennoc so common and apparently trusted, when it has such a crippling flaw? (1/20 chance of not working, well, that's a nuisance as long as you can tell that it didn't work. But a 1/400 chance of giving outright wrong information? That is crippling for any serious purposes. One spoiled cast could undo years of progress in research if it's taken as accurate.)


The second concern has partly been lurking around for some time as well, but also I recently had another thought about it, and that is the timing of building spells.

The first issue is targeted spells. In some cases they're described as being targeted by a gesture. A gesture to target e.g. a bound spell is specifically stated as requiring an action. But what about a Fire Dart? Or a Bone Dart, which I know can't be resisted because the dart is created near the caster and flung, not created near the subject? If it were a fast spell, that'd be fine and dandy; the spell is cast, it shoots forward at the caster's gesture/concentration. Fine.

But it has to build first. Which means that by the time the spell is ready to fling forward, the caster might well be in the middle of doing something else.

But if the caster doesn't retarget them, or have any need to keep concentrating on the spell, the dart will probably go completely the wrong place because the target will have moved.

How can this be reconciled?

Also, a somewhat bigger concern comes in the form of Heal the Awful Wound. If someone doesn't get healed within... some places say three initiative counts, at least one (the spell description for HTAW) says 2-6... that many seconds, anyway, HTAW alone won't do the trick.

But HTAW itself is a build spell. Which means that a bound HTAW has more than half odds of having no chance to work by timing alone, because it can randomly take up to 12/13 seconds(depending on whether you use cards or dice to count initiative).

Best rationale I can think of there is that while HTAW is itself building, its "signal" effect helps to anchor the spirit to the body. It remains, though, that it often seems to have been treated as a fast spell when it really shouldn't be; someone will generally be out for some seconds at least before the spell gets them back to consciousness (unless they're Gormoror, in which case the bound spell's usual conditions might not suffice in the first place).

Or should HTAW in fact be a fast spell? Much of the material kindasorta seems to assume it is...

[User Picture]From: mharreff
2011-06-28 04:20 pm (UTC)
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.)
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[User Picture]From: mharreff
2011-06-28 04:27 pm (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: sythyry
2011-06-29 05:08 pm (UTC)
That certainly makes sense. I don't think it would be the first hole you've found in our text.
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[User Picture]From: mharreff
2011-06-29 05:11 pm (UTC)
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...)
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[User Picture]From: sythyry
2011-06-29 06:02 pm (UTC)
We spent about five years on it, all told.
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[User Picture]From: sythyry
2011-06-29 05:10 pm (UTC)
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.
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[User Picture]From: mharreff
2011-06-29 05:26 pm (UTC)
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.
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