Sunday, September 2, 2012

Character Advancement and Spellcasting in High Fantasy

In High Fantasy, player characters gain experience points through their actions. With enough experience points, player characters advance in terms of “skill level.” Each skill level attained increases a character's effectiveness. This process is rather standard for many 'old school' role-playing games. However, beyond this point, High Fantasy begins to exhibit some differences.

Five experience points separate one skill level from the next, regardless of character class. From first level to second level – five experience points are needed; from fourteenth level to fifteenth level – five experience points, etc. According to page 41, an experience point is earned “when a player's character's ability leads to the destruction, subdual, capture or control of an opponent with a skill level equal to or higher than that of the player [character].”* The rules go on to say that a character “need only aid in conquering an opponent” to earn an experience point; that way, all party members participating in the defeat of a suitably powerful opponent get an experience point. Because of how High Fantasy handles experience, players are spared the burden of recording thousands – or millions – of experience points as their characters advance and the amount of experience required to attain the next level is easily ascertained. In fact, experience is recorded via a group of checkboxes on the character sheet.

A key point of the experience system is that it specifies a “player's character's ability.” This does not mean 'ability' in the general sense; it refers to the function of the character's class. To earn experience points, a wizard must use spells to overcome an opponent, a warrior must use weapons, etc. It is also possible to gain an experience point when a character employs “his [or her] subclass in a very useful way.” Following up on this remark, the last sentence in the 'Advancement' section explains such an award is appropriate “when the player [sic] has a less than 5% chance and accomplishes his task.” Apparently, gaining experience via a subclass necessitates a very useful task that has a very low chance of success.
In High Fantasy, a set of four skill levels constitutes a “plane.” Page 41 explains that...
When a player [sic] advances into another plane not only does he receive the common skill level advantages but he also receives additional bonuses...For example wizards may use more spells, warriors receive another specialty weapon, alchemist [sic] get a new gun and animal masters train animals faster.
There are five 'planes' of spells. So, a wizard can cast spells from a plane equal to or less than the wizard's own plane (assuming the spell is in the wizard's book).  As might be expected, spells of a given plane are more powerful than spells from lesser planes; however, as a wizard “progresses from plane to plane [the wizard] will learn more effective uses” for known spells of lesser planes.  For example, let us examine the 'wall' spell of the first plane.  A 'first plane' wizard (1st - 4th level) casting 'wall' creates “a smokey wall to obscure vision.” Yippee.  Cast at 'second plane' (5th - 8th level), the spell generates an illusion of a wall.  At 'third plane' (9th - 12th level), the effect becomes substantial – “a stone wall 6" thick.”  At 'fourth plane' (13th - 16th level), a magic-hindering iron wall comes into being.  Finally, at 'fifth plane' (17th level and above), the wizard can create an invisible wall of “annihilation” that inflicts two boatloads of damage upon anything “entering it.”

In High Fantasy, magic is defined as the reshaping of reality.  Wizards do this via spells, which are powered by “a natural resource called aether.”  Wizards “conduct” aether in units called “manna.”  This is the basis of the spell point system in High Fantasy.  Any given spell costs a number of manna equal to the plane at which the spell is cast.  So, even though it is the 'same' spell, a 'smoke wall' would cost one manna regardless of the wizard's level, an 'annihilation wall' would cost five manna.

The amount of manna a wizard has is based solely on level.  Players are directed to consult the 'Skill Level Table' on page 116 to determine the amount of manna available to wizards of a given level.  Essentially, up through tenth level, available manna equals the wizard's level plus two.  After tenth level, manna equals level plus three.**

In order to cast a spell successfully, a wizard must (1) have hand and voice free, (2) not be involved in melee, and (3) “roll...equal to or less than his innate ability score.”  Manna is still expended when a roll is failed.  Wizards recover manna at a rate of one point per twenty-four hours.

Although aether is ubiquitous “in the environment of the game,”  there are areas of greater or lesser concentration.  Nexus points have a greater concentration of aether; because of this, wizards gain a bonus to their (spellcasting) ability rolls.  Also, the effects of a spell might spontaneously 'improve' to the next plane.  Black nexus points are areas of lesser concentration of aether; wizards suffer a penalty to their ability rolls at such places.

*  The Creature Table on pages 97-99 dutifully assigns a skill level to each creature. Xermocs, however, are not listed on the Creature Table; they are described as part of the rouge's gallery for the solitaire adventure and no skill level is listed.

**  Perhaps to avoid the number thirteen?

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