Saturday, May 21, 2016

Unexpected Consequences from Spellcasting

Unexpected Consequences from Spellcasting
By: Jesse C Cohoon

There are a variety of things that can either go wrong, or cause the circumstances in which the spellcasters in your game to have unexpected, unforeseen consequences from their casting. These consequences can be beneficial, harmful or neutral in nature, due to the dynamics of the battlefield.

Damage, in general
One thing that RPGs tend to gloss over is that the scenery is capable of being damaged. For most things, this damage is either negligible or doesn’t make an impact in the game, but this doesn’t necessarily need to be so. If a building or cave is sufficiently damaged, it could collapse, trapping those inside the area, forcing others to dig them out in order to save them. If a person’s weapon or armor is damaged from spells, “normal” repairs might not work on it and ‘mending’ spells might be useless, because the spellcaster might not know how the item in question was made, however it can be house ruled that the character’s knowledge to repair items doesn’t matter. Items might become warped, unable to be bent back into shape. Their clothing could become worn and threadbare just from being exposed to various spells. Conversely, they might become brittle, and any attempt to work on it would damage it further. Glass objects in a character’s backpack can shatter, and the contents leak out and damage the rest of the character’s belongings.    

Fire Based Spells:
Fire based spells take oxygen, without enough of which, nothing can happen. If a magic user tries to cast a spell in such an environment, the spell slot is still used, but nothing happens. Or if there’s enough oxygen and not much more, the characters could start to suffocate, or pass out due to lack of oxygen.

Conversely, if you open an area that had been sealed off, which previously had been filled with an inert gas, there could be flammable crystals in there that, once exposed to fire would cause the fire based spell to become more powerful. Or there could be pockets of explosive gas. If others had gone through the area with fire based light sources, there could be scorch marks on the walls, ceiling, and ground. Some spells specifically state that the fire can catch flammable objects in the area afire. When you think about it, there’s not much that isn’t able to catch fire: clothes, plants, paper, and more.  

Water Based Spells
Water based spells pose an entirely different set of difficulties. Some of these may be able to be circumvented with house rules.

For instance, when creating food and water, where does the water go? Most characters don’t carry around buckets or a bathtub to either store or use the water as needed. If the just appears midair and falls to the ground, it doesn’t do much good, as the ground beneath, unless soaked already will simply absorb most of it. Even in a drought, most spellcasting characters aren’t going to be attempting to water a garden in that fashion either, as it’s inefficient.

In a stone based environment it’s not much better. Unless the cave floor is perfectly level, it’ll do what water naturally does: find the lowest point. Now this may lead the characters to have some interesting discoveries. For instance if the water is seeping under a crack in the wall, it may mean that there’s a secret passage there or there’s chambers beneath that need exploring.

Depending on the volume of water created and the speed at which it flows, it could cause flooding problems, and erode the plants anchoring a hillside in place. Or floods a town because the water, once started, can’t be stopped without a specific set of circumstances.    

In an all desert setting such as Dark Sun, because there is no water, the water has to come from somewhere: the plants and animals, the characters or NPCs, or even the planet itself. In normal deserts, however, having a large source of water appear would cause life to reemerge from the stasis. Within a few hours of the water’s arrival fish, frogs, insects, and more come alive, mate, give birth to offspring and die… only to burry themselves again to repeat the cycle again once more water appears.

Electricity Based Spells
Lightning and shocking types of spells have their own set of problems based on its ability to travel, or be transferred . 

The most basic unforeseen consequence is if a character in metal armor is able to hit an NPC or grapple them as they’re being struck by an electric spell, the damage would bleed over to the struck/ grappled character. The reason why this makes sense is because the electricity doesn’t “stay put”

If you cast an electric based spell onto someone who’s wet, they’ll take more damage. If you cast it into a body of water, it has the ability to travel further than you might think. See here for the science behind it.

Casting “lightning bolt,” “forked lightning,” etc. into a cavern filled with veins of metal, might have it bouncing off the walls until the energy is used up. Conversely, casting lightning bolt into a crystalline structure such as the picture would cause it to scatter in all directions, possibly striking the caster.

Earth Based Spells
Earth based spells can also have their own set of unforeseen consequences. Casting “earthquake” in an earthquake prone area can cause the fault line to become more active than it would be normally, causing massive destruction over a much wider area than anticipated. Conversely, casting the same spell in a swamp or in a marshy area might not do much that much. Earthquakes in large bodies of water have the potential to be very destructive, due to the fact that they become tsunamis.

Digging in earth may not be safe either. Passageways or holes that the spells create may fill with water, possibly causing a sinkhole. If deep enough, lava is a concern. Furthermore, the magic may allow transport, but not breathing, such spellcasters would have to hold their breath the entire time they’re moving through the earth, and hope they can emerge before they suffocate.

Cold Based Spells
Wizard 101 IceCold spells like “cone of cold” and “ice storm” have their drawbacks. Even though many of the descriptions state explicitly that the snow and ice melt, that isn’t necessarily the end of it. In areas more susceptible to cold weather, the spell may simply bring in cold weather to an area earlier than it normally would arrive. This can have a ripple effect in your game. Winter comes early, kills crops, causes death of livestock, etc.

There can be other effects, too. In a cave the cold can get trapped in the stone, and radiate outward for a time. The ice can also remain longer without melting in a colder climate. The cold can actually do enough damage to plants to kill them as well.   

Monster Summon
What happens when the wrong monster is summoned, or a misunderstanding of the type of monster that the caster is asking for? The caster may not have control over it and it attacks the party for having the audacity to summon it. Or it resents being summoned, and follows orders begrudgingly, but not to the best of its ability. Or it tricks the caster into doing something stupid (like signing a contract) for its services, but instead enslaves the caster.   

Plant Based Spells
Plant based spells can have unplanned-for consequences as well. Think of things with today’s technology/ science. Adding “miracle grow” to a weed makes it get bigger. Same thing with the spell “plant growth.” Using weed killer to a plant damages it, by the roots, many times. What happens if you cast the spell on the wrong plant? An entire castle could be held captive to a giant thorn bush. The cave becomes impassable due to the overgrowth of molds/ slimes that the characters have to fight their way through. Conversely, what happens if you cast “horrid wilting” on a plant, but it’s not one, but the entire crop for the kingdom?   

Next time a spell is cast in your campaign, look for ways to have it do more than what the description says. You’ll add depth to your world, and give more challenges to your players by making them think “Do I want to cast this spell here and now?”