Talents, Spells and IQ Levels in The Fantasy Trip

Talents, Spells and IQ Levels in The Fantasy Trip

One of the common problems debated in the community is that of IQ levels in The Fantasy Trip. The tie between the number of spells and talents and that of character IQ often leads to super-genius characters–characters that are supposed to be well, dumb.

The Problem

The problem is that as characters gain experience and try to gain more talents or spells, their IQ can grow to ridiculous levels. Because the IQ attribute limits the number of spells and talents a character can learn, players have to keep adding to add IQ levels just to gain useful talents or have a higher spell capacity.

This obviously limits wizards and their ability to learn more spells, but it also limits heroes who want to learn additional combat or practical skills. And what about talents that are useful for roleplaying? TFT throws those into a Mundane talents, or “here are some other talents” category.

How do you incentivize players to give up the ability to have extra talents or spells–and a super-high IQ–in order to roleplay? How do you allow the extra talents or spells without fundamentally changing the TFT system?

What Can You Do?

A number of options have been written about on the Internet. One option is to just keep the system as it is. Clean, simple and easy. Everyone knows, no changed needed.

One other option is to simply reduce the cost for spells or talents. This would allow characters to have a lot more spells or talents, but at the cost of game balance. Forcing players to make tough choices during character creation is part of the fun of the game, though.

Another is to add an attribute, sometimes called “skill/spell points.” On creation, the character gets spells or talents just like in the In The Labyrinth rules. After that, experience points can go into IQ or talents.

One option, too, is to change the way talents and spells are done in TFT, and use a system like GURPS where players put points into attributes, but also into “skills” and spells. That moves away from the simplicity of TFT and to the dreaded complexity of GURPS.

Finally, some people have proposed a split IQ system where a character’s IQ is limited at creation, and used for IQ checks, but a secondary IQ level is used to limit spells and talents.

The challenge is how to keep things simple, but stay within the spirit of the original rules. It’s tough–and that is why there are so manu house rules with different solutions.

The Solution

What I have come up with is to have a combination of an IQ limit by race, but with levels above that determining spell or talent limits. In the Labyrinth does not have a limit for IQ, but one could be assigned for humans at around 20. After reaching 18, the character could then add spells or talents by increasing IQ normally–but any roll against IQ would still be limited at 20.

While this is not a perfect solution, it does solve two problems: One, it caps IQ at a reasonable level. Two, it allows players to gain spells and talents based on experience.

However, it does not solve the problem of a high IQ for a dumb character. The argument could be made that such characters would not be able to learn that many spells or talents in the first place. Regardless, that would take roleplaying to adequately portray such a character.

Another problem is that IQ limits would have to be defined for each player character race. The number 20 just comes from the top end of the Advanced Wizard spell list. You could apply that across the board for all sentient races–with some races being lower, such as giants.

Still, I think this solution is very simple to play by, sticks to the spirit of the original rules, and still allows characters to gain talents or spells as their experience allows. It allows them the ability to add talents for roleplaying, but maintains that cost. It also gives players the incentive to raise their character’s IQ, but keeps the it at a somewhat reasonable level.

What do you do think? What house rules do you have to solve this problem–or do you just let the IQ levels grow?

Marko ∞


  1. I doubt this response will actually get to you — none of my responses ever seem to, but I’ll throw something into the mix just on the off chance you DO see this.

    I use Dark City Games’ system (as it is in their solo adventures) of skills and spells. Basically, a character can spend XP to increase attributes or increase skills/spells. The number of Skills and Spells a character can have are thus uncoupled from IQ entirely (starting characters can have a total of four Skills and/or Spells, at least one of which should be a roleplaying skill or the AID spell). This reduces the incentive to build an enormous IQ, and at the same time permits skills and spells to be acquired through experience and training, just as they would in the “real” world. It also keeps the players on the horns of the “resource management” dilemma — do you opt for that extra point of ST, DX, or IQ? Or do you add a useful skill or a needful spell? Which will pay off more in the long run? What about the short-term?

    This actually keeps thing pretty simple, keeps us with just the three characteristics, and still forces the players to choose between options.

  2. That was one option that I seriously consider. I don’t want to turn TFT into GURPS, but that solution is really pretty attractive.

  3. I agree. GURPS jumped the shark long ago. The appeal of TFT to me was always the overall simplicity. You could figure everything out, build a character, and start an adventure in about 15 minutes! And you could pretty much remember everything you needed to know throughout the game without a lot of rule-book flipping. Any changes I make to TFT are always based on the KISS principle and designed to dovetail into the existing game system as much as possible.

    One of the things I really liked about Dark City Games’ stuff was that they very much simplified and regularized (if that’s actually a word) the talents. Now they pretty much all work the same, and the players can rapidly decide which skills they want and know thoroughly how to use them. That makes them almost “instinctive” in play, which is precisely the way they SHOULD be — after all, you spent months or years learning and/or mastering this skill — it SHOULD be instinctive to you!

    Frankly, I’m seriously considering ripping out the existing skill system in it’s entirety and replacing it with skills written to DCG standards.

  4. About the only thing GURPS seems good for is the world sourcebooks. They have a lot of info that I like for inspiration.

    Let me know what you do with the DCG talents system. I’m curious how that works.

  5. I don’t consider DarkCityGames products to be FTF or even a decedent, despite their claims to be child of TFT.

  6. Marko, I never responded to this directly, but you’ve seen my “evolution” on other threads. Anyway, I’ll try to summarize the answer here…

    Basically, it works like this. Certain “talents” in TFT really ARE “talents;” that is, innately in-born things that can’t be learned in a school — you either have them, or you don’t. Other “talents” in TFT are really skills, and can be learned or improved over time. As it stands, TFT doesn’t deal with skills that way — in TFT, everything is learned, and all of them are an “either you have it or you don’t” answer, with no levels of individual skill to separate the characters. TFT then tries to handle this obvious conundrum with multiple skills applying to the same skill set, which is certainly one way to approach it. I’ll call that the “College Course List” solution.

    My approach is to separate the obvious “talents” from the obvious “skills” and also to differentiate the skills on a somewhat more fundamental level. Thus, certain of the old TFT “Talents” remain “talents” and are something the players can select at character creation. Normally, I only permit one, or two “talents” to be selected. These include things like “Acute Senses,” “Toughness,” “Agility,” “Charisma,” and so on. They provide certain specific advantages to the characters and are never learned by anyone not born with them. An additional one I stole from GURPS was “Magery” which allows characters to learn and cast Spells in accordance with the normal spell-casting and learning procedures, but makes it harder for them to learn “Skills.” Characters without Magery can learn and use new Skills normally, but it’s twice as hard for them to learn and cast Spells of any kind.

    Skills are uncoupled from IQ in my system. You spend XP to buy a Skill, but you always buy a new Skill at Level 0 (which means you can, say, fight with a sword at 3/DX, instead of fighting at 4/DX as you would if you didn’t know the skill). Each Skill level after that increases your ability with the Skill by “1.” In some cases, you may be able to choose which way that +1 benefit comes into effect for you; thus you might be able to increase the damage you do with a sword by +1 once you get to Skill Level 1; OR you might be able to increase your effective DX by +1 when using a sword in a fight. You can’t do both at the same time, however…

    All Skills have a total of four levels in my system; Level 0, what we might call the Initiate or Trainee level, Level 1, which we can refer to as the Apprentice level, Level 2, which is the Journeyman Level, and Level 3, which is the Master Level. This also enables you to play the mundane talents (e.g, Candlemaker) accordingly, and provides you a ready built system for labeling your NPCs with their appropriate names in a medieval society. Once you reach Level 3, that’s it, you’ve fully mastered that Skill and can no longer improve in it. Prerequisite Skills do exist, but if you need a Prerequisite Skill in order to go on to some other Skill, you never need to acquire a level higher than “0” in that prerequisite. The idea here is that you might have to take Sword in order to master Two-Weapons, but you don’t have to be a blademaster in order to use two weapons successfully, you just need to know how to use them at all.

    Learning new Skills, and improving old ones is a function of two things — one is time, and the other is XP. In effect, they represent the same thing; you are using the XP you accumulate over a period of time in order to “buy” the new Skill or improve an existing one. While you’re doing this, you aren’t using those XP to bulk up your muscles, or practice gymnastics, or study abstruse philosophical problems, so you can’t spend the XP on an Attribute increase AND gain a new skill or improve an old one, it’s one or the other. This solves the complexity of having to mark time while “learning” something new; in effect the time cost is built into the time it takes to earn XP. Of cocurse, you can argue that the time you spend gaining XP is NOT study time, since you’re out adventuring; and to some extent that’s a valid critique. However, I would argue, especially with weapons skills, that being out adventuring is PRECISELY how you learn those skills — practicing what you learned from you teacher (who may actually be on the adventure with you) in real situations is an excellent way to learn! Other skills (e.g., Candlemaking, again) you might be able to argue otherwise; however in the spirit of the KISS principle, I choose to handwave those arguments. Besides, TFT being what it is, there is usually a lot of downtime involved between adventures (it takes time to heal, recuperate, and plan the next adventure, usually), so we can argue that you pursued your education in Candlemaking while you were waiting for the next adventure. This can also dove-tail with the “Jobs” table and the types of work available there, and the GM could even restrict the player to some kind of job relevant to the skill he’s trying to master in order to allow XP to be spent for that purpose.

    Costs for the various Skill levels basically double each time you increase the level of a particular Skill. Thus, you might gain an entry-level skill (“0”) for 50 XP, but Level 1 will cost you 100, Level 2 will cost you 200, and Level 3 will cost you 400 XP. Those numbers aren’t fully playtested, so GMs should pick numbers that work for their games in the specific cases. Additionally, you can vary the costs to gain a skill in your game in order to make skills harder to earn. I feel the “doubling” effect works well to represent the fact that as you get better at a skill, your advances in that skill come harder and harder, and earning a Master’s level of Skill is a bit more of an actual achievement using this system than otherwise.

    You can still “stack” skills, if you want; requiring a player to have his character gain prerequisite skills as normal and so on. You can also be more difficult about it if you choose — for example, in order to learn Unarmed Combat I, you might have to obtain a Skill called Brawling first, and you might need to reach Skill Level 1 or even 2 before you are allowed to begin training in Unarmed Combat I. Again, the beauty of the system is you can tailor it as much as you like to the specific Skill sets you want to use this way.

    Languages are learned the same way — basically I use the Dragon Warriors approach on languages, learning times, and levels of mastery — Level 0, you can ask where the outhouse is or buy a loaf of bread, but can’t really engage in meaningful conversations, Level 1, you can get by, but make a lot of mistakes and everyone knows you “aren’t from around here,” and so on. Costs for languages might be cheaper, but learning times can be just as long as learning a skill, sometimes, depending on the language, even longer; so GMs may want to think about that as they go along. This also enables you to come up with a “Trade Language” (like Pidgen was in the Pacific for quite a long while), that’s easier to learn and use (for example, maybe only has one “Level” to learn — which makes it quicker). I also use the Dragon Warriors approach to languages overall — that is, they exist in families, and familiarity with one language in a family makes learning other languages in that same family easier; they also have “lineages,” and learning modern XYZ makes learning ancient XYZ (or vice versa) easier. As a side note, both Mages and non-Mages can learn Languages for the same XP costs — see later for more explanation as to what this means…

    Spells, I generally keep as is — which means there is only one “Level” of Spell to learn, but it is more expensive to learn in terms of XP — say, 300 XP to learn a Spell (this number fits in nicely with our Skills XP costs). I also still restrict the Spells a person can learn to his/her IQ level — that is, you can’t learn an IQ 16 Spell unless your IQ is 16 However, you are NOT limited to only knowing 16 Spells at IQ 16 — you can learn as many as you want, as long as you spend the XP to do so. Note that characters with Magery would expend 300 XP to learn a Spell. Characters lacking the Magery Talent would spend double that (600 XP) to learn a Spell. You can also restrict your non-Mage characters in other ways — perhaps they can only learn spells equivalent to their current IQ minus 2; thus, a non-Mage with an IQ of 16 would only be able to learn IQ 14 spells, and so on. Again, GMs need to tinker with this to see if it works okay for them — playtesting, playtesting, playtesting! I should note that XP costs for a Mage to learn any non-Magical Skill would be doubled as well. Thus, it might cost your non-Mage character 50 XP to learn Sword-0, but it will cost your Mage character 100 XP to learn Sword-0. That’s in addition to any other penalties accruing to the mage due to not being able to use cold iron or whatever…

    What this means is that players now have a number of different things to spend XP on, and must juggle their XP against a number of different goals. They can spend XP to improve attributes (I use the increasing scale of costs for that too — that is, if your total attributes are less than X, you spend 100 XP to add an Attribute point; if they are greater than X, but less than or equal to Y, you spend 125 XP to increase an Attribute point, and so on); they can expend XP to learn or improve a Skill; they can spend XP to learn a Spell; or they can spend XP to learn or improve a Language. That means there is a whole lot of resource management decision-making that has to occur on the part of the players now — all without materially affecting how the game mechanics interact with each other.

    You’ll note that initially, it is probably more “cost effective” to spend your XP on attribute increases, but you can reach high enough levels of attributes quickly enough that it then makes MUCH more sense to expend XP on Skills and/or Spells — which means that “attribute bloat” becomes somewhat self-correcting. And, even though, from a purely mathematical point of view, it might be “better” to spend early XP totals on attributes, you can’t survive long enough to gain those XP without some Skills or Spells picked up along the way! In short, the dilemma is always there for the players, and how they choose to expend their XPs becomes more of a challenge than it ever was in TFT as written. It also lends itself to more investment in a character and possibly even better role-playing as the players go through the game, picking and choosing their life path — much as we all do in real life.

    I’m sure I’ve left a lot of questions up for grabs (because I already know what I’m talking about here, and the casual reader doesn’t), so if anyone has any questions, ask, and hopefully I’ll be aware enough of what’s going on with this thread to actually answer them. If you DON’T get an answer, ask Marko to shoot me a line telling me to go to this thread and answer you! ;-)

  7. Oops, I should note that when I say “skills are uncoupled from IQ” I really meant that the NUMBER of skills you could learn was uncoupled from IQ. Like Spells, is a Skill is IQ 17 and you only have IQ 13, you can’t learn that skill! So both Spells and Skills are uncoupled in terms of number limits, but the overall ability to pick up a specific Skill is still limited by your current IQ level…

    Likewise, languages should be given a certain minimum IQ level to learn; however this needs to be more flexible — that is, anyone, even someone who is IQ 6 can learn his/her native language. Picking up anything new, however, would be a grave challenge! So, Native Language is always IQ 6, say (regardless of it’s “true” IQ minimum); a Trade Language like Pidgen, might be IQ 7; some “easy” languages might be IQ 8 or 9, and more complex languages might be more like IQ 10, 11 or 12. Very arcane languages (“Demonic?”) might be even higher…

  8. Wow! That’s a lot to take in!

    That sounds very interesting, Jeff. I like the logic of how it flows, too. I really like the idea of Magery as a “talent” (GURPS ability). I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate that–even keeping with the basic TFT, you could have the “talent” of Magery at cost 0. If you have it, you are a wizard, if not, you are a hero.

    I do like the approach of talents that must be taken at creation, vs. learned. That is another thing I think GURPS got right.

    My only reservation is the same with adding a fatigue or health attribute: I’m reluctant to veer too much from the core TFT rules. This fixes some valid issues with TFT, but does add a little more complexity. I need to think on that some more…

    Very good comment, Jeff. Very good.

  9. That’s the way I use Magery, for sure. As I said above, that doesn’t PRECLUDE anyone from learning magic — it just makes it a lot more expensive in terms of time and experience to do so. Likewise, it doesn’t PREVENT a mage from learning how to use a sword; he or she just has a tougher time learning that particular kind of skill.

    Yeah, I totally understand where you’re coming from regarding Mana/Favor, but I really don’t know how else to work around the “the mage dies/Conan the Magician” problem. Besides, arguably, you have to track fatigue separately anyway — fatigue is different from damage, and needs to be approached differently — let’s face it, you don’t go from fully functional all day long to dead on your feet in one minute — it’s a process of accruing fatigue, and as you use up your strength, you need to eat, drink, and sleep to recover; if circumstances force you beyond your limits, you start to suffer consequences. Since TFT doesn’t really have any way to depict those consequences, HITS become the only way to show the damage you’re doing to yourself by not taking a break and recovering for a while (you can also create “fatigue potions” to help you recover from this sort of thing BEFORE it reaches the point of taking wounds).

    Basically, I use a trick I learned from SPI’s old “War of the Ring,” and “Albion” games to track all of this; that is, I draw a group of boxes equal to the character’s ST off to the side. For each “fatigue” hit accrued, I put a “slash” (“/”) through the box, and for each HIT, I put an “X” in the box (meaning that it can no longer accept either damage OR fatigue. Once all your “HIT boxes” have slashes in them, you can continue to burn “fatigue” points by going back down the row of boxes and putting a reverse slash (“\”) in the box, which completes the “X” and counts as a wound (like a mage who has run out of Mana, you are pushing your body beyond it’s limits and suffer more serious consequences for doing so). Fatigue recovers at the rate of one “slash HIT” every 30 minutes of full rest, just like Mana does. Wounds, of course, heal normally (slowly), unless you have healing potions or something around. Basically, the whole idea was to make it pretty simple, let it fit in with the existing system, and make it easily manageable by a ten-year old boy or girl — no higher math skills, no fancy mental gymnastics, easy-peasy.

    Of course, all of this may be entirely moot now that Steve is talking about re-publishing. He may have some truly brilliant fix in mind for the whole “Attribute Bloat” thing — I certainly wouldn’t put it past him! After all, he’s the guy that created what is arguably the best “simple” FRPG ever made, so he’s probably got better, smoother, and simpler ideas for handling this sort of thing than I ever will! If not, my system works for me, and my players have always found it very easy to manage, from 10-year old boys to 50-year old adults! ;-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *