I think one of the things that GURPS got right in its magic system vs. The Fantasy Trip was the concept of spell durations and casting times. With its roots as a tactical combat system, The Fantasy Trip treats almost all spells as lasting just one turn–5 seconds–and taking one turn to cast. GURPS took things a step further and added varying durations and casting times to each spell. That adds more bookkeeping, yes, but it also added some depth to the magic system.
Why Add Spell Durations and Casting Times?
That is a damn good question. A) Why go through the effort and B) What does it bring to the game? The answer to the first question is found in the answer to the second–I think fleshing out spell durations and casting times adds a little more depth and flavor to the magic of Wizard/Advanced Wizard. The added “realism” if you will, adds to the fun of the game–and that is the answer to the first question: it adds fun.
Another benefit to adding durations is that it can stretch out the the amount of ST that a wizard has. By keeping the durations in combat down to the standard 1 turn, that does not affect combat much. It can affect non-combat situations a great deal, though.
The downside is that it does add additional bookkeeping, and many people would rather not mess with it. That is why these suggestions are OPTIONAL. If you do not want to deal with the bookkeeping each turn, ignore this article and play the game as is.
Estimating Spell Durations
The basic question when setting spell durations or casting times is whether the spell is a tactical combat spell or not. I firmly believe that tactical spells should stick to the 1 turn, 5 second duration and casting times in the cannon rules. Other spells can then be evaluated for longer durations or casting times.
The next question is what would make one spell last longer than another? I would suggest that in general, the more complex, the more real and especially the more dangerous a spell’s effects are, the shorter the duration. This keeps the wizards from overshadowing non-wizards, and also sticks to the spirit of TFT–where combat is deadly.
Another question is how to handle renewal times. One option is to make the renewal time the same as the duration. Another is to let the duration be longer and the renewal time be 1 turn. Having the renewal time equal the original duration makes the most sense to me, but it does add a tad more bookkeeping.
The same applies to casting times. The issue with casting times, though, is whether the spell is designed for combat–where time is critical. For other spells, like enchantments, the times should be much longer.
One of the most obvious cases where this comes into play is that of images, illusions and creations. Obviously illusions are more dangerous than images, and creations/summoned beings are more dangerous–and more real–than illusions. My first inclination is to have images have a duration longer than illusions, and both to be longer than creations. But my gut feel is to resist this urge–I want to keep the durations for these spells at 1 turn because of their core use in tactical combat.
(Note: GURPS set their durations all the same–at 12 turns or 1 minute. That allows wizards to do more things in non-combat situations, but I think that is too long for combat conditions. The important thing to note, though, is that they kept the durations the same for illusions and creations).
Finally, what is the effect on game balance? A large part of this issue is handled by keeping tactical spells at a duration and casting time of 1 turn. But what of the others? That is something that must be evaluated with each and every spell. Each spell has to be evaluated for the power that it provides the wizard, or more importantly–the effects of the spell multiplied over thousands of wizards and thousands of castings in a world of magic.
So What Next?
To remedy that, I have updated the Grimoire to include optional spell durations and casting times. Again, I tried to leave the more tactical, combat spells at 1 turn. Others, I bounced against GURPS Magic, used some of my own judgement–and eyeballed them.
I am also going to put together a table with the spells, costs, duration and casting times. I’ll post that in the Downloads section.
Obviously all of this is up to personal interpretation, and I’m sure many of you will disagree with some of the details. If you see any that you have real heartburn with, let me know and we can discuss! A lot of the fun with this is the discussion with all of you–have fun with it!