Spell Durations and Casting Times in The Fantasy Trip

Spell Durations and Casting Times in The Fantasy Trip

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!

Marko ∞


  1. I’m reading through the Grimoire right now, and I think there’s a conflict in the LIGHT Spell:

    LIGHT: (T) [Advanced Wizard] Makes any small (8cm or less) item glow like a torch (any color) for a full day. Will light up a ring, the end of your staff, your hand, etc. The wizard can will the light to go out at any time, but must recast the spell to get it back. Costs 1 ST. Duration: 1 minute. Casting time: 1 turn.

    In the Spell description, it says the duration of the Spell is “a full day” (which I always treated as 24 hours from the time of casting, though it might instead mean something like “during the hours of daylight,” or, more logically, “during the hours of darkness” depending on how you visualize magic working in your world), however in “Duration,” you state the duration is 1 minute. Seems like there is an issue there…

  2. Hmm. Staff seems to lack a casting time. Given the fact that it’s more an “enchantment” Spell than a combat Spell, I would think it might take a while to cast, and given the power that a Staff provides the Wizard, I would think that time might be fairly extensive…

  3. Turning to IQ 9 Spells:

    I note that the AID spell seems to only be useful for combat Spells — you must use the ST provided within 2 Turns, however many of the tougher Spells will be things like ENCHANT ITEM or similar spells, and will require a great deal of time to cast. This raises the old question about how exactly ST is expended when casting a Spell that takes a long time. SJ and company never effectively addressed this issue in TFT, and their examples of how enchantments are cast also skip over the issue. Is the ST expended throughout the process? At the beginning? At the end?

    One of the House Rules we used was that if an AID Spell was cast, the recipient of the AID had to expend the ST within a certain time period (I seem to recall that it was within an hour or so, but I may be wrong), precisely because of this issue. I think AID needs more clarification…

    DARK VISION has the same problem that LIGHT did — the description states that the Spell is in effect for one hour, but the Duration quoted is one minute.

  4. IQ 10 Spells:

    RESIST COLD seems to have gotten mixed up with LOCK/KNOCK: it reads: “LOCK/KNOCK:RESIST COLD,” which I’m almost sure you didn’t mean it to! ;-)

    Of course, that also means that LOCK/KNOCK doesn’t exist in your Grimoire…at least not at IQ10.

    SPEED MOVEMENT has the same problem LIGHT and DARK VISION did — duration is listed as 4 turns in the descritpion and 1 turn under “Duration.”

    IQ 11 Spells:

    A general note. A personal pet peeve of mine is the insistence on the use the gender specific pronoun of “her” “herself.” It would be fine if only women were playing, but since that is almost never the case these days (and since apparently normal English usage is no longer acceptable), I recommend you change it to something that is both gender neutral AND more explanatory; for example, in the Spell ILLUSION DISGUISE, you state “Disguise creates an illusion on the figure the spell is cast upon (can include herself).” I would recommend you change the parenthetical comment to read “(can include the Casting Wizard)” which is both clearer in terms of rules intent, and less psychically damaging to our PC population. I noted the problem here, but it applies throughout the TFT rules (and this Grimoire) to both “him” and “her.”

    IQ 12 Spells:

    Nothing noted.

    IQ 13 Spells:

    SLIPPERY FLOOR and STICKY FLOOR both have the same issue that LIGHT did — the description lists the duration as 12 turns, but the “Duration” entry indicates one turn.

    IQ 14 Spells:

    EXPLOSIVE GEM lacks any statistical information such as cost per die of power, and casting time.

    The casting time on FRESH AIR begs the question of whether or not the caster needs to roll to maintain consciousness while the caster is attempting to cast the Spell — after all, if the Wizard hasn’t cast it yet, that Wizard is still in the airless, poisonous, noxious environment, just like a normal character would be! And what if the caster fails? Does the Wizard suffer any kind of penalty on attempting to recast it? 15 seconds may not seem like much time, but try concentrating that long on something when you can’t breathe!

    SUMMON LESSER DEMON has an issue in the casting time. In the description, it says it takes 5 TURNS to cast the Spell, but in the “Casting Time” it states that 5 MINUTES are required to cast the spell (60 turns).

    I’m calling it quits for now, but hope to continue this tomorrow… I know it sounds like all I’m doing is carping, but my actual intent is to improve the result by resolving confusing things for clarity. Hopefully you’ll accept my input in that spirit! ;-)

  5. Well, crap. I should have done a better job proofreading. Sorry, man. Let me clean these up…

    Yeah, I just try to alternate between him and her. I grew up with him being generic and applying to both–but that was then, this is now…

  6. I did not list a casting time because the canon rules have an explanation about starting with it, and not doing it in combat. My thought was the wizard would do it on his own time out of the action. I do agree with you, though… it should be like a magic item, but lite. I could see a week, a little at a time each day…

  7. Jeff, I went through and made a lot of corrections. It’s weird: I thought the info for the Explosive Gem spell was covered under magical items–but it is not. I found a note from Brett Slocum on the TFT mailing list about a missing paragraph, so I tailored that in (thanks Brett!)

    The rest were just errors on my part. And yes–I agree that this all just makes the final product better. I welcome any comments or corrections. I may disagree with some comments, but that discussion is part of the game, too!

  8. thank you it looks like allot of work. i would love to play TFT but my group play d&d. i Have tried getting them to cross over with a one shot and failed. but i loved this system and flavor, it is so diffrent and raw.

  9. I think spell durations and casting times should be based more on the world than the mechanics, at least as far as a game like TFT is concerned. If you want illusions to be quick and dirty then you reduce the casting times and maybe drop the duration from 12 turns to 6 turns. Or if creations are more potent, you could increase the casting time and duration to match. It really depends on the flavor of the game world.

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