TFT Spell Costs vs. HOW Spell Costs

So, a quick analysis of spell costs in TFT vs, HOW.  They’re mostly the same, except that all the TFT spells that have a continuing cost have had that cost folded into the casting cost and the duration replaced with IQ + Spell Skill Level in turns, which is a pretty huge power-up.  E.g. something like Blur which in TFT costs 1 to cast, and then another 1 for each turn thereafter costs 2 in HOW and lasts for at least 9 turns, assuming you have the minimum IQ needed to cast it and 1 skill.   The summoning spells become particularly deadly, since it takes only 3 to summon a wolf to fight for you for at least 10 rounds.  Even the optional “lasts until you roll a 6 on a d6” variant is much more powerful than the TFT version.

This seems a little weird to me… for one thing, it’s likely to be more complicated in play. In TFT you’re pretty careful about having too many spells going at once, since it drains you quickly.  In HOW you can easily have a bunch, and have to track how long its been since each was cast, or roll a d6 for each if you’re using that variant.  It does make it a bit more like D&D, where spell durations are fixed, or at most adjusted for your level, but other than giving a big boost to spell-casters I’m not sure I see the advantage.  The tactics involved in deciding how long to spend your ST (or EN in HOW) on maintaining a spell are pretty interesting, in my opinion.

Name Cost   Duration (turns) Notes HOW costs  
IQ 8
Blur 1 1 M 2
Detect Magic 1 I
Drop Weapon 1 I cost 2 if str > 20 1
Image 1 I 1
Light 1 1 day 1 *
Magic Fist 1 * I 1-2 damage per 1 *
Slow Movement 2 4 2
Staff Special P
IQ 9
Aid 1 * 2
Avert 2 1 M 1
Clumsiness 1 * 3 -2 DX per 1 *
Confusion 1 * 3 -2 IQ per 1 *
Dark Vision 3 1 hour 1 *
Darkness 1 * M cost +1 ST/mh, +1 ST/turn
Detect Life 1 * I 1 *
Fire 1 P 1
Reveal Magic 1 1 M 1 *
Summon Wolf 2 1 M 3
IQ 10
Dazzle 3 I 3
Detect Enemies 3 I cost +2/mh 1 *
Far Vision 1 5 minutes
Lock/Knock 2 I/P 1 *
Shadow 1 12 1
Shock Shield 2 1 M 3
Speed Movement 2 4 2
Summon Myrmidon 2 1 M 3
Trailtwister 4 1 day
Trip 2 I cost 4 if > 30 STR 1 *
Ward 2 1 day
IQ 11
Control Animal 2 1 M
Create Wall 2 12 2 *
Destroy Creation 1 I
Illusion 2 12 2
Persuasiveness 2 1 M per minute
Reveal/Conceal 2 I/P 1
Reverse Missiles 2 1 M
Rope 2 12 2
Silent Movement 1 1 M 1
Sleep 3 Special several hours, or til hit, or shaken awake (2 turns) 1
Staff to Snake 3 6 renewable 1
Summon Bear 4 1 M 5
IQ 12
Analyze Magic 4 I
Blast 2 I
Break Weapon 3 P
Drain ST * I 1 ST to wizard/5 drained
Eyes-Behind 3 1 M
Fire, 3 Hex 2 12 2
Fireball 1 * I 1-1 per 1 *
Freeze 4 2d6 only on str <=30 4
Invisibility 3 1 M 4
Mage Sight 2 1 M 3
Magic Rainstorm 4 12
Repair 6 P 2
Shadow, 3 Hex 2 12 2
IQ 13
Control Elemental 3 1 M per minute
Control Person 3 1 M 3
Curse 2 * P until remove thrown 3
Fireproofing 3 1 M 2
Flight 3 1 M 4
Image, 4 Hex 2 12
Open Tunnel 10 P 1 *
Slippery Floor 3 12 2
Sticky Floor 3 12
Stone Flesh 2 1 M 3
Stop 3 4
Summon Gargoyle 4 1 M 5
Telekinesis 2 2 M
Wall, 3 Hex 4 12 4
IQ 14
Dispell Illusions 5 I 4
Explosive Gem Special
Fresh Air 2 1 M per minute
Glamor 10 P
Illusion, 4 Hex 3 12 3
Lightning 1 * I 1d6 per 1 *
Remove Thrown Spell 2 I
Spell Shield 3 1 M 4
Summon Giant 4 1 M
Summon Lesser Demon 20 12
Telepathy 4 1 M
Weapon/Armor Enchantment Special P
IQ 15
Astral Projection 10 1 hour
Calling 5
Create Gate 100 P 50 per side
Giant Rope 5 12 4
Hammertouch 1 * 3 2 *
Image, 7 Hex 4 12 3
Iron Flesh 3 1 M 4
MegaHex Avert 3 1 M 2
Pentagram 5 1
Shadow, 7 Hex 3 12 3
Summon Small Dragon 5 1 M
Teleport 1 * I per MH 5
Unnoticeability 3 1 M
IQ 16
Create/Destroy Elemental 5 * P cost +1 str per str of elemental 8
Create/Destroy Elemental 10 I destroy any str elemental
Death Spell 1 * I cost as much as lesser ST 1
Fire, 7 Hex 4 12 3
Illusion, 7 Hex 5 12 4
Long-distance Telepathy 12 I 5 words to any, or 30 seconds between wizards who know each other
MegaHex Sleep 8 Special several hours, or til hit, or shaken awake (2 turns) 6
Staff of Power 10 * P four weeks @ 10 STR/day
Summon Dragon 5 2 M
Trance 10 I
Wall, 7 Hex 6 12 6
Write Scroll 0 P 4
IQ 17
Blast Trap Special I 6 for 1+1, 12 for 2+2, 24 for 3
Cleansing 20 * I per hex, up to 7
Dissolve Enchantment Special I 100 if greater, 50 if lesser
Expunge Special P 125 ST/day for 3 weeks
Geas 10 P wish/dissolve enchantment to remove
Insubstantiality 4 2 M 4
Little Death 1 * Special cost +1 per day, until runs out = dead
Little Death (part 2) 4 Special if willing
Little Death (part 3) 10 Special if unwilling
Remove Cursed Object 20 I
Spellsniffer 2 1 M
Summon Demon 30 12
IQ 18
Control Gate 10 P 50 to destroy
Lesser Magic Item Creation Special
MegaHex Freeze 12 2d6
Shapeshifting 20 P cost 10 if cast on self 8
Wizard’s Wrath 1 * I 1+1 per ST 1 *
IQ 19
Long-distance Teleport 20 I 10
Revival 50
Zombie 5 * cost +1 per ST you give zombie (must be at least 2)
IQ 20
Greater Magic Item Creation Special P
Posession Special I 10 to prep, 20 when it goes off if it succeeds, 5 if save is made
Word of Command 3 I

HOW to Sacrifice a Shield?

C.R. Brandon, In a recent post on his blog, entitled Sacrifice,  talked about some of the changes he’s contemplating for the revised edition of Heroes & Other Worlds.  I left some thoughts on them on his blog, but I think blogspot ate the comment.  Or maybe it’s just stuck in moderation.  So herewith:

Not really thrilled with the idea of a shield-splintering rule, and particularly not with reducing all the types of shield into one. The availability of choices in arms and armor is, in my mind, the good type of complexity: extra choices in the down-time when you’re equipping your character but not a lot of extra decisions weighing down each combat round.  If I were to create a rule about damaging shields, it would be something like if you block a critical hit, then if the hit does 8 more damage than the shield’s AR (enough to knock you down if it had gotten through), the shield stops the blow but is broken. This actually keeps the choice about whether to risk the high probability of breaking your shield, since in HOW you get to see the attack roll before committing to a shield block as a reaction…and a crit from anything heavier than a dagger is very likely to do the required damage.

Or maybe the even simpler, if you roll to block with your shield and roll a fumble, it breaks.  No real decision there, but it does produce broken shields that occur naturally  as part of fighting with them.

As for the other changes mentioned:

Eliminating All-Out Defense

I’m against it.  I see it as important in offering a somewhat practical way to do a “fighting retreat.” In fact I just realized that by-the-book HOW gives you no real option except stand there and take it, and then hope to win initiative next turn and succeed in your 4/DX check to disengage. So, I’d be in favor of liberalizing it back to the TFT rules that as long as you forgo attacking, you can choose Defend and make attempts to hit you use 4/DX (i.e. it would no longer count as a reaction, but instead be an alternative to attack).  That way you at least stand a better chance of surviving until you can win the init and attempt to disengage. (If you don’t win the init then even if you disengage the enemy can just follow you and you’ll have already forgone your attack.)

Eliminating Berserk Attack

Wouldn’t actually miss this, though there probably ought to be some way of throwing everything you’ve got into attacking and damn defense.  Still giving up armor protection never really made that much sense.  Maybe it would work better as your attack is 2/DX, but attacks on you that turn are also 2/DX?

Languages and HOW!

Two more (last for now?) tweaks to Heroes & Other Worlds before I’m ready to start running it.


Languages don’t count against the IQ limit on skills/spells known.

If you want languages to be a big factor in your setting, it’s counter-productive to place a tight limit on how many languages a character can know.  It’s even worse if knowing a language comes at the expense of a more practical skill. If Conan can learn to speak the local tongue wherever he goes, then that’s something I want player characters to be able to do.

This also means that if you’re using my skills raise attributes rule then a good way for a Wizard to increase IQ is to study lots of esoteric languages. I like that a lot.

On the Job Training

Borrowing from Rob Conley’s house rules for experience in GURPS by way of Runequest, I’m going to allow some extra XP for “on the job training.”

You get 100 XP for every 30 days of “On the Job Training.”

This is particularly applicable to learning new languages, since that means 30 days of immersion in the culture grants you enough XP to take the Language as a skill… and it doesn’t even count against your limit.  You could also use it to pick up other skills you’ve been practicing, such as sailing or riding camels, which is again a staple of pulp fiction…though those do count against your IQ limit.

Why not 1 XP every three days?  I really think it should be a block of training that you can explain by the adventures you are having and the culture you find yourself in.  A slow trickle of XP would, IMO, tend to get lost among the XP you’re getting for your skill checks.  Getting it in a chunk, and only if you’ve spend at least a month in a situation that counts as practicing the skill, gives a much more concrete sense of “I learned the ways of the Tiger-men tribe during our journey across the mountains.”  Update: after publishing this I decided to change it to 30 days (from 45), since month-by-month is way more convenient to track.

This seems particularly important in HOW, since in TFT if you want room for a new skill, you can always just bump up your IQ.  The IQ limits on skills in TFT were never one of my favorite parts of the system, since they seemed pretty arbitrary, but they did serve as a form of niche protection. In a class-based system, if you’re the party Rogue, say, then non-rogue characters aren’t likely to outshine you in your area of expertise, if they could even attempt the same tasks. In a pure skill-based system, particularly one where it’s stat+skill, you can be faced with the situation where somebody steals your thunder even though it’s entirely incidental to their character concept.  E.g. as Rogue you’re the party “Face”, using your Act/Disguise and Detect/Tell Lies skills… until the Wizard spends some points on taking the first level of each and is instantly better than you because of his high IQ.  The IQ limits on skills & spells make that a much less attractive proposition for the Wizard, who will have to forgo two of his precious spell slots for those extraneous skills.  So I’m probably going to let those stand, at least for now.  If it starts to seem too constraining down the road, I might liberalize it a little, for instance by allowing purchase of skills beyond the IQ limit for a higher price, or separating spells out from skill when it comes to the IQ barrier.

More HOWs Rules

Some more tweaks to Heroes & Other Worlds.

Weapons and Armor

Per the original Melee/TFT rules, summarized here.  I just like it better, and I know it will be hard for me to get used to Broadswords doing 2d6+3 instead of 2d6.

Wizards may wear any armor, but DX penalties are also applied to IQ for the purpose of casting spells.


Only being able to raise your skills and not your attributes is an interesting design choice, and makes it a lot more like D&D, but… I think a TFT-like needs a way of raising attributes.   For one thing, the min IQ on the most powerful spells is prohibitive if characters can never raise their attributes above their initial allotment. On the other hand, balancing the cost of attributes vs. the cost of skills is hard.  So my compromise position is

Every  time you improve or buy skills related to a specific attribute, you get a tick-mark of XP towards raising that attribute.  When you’ve collected tick marks equal to the attribute+1, the attribute goes up by 1. (The initial 5 points at the start do count towards this.)  You may also improve your attribute by directly training it at the cost of 100 XP per tick.

So it takes 10 tick marks from DX-based skills to raise DX from 9 to 10, then 11 to raise it from 10 to 11, etc.  This does allow for more advancement than standard Heroes & Other Worlds (though you could always adjust awarding XP downward a skosh or the costs upward if it worries you), but eliminates any trade-off between increasing your attributes and increasing your skills.  It may encourage people to specialize a little more, but that’s arguably a benefit.  Letting the initial skill allocation count toward raising attributes means there’s no funny business about remembering which were your initial skills and which you bought later: you can always look at a character and count how many points of skills it has for a particular attribute and so how much it’s raised over the base.  Improving the attribute directly is really only worthwhile if you’ve maxed out your skills, unless you’re desperate to improve it and are saving IQ slots for later.

House Rules, and HOW!

Although I’ve yet to play Heroes & Other Worlds, I’ve played a ton of The Fantasy Trip back in the day, so I’ve already started down the road of house-ruling a bunch of stuff.  Here’s my current list:

Criticals & Fumbles

In HOW, 3 is automatic hit and double max damage, 4 is automatic hit for max damage, 17 is automatic miss and dropped weapon, and 18 is automatic miss and broken weapon.  This is almost the same as TFT, which uses triple and double damage for 3 and 4, but HOW drops the 5 is automatic hit and 16 is automatic miss.

My proposed rule, which brings the chance of a special roll back towards what it was in TFT is this:

Triples are special.  A triple that is also a success (<= Attribute) is a Critical (max damage); a triple that is a failure (> Attribute) is a Fumble (dropped weapon).

So a roll of 12 that’s 4, 4, 4 would be a critical for somebody with adj. DX 12 and a fumble for somebody with adj. DX 10. I like this because it makes it more than just luck: the better you are the more likely to crit and the less likely to fumble (and the opposite if you’re clumsy or wounded).  This is one of the features I always admired about Runequest and its derivatives, though with much less math.

If you’re rolling more or less dice than usual, use different colors to be able to pick out the three dice that govern criticals and fumbles.

E.g. if you’re rolling 4/DX, roll three white and one red.  Success or failure is determined by looking at all four dice, but it’s only a critical or fumble if the three white dice score a triple, 4, or 17.

If you’re rolling 2/DX, roll two white and a red, and the white determine success or failure, while crits and fumbles are determined by all three dice being triple, 4 or 17.

This is way simpler than memorizing or looking up different numbers that indicate a crit or fumble for that number of dice.

Opposed Rolls

Without a degree of success mechanic, roll under stat vs. roll under stat can be a bit dull.  What’s the point of wasting an action shield bashing somebody if any character of  greater than average ST probably won’t go down?  One really strong character will almost never be able to knock down another .  I’ve seen enough football to find that a bit dubious.  A simple fix, employed by a lot of systems, is to make how well you succeed a factor in how hard it is for the opponent to resist.

As a result, I’m planning all opposed rolls such as grappling, shield bash, spell resistance, and the like be resolved by this:

In opposed rolls, whoever rolls the higher success wins, but criticals beat non-criticals. That is, whoever has the highest total on the dice, provided that’s still a success (<= Attribute) is the winner of the contest, but a critical success trumps a non-critical success.

Why higher?  Three reasons: One is my regular players just hate “low is better” systems.  It makes them mad when they get a high roll, start to cheer, and then realize in this particular system that was a bad thing.  They could probably be trained out of this, but why bother? Two is it’s less math than “How much did you succeed by?” systems.  Three is that I find it much easier to reason about the probabilities of the higher wins method.

What about criticals beating non-criticals?  Criticals are pretty rare in HOW, even with my expanded criticals rules, and it’s anticlimactic for somebody to score a critical only to be denied by very common case of the opponent rolling an ordinary success.

Opposed Rolls and Reactions

One of the problems that I had with TFT was that as characters progressed it eventually reached the point where they couldn’t miss except on a fumble.  Equally matched highly experienced characters just whaled on each other until one ran out of ST.  On the other hand, if one elected to defend, that defense couldn’t be broken.  There’s a fairly narrow range where the combats stay interesting and dynamic.

HOW addresses this, partially, by allowing “Reactions” as part of your turn: you can sacrifice your next turn’s move in order to Block, Parry, or Dodge an incoming blow (once per turn).  Since once you’re in melee with a foe you’re probably not planning on moving much next turn anyway, unless you’re going to disengage, most attack rolls will be opposed.1  That addresses the every-blow-hits problem with skilled opponents, but not the unbreakable defense.

Easily fixed:

Block and Parry are Opposed Rolls  against the original attack roll: you need to roll a success higher than the successful hit to block or parry.  Dodge remains unopposed. Eliminate the requirement that you can only React if you’ve moved < 1/2 MV.

This means that Dodging is superior… until you get cornered.  It also means that sometimes there will be no point trying to block or parry, particularly if the opponent is superior; this makes up for the TFT “Forced Retreat” rule that HOW dropped.  Instead of being able to push an opponent back whenever you did damage but took none, it puts the defender in the position of having to opt to retreat to avoid damage.  I think this will lend itself to more dynamic combat at the high end, with opponents trying to maneuver each other into positions where they can’t just safely dodge.

Multiple Reactions

Since you can only do one Reaction per turn, if you’re up against multiple opponents in HOW you’re in big trouble.  Also, Block and Parry are identical in HOW, so there’s no reason to ever use the one you’re worse at unless you’ve broken or dropped your weapon.  For a more cinematic feel, I propose:

You may Block and Parry as part of the same reaction, as long as they’re against different blows, whether from the same foe striking multiple times or against different foes. 


Movement rates in HOW are a little weird.  Basically, they’re like the movement rates in TFT halved.  So all characters have a base move in TFT of 10 hexes in 5 seconds, which works out to about 5 mph, somewhere between a walk and a jog.  In HOW an average DX character has a MV of 5, which is only 25′ in 5 seconds, or 2.8 mph…roughly a walk. Then both only allow you to do a half move and still attack, but in TFT that’s 5 hexes while in HOW it’s only 3 spaces…barely creeping along.  Running in HOW only grants a +1 MV, which takes you from a crawl to a doddle. Let’s get these up to a snappier pace.

First, let’s just change the TFT rate into 5′ spaces instead of 1 1/3 (?!) meter  hexes.  That gives an unencumbered character almost 6 mph pace, or roughly a jog.  Then we can interpret the 5 MV in HOW as a TFT half-move, allowing an attack at the end of it.  Walk up and attack seems pretty reasonable to me.  And what the heck, let’s add an option that lets you jog at the foe and smack him, re-purposing the Charge attack option to actually represent building up some momentum instead of taking a couple of deliberate paces.

You may move up to your full MV and attack (including with thrown weapons).  You may move up to double your MV and attack at 4/DX.  If you Charge (moving at least 3 spaces) with a pole weapon you get +1d6 damage, as long as the last 2 spaces (10′) are in a straight line.

The last bit about the straight line is lifted from TFT, and makes sense to me both physically and as a way of preventing players from just circling around a foe to qualify for the bonus damage.  The +1d6 damage is from HOW, and probably helps make polearms a little less uber.

What about those archers and spell casters?  Let’s grant them a tiny bit of maneuverability, too.

You may move up to your full MV and attack at range (spell or missile weapon), but if you move more than 1 space (5′) the check is 4/X.


I like having Charisma as an Attribute, since it’s patently obvious that being smart has very little to do with how well you can charm or persuade others, or your ability to see through others’ attempts to manipulate you socially.  For HOW I propose:

Charisma starts at 8, characters get an extra 2 points to divide among their attributes.  (Option 1: start characters with 7+1d4 and don’t give them any extra points. Option 2: start characters with 3d6 CH and don’t allow spending any initial points.)   The advantage of Option 1 is it prevents Charisma from being used as a dump stat and can be bolted on to an existing HOW/TFT campaign without severely disadvantaging current characters; Option 2 allows for a wide range of CH and eases translation from D&D-likes.

The following Skills are tested vs. CH instead of IQ: Act/Diguise, Bard, Charm, Detect/Tell Lies, Diplomacy, Merchant, Streetwise

Add a new skill: Investigate (3/IQ) which represents the ability to notice and reason about clues. Investigate can be used to try to detect lies (in place of Detect/Tell Lies which is now a CH skill) by analyzing and investigating inconsistencies in somebody’s story. Detect Lies is used to sense whether somebody is lying by their demeanor.

That’s the gist of the house rules I’m currently contemplating.  I have a couple more ideas percolating (e.g. I’d kind of like NPCs to have EN even if they’re not spell-casters, for the sake of symmetry, but I’ve yet to figure out how best to divide the ST score of the monsters between the two, or just go ahead and add EN at the expense of making them harder to kill), but nothing baked enough to be worth writing down.

  1. This makes HOW a little more like GURPS, or Runequest/BRP.