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

Bell Curve vs. Linear

Here’s a handy little chart showing the difference between a linear distribution like rolling a d20 and a bell curve distribution like 3d6 when it comes to rolling versus a target.  The first column is the d20 roll, the second is the approximate percent chance of rolling that or less on d20. That’s pretty obvious, but the next column is what the target number would be on 3d6 to have that chance to succeed (i.e. roll target or under).  So a 50% chance is right in the middle of the curve at 10… but by the time the target is 12 you’ve got a 75% chance of succeeding.  Next we have columns for a d20 skill roll/Basic Attack Bonus (as in 3e or 5e).  The final four columns show THAC0 (to hit AC 0) and what level you would have to be to have that chance of hitting an unarmored person, using the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as a reference point.  Hitting an unarmored person is the standard we’re using because that directly translates to scoring a hit in Heroes & Other Worlds/TFT (and similar games like Runequest) where armor reduces damage from a successful hit but does nothing to make success less likely.

From this you can see that, for instance, having a 13 DX in HOW is like being a 10th level Fighter, at least in terms of being able to land a blow.  (On the other hand, a 10th level Fighter in D&D can sustain multiple times the damage a HOW fighter could, so you can’t just translate back and forth quite that easily.) Another thing to pay attention to is the s20 skill column, where you can see that in terms of stat bonus, a D&D score of 18 is equivalent to DX 11 (if 18 is +3 as in original D&D), or maybe DX 12 (if 18 is +4 as in later editions).  Using the stat bonus in D&D is much more common than a straight roll-under against the stat.

Still, I find thinking of things this way as instructive.

Roll Under Rules Cyclopedia
d20 Approximate % 3d6 d20 skill/BaB THAC0 Fighter Cl/Th/D MU/Normal
0 0.00% 3,4 -11
1 5.00% 5 -10
2 10.00% 6 -9
3 15.00% 7 -8
4 20.00% -7
5 25.00% 8 -6
5 25.00% -5
6 30.00% -4
7 35.00% 9 -3
8 40.00% -2
9 45.00% -1
10 50.00% 10 0 10 1 1 1
11 55.00% 1 9
12 60.00% 11 2 8 4 5 6
13 65.00% 3 7
14 70.00% 4 6 7 9 11
15 75.00% 12 5 5
16 80.00% 13 6 4 10 13 16
17 85.00% 7 3
18 90.00% 14 8 2 13 17 21
19 95.00% 15 9 1
20 100.00% 16,17,18 10 0 16 21 26

Here’s an Anydice page with the 3d6 info, and just for the heck of it, the 1d20

Link to

Chaotic Caves Hexmap

This is a hexmap version J.D. Neal’s Chaotic Caves map from his The Chaotic Caves supplement for Basic Fantasy, released under the OGL, which is basically a nice, simple, hexcrawl retroclone of The Keep on the Borderlands.  C.R. Brandon released a version reskinned for Heroes & Other Worlds.  Since I was kind of irritated by the square grid in the map, I ripped it out and replaced it with a hex grid to approximately the same scale (1 hex = 1 mile, instead of 1 square = 1 mile). If I have energy I might even go as far a coloring it, though even doing this much took way more time than I had hoped.  (If there’s a truly easy way to just lay down a hex grid in GIMP, I couldn’t find it.  The otherwise nice hexGIMP plugin I found assumed that you wanted to hand-place all the hexes… and Hexographer has pretty much the same assumption: you can import an image to trace over it, but just imposing a simple hex grid of a particular size?  Forget about it.  I ended up just creating custom graph paper at the right scale and combining the images in Paint.NET, having had my fill of GIMP for the evening.)

You can get the free PDF version of the Basic Fantasy edition of The Chaotic Caves here.  The HOW pdf version is available from C.R. Brandon’s Lulu store (and is somewhat inexplicably more expensive than the print version of the BF edition on Amazon, but it does save you any headaches converting from D&D to HOW).

Anyway, enjoy!  Naturally, this version of the map is also released as OGL-licensed, but if you think I’m going to add the complete text of the OGL itself to the image, fuggedaboutit.

Chaotic Caves map by J.D. Neal, with hex grid added

Chaotic Caves map by J.D. Neal, with hex grid added

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.

Heroes & Other Worlds

Long, long ago, some time after the oceans drank Atlantis and before the rise of the world wide web, there were a pair of delightful little games of fantasy gladiatorial combat: Melee and, a bit later, Wizard.   They were written by Steve Jackson, and put out by a company called Metagaming.  We enjoyed them so much, they quickly replaced the  combat system we were using for Dungeons & Dragons (which was itself the “alternate combat system” described in Men & Magic, since the “real” combat system was Chainmail and we didn’t have a copy of that.)  Eventually Metagaming released The Fantasy Trip, also by Jackson, and I enthusiastically glommed onto that, while my brother continued using the homebrew that grew out of that original grafting of Melee/Wizard onto D&D.  Some time later, Metagaming went belly-up, and Steve Jackson tried to buy the rights to TFT back from Howard Thompson; Thompson wanted some ridiculous amount of money for it, so the deal never happened, and Thompson wandered off and that’s pretty much the last anybody ever heard of him.   Jackson went on to do a new, unconstrained version of his vision and what emerged was GURPS, but that’s another story.

I played TFT for years. That and the Arduin Grimoire were my fantasy jam. Eventually I drifted away because of slight dissatisfaction with some elements of the system, particularly at higher power levels, and the thrill of chasing something new.   (I gave GURPS more than a fair shake, when that came along, but… well, some other time maybe.)  Mostly I ended up playing home-brews, often heavily influenced by TFT and its class-less, level-less “be anything you want to spend points on” system. When decades later I encountered the OSR and people who had never given up on their old systems, and/or people who’d newly encountered them in the form of various retro-clones that provided copy-right friendly versions of long out-of-print editions, mostly of D&D, it never actually occurred to me to look for retro-clones of TFT.  It turns out, though, that there are several.  One in particular, Legends of the Ancient World,  by Dark City Games, deserves mention as a streamlined, stripped down version that compresses everything into 8 pages, and happens to be free.

A much more ambitious and complete (as well as more expensive) project is Heroes & Other Worlds, by C.R. Brandon, which has been described (paraphrasing) as TFT meets Moldvay Basic.  It’s a very impressive offering, with pretty substantial additional support, particularly a monster & treasure manual (The Tome of Terrors & Treasures… flipping expensive, though, even for 425 pages), and a supplement of extra spells (The Magi Carta, 190 pages)  both translations into HOW terms of OGL material, and several adventure and setting supplements (including a HOW version of my friend Rob Conley’s Blackmarsh setting Blackmarsh: Heroes & Other Worlds Edition).

I really dig Heroes & Other Worlds, although I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, both for the wealth of material that it provides and for the ways it has simplified some of the odder things in TFT, such as the way HOW eliminates the IQ minimums for learning various talents (in HOW called Skills).  No more minimum of 10 IQ to learn the most rudimentary form of martial arts; it may have made sense as a game balance technique to prevent fighters from using IQ as a dump stat, but it’s pretty hard to justify on any other grounds.  It also introduces some of its own new ideas, some of which are very neat indeed: I particularly like the notion of “reactions” that allow a character to Parry or Dodge at the cost of moving next turn, instead of taking a full turn (no attack) as in TFT, and the EN(durance) stat that allows for spell-casters with a lot of magical oomph who aren’t built like Conan.  HOW does introduce some of its own oddities, like Tridents being as good on the average wielded one-handed as Halberds with two, but you could easily change them back to the original TFT rules (available from David O. Miller’s Melee & Wizard site).

It is kind of pricey, as retro-clones go, and you might want to start by dipping your toes in Legends of the Ancient Worlds if you want to try a TFT-like for free… but HOW and its supplements represent a good deal of work by Brandon and I don’t begrudge him some recompense for the labor.  I’m looking forward to running TFT again in the near future, probably on a G+ Hangout some evening.  For me it’s like putting on a comfy old sweater in a way that D&D never really was.  Check it out.

Heroes & Other Worlds