Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TFT Related: What to do about Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Wizard...?

One of the consequences of TFT’s streamlined design was the combination of related yet separate attributes into a single “Super” attribute. For example, IQ is a combination of raw reasoning capability, memory, experience, perception, etc. while DX is a combination of manual dexterity and agility. One could easily separate these into several more attributes, as was done in D&D and most other systems. But by far the most thorny problem is that of ST, which is combining raw musculature, hit points, constitution, and endurance all in one package. While physique and hit points actually do make sense together, endurance does not - one can be very strong and yet lack endurance, and vice versa, even though both are tied to overall physical “wellness”. Now, much as I love streamlining and elegance, some purely comical situations arise under the TFT system. This is brought home most forcefully in the following description of the High Priest Faron-eld from Warrior Lords of Darok, in which it is stated that he is “Frail of frame,...” Yet, he has a Strength of 18 (!!!). To put this in the perspective of the TFT rules as written:
  • He can wield a Great Sword (the most powerful melee weapon available, doing 3d+1 damage), and yet is “frail of frame
  • He can punch you in the face for 1d+1 (equivalent to a warhammer), and yet is “frail of frame
  • He can lift 324 kg (that’s over a third of a ton...), and yet is “frail of frame
  • He can wander around in cloth and leather armor without penalty, and yet is “frail of frame
  • Per ITL, he can also pick up “...items of furniture, BIG rocks, etc., and throw them for (1+1) damage”, ... and yet is still considered “frail of frame

Geez! I wish I could have such a “frail frame”... I could arm wrestle Conan of Cimmeria and actually rip his relatively “puny” little arm off and beat him to death with it, if I so chose! I would sure hate to see what the module writers would have considered to be a robust frame...
Of course, the real problem here is that ST is used for both fatigue and physique, and since a wizard’s spells can exact a high price in terms of exhaustion “damage” (especially for the more potent spells), they are forced to bulk up like Hercules just to be viable spellcasters.
Naturally, I am hardly the first to notice this, and many house-rule solutions have been proffered to remedy this situation. They generally involve either creating a separate “Constitution” or “Endurance” type attribute,[1] or splitting ST in some manner so as to have a separate “Fatigue ST” (fST). These solutions will certainly work, but their general drawback is that they take away from the elegance of the basic TFT system.
There are three other approaches that have not really been proposed before, though. The first two involve the creation of new talents that allow for either additional fST points, reduction of fatigue damage or more efficient spell casting capability in terms of fatigue cost, while the last allows for using more than one IQ point to learn a given spell, which would give various benefits to include in some cases lower fatigue costs.
A straight-forward talent to add would be an “Endurance” talent, similar in concept to the existing “Running” talent, that could enhance one’s ability to take fatigue damage through yoga and other exercise. The in-game effect would in its simplest form be to arbitrarily add a few fST points to your total ST. Any loss of fST due to spells or other exertion would be taken from this, first. An alternative approach would either reduce the cost of the fST loss or spread it out over time better (or both). For example, a spell that cost 3 to cast and 1 to maintain might cost only 2 to cast and 1 every other turn to maintain. There would be at least two levels for this talent, maybe three. Adopting this approach would make the most sense if other fST costs and penalties were assessed for other strenuous activity, such as fighting for several turns, running in armor or running in general for long distances, etc.
Another approach would be talents geared specifically towards wizards. A truly skilled wizard may well be able to manipulate magical energies in such a manner as to gain the same “bang” for less fST “buck.” Using this approach you might have some sort of “Magery” or “Sorcery” talents that reduce the cost of casting and maintaining a spell (as explained above) and perhaps provide some other benefits as well.
The final method is simply to allow for “double” and “triple” memorization of spells, in other words, to practice them more intensely to allow the wizard to cast them more efficiently and/or effectively. Depending on the type of spell (T, M, C, or S) this allows for lower fST to cast, or perhaps greater effectiveness (or both). In many cases the wizard will expend less fST to cast the spell.
I have not settled on a final method, as each approach has advantages and disadvantages. I do kind of favor the multiple memorization of a given spell, which sort of treats each higher “level” of the spell as an advanced talent, sort of like UC1, UC2, UC3, etc., though I also like some of the ideas behind using talents, as well.
Bottom line, though, is that with these changes to the TFT rules you can make Lou Ferigno wizards a thing of the past!

[1] See especially Michael Friend’s articles in Vindicator Nos. 4 and 5.


  1. I ran TFT for a few years after it came out. I never liked spells costing ST (especially in original Wizard where it was actually injury!)

    What I ended up doing for the Conan-the-Sorcerer issue was to just say that you burned Magical Energy (aka magic points) instead of ST, with a total equal to your IQ. All other rules (recovery etc.) were the same. The idea was that it represented psychic rather than physical energy.

    The other major variant rule I adopted came about because it seemed to me that the number of talents was unbalanced. You needed a too-high IQ to get a lot, but a fairly stupid fighter like your average orc or IQ 8 brute had more than he needed.

    Talent points = (IQ-6) x 2. Talent points spent to buy talents based on the usual 1-3 point cost and spells at the usual 1 point for wizard, 3 for hero.

    Thus, an IQ 8 fighter get 4 talents and could get something like Sword (2), Shield (1), and Literacy (1), while an IQ 15 genius could get 18 talent points

    The third revision I made was to change "die at 0" to "die at -half ST" to help keep PCs alive a bit longer.

  2. The Magical Energy is an extremely good idea! I will have to think on that one, however. While on the one hand it is a very elegant solution, it does represent a significant conceptual departure from the original TFT. Also, it makes ST practically irrelevant for wizards. I don't mind ST being lower on the totem pole, but completely unimportant (or nearly so) is a different matter. Even dedicated warrior types have a need for higher IQ to learn certain weapons talents (two weapons, fencing, missile weapons, Unarmed Combat, etc.) so it is fairly important, even if less so than ST & DX. Under your rules, the only reason to build ST for a wizard is to avoid dying on the spot when someone swats you with a 1 ST Magic Fist... not a bad reason, of course, but not enough to inspire more balance, either. Still, David, this is a brilliant suggestion - very inspired!
    Talents: Yeah, this will be the subject of its own post in the near future. In addition to your observations, there are also realism issues and inconsistent logic. The best example are the UC talents, of which there are 5 that break the system in two ways. First, in the real world, unarmed combat masters are not "gods" relative to swordsmen, etc., nor were these Oriental inspired martial arts necessarily superior to their Occidental counterparts. Indeed, as the recent resurgence in Western Martial Arts (WMA) research has shown, many of the same unarmed techniques were actually used in Europe, recorded in the works of various Masters of the period, such as Talhoffer, Paulus Hector Mair, Sigmund Ringeck and many others. If anything, I would argue that the Western arts were somewhat more advanced then those of China, et al! But this is the lesser problem...
    The big issue is that, unlike all other talent groups, which usually have 2 talents (sort of basic competency level, and master level, for example Thief/Master Thief, Sword/Fencing, Priest/Theologian, etc.) the UC talents have FIVE talents from basic to uber-zen-master! This is completely broken logic, on all levels, and mars the otherwise reasonable talent system (well, that, and having to have Schwarzenegger the Philosopher in order to have a decent talent mix...). This is probably the one area that merits some more radical changes.
    Having said that I'm not sure I'm as enthused about your fix, though it is basically a workable idea. I'm more inclined to let folks get up to their IQ in talents for "Free" but have to spend experience points to purchase more talents passed that, up to double a figure's IQ.
    Changing to "die at -half ST" is a good basic idea. I am more inclined, though, to 0=unconscious, anything below that roll 1 die for each point below 0 as a save vs basic ST - if you succeed you are unconscious at that level until healed to 1 ST; if failed you die. I feel this is a nice compromise between the too lethal by far basic TFT system, but scaling better and making things a bit chancier. I think also this may fall in line with some optional rules for Physicker revival that were featured in Interplay and Pegasus (I think) magazines. Though your approach is really fine as is - I just don't want to make it TOO easy on the players...

  3. A good point regarding wizards needing a reason to buy Strength!

    One reason is be able to do some damage if they end up bucking trends and picking up a broadsword rather than a staff, but of course if they don't, as you say, they're just a bit tougher.

    A compromise that I have not tried is to use Magical Energy = (ST + IQ)/2, although I think it might work pretty well.

    I agree with you about the UC talents. Frankly, I recommend simply dropping all the ones above UC 2. They just represent some sort of silly "martial arts movie" fetishism that has no place with the rest of the game.

    Your death rules seem fine, and do preserve most of the original tension.

    I just found your average dumb orc or bandit tends to give too many talents to the IQ 7-8 crowd. Your average dumb orc or bandit whatever ends up having half as many talents as an IQ 16 genius ...which usually results in "super orcs" who have a whole bag of useful stuff they don't really need (especially as NPCs). As a GM, I didn't want to come up with eight or so talents for every orc - and I wanted to encourage my players who DID play fighters to have a reason for IQ 9 or IQ 10. Hence using something like (IQ-6) x 2 or whatever


  4. I'm coming late to this party, but a method I used to try and minimize this problem was to steal a concept of wound recording from SPI's games "Albion" and "Lord of the Rings."

    In effect, I had each player draw a number of boxes on his/her character sheet equal to the number of ST points s/he had; if you had ST 14, you had 14 boxes.

    Any time you took a point of fatigue "damage" (regardless of from what) you put a front slash (/) in the left-most box that didn't already have an "x" or a front slash in it. (More on those "X's" in a second.)

    Once all your boxes were filled with front slashes, and you took another point of fatigue, you went back to the left-most box that didn't have an "X" in it, and put a back slash in that box (\), in effect creating an "X" in that box. An "X" is an actual wound (not fatigue) which must be healed through the normal processes as opposed to being "recovered" as fatigue.

    Naturally, if you took actual wound damage during the fight, you simply placed an "X" in the left-most box that didn't already have an "X" in it.

    In effect, this doubled every character's ST for the purposes of fatigue damage. It meant that a guy with ST 9 could still be a pretty formidable mage. It also increased the tendency to try and keep your wizards out of the front lines -- wounds really reduce their effectiveness much faster, so you need to protect them.

    This also worked out well in terms of how much your characters could lug around with them, and all the other fatigue issues that crop up in your average fantasy RPG situation. If you choose not to rest and recover some of that fatigue, you just keep getting weaker and weaker....

    Of course, I never thought of the IQ as magic spell energy concept. That's actually amazingly clever. It also gives even more incentive to the wizard to raise that IQ! And if you combined the two ideas (doubling the number of fatigue points the wizard has so that his IQx2 equals his magical energy (mana?) reserves, my goodness -- a truly powerful wizard, with an IQ of 20 for those truly advanced spells, now becomes a magical monster with 40 points to use to power his spells...not including any ST batteries (though I guess they'd simply be magical energy batteries now) he or she might have available. Truly an almost impossible opponent to defeat if they had even one or two minions to protect them physically!