Learning to Spell

A look at spell design for Winds of Magic, a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay supplement


This week, I turn it over to Dan Clark, a key member of the WFRP design team, and the Action Card guru – Jay

Hi, my name is Dan, and I always wind up playing wizards.

Well, that’s an exaggeration. Slightly. Mostly. Somewhat. But I play a lot of spellcasters, across all the games I play. And in my time I think I’ve learned some things about wizards, and what makes them fun.

Wizards are fun because they do something no one else can do. They can cast spells. In many game systems (and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is no exception), they have an entire game mechanic that exists only for their use - an entire portion of the game that only they can play.

In many cases, this makes wizards some of the most versatile characters around. Need a door opened? A bad guy lit on fire? A message carried halfway around the world? There’s a spell for that.

The Warhammer world puts a slightly different spin on wizards – one that I think is very interesting – with the Colleges of Magic. Yes, wizards are highly versatile, speaking in broad terms. But since an individual wizard is a member of a single College, and draws from a single Wind (unless he wants to be burned at the stake), his versatility is found within a somewhat narrow focus. Want a guy lit on fire? A Bright Wizard is your man. But that same Bright Wizard is not your man for seeing the future or communing with the beasts of the wood (you need a Celestial Wizard or an Amber Wizard for those).

When designing the spells for the various Colleges of Magic, I kept the focus and “feel” of each of the winds in mind, but I also kept that idea of versatility to heart as well. Every order needed to be able to contribute in a fight (after all, this is Warhammer!), and every order needed to be able to do more than just fight (even the Bright Wizards). But there would be little point in designing “Flameblast” over and over again and only change the name. So even the things that every order can do (like deal damage to a bad guy) had to look and feel and play differently, as well.

So that’s why, for example, the Amethyst Order has a theme of using the Willpower characteristic for both its own spells and for its targets to resist damage (rather than the more usual Toughness). That’s why the Jade Order deals wounds, fatigue, and stress directly, rather than dealing damage that can be reduced. And so on.

Also, I wanted each order to have a unique feel, with some of its own mechanical themes to go with its flavour and story themes. As a result, we have Amber Wizards who have unique mechanics for turning themselves into animals, and unique spells they can cast while in beast form. Gold Wizards use their recharge counters as a sort of “countdown” mechanic, where their alchemical transmutations and conjurations dwindle in power or brew into completion. Celestial Wizards foresight and intuition allows them to manipulate dice and recharge tokens in a variety of ways other wizards cannot.

If we’ve done our jobs right, then wizards of every order should have a variety of exciting and interesting effects that feel like they belong in that order and nowhere else. Here’s a sample of what’s coming at you to give you an idea…

Amber Order Magic

Amber Wizards possess the ability to transform themselves into beasts via action cards such as Form of the White Wolf. These transformations replace their physical characteristics and skills with those of their new form – which can differ based on whether the wizard is being conservative or reckless while assuming his beastform. While in beast form, Amber Wizards may only cast spells with the Beastform trait, however, they are not required to be in beast form to cast such spells. In addition to the mechanical effects listed on the various action cards, there are any number of creative or story-related uses for beast forms – for example, the raven’s ability to fly – that are not explicitly detailed. The GM and common sense are your guide for these effects. Many Amber Order spells use skills other than Spellcraft or characteristics other than Intelligence as their governing abilities.

Amethyst Order Magic

The Amethyst Order practices the magic of death and dying. The inevitability of death means that many Amethyst attack spells ignore armour or even the Toughness of their foes. Several Amethyst spells target an enemy’s Willpower or use the wizard’s Willpower to determine the magnitude of their effect – sometimes both. The Amethyst Order has several spells that are especially useful tools against the undead, particularly incorporeal undead. Overall, however, Amethyst Wizards are slightly less specialised in this practice than priests of Morr.

Bright Order Magic

The Bright Order specialises in the magic of flames, fire, and passion. No College has as many spells focused on dealing great amounts of damage, often to large numbers of targets at once. The more fiery magic he throws around, the more dangerous a Bright Wizard becomes, since many spells synergise with other Bright spells that are recharging. While most Bright Order spells are unsubtle and damaging, they are capable of much more. Some Bright Order spells are able to stoke the passions of their allies or enrage their foes. They are also capable of manipulating fire and heat for more than strictly offensive purposes.

Light Order Magic

Light Wizards are beacons of radiance and clarity. They see clearly, both literally and metaphorically. The Light Order is one of the very few College orders that are able to utilise healing magic to a limited degree. In addition, many Light Order spells recover stress and fatigue as a side effect of their soothing light. The Light Order excels at blinding its foes and dispelling darkness, which is extremely effective against enemies with sensitive night vision, such as Night Goblins. They also learn many spells that specifically target daemons or are more effective when used against daemons – note how Daemonbane inflicts wounds rather than damage. Take that, Chaos!


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