Original Post. NOTE: this is a starter article derived from the original post. It will be refined in the future.
I was also thinking of ways to statistically require a fate point (inspired by some earlier threads on magic in SotC such as the LotR magic and the Mythos magic). The main realization I had, though, is that you can simply do that by making the difficulty of the roll scale up so that they will likely need to spend a FP to beat a difficulty. This approach would integrate better with the rest of the mechanics (e.g., you could use free tags from rituals, stunts to reduce the difficulty, etc.). If the spell roll for a spell must beat a minimum difficulty or cause a consequence, then players will be inspired to burn fate points to make sure they succeed.
My current thought: casting a spell has to beat two difficulties, 1) the normal opposed or unopposed difficulty to have an effect, and 2) the difficulty to escape a consequence. I'll call #1 the Challenge (it's just a normal maneuver difficulty) and #2 the Risk (though "danger" might be a better term). If the adjusted roll exceeds the Challenge, the spell has effect (e.g., does stress, places aspect). If it exceeds the Challenge with spin, it would create a sticky aspect. If it doesn't beat the Challenge, the spell doesn't work. This is all pretty normal. If the adjusted roll beats the Risk, then everything is fine. If it does not, then the caster takes a consequence.
The two difficulties may be uncorrelated (beat Mediocre to [Distract] everyone it the house, but beat Great to not be [Exhausted] by it for the rest of the scene). The things that change the difficulties may also be uncorrelated. Affecting a zone (perhaps with appropriate stunt) could increase the Risk by 2, but have no effect on on the Challenge difficulty.
Various options I'm considering (I expect this to eventually converge to something very flexible, covering a large range of powers, but still light on additional mechanics overhead):
- Add stunts to reduce the Risk (a la acrobatics) in various ways or of various trappings.
- Have Risk start at average (1). Perhaps turn that knob based on the campaign or dynamically to represent varying levels of magic (e.g., a ley line adds +2 to your Challenge result but also +2 to Risk). Perhaps the starting Risk increases for every spell in the scene or at least for every continuing effect you have. Perhaps it starts at 3 in a scene until you tag it to determine the best way to cast a spell ("ah the moon is high, you will have to invoke using the left hand…").
- Types of spells that have specific consequence severity associated with them. Thus, a spells with a large area effect might have cause Moderate consequence on failure (as well as having a high Risk).
- Rituals and/or material components as maneuvers to have free tags for the final casting roll. Potentially everyone in the ritual could contribute FPs. Some material components might provide a free tag or two.
- Having the Risk escalate quickly, thus essentially requiring stunts to reduce difficulties, or tags of personal aspects, maneuver aspects (e.g., free tags from rituals or material components), etc. to get really powerful effects. As your skills goes up, your flexibility and the power of effects you can cast routinely (e.g., without FPs or maneuvers) are increased.
- Spell casting with chase scene mechanics: declare your Risk, then roll; your Challenge difficulty can never exceed your Risk.
- Increase the Risk a lot for enhancements like range (+2 per zone?) and area effects (+3 per zone?), but provide stunts to reduce those difficulties.
- Integrate this with Landon's stress/consequence scheme. You take stress of the shifts by which you fail the Risk. In this scheme, most Risk difficulties could be hard, so you often take stress from casting spells. You can then spend consequences normally to not be taken out by the backlash. This nicely balances the flexibility of magic, while allowing some magic to be used routinely.
- Increase the Risk for each active spell the caster has. The amount of increase (e.g., +2 per active spell) will control how common ongoing defensive spells are, for example.
Example (assuming opponents roll 0 for simplicity): With some combination of the above, a small fireball (range 2 area 1 attack) would be Risk 8 (1 base + 4 range + 3 area). The local village magician (average +1) could get lucky (roll 3 or better) and fry an attacking group of orcs (fair +2) by getting a total of +4 (needs 2 stress against each), but he'd fry himself (he'd take at least 3 stress). BUT that same magician could prepare that one spell: pull out a little sulfur [materials], wield his wand [appropriate magical implements], and spend a maneuver casting [energies gathered] for a total of +7 (or appropriate rerolls). Thus, one a -3 or better, he'd take out the orcs, and one 0 or better, he would not be annihilated by the backlash.
But let's compare that with Zortho the Mighty: with Superb magic (+5) and a Wand of Dragons (arcane, +1 magic, +2 stress to attack magic), and a stunt Magical Reach (reduce difficulty of range by 1/ zone), he can blot the minions out with a -4 roll (-4 + 5 skill +1 wand meets their defense of 0+2, and the extra +2 stress from the wand kills them). His Risk is 6 (because the stunt reduced it by 2) so he takes no stress if he rolls 0 or better. Thus, Zortho can blow off lots of fireballs, occasionally spending a fate point to avoid stress/consequences. Another stunt (e.g., reduce the cost of AoE) and some serious preparation, and a willingness to take some consequences, and Zortho might be dangerous to an army….
BTW I'd probably have area effect also take a -2 on the Challenge (like the group intimidate stunt), since it skips past group bonuses. That would change the example some, but only in detail. I'm also impressed with how much easier it is to integrate some of these ideas given Landon's scheme.
Some scheme like the above would make a minion-level mage interesting and challenging but nothing like a real sorcerer. It adds danger in exchange for the potential flexibility of magic, and gives the DM knobs to turn to make magical life interesting.