Sunday, January 23, 2022

Advice column: Spell Duels

The subject came up in one of the DCC communities. The OP was chagrined because they tried to run one in their game and it...did not go well. I felt for them. This is one of those "no amount of training will prepare you" situations. Not even the infamous Episode #11 of Spellburn will put your mind at ease on the topic, no matter how many times you replay it. But it will flow pretty smoothly in the wild, once you've done it a couple of times. 

I thought I'd share some of the tips I've gathered and turned into house/table rules. A lot of my personal preferences do not follow RAW. I know this genuinely shocks some of you. 

SPELL DUELS: quick and dirty
  • The minute it's announced, keep your thumb on Table 4-5: Spell Duel Chek Comparison [that's page 100 in your DCC RPG tomes, folks]. 
  • Don't bother checking the proposed list of 'this spell cancels these' on the previous page(s). That part is the most cumbersome. Just let it happen. 
  • Leave the spell results for them to look up. You've got enough going on.
  • Don't let anyone even bother looking up spell results until you get past the second spell duel table. (Remind players to not get attached to their rolls...)
  • Skip the momentum tracking. Harley was 100% on point with that advice in Isle of Dagon
  • I disagree with Mr. Stroh on a single bullet point: mercurial magic should absolutely take place, especially if it determines what die one player rolls for a spell check. (Admittedly, most other mercurial effects are generally atmospheric and just add to the chaos...but you can assign an uninvolved player to track that stuff for you. If there's a Phlogistonic Disturbance, it may come up.)
  • Due to the ensuing cacophony at the table as everyone tries to "help" you, don't be afraid to flex some authority as judge and do this part yourself. 
  • Back to page 100: the attacker [top row] is the one who instigated the spell duel...
Ignore the accompanying text. 
Stick to the table. 
You can do this. 
  • Draw a line between the total spell check results of the attacker and the defender (the one who was initially casting). 
    • If a die type listed in the connecting square, roll that die once and consult Table 4-6: Counterspell Power on the following page. 
    • If the square says "PD", things are about to go drastically sideways for everyone and there's nothing to be done for it but to press on with some improv. Sorry. Go to Table 4-7: Phlogistonic Disturbance on page 103 and roll 1d10 (no modifier). Some of the results end the duel right then and there, while result #1 has the duel continuing until one of the casters dies - and it happens in the blink of an eye for everyone else. 
      • If you roll a 1 here, and you're pressed for time, ask one of the uninvolved players to make a Luck check. If successful, bump the result to #10, determine the PC corruption (go with Major, just for the sake of keeping things rolling along), and continue the rest of the combat as normal. The caster(s) may choose to continue the spell duel, but it should continue at the same point in the next round of combat. 
      • If said Luck check was failed, make the player(s) involved cast again, immediately, and roll through the table checks again in quick time to determine who is knocked to 0 hit points first.

  • When a 3rd player chimes in - because they eventually will - instead of telling them no, or they have to wait until the first duel is reconciled, let 'em join in - but only if they haven't yet gone in this round.
    • Don't allow #3 to spellburn - that's taking way too much time out of play. 
    • Resolve the first contenders' results first, as above, and pull the following criteria: 
      • If neither original spellcaster had a successful spell by the end of the duel round, take the lowest adjusted spell duel result (that way I don't have to remember a # from 5 minutes ago) and use that as the defender's roll on Table 4-5. 
      • If both original spells succeeded after the counterspell results, use the reverse: the highest adjusted result from the first pair of spells is the defender's roll.
      • #3 is now the attacker. Have them roll their spell check and resolve as above.
  • If #3 crits (or critically fails) on their spell check, skip the first two tables and go directly to Table 4-7 (page 103).
    • If it was a nat 20, pick one from the list that isn't too devastating, AND allow #3's spell to go off as normal. This signifies that they're just casting on the coattails of a major phlogistonic event and didn't have an ounce of control. 
    • If it was a nat 1, roll on Table 4-7 while the player ALSO makes the normal corruption/misfire rules as per result 1 on the spell they cast. Yeah, I said roll this time, vs. picking a result. Please accept my personal apologies for tanking your game...or, hey, pick a result, or go as zany as you feel. Use this as an excuse to drop something you've had in your "eventually I'll do this in my game" folder onto the table. Make it your game.
  • If you get any guff about these calls, remind them that 3-way(+) spell duels aren't "rules as written", either!

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