Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: Dungeon Fantasy 19 - Incantation Magic

Art takes up less than
1/6 of the cover now.
So earlier this year, I had accomplished having every single Dungeon Fantasy book to date reviewed. Yesterday, a new book came out and everything was changed, so I need to get on top of that. Dungeon Fantasy 19 is a meticulous massaging of the Ritual Path Magic system, streamlined and reworked to not be as fiddly as the original, and to support the existing niche protection of all the other classes. In the end what you get is a faster paced system that keeps the mechanical ability to be flexible but also integrates more appropriately with the Dungeon Fantasy attitude. Let's take a closer look.


This book is released as a 32 page pdf, with three pages of preamble and a two page index, giving us 27 pages of the good stuff. This is split into 3 chapters. The first 6 page chapter speaks to the occupational template Incanter which uses the new magic system, and building characters to use the system. Chapter two, 12 pages spells out the mechanics of the system. Chapter 3, 8 pages is a 39 spell long grimoire, perfectly usable examples in their own right, and good models for creating new spells for people learning the ropes.
P-Shaped table of contents.
This book is rules and mechanics heavy, introducing an alternative magic system often presupposes that. There is also a lot in the terms of content and catalogs, with one whole chapter dedicated to character templates, lenses, and abilities, and another being a decent sized grimoire. After that there is some guidance, and there is just the teeniest amount of fluff; the rules assume that Incanters are a rare breed of magic user (Unusual Background) and there might be some friction between them and other casters. There are no prerequisite materials for using the content in this book, but it has backwards compatible references to Dungeon Fantasy 4 and 11, and dual class lenses for all pre-existing occupations.
Illustrations are fine, but rare, and the cover is mostly text. Pull-quotes seem a little more sparse, but perhaps the page density didn't allow for more. Each chapter features an anecdote about the adventures of an Incanter character, Perri, which ends with a startling conclusion, so that's a fun bonus.
The system as mentioned before is a Ritual Path Magic derivative customized with several existing options, but also some completely new material. Some of the new stuff can be integrated into other Ritual Path Magic games, like the perks, and some of the simplified rules can be used in lieu of the originals, but some are tightly coupled to the Dungeon Fantasy assumptions. Likewise, a lot of content could be borrowed from Ritual Path Magic, Pyramid #3/66, or others, but spell costs will need to be adjusted, and references to specific paths will need to be massaged. One could look at it as a thorough case study in resizing the parent system to be more thematically appropriate for different settings, so if that's something you ever thought about doing, this book might give you ideas for creating your own custom derivative. Next time I play Dungeon Fantasy I really want to try using an Incanter.

Ritual Casters

This chapter defines the data for putting a character together - advantages, skills, templates, and lenses. It starts with a thought provoking aside on complimentary rolls, which I am thinking of applying to other Ritual Path Magic games. It talks about important advantages like Gizmos, for finding spell ingredients or pre-cast spells, the talent for the paths, and the prerequisite Unusual Background. We then go into a list of skills which allow us to use the system in a number of different ways, and a glossary in an aside. After that we have the main template, looking at the path skills taken, Incanters are strong enough from the get-go to do some world-shaking stuff that a beginner in some of the other caster occupations wouldn't be able to do... if the Incanter has enough time, that is. We then have almost a page of power-ups, many references to Dungeon Fantasy 11 and Pyramid #3/66, though the ones from Pyramid are included completely in the text, so at the very least, that's one reference you don't need to chase. It also explains some of the fundamental assumptions of caster power-ups depend on having energy from which to cast, which exists for Incanters, but is much less useful. Interestingly, energy reserve is an available power-up, but it requires a lot of energy to make a small difference. The book doesn't recommend any replacements though, I'd probably substitute more levels of talent.
The lenses section has the fun choice and marginal recommendations and warnings and includes all non-pyramid professions, and ends with a lens for other classes that would like to spec into Incantation, or create an incanter henchmen.
The first chapter succeeds at what it sets out to do, and is organized well enough. Maybe I am slightly greedy, but I wish the power-ups section was slightly longer. What's there is good, but it'd have been fun for there to be more. Oh well, if you do want to spin up your own, Pyramid #3/66 is a really good source of inspiration.

Incantation Magic

This chapter goes over the mechanics of the system, the actual rules to creating spells and casting them. It starts with the path skills which are similar, but also very different to the paths from Ritual Path Magic, the most obvious change is no analog to path of body (no stepping on the healer's or druid's toes) and no path of crossroads (no time travel or teleportation.) Parameters are also a lot more objective, making it easier to adjudicate spells quickly. For example, in Ritual Path Magic we would be told that "Lesser Strengthen Body" could increase attributes a "realistic amount," and "Greater Strengthen Body" could go beyond realistic limits. In incantation magic, we are explicitly told, "Strengthen Protection" can increase maximum HP by 20% for each level of talent owned by the player. There is no quibbling over how many HP is "realistic," just cold hard parameters. This is neither worse nor better, but it fits the pace of Dungeon Fantasy better. The paths are chosen to fit a combat and puzzle heavy game better as well. This means some spells are mostly impossible to do because they aren't appropriate for Dungeon Fantasy, and some colleges are broken up or consolidated to make 8 different ones.
If you caught it in my example above, Incantation doesn't have lesser or greater effects. If you don't know what that is, and you are interested in Incantation Magic, don't worry, it doesn't matter. It also borrows a lot from the Effect-Shaping version of Ritual Path Magic from Pyramid #3/66 which I gushed over in a post several months ago. This means less rolling and book-keeping... but also, if you really like the energy gathering version of Ritual Path Magic, you could easily sub it back into here... just saying... I wouldn't, but you could.
To back up a bit, I feel like I accidentally made the assumption that anyone reading this is initiated into the way of the predecessor system, but in case you aren't, here's a run down of how Effect-Shaping Incantation goes:

  1. From the data on pages 14-17 find out how many Spell Points (SP) are needed for a spell. Then use this number to find penalty against a path skill using the table in the bottom left corner of p.14
  2. Find out how long it will take to cast a spell by using the table on p.17
  3. Eg, without trying to spill the secret sauce, if you have a spell that costs so many energy points x and uses a Strengthen Protection Effect, it might have a penalty of -3, and take 5 minutes to cast. Typical starting skill levels via the 250 point template say that this spell ranges from pretty easy to very easy, because you will probably need to roll against a modified skill of 12 or better, worst case scenario.
That's the super simplified version of what you do. The system is pretty flexible so you can create all manners of attacks, buffs, support, and ally summoning spells, and the grimoire in the next chapter is a well worked example of several spells that one can crib off of and model from to make a slew of original spells, and when you get the hang of it and don't need the training wheels, you can start making some really cool stuff from the information on pages 14-17 and the list of advantages and disadvantages in the Basic Set can get you even further.
The rules for casting the spell are on p.17, and is basically an expansion of what I said in step 3 above, with rules to go faster at a penalty, slower at a bonus, what happens on failures and critical failures, etc.
After that we have a... full page aside? Is that even an aside anymore? Well, anyway, it's a page on equipment and resources that can make casting spells easier, including a grimoire construction kit, rules on magical components, and workspace kits, which mitigate the heavy penalty to creating "prepared castings," or what Ritual Path Magic fans will recognize as "conditional spells," in the field, a mechanic described shortly hereafter.
Because of how slow casting is, Incanters depend heavily on access to prepared casting. This is a mechanic whereby one does the long process of casting a spell ahead of time so that she can use it near immediately when necessary. 5 minutes to cast the weakest fireball would take 300 turns, for example, but as an incantation prepared ahead of time, this can be used instantaneously in the heat of battle.
There are three different types of prepared castings in the book with subtle pros and cons informing which to use at any particular time.
  • Incantations - the vanilla option, uses a "spell slot," can be used in a single turn, but can't be shared to friends
  • Infusions - an alchemical elixir, they don't use spell slots, and they can be shared among friends, even those that aren't magically inclined, but they require readying before using, and they can spoil quickly.
  • Scripts - like infusions, these can be shared to other users, but they must be capable of using incantations. These also use a spell slot.
After the prepared castings, we have some more advanced rules for special cases, like dealing with enhancements on attacks so that one can have a high Rate of Fire fireball, or a cone shaped snow storm, and divination effects to predict the future.
I think this chapter does a good job of keeping the system flexible, while also boiling it down to make it work for a Dungeon Fantasy game. Like Ritual Path Magic I wish all the important spell construction information could fit on one page, but it doesn't. At least it is a bit better colocated this time around.


This chapter is the spell list, of course. Before getting into the list, it has some guidance on customizing the spells to make them stronger or weaker depending on the given circumstances.
The spells themselves demonstrate all of the paths and mechanics listed in the previous chapter, which helps with getting into the swing of creating your own spells. Two interesting asides can be found in here: a blank slate warrior and a cross-reference for colleges to paths, which might not be exactly equivalent it warns, but it gives you an idea of where to look for some inspiration for new incantations.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

This is a refined and focused version of Ritual Path Magic that works very well for the assumptions of Dungeon Fantasy. Parameters and properties of incantations have different costs than those of rituals so even though you can probably use the Ritual Path Magic grimoire for even more inspiration, costs can and probably will be different, especially where lesser and greater effects are concerned. I think out of the box, the Incanter is built well enough to be competitive with a Wizard and, in her particular niche, definitely outperform a Wizard, with the time to prepare many incantations ahead of time. I think it's kinda funny that niche protection goes out of its way to keep Druids and Clerics relevant, but doesn't worry too much about the classes from Dungeon Fantasy 9 or the Wizard proper, but dunno why. The Incanter feels like a surrogate for the Wizard, and I guess that's just fine. If I get a chance to play Dungeon Fantasy, I really want to exercise this template.


  1. You mentioned that the incantation system uses some Dungeon Fantasy assumptions. How easy would it be to use this system in an Action!-style campaign that is a different genre, but still biased towards streamlined rules and fast play? Is it just a matter of building spells appropriate to the genre, or are there other assumptions that would need to be adjusted?

    1. It assumes that
      1) Healing can only be done (mostly) by one person in the group
      2) All animals and plants are handled (mostly) by one person in the group
      3) No one can teleport or time travel
      4) The majority of usage is going to be dealing with dangerous monsters and dungeons
      5) Economics are scaled to TL3

      If 1 and 2 bother you, you might be able to add more capability to the transfiguration college
      If 3 bothers you, you might add in the path of Crossroads from Ritual Path Magic, maybe as a secret path skill.
      4 is probably fine from your use case
      5 is just multiplying dollar amounts according to the ratios of starting wealth for your desired tech level and scale of wealth.


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