Making magic a risky business...

(Crossposted from G+)
Hey chaps and chapesses,

I’ve been looking at a way of introducing more risk to magic, without punishing the L1 Mage beyond their single spell per day. To do that I’m introducing casting tools to my campaign; that is, every mage needs to have a casting tool to successfully cast spells. What’s a casting tool? Why it’s a wand of course. Or a staff, rod, ring, or other thematically apt object.

If you don’t have a wand, you can still attempt to cast spells, but you have to make a Save vs Spells or roll on the Backlash table. So far so shitty for the wizard, it’s another object (alongside their spellbook) that they can lose, have stolen, etc. However, the upside is that the character is no longer restricted to their spell allocation for the day. Those numbers are what’s ‘safe’ to cast. The mage can, if they so choose, cast more spells, and even attempt to push their limits and cast spells of a higher level than they currently know – but the risks are great.

And here’s my problem.

I started with a d20 roll and some modifiers against a target value of 18 at L1. (This is ACKS, so it’s consistent with other L1 target values). Then I realised that there was already a system I could use – Saving Throws. Modelling the probabilities I came up with some charts and I’m wondering if they’re TOO risky. You can find them here:

My question to you, dear reader, is – You’re a Mage in this world. You know you can push yourself, and you know the odds – are they tempting enough for you to risk it?

If not, what kind of numbers would be tempting, without making it too easy?
I never want a 100% chance of success. And it should be possible to have a 0% chance of success if you’re really taking the piss (e.g. L1 Mage casting a L6 spell with no tools)

What are the consequences of failure? If it is just a lost action, heck I’d try casting every time I have a spare action. If it were something temporarily inconvenient, I’d try to use permanent high-level spells out of combat. I’d probably completely steer clear if there were curse-like consequences or worse.

Low level mages tend to have a lot of actions where they can’t contribute much, so any relatively safe chance of contributing significantly affecting combat will be very popular. Hm, throw a dart or try for a fireball at first level? I think the arcane experimentation tables in Player’s Companion might work for inspiration for REALLY BAD consequences. I don’t suggest anything that severe unless you really want to discourage mages from pushing the envelope (not too bad an idea for balance), but it’s a start.

There’s a sheet added to the google doc link that shows some of the possible consequences for failure. They’re not pretty… well, some of them aren’t.

Be careful about giving too many giant area-effect backlashes to low-level mages. We don’t want a fanatical 1st level arcanist over-reaching to the highest power blast spell he can think of in the center of the villain’s domain, until he succeeds or has a backlash that throws everything into chaos.

A few issues: How does the caster get these high level spells (they wouldn’t normally have such spells in their repertoire)? Either way, I think that there should be MAJOR restrictions on using higher level spells than normal since it can instantly destroy a game when low level casters get mid-high level spells (heck, sleep can be an “I win” button at low levels by itself).