The last time we virtually met, I shared some of my thoughts on high-level play, the fact that the grand majority of players don’t play those levels, and hinted and how I think that should affect the design of these games. And thank you for all the feedback on that article. Many of you chimed in to agree, share stories about your play, and one friend recommended Shadow of the Demon Lord as an ideal game for pacing and scope of a tabletop RPG. And I agree. I’ve shared this story before, but the designer of that game, the beautiful and talented Robert Schwalb, and I are good friends and kindred spirits. If you haven’t checked out that game, do it. If horror is not your thing, sit tight. He’s working on a more traditional fantasy version of the game called Shadow of the Weird Wizard, and I’m sure it’ll rock.
But now, let’s get back on track. Creating a fantasy game of the scope of Delve, there are several things that you must design. It’s a long list. Our collective imagination demands an ever-increasing array of options. My goal while creating the game’s Proto ruleset is to cover what I believe are the basics. There are four types of people (dwarves, elves, humans, and halflings), four classes (priests, rogues, warriors, and wizards) with expanded build options and itemizations. Part of that is arcane implements for wizards and other arcane spellcasting classes that will see the light of day through development. Implements aid spellcasting. While they’re not necessary for casting, they grant the spellcaster potency, flexibility, or other ability. I’ve created three main types of implements for the proto rules: wands, staves, and arcanum crystals. I covered how wands work in Delve a few weeks ago. Today I’m going to cover staves.
Because of the non-Vancian way Delve deals with spells, there is little need for the spell battery option typical of fantasy games of a certain ilk. Scrolls serve that purpose to an extent (allowing you to cast the non-sacrifice version of the spell consuming the scroll), and I was not interested in rehashing some sins of the past by having multiple spell batteries with discounts for bulk sales. The need for accuracy bonuses for single-target attack spells provided a natural hook for wands. But what to do with staves?
Staves, unlike other implements, make good weapons. When a wizard has to get physical, they can hit something with this big stick they’re lugging around. Giving staves item bonuses to accuracy and damage was just the icing on the cake. But what’s in the cake?
I do like staves with themes. They’re evocative, you can create some pleasing visuals to differentiate them, and they are great for both diversification and build solidification. If you decide to play a wizard that focuses on electricity mage, you can pick a staff that solidifies that build or choose a staff that’s off build to shore up your blind spots. Rather than staves being a spell battery, they could function as a spell reservoir.
Spells work differently in Delve. They are not fire and forget, though they can be sacrificed for a greater effect, countered, or disrupted, all of which end your ability to cast that spell until you rest and prepare. Spell batteries and reservoirs become more about flexibility rather than firepower. And this is the niche that staves fill. Each staff has a handful of spells that can be accessed through channeling. When you channel a spell, you swap out one spell that you know for the spell within the staff. While you use the casting actions and gain the effect of the spell in the staff, any consequences occur to the spell you channeled to gain that spell. This means that if you decide to sacrifice the spell, or it is countered, or disrupted, you don’t lose the spell in the staff, but rather the one you channeled.
Let’s take a look at a simple example of this: the staff of light.
While this staff is not very powerful, it is handy and iconic, and it’s a perfectly fine magic item to give out at lower levels. With the Heirloom general talent, you can even gain it during character creation (though you’ll probably be hankering for another lower-level staff with a little bit more oomph). For instance, Geldon, the iconic halfling wizard, gained the following staff using that talent.
As you can probably guess, there’s a lot of flexibility when creating staves of this sort. And it even provides room to recreate a particularly fun legacy staff that isn’t just for wizards and other arcane spellcasters.
As you can see, this is a perfect item made to revisit a certain grimy moathouse not far from a village that’s actually a hamlet, which I did in several playtest games I ran last year at various online conventions using Delve.
So that is staves in a nutshell. Today, over at the Delve Patreon, I’ve uploaded the entire staff section of the current rules available to Delver patrons.
Next time we’ll talk, look at the third of them main arcane implements: arcanum crystals.
Until then, stay safe, play games, and share smiles when you can.