Remove Spell Durations!

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Keeping track of every player and monsters 8 different ongoing spells is tiresome at best. Let them either be really neat for a round, or just last for the "Scene."
Sounds like house rule time for you, bud.

Eliminating spell duration is just...silly. I'm not going to bother trying to explain why. You want to do it that way, do it.
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Thank_Dog wrote:

2Chlorobutanal wrote:
I think that if you have to argue to convince others about the clarity of something, it's probably not as objectively clear as you think.

No, what it means is that some people just like to be obtuse.

d20 is one of the very few systems to actually a defined spell duration. And all the others function just fine.
d20 is one of the very few systems to actually a defined spell duration. And all the others function just fine.

And therefore d20 is wrong? Sorry, not enough. There are plenty of us (me included) who don't have problems with this. As I said before, house rule it.
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Thank_Dog wrote:

2Chlorobutanal wrote:
I think that if you have to argue to convince others about the clarity of something, it's probably not as objectively clear as you think.

No, what it means is that some people just like to be obtuse.

I've found spell duration to be a very dynamic component of my adventures. It's a little more work for me, but I think it adds enough to the game to make it worthwhile.

And as arderkrag, if you don't like dealing with spell duration you can do away with it in your adventures. I've known of a few DMs that don't use them; when a duration spell is cast for an encounter in their games, it just lasts until the end of the encounter.
Ars magica which is undoubtedly a game about magic and wizards have durations, so it does make sense.

On the other hand I think they will get rid of it most of the time. It definitely does not add to the fun, if you need to track 8 different duration. Most spell will have encounter as duration.
There's definitely a huge upside to this in that it's going to let keeping track of things eassier. However, it makes me think of an encounter I had just last night where half the enemies were blinded by glitterdust than were able to wait it out and come back with some destructive power when they were able to see again. So would a duration of encounter on most buffs and duration of rounds for negative effects get us somewhere better?
d20 is one of the very few systems to actually a defined spell duration. And all the others function just fine.

No, no it isn't.

Mage the Ascension, Mage the Awakening, and Exalted have lots of rules on durations, usually broken up into the time mechanics that White Wolf uses (minutes, Scenes, Stories, Chronicles). It's simpler, but it's still there.
Since we are now getting spells that we cast "per-encounter", I wouldn't be surprised if the durations on those also laster "for the encounter". Despite what all the naysayers in this thread are saying, it's true that the vast, vast majority of D&D groups handwaves all durations above a few minutes. Honestly, if I had a DM who tracked our movement speed, number of skill checks and words spoken exactly to figure out exactly when 17 minutes had past, I'd probably stop playing with him.

I think the game may benefit from a few spells with very short durations (3 rounds), but the scaling per round duration became pointless by mid to high levels. I don't think I've ever had a battle that lasted more than 12 rounds.
Things would be so much easier if certain buffing spells simply had a duration of 24 hours. Like Mage Armor. I am not talking about the higher powered effects that currently measure their durations in rounds. I mean stuff that lasts for hours anyway. Cast it and forget it spells.
Spells of duration X rounds, where X is greater than one, are a pain. The DM has better things to do during combat than check whether the SuperBoost cast in round 2 is still running, not to mention everything else. Such bookkeeping is fine for a computer, but not a human.

While I won't be too upset if X-round spells are in, I'd like to see combat durations kept to instant, 1 round, and encounter length.
So far, they have said that all classes get at will abilities, per encounter, and per day abilities. I am going to guess that buffing spells are per encounter or per day abilities. Because if they were at will, they may as well be permanent.

Anyway, I think that this means that many buffing spells with last for the duration of the encounter.

And yes, keeping track of rounded durations are a pain in the *****. On the digital tabletop, that probably will not be a problem, but I can't count the number of times the DM or the player has forgotten how many rounds x effect has been in play.

That is just the sort of thing that gets forgotten in the heat of the moment.
I always keep a single sheet, cardstock even, with spaces for each player character so I can monitor their HP, current AC, any actions they're readying, and the spells currently effecting them. I put a tally mark on them each time their round comes past. I use initiative cards, and one of the cards says "END OF ROUND", to make sure to make me check off rounds if I forgot (they'll all be the same at that point anyway).

Minutes and hours are harder to monitor.

Poe's Law is alive and well.

It's really easy to track the longer duration spells; you say "round x, spells cast, duration." and make a note on the battlemap or something.

I know this is hard for some people to understand, but D&D has a tactical combat system, not a story-based combat system. Removing spell durations because it is convenient for you is a choice you get to make as a DM, but don't impose it on the rest of us who happen to understand and appreciate the effect spell durations have in combat.
You know, I was thinking along these lines today at work, specifically to see how they handle buff spells, like bear's endurance and the like.(with the importance on magical gear supposedly diminished I suspect spells like this will become a bit more important later on in the game )

Currently, at a minute per level, its duration is likely to last through any encounter as soon as a caster can use it. The decision now becomes "Do I want to use this now, or wait till the next fight?"

I imagine at some point this type of spell will be a per encounter ability, now if it is usable per encounter, and last through each encounter, won't it be the same as having active all the time? The only balance i see is to make sure its not usable as a swift action or the like.
I have to say I have the same frustration. I have since taken converted spell durations to as follows.

Round = Encounter
Minute = Scene
Hour = All Day

Spells allow with negative affects I will often allow them attempt another save by taking a level of Shaken, Fatigue, Exhausted, Unconscious, in that order.

And no the World of Darkness example, for having spell durations, does not count. First, they are obviously talking about keeping track of the round to book keeping. Second, it already fits into the example given in the original post.
I guess I fall in the "hand waving" category with a few exceptions. I wouldn't be against these kinds of changes. The game would definitely run a bit smoother imho.
I concur about simpler spell durations. It doesn't need to be the default assumption--a variant rule in the Dungeon Master's Guide would be nice, though--but it's one of the things I'm not fond of keeping track'a.
And no the World of Darkness example, for having spell durations, does not count. First, they are obviously talking about keeping track of the round to book keeping. Second, it already fits into the example given in the original post.

In Mage the Ascension, many spells have durations in rounds, minutes, and Scenes, based on Successes spent on the Duration table.

Awakening works in Rounds, Scenes, Days, etc, but it still has Durations.

Exalted's got all kinds of funky rules on durations, including triggers (until the next full moon, until you meet a menstruating woman...).
I am all for spell duration simplification. But lets look at it this way:

The main problem I, and most people I know, have with durations is the sheer amount of work it can add. Even in mid levels its not uncommon to see dozens of spell counters going on at once. How long does that bless last? When does that web wear off? Is the bard still singing? It all adds up.

These are durations in general though. Not just spells. Perhaps what is needed is just more streamlined countdown rules. At the very least having more standardized durations would seem to help. I know it makes sense on some level that a more powerful wizard's spell last longer. But that alone adds immensely to the time it takes to calculate countdowns.

Now if every spell fit into one of three to five duration lengths, then knowing and remembering when they end is that much easier. Just a thought.
I'm of the opinion that a party of spellcasters should be no more of a headache to a DM than a party of barbarians.

Simplifying spell durations could be one answer, as could forcing players to track their own durations. Forcing all spells with durations to be "as long as concentration is maintained" and making it so spellcasters can have a limited number of spells active at once (scalable as they level) is probably a better way.

If a player forgets and happens to cast his 4th spell when he is only skilled enough to maintain concentration on 3? Add a manaburn effect or something similar. The player loses a bunch of spells per day or takes damage or the spell backfires etc...

If a system that simple winds up being unbalanced, you could make more powerful spells take more concentration slots. Maybe you need one free concentration slot to cast instant spells. Maybe you can cast a spell per round per free concentration slot (thus able to fill all your concentration slots in a single round, or else burn a bunch of instants). Whatever. It still puts all of the bookkeeping on the player to figure out if they have enough zots to cast a spell.

There's still tactics involved as the player is forced to decide what spells to drop in order to cast what other spells, if a single 2-slot spell is better than two 1-slot spells, if they need to keep any slots open for instant spells etc..
Keeping track of every player and monsters 8 different ongoing spells is tiresome at best. Let them either be really neat for a round, or just last for the "Scene."

I wouldn't mind very much if spells got six possible durations :
  • Encounter
  • 24 Hours
  • 1/day per level
  • Permanent
  • Instantaneous
I do not, however, think that removing the rounds per level spells is a good idea. Some spells really fit it. Glitterdust, for example. A lot of others would be better as "Encounter" duration spells, such as Blur and Displacement. Other spells, like Mage Armor and Undetectable Alignment should be 24 hour duration. Then you've got spells like Dominate Person that really should be day/level, at least. Things like Baleful Polymorph and Permanent Image should have a duration of Permanent, and there are quite a few spells that need an Instantaneous duration(Cure spells, Restoration, Ressurection, Wall of Iron and more come to mind). I don't really think that it's possible to make that list any shorter.
[LIST=1]1/Round Per Level

I can't see the point. By 5-6th level, spells which are 1 round/level would last for the whole encounter (usually), so why bother?
The reason for round/level is that those spells can actually wear off during an encounter.

Those spells are often very potent debuffs (glitterdust, evards, confusion, weakening effect of Blasphemy, etc). Using them means that if the person on the receiving end is going to win, he sometimes has to stay alive until they wear off. Many people who can cast them get only one/day and can't tack it on again.

Some are also very potent buffs (righteous might, animal growth, divine power, summon monster X) where turtling up and outwaiting the buff is a good strategy. (retreating, locking a door, fending off attempts to go through with battlefield control magic etc).

Turning all minute spells into "encounter" has the problem that you have to use combat actions to bring them up. Short duration buffs that last several encounters and can be cast before you "kick in the door" or "as the time of the rendezvous approaches" have their place in assaults, raids or battles.
I agree with the OP, I'd prefer spell durations using storytelling units as opposed to time units. The reason is that sometimes you've got spells that overflow the usual time units and can actually be cast for free. Simply because you cast it, then you rest and the spell is still going when you refresh your slot.

Other times you've got problematic buff durations, like 1 minute/level, that at high levels can overlap combats.

And 1 min/level durations effectively force the DM to measure time, all the time, whcih is a real big annoyance.

I'd love to see durations of 1 combat, 1 scene, 1 adventure or until next spell recovery.

The only thing that should have a duration of rounds are damage over time combat spells and the like, things that work for a fraction of a combat. Other spells should work on storytelling units.
I can't see the point. By 5-6th level, spells which are 1 round/level would last for the whole encounter (usually), so why bother?

Prep time. You can only cast so many round/level spells before starting combat if you want them to actually last, and that's a good thing.
I'd prefer it if most went back to either Permanent or Instantaneous durations. But folks weren't able to cast 100 spells a day then.
I like spell duration, I just don't want it to matter for every spell. Too much of it can be annoying.
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Solbergb brings up what's perhaps the strongest argument in favor of keeping X-round spell durations. I'll call it the "Tuff Buff" (which can also be a debuff). Something gives you or your party tremendous help, or severely limits your opponents. Can X-round spells be eliminated while keeping Tuff Buffs in the game?

I think they can. The trick is to realise that 'encounter' doesn't always mean for the length of the encounter. Tuff Buffs need to have a condition which, if fulfilled, ends them. If the condition's not fulfilled, they continue for the length of the encounter. An example in 3.5 is hold person, where a held individual can attempt to break out on their turn. Possible conditions to fulfil are these:

  • Break the caster's concentration.
  • Break the focus item maintaining the Tuff Buff.
  • Do nothing for one round but try to shrug off the effect (for spells like confusion)
  • Break the caster's line-of-sight to the target(s).
  • Force buffed individuals to move outside the caster's range. Some Tuff Buffs may not reapply themseves if the individual moves back within range.
  • Fill the area with light or darkness.
Solbergb brings up what's perhaps the strongest argument in favor of keeping X-round spell durations. I'll call it the "Tuff Buff" (which can also be a debuff). Something gives you or your party tremendous help, or severely limits your opponents. Can X-round spells be eliminated while keeping Tuff Buffs in the game?

I think they can. The trick is to realise that 'encounter' doesn't always mean for the length of the encounter. Tuff Buffs need to have a condition which, if fulfilled, ends them. If the condition's not fulfilled, they continue for the length of the encounter. An example in 3.5 is hold person, where a held individual can attempt to break out on their turn. Possible conditions to fulfil are these:

  • Break the caster's concentration.
  • Break the focus item maintaining the Tuff Buff.
  • Do nothing for one round but try to shrug off the effect (for spells like confusion)
  • Break the caster's line-of-sight to the target(s).
  • Force buffed individuals to move outside the caster's range. Some Tuff Buffs may not reapply themseves if the individual moves back within range.
  • Fill the area with light or darkness.

Heh, that's exactly what I was going to bring up.

You definitely need a very small list of possible conditions though, because you don't want there to be so many that figuring out what spells are gone or condition just changed is a task in itself.

If a condition track is used, then that changing along with the "bloodied" status would handle a lot of potential conditions, and those conditions are used throughout the game. I think that's definitely a plus -- you want to make conditions important for a number of things.

Beyond that, we don't need 1 hour/level spells or the like. Either make them last as long as the caster is conscious, until dispelled/dismissed, and/or until some obvious condition is met (sunset/sunrise, etc). It's magic, so the duration doesn't need to be set in stone per se, rather it is tied to the mystical energies in the world itself.

So ideally then, we'd want a short list of conditions characters/creatures can find themselves in, and ideally conditions that affect other aspects of the game.
Beyond that, we don't need 1 hour/level spells or the like. Either make them last as long as the caster is conscious, until dispelled/dismissed, and/or until some obvious condition is met (sunset/sunrise, etc). It's magic, so the duration doesn't need to be set in stone per se, rather it is tied to the mystical energies in the world itself.

So ideally then, we'd want a short list of conditions characters/creatures can find themselves in, and ideally conditions that affect other aspects of the game.

Yeah, Ars Magica has spells that end at sunset/sunrise. Could they work in D&D? I'd have to think about that. Since sunset and sunrise aren't precise time points (like midnight) but events that last a certain amount of time, you'd have to adjudicate just when in the sunset or sunrise they finish.

Perhaps you could say: this spell lasts for as long as the sun is in the sky. Or for as long as it isn't. I think spells that depend on environmental/weather conditions or the visibility of the sun/moon are wonderfully flavorful, and I'd like to see more of them in D&D.

A short list of garden-variety conditions for breaking powerful encounter-length buffs is a good idea. More unusual conditions could be saved for prominent villains where the PCs have time to research how to break the effect (e.g. the traditional 'invulnerable' foe).
Yeah, Ars Magica has spells that end at sunset/sunrise. Could they work in D&D? I'd have to think about that. Since sunset and sunrise aren't precise time points (like midnight) but events that last a certain amount of time, you'd have to adjudicate just when in the sunset or sunrise they finish.

That's a little silly, don't you think?

When sunset comes around, or sunrise comes around, the spell's over. Simple.

"As the sun starts to set, you feel the energies powering your quickened movements fade and disappear, much like the light itself."

If someone bickers over the exact moment it's gone, tell them it's gone now, so it's irrelevant.
What is probably likely to happen in 4e, given the nature of per-day, per-encounter, and at-will spells and abilities, is that durations will be consolidated.

In addition to Concentration-based spells, you would have:
"At will" Spell or Ability Duration: Instantaneous, Encounter, or Day (24 hours)
"Per Encounter" Spell or Ability Duration: Instantaneous, or Encounter
"Per Day" Spell or Ability Duration: Instantaneous, Encounter, or Day (24 hours)
Normal Spell or Ability Duration: Instantaneous, Encounter, or Day (24 hours)

They might keep around the notion of a 1 round duration, however, but its likely that 1 round / level, 1 minute / level will become "Encounter." I would guess 1 hour / level and 24 hours become "Day" long.

Most of the current 1 round / level or 1 minute / level spells are 'encounter spells' already. There are already day-long buffs (both from classes like the Warlock and many fundamental buff spells like mage armor [essentially all day], endure elements, etc.) I think this would be a good middle ground and fit with the new spell (ability) system.

Harliquinn
For all of you saying "Oh, let's just make it an 'Encounter' duration" spell, keep in mind that the length of an encounter is changing in 4e.

There will be more enemies to fight, and they'll be relatively tougher than in 3e. This inevitably means that the combats will last longer than the three or four rounds that they take in 3e.

I, for one, much prefer the tactical complexity of having to keep track of spell durations, because the effect on the battlefield makes the outcome of combat uncertain.

If you know that your movement blocking spell is going to last for the entire combat, no matter how long the combat takes, then there's no incentive to time it or indeed to think; you just drop it as soon as possible.

Being a spellcaster should require you to think ahead before you cast a spell. Removing "per round/minute" spell durations eliminates a major part of that.
Things would be so much easier if certain buffing spells simply had a duration of 24 hours. Like Mage Armor. I am not talking about the higher powered effects that currently measure their durations in rounds. I mean stuff that lasts for hours anyway. Cast it and forget it spells.

I dissagree. It should use up your defense ability. Similar to a "stance" from ToB9S, in that you only can have 1 or 2 active at any one time. That could, very easily, represent buffs in 4e.

Lengthy personal buffs anyway. Buffs (stat increase, haste, etc.) are probably /encounter abilities, and probably will last 1 encounter or 5 minutes, whichever comes first. Personally, I'd have it so you can not recover that ability until the duration is over. That would keep it balanced.
24 hour spells will have to be 'per day slots.

Per Encounter spots do need some kind of level-based variant but I think giving the opponent an additional saving throw as an action to reduce the effects of the spell is a better and more dramatic method. Of course that supposes that saves are level based, which I would prefer to the DC element of 3.5.
If you know that your movement blocking spell is going to last for the entire combat, no matter how long the combat takes, then there's no incentive to time it or indeed to think; you just drop it as soon as possible.

IMHO buff spells should have encounter duration. They are best deployed in the beginning anyway. It is best to strike first and hard, isn't is.
As for non-damaging combat spells (e.g. movement blocking), as others suggested and as hold person is in 3.5 there will be other mechanism to shrug it off/overcome.
I think that a slew of thematically appropriate "conditional durations" ala Ars Magica would make D&D spell casting slightly cooler.

The standard Ars durations are:

  • Momentary: the spell has no appreciable duration (like fireball and the like)
  • Diameter: the time that it takes the sun or moon to cross its own circumference
  • Concentration
  • Sun: until the next sunrise or sunset
  • Month: until both the new moon and the full moon have crossed the sky
  • Year: until the both the summer and winter solstices have taken place


(If an Ars character is initiated into the mysteries of faerie magic, spell timing, hermetic astronomy, or several other secrets they will have more options to choose from, and, even if they don't have any secret knowledge of esoteric magic, characters can develop spells with non-standard durations, it's just somewhat more difficult)

I think that if there were a fair proportion of fourth edition spells that conformed to astrological condition durations you'd have more cool flavor with spell casting even if lots of "1 round per level" durations were kept.
I've never had a problem tracking spell effects in combat.

If it has a duration in rounds, you simply write the spell name in on the initiative chart next to the spell casters name, with the number of rounds it lasts next to the word. Each round, you give it a hash mark.

Longer durations - like mage armor - are even easier. "We'll watch the cave opening for a couple of hours" "Okay - after two hours of observation your mage armor expires."

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So far, they have said that all classes get at will abilities, per encounter, and per day abilities. I am going to guess that buffing spells are per encounter or per day abilities. Because if they were at will, they may as well be permanent.

Anyway, I think that this means that many buffing spells with last for the duration of the encounter.

And yes, keeping track of rounded durations are a pain in the *****. On the digital tabletop, that probably will not be a problem, but I can't count the number of times the DM or the player has forgotten how many rounds x effect has been in play.

That is just the sort of thing that gets forgotten in the heat of the moment.

I tend to agree. It only makes sense. You could also have some spells depend on Concentration checks or whatnot. So, this spell is up...until the wizard gets pegged, then he has to see if he loses it. Event-driven checks are easier to track that time-driven checks.
My group has already changed it so that buff spells only last the encounter.

'Hey, how long has my barkskin going?'

'I think an hour and a half?'

'No, remember we stopped off for a slushy, so I'm thinking an hour and 47 minutes…'