Thoughts on Adapting Worth the Candle for Tabletop RPGs, Part 3: Gold Magic, Revision Magic, Still Magic, Warding

Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

Gold Magic

I think this one is definitely the hardest of the magic systems to adapt, mostly because by its very design it’s entirely antithetical to tabletop design philosophy. That said, I don’t think it’s impossible, just difficult.
A gold mage has tactile telekinesis, which grows in power the more gold they have stored. Tabletop games tend to have loot progression and level progression, and the problem with a gold mage is that loot progression is (or should be) level progression. Worse, gold mages are a deal-with-the-devil type thing, with several demands placed on them by the magic which need to be heeded in order to retain the magic. This naturally interferes with a player character’s desire to go do other stuff, and can’t really be abstracted to something done during downtime without losing a bunch of the flavor.
The easy adaptation of gold magic is to just make it similar to the 3.5 D&D Oath of Poverty from the Book of Exalted Deeds, or the Forsaker prestige class. Both of these require player characters to give up magic items and loot progression in general, and in exchange, are quite a bit more powerful than other options to make up for it. Oath of Poverty also happens to be one of the most notoriously broken systems in 3.5, because it’s really hard to completely change a core balance component of the game. Of course, you still have the problem of the gold mage’s level ups happening roughly at the same time as their acquisition of gold, and all the problems of a party who probably wants to split their earnings in an equitable manner, and the gold that the gold mage needs to basically just sit on causing interparty conflicts … but that’s all stuff that you could probably deal with, some through talking it out with the players, some through letting it ride, and some through the magic of abstraction. The easiest way would probably be to just tell the gold mage that they take their share, but it goes into their vault or gets sold off with the gold going into their vault, and there’s no real call of the gold and/or actual gold progression to deal with. Loses lots of flavor though.
A different, more interesting way to go might be to simply have the gold mage on a different track from everyone else, playing their own game while the rest of the party continued on a normal progression track. The gold mage would still level up, and still get at least some benefits from it, but they would be tied to their wealth in a way that other character classes aren’t. This would have a whole host of problems, but at least those problems would be put forth in a more straightforward and interesting way, one that might get everyone on the same page. It also has a fair bit of flavor, as well as ludonarrative resonance.
Mechanically speaking, gold mages should get bonuses to their defenses, weaponless ranged and melee attacks (though ranged are somewhat debateable, and in-universe one of their more difficult use cases), effective superstrength, and finally, flight. How you’d structure this depends on the tabletop system, but because power keeps increasing, you can have different tiers. In-universe, gold magic has three progressions, the first being skill with the tactile telekinesis, the second being management of the call of the gold, and the third being gold progression which increases the actual force that you can generate. I think merging these all together is sensible, but if you’re allowing loot progression to decouple from level progression, then you could split these up on a mechanical basis.
Finally, the call of the gold should have some impact on the story. Without that, you’re losing a fair bit of the flavor. Of course, since the gold mage is only a single one of the party members, you shouldn’t dip into that well too often, but some sample complications:
  • A caravan is coming by and the call of the gold is directing the gold mage toward it. Either the gold mage steals it, or they try to make up for the shortfall.
  • Someone with a spare bar of gold or two is trying to manipulate the gold mage, setting up traps for them which they’re forced into, but might only beat with the help of the party.
  • A gold mage’s gold has been stolen, and they have to get it back before they’re stripped of their powers entirely.
  • A gold mage’s loyalty to the group is tested, and might put him in hot water if he doesn’t steal and/or drive an exploitative bargain. Similarly, a gold mage might be spurred toward violence, even when that’s against his alignment and/or values.
Wait, actually, there’s something else that needs to be dealt with: what happens when a gold mage gets stripped of their power? The threat is always there, looming, and in-universe, gold mages eventually can’t keep acquiring more gold because their power isn’t scaling fast enough to reach demand. In some ways, this is the sword hanging over the head of the character that makes the archtype work, so I might liken it to a paladin following his code. The big difference is that a paladin can do a quest of atonement if they fail in some way, and a gold mage is stuck as unmagical forever after, effectively dead as a character unless you give them some alternate path. I personally like the “essentially death” approach, since it provides a real penalty, but that’s kind of my jam, and won’t work for everyone.

Revision Magic

A revision mage can cause localized reversal of physics, with some asterisks. This is actually one of the most TTRPG developed of the concepts, since revision mages showed up a few times in a campaign that I was running, and though they were always NPCs, there were a lot of questions about how they functioned, and one of them ended up traveling with the party for a session.
The revision mage has a strong thematic grounding, the ability to undo things, which results in a wide mix of game-mechanical powers. The revision mage can heal people, so long as not too much time has passed. They can mend or restore things, so long as those things haven’t moved too much. They can game social situations, so long as they’re skilled or augmented enough to do their thing without anyone noticing. And in combat, they can negate all kinds of effects, as well as getting second shots at using limited resources.
Personally, I think the best way to make a revision mage is just to look at all their potential abilities, then think about how difficult each of those are, then think about game impact, and slot them into progression somehow, or whatever exists in your local equivalent. In D&D terms, I would model them as a half-healer, similar to a paladin, with a lot of focus on the immediate rather than the long-term. A revision mage is great if you want to heal a wound that was given six seconds ago, but they’re not so great if you’re sitting around a campfire hours after the battle is over.
In terms of some general rules:
  • Revising for a longer period of time is harder.
  • Only whole things can be revised.
  • Use of revision is automatic in a few cases (e.g. death).
  • If you want to revise a process, you need all the parts (e.g. fire is hard because air and smoke escape).
  • People lose their memories on revision (but the revision mage can opt not to, if they’re good enough).
  • A good enough revision mage can do partial revision (i.e. only some of the physics get reversed) but this is tough.
None of these are really set in stone, and a few are only ambiguously canon until the worldbuilding doc comes out, but they can help to resolve some of the corner cases.
Mechanically, there are two paths I think you can go down:
  1. Revision magic is like being a wizard. You have a list of “revision effects” along with how much they cost you to use, and you only get a few of them per day. “Revision effects” can be better or worse, drawing more from your “revision pool”, which is either a points-per-day deal or similar to spell slots. I think this is pretty easy, and the easiest way to build it would just to be to comb through spell lists and see which of them can be revision magic flavored in some way, possibly with additional time limits. The revision mage also gets some ad hoc play with his revision magic for mostly minor effects. (This is the easy approach, especially if you do the comb-through-spells approach to revision effects.)
  2. Revision magic depends on the action economy and the element of time for balance. This means that a revision mage has infinite healing … but that’s pretty much all he’s doing with his turn, and it only works to heal things that happened last turn. A revision mage like this would risk outclassing a dedicated cleric as primary healer, but would at least have pretty severe limitations, depending on how harsh you want to make the costs. (You could limit the healing, just to keep things balanced, but that’s a little bit out of flavor.) If you’re balancing almost exclusively on how much time and attention revision takes, you have to be a little bit careful, but I think it’s the more flavorful approach, and it allows more wiggle room for the player to be cool.
There are a couple of big drawbacks to revision mages, at least in terms of how they play. The  first is that you have to track what happens, at least to some extent, because if someone gets stabbed for 14 damage, and the revision mage undoes it later on, you need to remember or be able to check that it was 14 damage and not 15. Easy in an online game with logs, but it’s a bit of extra bookkeeping for everyone if done at the table. More worrisome than numbers is movement, as battlefield control is a go-to power for the revision mage, reversing people back along the path they took. It’s nothing impossible, just a little cumbersome.
The only other big consideration for a revision mage is whether or not you’re going to allow social manipulation, and if so, how much and how difficult it will be. Canonically, people lose their memories if they’re revised, and if you wanted to avoid the social implications, you could patch that out and not have a problem. If you leave it in though, you run into the difficult problem of being able to undo conversations or parts of conversations, and being able to torture people for information without them even being aware that they’ve been tortured. In-universe, some of this is mitigated by the nature of revision, which leads to discontinuities that everyone important knows to watch out for, but that’s not something that you can wholly rely on, not when there are ways to ameliorate the problem.
So what do? I was running NPC revision mages, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but players replaying conversations or trying brutal/risky things that they know they can undo … well, it would probably be neat and novel for a session or two, but after that I think it would overstay its welcome and overshadow other stuff, particularly because the revision mage is one character of many. Maybe you’re okay with the gameplay implications, but I wouldn’t be. Unfortunately, having everyone watch for “jump cuts” doesn’t necessarily work all the time or even all that well, but I’m not sure what the best solution to the problem is, assuming you would allow the social aspect in at all. (Having lots of people around as witnesses is also a solution, but also not a reliable one.)

Still Magic

The immovable rod is my second favorite magic item from D&D, which is why Worth the Candle has both immobility plate and still magic. Mechanically, still magic is pretty simple; it lets you stop things, which gets expanded to stopping ‘change’ generally as it grows in power and becomes more conceptual. There’s a good reason that it’s in this part, as it’s got a pretty strong mechanical overlap with gold magic, essentially ditching the ‘call of the gold’ restriction and dependence on wealth in return for having a small fraction of the power. It’s still ‘tactile’ but has little in the way of offensive uses, which makes it more niche, and in some ways more interesting (though gold magic is already restricted in a lot of ways).
Progression for still magic is a lot more linear and follows TTRPG conventions much more clearly. In simulationist terms, the still mage can apply X pounds counterforce within the reference frame of the plane. In game mechanical terms, this means that a still mage’s most used ability is probably reducing damage by a set amount (though that would be a fairly big abstraction, because different weapons require different amounts of force to do the same damage). The second and third biggest applications in a dungeon roleplay setting are battlefield control and touch attacks, though the order of those is largely dependent on implementation.
In game-role terms, the still mage is almost certainly a tank, given their ability to negate damage, their ability to hold enemies in place, and the up-close nature of their magic. I would think that they should be balanced against a traditional full-defense fighter or something like that in terms of Armor Class, damage reduction, and general damage mitigation, though depending on which system you’re playing in, defensive fighters make much worse tanks because they can’t control the battlefield or draw aggro in the same way that a still mage can.
Note: I think that classes like still mages are thematically cool but not all that fun to play, in the same way that I think fighters aren’t all the fun to play, even if they’re a fighter with a fair number of stances, maneuvers, or whatever to give them more options in combat. Still, I think that this is how you would want to do them, along with some rules for non-combat applications of the magic and circumstantial bonuses to various skills (anything climbing is probably a lot easier).


I’m not actually sure that a pure warder character is ever going to make sense in a TTRPG. Warders in Worth the Candle have a limited supply of replenishing magic (concordance), which wouldn’t be too hard to adapt, but the only thing that they do is build, break, or deform wards, which are static defenses. Most combat in TTRPGs isn’t defensive, but even in defensive combat, the warder needs to be doing their warding ahead of time, meaning that they’re dead in the water in the middle of combat. The group’s warder in Worth the Candle is Grak, and he fights using an entad axe, rather than fighting using his wards, with very few exceptions. The other primary trait of a warder is their ability to see magic, which in D&D would be equivalent to a permanent detect magic, and in a TTRPG setting, that’s not all that good, especially since it’s a benefit to the whole party rather than the individual character, again leaving them with very little to do much of the time.
So how do you adapt them? Well, if you don’t want them as an NPC class, I think you have a few options. The first is to leave them mostly how they are and just deal with it, but the warder is going to be effectively locked out of any battle, or just doing stuff using their base stats. As someone who has been in the position of being a wizard whacking things with my quarterstaff, I don’t think I would recommend it. The second is to do what’s traditionally done for pure support roles, which is to add on as much additional offense or defense as necessary so as to not make them useless in combat. Every warder would wear heavy armor and they would be halfway competent fighters, even without the backstory to justify it (or because the worldbuilding has changed such that they all do physical training). Third, you can change warding so that it allows the equivalent to attacks, which is generally not the case in Worth the Candle. If a warder can put up an annihilation ward inside a person’s body, they can kill them pretty easily, which I suppose you could model as being an attack that was like a spell.

A secondary (and to my mind, lesser) consideration is that warders are capable of seeing magic. There are probably some ways to twist and warp this, like by allowing them to make deductions in combat or give useful advice to colleagues that provides a circumstance bonus, but that’s a stretch, and it kind of depends on what magic system you’re going with in whatever campaign you’re transporting the warder into.

Incidentally, the kind of wards that a warder can make will depend on what your magic looks like, and it’s going to be hellish to balance, because wards need to “cost” different amounts in accordance with their utility, lest the warder keep putting up the same three wards for every situation.

I honestly don’t have a good answer for warding, not one that keeps to the spirit of what it is in Worth the Candle. There are lots of ways that you could change warders so that they’re something closely related, but I think the best solution is probably just to have them be an NPC class, taken with for their expertise when some heavily warded tomb needs to be broken into.

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Thoughts on Adapting Worth the Candle for Tabletop RPGs, Part 3: Gold Magic, Revision Magic, Still Magic, Warding

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: