Friday, June 15, 2012

Breaking with Tradition (Part 1)

Not a lot of time so this will be a quick post, perhaps with a longer follow-up...

Remember how I was talking about making stuff B/X compatible the other day, and how making combat "non-B/Xian" would possible make the thing look a lot different from "D&D" (and thus be a bit of a turn-off for folks)? Well, I decided I like my new idea too much to just junk it, and am re-working all the combat stuff (and thus re-visiting chargen as well) in my little manuscript called D&D Mine.

[that's not it's actual working title, mind you, that's just how I refer to it because, um, that's what it is]

It's a bit of a break with tradition but not really an extreme one...I think one could still use the old clunky initiative-D20-damage roll system of combat found in B/X. I mean, my game still uses hit dice and hit points (kind of). Of course, dropping a D20 in favor of a D6 makes me wand to chuck ALL the odd shaped dice in favor of sixers, which makes the whole issue of saving throws a thorny challenge to tackle.

[probably have to go back to Chainmail for ideas there, too]

But breaking those "traditions" isn't what I'm referring to in the title of this post. I am really, REALLY looking hard at the magic system of D&D. Well, magic systems in RPGs in general. I'm wondering if it's time for a f'ing sea change on the subject.

Does magic really need to be a resource mechanic?

That's how it's pretty much always been treated. Whether you're talking "spells per day," or magic points, or PPE, or fatigue, or endurance tracks or whatever, it seems like everyone's best idea of limiting magic use has been to make it a finite resource that gets used up over the course of a game session (or sessions). Why?

There have been some recent attempts to do away with this, none of which have been successful (in my opinion) of making a system I can live with. I don't think there's any finite limite to sorcery in The Riddle of Steel, but you have to be up on your chemistry if I recall (I might have to dig that book out later). I believe DCC allows a magic-user to continue to cast spells so long as he makes his skill roll (or whatever), but I don't want magic to be so random/humorous. The 5th Edition play-test allows MUs to cast an unlimited number of cantrips (including some once-1st level spells, like magic missile) but that just turns wizards into some sort of comic book dude that shoots lasers out of his hand...why is WotC so fucking retarded, for goodness sake?

A few years back (before returning to Old School gaming) I was struggling with the rules for my own fantasy RPG and trying to figure out a way to do magic in a fashion similar to literature and legend, rather than RPG or film. I was discussing with my (non-gamer) wife what her conceptions of magic and wizards (in the fantasy sense) were, what such a being would look like?

Would they have to be old or aged? No, there could be young wizards.
Would they be limited in wearing armor or using weapons? No, why should they be?
Is magic a "gift" only a few could learn? No, it should be something anyone could learn with the proper training. It might requires some brains.
Would casting spells age a person or cause them fatigue or pain or wear them out? No, why would it, unless they were otherwise neglecting themselves (like any other activity) would just be a tool one could learn to use.
Finally I asked (a little exasperated as I was looking for "game balance" issues) would there be ANY downside to being a wizard?

Well, replied my wife, wizards are a little weird, and they'd probably have a hard time interacting with people and getting girl friends...especially as they became more involved with "magical studies" and less in touch with the real world.

I didn't finish that particular game.

Okay, got to go...I'll get back to this topic in a bit.


  1. In some old stories, didn't magic cast over and over against an individual start to lose effectiveness after a while? Perhaps there's something in that for an RPG...the limiting factor comes from the abilities of a wizard's opponent(s), not from the wizard himself. So a magic user may be able to cast "unlimited" spells, but that doesn't mean that the spells are as effective every time they are cast. The more someone is exposed to his magic, the more they can resist? And perhaps there's people/beings that the wizard can't cast against at all until he reaches a higher level of skill? From all this I can see an increasing ability to "save" against a wizard's spells for NPCs/monsters, and perhaps a diceless mechanic where one simply can't cast spells against "stronger" foes. I think the thoughts come from my experience with Amber Diceless RPG. If you have access to that game at all, I'd suggest reading up on it a bit for some ideas, potentially. It's pretty different from "traditional" RPGs.

    1. this reminds me of a similar idea i want to use someday.

      "magical power" wears out if used the same way over and over again. creating a new magical effect causes this effect to be very powerful, if unstable. over time the effect will weaken, but any side-effects will be removed as well.

      unless a wizard wants to grow weaker he will have to use (and in the long run create) new spells all the time. if a system like this is used spell creation would have to be as simple and quick as possible, maybe even allowing wizards to create spells on the spot (with added "instability" of course ;))

  2. @ Drance: Own it, played it, love it...but I don't recall anyone ever using the sorcery or power words. Most players blew their points in bidding wars and the usual bloodshed ensued. I'll check it out.

    @ Shlomo: Minus the 'instability,' what you suggest is very similar to that once-upon-a-time RPG I worked on so long ago. However, I found it extremely difficult to articulate and codify rules for it, even rough guidelines, that didn't feel too arbitrary.

  3. Either you have an artificial limit on the ability of a wizard to cast spells or wizards are spell chucking superheroes.

    One or the other.

  4. Honestly, wizards need some sort of mechanic to protect other people from them. Fact is, being able to do virtually anything by chanting a few magic words trivializes the scope of the world and the utility of things like soldiers.

    Now, legions of wizard-kings battling each other in the burning wastelands of humanity? That's pretty awesome right there, like something out of Thundarr.

    Best ideas for spellcasting limitations I've seen/read/come up with include:
    - Spells exhaust the caster physically and/or mentally, meaning that overexertion will wear out the caster (and possibly his mind) permanently.
    - Casting magic reduces the lifespan of the user, requiring them to find ways to artificially extend life in order to retain their power for more than a decade or two.
    - Magic pulls directly from the life around it. Using magic causes plants to wither and die, people to come down with sudden illnesses, and can eventually turn a lush field into a desert.