[so, so tired…]
[by the way, little to say about the Seahawks game except hooray the season has finally started and it looks like we’ll have our QB for the foreseeable future. Whether or not there will be anyone who can catch is the same old story. Oh, and my son LOVED the game and yelled and cheered and clapped without getting bored, despite not having much idea what the hell was going on]
Okay, let’s get on with it.
Just by the way (before I begin) please allow me to say that I appreciate all the feedback on the recent posts, including the disagreement. Not only can it (sometimes) sway my mind, but it can lead me to things I missed before: for example, magic-user spells in OD&D (pre-Supplement) is quite different from the later (Vancian) take. Specifically:
- Magic-users are presumed to have access to ALL spells on the spell list (similar to a cleric). While they still have a set of spell books, each book (initially received for FREE) contains a complete collection of spells for a particular level. In other words, a 5th level magic-user would have three books: one with 1st level spells, one with 2nd level spells, and a third with 3rd level spells. If a book gets lost, the magic-user needs to pay to replace the volume.
- The number of spells an MU can be cast is the spells that a magic-user can REMEMBER from his (or her) spell books. An experienced (i.e. high level) magic-user can remember many more spells than a new magic-user. There’s no “morning study” or “memorization” that takes place at the beginning of the day; instead casting is based on real “memory” (which, interestingly, is similar to my own system as currently written). This has a couple interesting implications. #1 Low level magic-users are terribly ignorant or absent-minded (that’s what such a system models; not sure if that’s what you want to model). #2 Can MUs bring their books into the dungeon (i.e. risking their loss) in order to cast more spells?
- Per the rule book, no spell may be cast more than once per day/adventure. No particular reason is given, but this puts a stop to “doubling up” on offensive spells (like sleep or fireball). While this has interesting game play effects (MU players are forced to be creative rather than relying on old stand-bys; players have the ability to “count bullets” with enemy wizards: ‘Well, he’s already used lightning bolt and fireball so we know he can’t cast those anymore…’), it’s hard to think of a non-game play justification that really makes sense here. On the other hand, if you only get one knock spell or levitate per session it makes thieves’ abilities a bit more practical/useful, which is cool.
That’s kind of the point of my original series of posts: it’s not that any particular edition’s take on magic-users can't be used. An intelligent and creative player can do a lot with most ANY character. My two part concern is this:
- Can the character class be used consistently with satisfaction?
- Does the character class model what you want it to model?
[and, yes, some folks may wonder why I so stubbornly cling to a “class” system as opposed to moving to a “classless” one; this is a whole separate topic for a different post. Suffice is to say: at the moment, I feel that class-based is a very useful method of chargen for this particular game, and NOT because it pigeonholes player characters into particular “roles”]
With regard to the other question listed (“modeling what you want it to model”) as far as I’m concerned, this may be the more important concern, and for two reasons. First off, I think that a lot is forgivable (and, ultimately, playable) when one can put it in context. Why can’t magic-users wear armor? Um…because they’ll fry like tinfoil in a microwave when they try to cast a spell? I mean, if the rules of a class carry an in-game justification, it’s far easier to get into the role of the character archetype. Secondly, when going through the chargen process, it’s helpful to have the ability to draw on inspiration from other references (literary, cinematic, etc.)…at least somewhat. Of course, this isn’t always possible with specific fictional settings…for example sorcery in Moorcock’s Young Kingdom works in a very specific fashion, being accomplished through contact with and summoning of extra-planar entities rather than specific “charms,” “incantations,” and “spells.”
Okay. SO…keeping these two questions in mind, let’s talk about both in turn (with regard to my rebuild of the deconstructed magic-user class for my version of D&D Mine). We’ll actually start with the second consideration first:
WHAT DO I WANT THE CLASS TO MODEL?
Mmm…now I’m sorry that I didn’t get into my reasons for being a proponent of the “class” system, because some of this might not make sense without that context. Well, whatever…suffice is to say if every player character (PC) is an “adventurer,” then one’s “classification of adventurer” describes the character’s skill set. As in, the character has spent years training in a particular arena (or has a natural ability in a particular category) and this is reflected in the character’s “class.” CLASS describes what an adventurer IS and (in part) what TOOLS an adventurer has to work with.
Magic-users are users of magic. Duh.
But they are still adventurers. What can adventurer do? Well, a lot, actually. Adventurers are “combat ready” (they’re pretty good fighters). They have a heightened awareness and greater destiny/luck that helps them survive hazards (hit points and saves). They can wear armor, and wield weapons that don’t require sophisticated training (e.g. swords and bows).
They have a lot of “automatic skills” that come with an adventuring background: fire-building, using rope, climbing (non-sheer) surfaces, searching for traps and other hidden objects. Other skills may be available to them based on their individual ability scores (Strength, Intelligence, etc.), which represent raw talent.
Okay, those are the things magic-users have in common with ALL adventurers. What else can they do?
Well, they can use magic, which has to be defined by the cosmology inherent in your “fantasy adventure game.” MY game, for example, does not use Vance’s Dying Earth as a source, but rather a hodge-podge of mythology and literary tropes. Some of the things I wish to model include:
- Magic is a skill that is learnable by anyone (though only characters of the magic-user class have bothered to do so).
- Magical spells involve incantation and proper phrasing, as well as the proper mindset (i.e. “mental discipline”). Spells may be recited from memory or read from writing (scrolls, books, tablets, etc.).
- More powerful spells are more complex in incantation and require greater mental focus. They thus are more difficult to cast and take longer to do so. Spell-casters that rush the incantation have a better chance at botching it.
- More experienced casters are better at casting spells and have committed more spells to memory than less experienced casters.
- Magic spells are formulae that must be learned, taught, or discovered. Once a magic-user passes his (or her) apprenticeship, he is on his own in this regard.
- Anyone can attempt to invent or reinvent or steal a spell that is not known.
- A high intelligence is useful both for performing an incantation correctly AND for creating or “reverse engineering” spells.
- Magic-users can attempt to imbue items with magical might (i.e. brew potions and enchant magic items) though it takes a certain degree of knowledge (i.e. level of experience) to do so.
- Magic-users can attempt to counter other mages spells.
Magic in my game can be called “the subtle path;” powerful and versatile when executed with creativity. It is the path of the academic (and as such, magic-user characters may be a tad less hearty of constitution than other adventurers), and magicians should have a mystical or mysterious air about them. They are adept at “seeing things others don’t” due to their training…but it’s up to the individual player to correctly interpret what they see and make wise use of the information.
HOW CAN I MAKE THE CLASS CONSISTENTLY SATISFYING?
Well, this is a toughie to answer, since it really requires play-testing. I will say this: I have run a single session of D&D Mine with a magic-user class that met 80% of the above requirements (the one way I was still clinking to the old tropes was in disallowing the use of armor…the tinfoil-in-microwave deal), and the 1st level magician seemed to have a blast and had no complaints. Now this was back when I was still designing the game as a “dungeon crawl first” type adventure game, and since then I’ve been working on how to involve other stages of exploration (from the get go) but things still look VERY promising.
By the way, I should probably have pointed out in the beginning that I’m not going to be posting any specific rules here…at least not yet (sorry). I know that’s probably a bit disappointing for folks; however, if you stick with my own model listed above and go back to Chainmail and Men & Magic (volume 1 of OD&D) you can probably puzzle out something similar to my own system.
[on the other hand, I’m going to be looking to create one or more new play-testing groups in the very near future…if you’re a reader that lives in the Seattle area, keep checking this blog over the next couple-four days for a posting about “Players Wanted”]