Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Spell Works (Part 1)

A few random notes first.

RE Sport: Congrats to the US national team in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in convincing fashion (and right on to all the gringos that came out in Columbus to support the team; I fully expected the stands to be a sea of green). Condolences to Mexico, birthplace of my wife…however, if you don’t get your shit together you’re not going to go far in Brasil anyway, even if you do make it through the New Zealand play-in. Jeez, Tri!

In other news: the Seahawks look good, and the Mariners have gone down the toilet. What else is new?

RE 5AK: All thanks to a couple people who’ve pointed out typos in Five Ancient Kingdoms. While I can’t correct the print copies at this point, the PDFs have been corrected and you can download the updated versions from DriveThruRPG…assuming you’ve purchased the PDF version (Book 1 and Book 2 are the only ones that needed fixing).

RE “Patriot Day:” Did you know how much gasoline costs in Venezuela? $0.25. That’s not $.25 per gallon; that’s $.25 per tank…like to fill up your SUV (lot of SUVs in Caracas) costs a quarter. Granted, Venezuela has reported oil reserves more than ten times that of the United States (276 billion barrels to 26 billion), but it costs me $50 to fill my fuel efficient car. Just a bit of trivia for folks.

Okay…back to work.

In yesterday’s post I said to “consider the desired end result.” What do you want wizards to look like in your game? Me, I want geezers and crones. Now, I realize that advanced age is no guarantee of knowledge or (Lord knows) wisdom, but for my money I want it to be a (usual) requirement of the former (i.e. knowledge) at the very least.

I also wrote that I didn’t want magical skill to be based on some sort of genetic hiccup…my fantasy world isn’t one of “muggles” versus magic-users. Most people just don’t have the time or inclination or resources or opportunity or dedication to learn the magical discipline. That’s why magic-users will tend to be older geezers – save, perhaps, for the occasional young prodigy or failed apprentice. However, these latter two will be exceptions to the norm, even as magic-users themselves are exceptions to the non-wizard populace. Got that?

All right, now that we’ve got that down, the next part of our design process is to consider the cosmology of our fantasy world. We know what our magic-users look like; now, we need to know what magic itself looks like. Not only that, but we need to start asking (and answering) questions about the game mechanics regarding magic spells.

Now just by the way, let’s understand that I’m not being incredibly original here: pretty much every fantasy heartbreaker published has provided a new and different magic system (i.e. different from the Vancian magic system in D&D). My gripe isn’t with Vance or his fantasy world…or even with the many worlds of D&D (Greyhawk, Eberron, Krynn, whatever). I just want something different for me, somewhat steeped in the lore and mythology of our own world’s pre-D&D fantasy.

Cosmology is the important word here, and probably one that requires its own separate post. What I mean by the term is figuring out how the “laws of the universe” works for your particular game world/system. For example, here are some of the aspects of magic in Five Ancient Kingdoms:
  • Spells are ordered in degrees of magnitude (i.e. “spell level”) just like D&D
  • “Miracles” are divine favors granted to saints and holy men. Magnitude measures greater miracles. Miracles don’t allow saving throws and are generally permanent in nature. There are a limited number of favors a deity will grant to a saint, with more prominent characters (i.e. higher level PCs) gaining more attention.
  • Magician spells tend to be transitory in nature and allow saving throws to resist. They wreck reality (or the perception of reality), but fade and are generally non-permanent. There’s a greater variety, and magnitude reflects the difficulty of learning and casting spells (higher magnitude are more complex and take longer to cast).
  • Spells are a product of knowledge; a magician may have committed some spells to memory and may have others in a written form. There is no limit to the number of times a spell may be attempted, but it must be performed correctly to take effect.
  • Witches' spells, being tied to the material world through their physical components can produce some of the same permanent effects of divine favors, though unlike miracles they still need to be performed correctly and they may be resisted (saving throws) like any magician spell.
  • While divine favors are granted, magician spells must be learned, found or created through research. Low level magicians begin apprenticed to a wizard who will teach them some magic; sorcerers are taught their magic by a demonic tutor who sticks with them throughout their career.
  • Spells (divine or not) generally produce magical effects…they do not deal damage like spells in D&D. Dealing damage is usually a product of combat (sticking people with a sword).

This cosmology works with 5AK because it works with the setting…it models what I want it to model. It does not include rules for long-bearded geezers because, well, magicians in Arabian folklore (especially female magicians) tend to be younger, spryer folks than what you find in northern European folklore (their not basing their archetypes on Wotan/Odin, I guess).

But now I am looking at that type of model so I want to take apart the cosmology and see how to make it work for this new system and the first order of business is this: abstract magic or specific?

Specific magic means “specific spells:” spell lists in other words. This is what you find in most fantasy RPGs, whether you’re talking D&D or Palladium or Warhammer FRPG. Often spells are listed by level (what I call magnitude) with higher levels being beefier spells, but you don’t have to do this. You could simply have a list of powers to choose from, which may or may not be more difficult to cast. Think of force powers in the old D6 Star Wars. Whether or not the spells are a resource (D&D’s Vance system) or utilize a resource (“mana points” or whatever) is irrelevant at this point.

Abstract magic means “spells on the fly;” there’s no set list. This would be games like Ars Magica or Mage the Ascension or The Riddle of Steel where a magic-using character has a number of “components” with which they can “build spells” as needed. For example, in Ars you combine a form (like “fire” or “body”) to a technique (like “create” or “destroy”) to make the spells you want (“create fireball” or “disintegrate person”). Mage is even easier: you have a level (from one to five) in a particular sphere of magic (“mind” or “travel”) and the level determines what you are capable of in that particular arena. Abstract systems require a greater degree of creativity on the part of the player and a greater amount of adjudication from the GM…they also tend to be games in which magic is the dominant force and focus of the game (which doesn’t necessarily work for a D&D like game featuring many different character archetypes).

[to be continued...sorry, I'm just a bit busy today]

1 comment:

  1. Yeah the abstract version seems cool but then you consider getting bogged down in adjudication. I think I like the idea of a list of set spells, all of which you could cast but the more powerful spells are more difficult/dangerous.