Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why Magic?

[yes, still on hiatus. But I am reading the responses and comments still]

Just a quick question: I've seen house-ruled versions of D&D that axed clerics from the rules. I've seen house-ruled versions of D&D that axed thieves. I've even seen rules that did away with both, leaving only fighting-men and magic-users.

Has anyone tried getting rid of the magic-user class?

Just wondering. Oh, yeah...follow-up question: if not, why not? The class is problematic in a lot of regards, and really isn't all that "true to the fiction" (you don't see a lot of protagonists in fantasy literature blasting people with magic, do you? At least, pre-Dragon Lance). Anyone try whittling down the class list to fighters, thieves, and some kind o "mystic" (cleric-type)? And if not, why? Is it just too antithetical to what "D&D is all about?"

Just let me know. Thanks!
: )

27 comments:

  1. Magic is the core of fantasy.

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    1. Maybe... but not RPG-style magic.
      How many characters in Tolkien/CAS/Lord Dunsany's tales run around throwing fireballs? The 'magic' in those stories is primarily in the setting/atmosphere... rarely weaponized in the hands of protagonists... and usually not reliable/safe.

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  2. I played around with a thought experiment for minimizing arcane magic within a game world using a political/persecution scenario:

    http://leicestersramble.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-low-magic-setting-concept.html

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  3. I'd play something like that. I like magic, but I don't think a lack of "blasting" spells is antithetical to D&D, and the idea of having only subtle magic wielded by clerics and mystics strikes an intriguing chord.

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    1. Potentially agree with this, depending on what you mean by "subtle". The pre-supplement spell lists were decidedly less blasty, but could be pretty powerful in their effects. I mean, you could enthrall a dude for the rest of his life, and that's just at first level!

      As an aside, I'd much rather be able to cast that once "per adventure" than have a bunch of piddly at-will spells

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    2. I like the sound of 'Mystic'... as in a Scholar who doesn't so much practice magic as know about it in depth. He could identify potions and scrolls and weird creatures... make educated guesses regarding magic effects and items you run into.
      Chock full of lore and dead languages.
      Kind of like an occult Sherlock Holmes.

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  4. There's a variant set of minimalist D&D rules called "Searchers of the Unknown" that gets rid of every class for PCs except fighters (wizards stay at home in their laboratories, and clerics in their temples, and neither go adventuring under those rules).

    As to how a mage-free world would play out, I'm guessing it could work. Perhaps magic was something that only the Ancients had. All their arcane know-how is gone (so no more spells or creating new items), but maybe their relics remain (so found magic items are still in -- allowing the GM a great deal of control as to just how much blasting can go on).

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  5. Haven't tried it myself, but I saw this very suggestion on either Dragonsfoot or Original D&D Discussion (forget which) a few weeks back

    It makes sense, to an extent, but I think magic's a big part of D&D's draw for most people. Don't forget that the game doesn't require you to play a good guy, either, so I'd say magic-user's a valid class choice even if you want to better emulate certain sources

    Personally, I grew up reading the kind of stuff you'd see in Moldvay's list of YA fantasy rather than the adult fantasy of Appendix N. Being able to play someone like Ged was definitely an attractive prospect as a kid

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  6. Dumping PCs Mu's is something you read about folks doing all the time. I played a no MU's or Clerics AD&D games many years ago, the party was full of fighters, thieves, assassins, and monks (yeah they didn't count as clerics for some reason), it didn't last past 3 sessions.
    D&D as dungeon romping mayhem equals some guy in the group throwing sleep spells and fireballs for an awful lot of folks but in a Conanesque campaign no PC MU's are needed.

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    1. Yeah, whenever I've seen someone aiming for a more 'sword & sorcery' feel to the game it's common to find them limiting magic to evil NPCs.
      I'd personally love to play in some Leiber-esque game with nothing but Fighters and Rogues... but plenty of magical weirdness going on around us.

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    2. In my S&S B/X hack, clerics exist but they are always chaotic and in league with demons of the outer dark (their powers are whispered to them by the demons themselves.) Magic-users learn sorcery the hard way, by studying from old tomes written by pre-human races. Both clerics and magic-users could be priests in some organisation (usually it's cults for clerics): to people, both are considered "sorcerers". To circumvent the lack of healing magic, I use a variation of the old Judges Guild "shock recovery" rule: recover 1 hit dice worth of hit points after each fight if you rest immediately for 1 turn (but you can recover only hit points lost in that fight.) Next to no changes in the rules, but the "flavour" is very different from the usual D&D tropes.

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  7. I've run a few campaigns of Carcosa without the Magic user class. I'm actually a fan of the Carcosian sorcerer class' method of magic. I like the idea of doing away with spell levels and spells-per day and instead limiting magic with lengthy rituals and narrow scopes for each spell. There is no magic missile, but a banishing a specific spirit is possible so long as you have an idol from the depth of the earth. It just feels more in tune with my inspirational sources. I've been tempted to make some alternate ritual lists for Sorcerers to mesh better with other generas, but I doubt I'll ever get around to it.

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  8. I really like the idea of cutting out the MU and tried it once. While the campaign got cut short I thought it introduced some interesting dynamics.

    The big question becomes: what do you do with magic items and monsters that require magic items? The answer to that question hugely influences the flavor of the game. Are all magic items created with divine magic? Are they futuristic technology? Are they ancient artifacts? Lots of options that create a ton of really cool flavor.

    Another option is if instead of removing the MU what if you made it more like the cleric where it is better at fighting but worse at magic? You could essentially use the cleric class but give it a very limited MU spell list.

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  9. Hmm...very good responses so far (and thanks to everyone for their two cents). To be clear, I wasn't considering removing wizards/sorcerers from the game...just removing them as a PC class.

    I'm kind of tinkering with something at the moment (aren't I always), that falls into the "high fantasy" genre, but I'm just having difficulty fitting MU types in a way consistent with other characters.

    I mean, look at the age thing (I've blogged about this before)...young adventurers are still competent individuals, but young wizards (in fiction) tend to be comedic relief...except for the occasional young sorceress who was taught magic by an elder mentor. If the mage doesn't have a beard he tends to be a Shmendrick, or an Ergo the Magnificent, or a Presto.

    Anyway...maybe I'm just tired of inventing magic systems that try to model the fantasy fiction I enjoy while still shoehorning in the "battle mages" descended from Gygax's Chainmail.

    Please continue to opine, folks.
    : )

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  10. In Scurvy & Sidearms, there's a priest, a Necromantic and a Voodounista but none of them cast proper spells. Potions, lore, surgery, raising the restless dead, turning same... No blasting and healing only through potions. Gives guns and swords a little more kick in relation, like a pirates game should have.

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  11. I've been playing with the idea of a fantasy setting where the magic is more "coincidental" looking (to use the term from Mage: The Ascension), and things like fireballs and lightning bolts from the fingers are nonexistent.

    That said, though, there is some (not a lot, to be sure) precedent for that sort of thing in the literature that inspires the games. Gandalf battles the Nazg├╗l, albeit "offstage" as it were, and there is lightning that surrounds the battlefield, then a bit later summons up a flash flood along a river. On the whole, though, the most dramatic stuff is all ritual magic like the youth-stealing ritual of Tascela's in "Red Nails".

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  12. Isn't Runequest's magic more geared to the clerical? (I know the comparison isn't exactly spot on, but though I never got to play it, I thought their take on magic made more sense).

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    1. Early Runequest had most of the magic coming from participation with Cults... so yeah, more Cleric-like in its source.
      Also, Chaosium recently published Enlightened Magic, for BRP... which has most all the spells as rituals that require multiple participants.
      Using that as the central magic system in a fantasy game would really change up the flavor.

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  13. Why the Dragonlance comment? In all the DL series modules, the number of magic-users which appear in the campaign is ridiculously small. In the pre-gens, you only get two: a human and an elf fighter/mu (quite restricted in levels.) You get another two elf f/mu (one is a Dragon Lord, another is a noble elf.) And then you get a pair more humans scattered along the series (one of them is the responsible for the creation of draconians.) You get ONE illusionist in the whole series (and that's a blue dragon polymorphed.) So in total, over a 14 modules campaign, you get less than 10 magic-users. I have seen much more magic in Gygax's modules (e.g. Temple of Elemental Evil.)

    From a setting perspective, magic-users in Dragonlance are heavily policed by the Orders of High Sorcery, so there aren't supposed to be many around.

    So...I suppose you haven't read much at all about Dragonlance.

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    1. @ Antonio:

      I was talking about DL in its capacity as fantasy literature, not as game (setting/adventures). And of the novels I've read the first 7 or 8, and that (as I said) is where I first remember seeing much in the way of people getting "blasted" by magic...in fiction.

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  14. I can't recall all this magic use, even in fiction (the modules are more or less close to the first three novels.)
    Even in Legends, besides the heads of the Orders (which stay in their Towers most of the time) and Dalamar and Raistlin/Fistandantilus, I can't recall other magic-users of note.
    Other books (many of the Tales, for example) go on without magic-users appearing even once (and for pre-War of the Lance tales, clerics don't exist at all.) Could you provide some examples?
    For really heavy magic-use, you must look at Forgotten Realms novels.

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  15. [Did not read all the above comments, sorry if I repeat someone elses' comments.]

    Carcosa sort of did away with M-Us insofar as you wouldn't want to play a sorcerer, right? :)

    I would like to see "magic-users" be primarily 'users of magical items/artifacts/ancient technology' rather than wizards or "mages" (always hated that term). Basically thief types who can read scrolls and use items, like Cugel the Clever and the Grey Mouser. I think if you make scroll use available at level one and using devices be like removing traps, you wouldn't necessarily miss mages that much.
    That said, for me "staying true to the fiction" is very problematic too. (For one thing, fiction tends to have a main character or protagonist.)

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    1. @ Mike:

      Actually, that's a pretty cool idea. Um...the "users of magic" thing.
      : )

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  16. Currently working on a Conan/Hyborian Age D&D 0e ruleset (house rules) that completely removes player Clerics and Wizards but introduces a couple of easy systems to balance out the lack of magic healing and action choices from lack of spells in order to break up the monotony of standard combat.

    I'm introducing three new races: Hyborian, Hyrkanian, and Nordheimers to replace Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings.

    Also I'm introducing a hybrid Thief class called Adventurer which has heavy armor limitations, but higher combat ability progression and lacks stealth/backstab; and another class called Frontiersman which is to hex-crawls what Thief was to dungeons. Frontiersman will also serve more of a first-aid role as well in treating poisons, serious wounds, and other major injuries which would otherwise kill a player before returning to a town or city for actual treatment.

    I still haven't tackled the idea of scroll use yet, but all magic (and monsters, and material in general) will be based upon only the original works from REH. I'm pulling stuff from not just Conan, but from his other fiction and poetry as well. I have also gone through all of the current comic series and documented material for use in the game as expanded universe in case I want to use it.

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  18. This is an issue which has crossed my mind a few times too.

    One option I might like is to restrict magic to 'rituals'; so all spells take at least an hour and often longer to cast (up to several days or even weeks for big spells - or years for world -changing spells). Perhaps there could be some shorter pre-pared 'adventuring spells' of the utility type like knock. I clever magic user should be able to think of ways to make utility spells useful in combat.

    This does away with 'combat magic' which seems to be what you don't like. Neither do I really, I refer to it as 'fireworks and SFX' of the kind seen in Harry Potter and not present in any decent fantasy writing (even the ubiquitous magic of Wizard of Earthsea, which I love, is more subtle than this and always feels part of the world rather than digitally superimposed).

    A house rule that I use in even the most vanilla D&D games is that most magic is invisible to the eye, although it can be 'sensed'. So an Acid Arrow instead attempts to turn the target's blood to acid. A Magic Missile is like a telekinetic punch (see the Gandalf/Saruman duel in the first LOTR movie). Exceptions include fireballs where the flame is an obvious necessity, but the flame originates from the target point rather than from the magic user's hand.

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  19. Chivalry & Sorcery is the answer.
    In the meantime, you might want to peruse this old article:

    https://plus.google.com/photos/114559826220490977150/albums/6045140486168483025?authkey=CM-wkpiGrfHFFA

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