Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wrecking Things (Like Magic)

I'm sick. I hate being sick. It makes me all kinds of irritable and I'm already prone to irritability.

This afternoon I'm thinking about magic (again)...with regard to gaming, of course, but not with regard to my own current project. More like what I was talking about back here.

I mentioned the other day that I've got no "levels" in the new game. I'm not really interested in debating the wisdom of such a move...suffice is to say it's something I'm trying (I've got divergent systems in place to account for character experience and advancement/reward). I bring it up because it makes it a little tricky to engage in discussion about wrecking magic systems with folks who are using level-based systems. And that's what I'm thinking about today.

So the blog gets my musings. As per usual.

In my own game, I've tied magical knowledge to age...it takes years to learn spells and the process is draining (i.e. spending years studying magic leads to reduction in other areas). This holds true even for elves; though a longer life span would in theory allow them to master everything, such hard work is taxing to the frivolity of elvish life. Or something like that. It's a game balance thing anyway.

Anyhoo, it allows me to get to what I've always wanted: more knowledgeable wizards are OLDER wizards. Which I like and think is cool. But can a similar principle be applied to D&D style games? Like B/X and Holmes Basic? I think so...but first you have to separate the magic system from the standard level mechanic.

In other words, a magic-user advances in level like other characters, gaining HPs, better attacks and saves, etc...but doing so is NOT tied to how much magical knowledge the character has.

Kind of a neat idea now that I think about it.

It would work a bit like this: you'd still have magical "levels" (perhaps renamed something like "orders" or "degrees of initiation;" definitely based in part on old school level titles). For each magical level, the character is aged 7 years. Considering the character's apprenticeship to end somewhere around age 14 or so (maybe with a D4 roll for variation), you'd be looking at a chart like this:

Age 21 - Medium (or Prestidigitator) - 1st level spells only
Age 28 - Seer (or Evoker)
Age 35 - Conjurer - 1st and 2nd level spells
Age 42 - Theurgist
Age 49 - Thaumaturgist - 1st through 3rd level spells
Age 56 - Magician
Age 63 - Enchanter - 1st through 4th level spells
Age 70 - Warlock
Age 77 - Sorcerer - 1st through 5th level spells
Age 84 - Necromancer
Age 91 - Wizard - 1st through 6th level spells

[level titles subject to change]

Off the top of my head I'd say every 5 years of age (starting at age 30) requires the player to subtract 1 from one of the character's ability scores (so a conjurer, age 35, would have to lose 2 points). I like the idea of the reduction coming from any ability score (so lowering CHA as the character gets more crusty and curmudgeonly). Every 10 years (beginning at age 3) would also require an ADDITIONAL, mandatory lowering of the character's STR by 1 point.

Spells known per level (minimum and maximum) would be based on INT as per Holmes Basic (natch). Actual spells that could be cast per day would be based on the character's STR score, modified by level of experience (confidence, power of will). The starting spell number looks like this:

STR 3: 0* spell per day
STR 4-5: 1 spells per day
STR 6-8: 2 spells per day
STR 9-12: 3 spells per day
STR 13-15: 4 spells per day
STR 16-17: 5 spells per day
STR 18: 6 spells per day

*you still get +1 spell for being a 1st level character.

Hmmm...looking over this, it all looks pretty workable. It would even work for my own game...if I were using the same spell lists as standard D&D (I'm not). My own system is a little more complex with regard to different themes of knowledge and spells building off each other...but if it turns out to be too crazy in play-testing, I might just blow it up in favor of something like this.

Now, bring on the geezers!

Demon summoning at 1st level? Why not!


  1. I have no interest in a mechanic that does not directly reward play.

    1. @ Alexis:

      Neither do I
      ; )

    2. @ Alexis (redux):

      Oh, wait...you're probably talking about an idea of awarding spell knowledge for non-play (as proposed here), because acquiring a larger repertoire of spells is one of the major rewards for playing a magic-user over time.

      Point taken. And for AD&D, such a system probably doesn't make sense. I'm looking at this from the point of view of basic D&D, where the variety of options available to most classes (fighters' weapon choices, thieves' skills) don't change from level 1...only their effectiveness (there are no "weapon proficiencies" in basic, for example).

      I'm not looking at spell acquisition as a reward of play...only the effectiveness of using those spells.