Awsome-o-fy: D&D Magic

edited February 2014 in Make Stuff!
(sorry for the brain dump)

Changing how magic works, without changes the underlying mechanics (spell slots, memorizing spells, etc)
A lot of people have issues with Vancian magic, but instead of shelving it I thought about changing what it meant and how it worked.


New System:

All spells are rituals; higher level spells take longer to prepare and cast. (A level 3 ritual might take 10 minutes to cast, a 9th level ritual might take hours to perform).

All rituals are 'dealings' with otherworldy forces; demons, spirits, elementals, etc. The ritual is a means of contacting the entity and making a deal; the mage provides something in exchange for a favor. A pinch of sugar might convince a spirit to hide you from sight, fresh blood might grant visions or insight.

A wizard can attempt to perform ANY ritual they know, regardless of level. No limit # times per day (as long as they have the time, and the means to perform the ritual').

Low level rituals might just require a waved gesture and a muttered incantation, allow them to be used over and over 'in the field'. High level rituals require carefully drawn circles, special candles, implements and might even be limited to being cast at special places or times (by the light of a full moon, in a graveyard, in shadow of a oak tree, etc)

Some spells are better off being cast 'on the fly' (Fireball isn't very useful when it requires a 10 minute ritual cast over a fire burning in a brass brazier); experienced wizards can 'store' rituals (referred to as "spells") upon completion, unleashing them later.

Spells represent a deal made with an entity to be fulfilled later. Spirits are short minded and experience time differently, so it is difficult to hold their attention and to get them to agree to a delayed bargain; only experienced mages can bind spirits in such a way (Hence, spell slots). Once a spell has been released a new ritual can be performed to fill the empty slot (unlimited times per day, no requirement to rest).

A spell might require an implement to contain the magic; a scroll, a wand. a token that is crushed or burned releasing it's power. Some spirits are fickle and may demand some actions to be taboo; perform the taboo and the deal is broken; you lose the stored spell (or a spell in progress is suddenly cancelled). For example; the spirits that hide you from sight hate violence; draw the blood of another creature and forfeit your invisibility.

With this system "utility spells" can be cast over and over (these spells are often overlooked for damage spells in most games, as they are so situational), and a wizard's combat ability isn't really increased at all. Wizards can can an unlimited number of spells in a day, even "memorizing" spells over and over, but at the higher levels it could take a long time to 'fill' all of their spell slots, so high level combat spells become precious.

Limitations on rituals and bargains make magic feel more "magical", prevents spamming of high level magic (Can only perform Animate Dead by the light of a Harvest Moon, or something) and introduce the weirdness that is common to mages in stories. A wizard who has prepared Invisibility can't draw blood maybe, a wizard who has prepared X can't use iron tools, or can't speak lies, etc)

These bargains can also be exploited in enemy mages. Rival wizards might have different limitations on the same (or similar) spell, so recon and research might give clues to their weaknesses ("Aha! Melgon the Black has a copy of the Book of Names, and is fond of summoning Elementals! If he's using the Book of Names as the source of his summoning magic, he is forbidden to consume meat or blood! If we mix a few drops of blood into his wine he'll be rendered powerless!"

A smart mage will hunt down multiple versions of the same ritual; the assassins of the Order of Shades can obviously draw blood while Invisible, but their ritual is carefully guarded...

Comments

  • edited February 2014
    Arcane spells are spirit monsters. You conquer them and then trap them in your head. Whenever you cast a spell, you roll to control it. If you fail, it escapes and follows its Nature:

    * Some spells just go back to their spellbook home.
    * Some spells just drift aimlessly.
    * Some spells flee, never to be seen again.
    * Some spells destroy the surroundings.
    * Some spells attack chaotically, bursting on everything that moves.
    * Some spells lash out at their slaver and the slaver's allies.
    * Some spells rip open your mind and free other spells.

    To conquer a spell, a wizard must perform a ritual that binds it to a form that can be conquered. Otherwise, they're just free-floating magic that can't be tamed. The ritual is costly and time-consuming. Once the ritual is complete, the spell materializes as some kind of monster. Some are smarter than others. One can make deals with a spell, but most spells won't willingly submit to the yoke of a wizard's mind or the trap of a spellbook. The fight is like any other fight (though many spells have unusual combat powers). The wizard's friends can help. Reduce a spellmonster to 0 or fewer hit points, and it submits to the wizard.

    One traps a spell in a spellbook. This is a magical process that records the spell's essence in specially-prepared pages. This creates a permanent home for the spell's spirit. The spellbook is a sort of pocket universe. Flipping through the pages of the spell will show slowly changing drawings of the world inside. With the right magic, one can enter a spellbook.

    Spellbooks are trapped, because they are incredibly valuable. Thus, wizards put powerful protection on them. Mess with the wrong spellbook and you might get sucked into its pages for an adventure you'll never forget. All the spells in there are free-roaming traps and monsters. The logic of a spellbook world is strange, like an Old School dungeon. Things don't always make sense, but it does have its own internal logic.

    When you memorize a spell, you're forming a link between your body and the spellbook--a sort of portal. A mortal's mind can maintain only so many of these portals, but with practice, a wizard can increase the number and power of the spells she can link to.

    When you cast a spell, you open up that portal and let a bit of the monster out. To avoid losing the spell, the wizard must put a kind of mental chain around the spell and hang on tight. It's exhausting and takes concentration. Roll d20+Int (DC 10+Spell Level). On success, you cast the spell successfully. On failure, the spell fails. By default, you lose the portal and must memorize the spell again before you cast it again. However, you have the option to try to maintain the portal. You may roll again at the same DC. If you succeed, you maintain the spell portal. If you fail, the spell escapes and follows its nature. Roll 2d6+Nature:
    Less than 1 Spell returns to its spellbook home.
    2-4 Spell returns home. Hides for 1-6 days.
    5-6 Spell escapes and drifts aimlessly. All attacks on it do double damage.
    7-8 Spell escapes and attacks nearby surroundings.
    9-10 Spell escapes and chaotically attacks anything living within 10 squares.
    11 Spell escapes and lashes out at the wizard and allies.
    12 Spell escapes and lashes out at the wizard only.
    Higher than 12   Spell escapes and rips open the wizard's mind. Wizard must roll to control each spell or lose it (as casting).
  • Arcane spells are spirit monsters. You conquer them and then trap them in your head. Whenever you cast a spell, you roll to control it. If you fail, it escapes and follows its Nature:
    DID YOU JUST FLIPPIN' INVENT VANCIAN POKEMON????!?!?!?!?

    That's the best thing ever.
  • Our campaign works very similarly, and we attempt to achieve that same sweet spot between retaining the utility of the slot-based magic rules while also making it more flexible and magic-like in the fiction: all spells are technically speaking magical rituals that are cast during the "memorization" period, which lasts one hour per spell level memorized. You may of course memorize only part of your load at a time under these memorization rules (which is good, as a higher-level magic-user will need several days to prepare their full load), and you may opt to cast the spell immediately instead of memorizing it. Furthermore, casting these rituals is in no way limited to the Magic-User class; anybody with the knowhow may cast the spells in ritual form. Of course many spells are much less useful when you need prepared ritual space and anything from one to nine hours to cast it.

    In our current LotFP environment the rule for ritual spellcasting is simply that if you want to cast a spell you can't memorize (either due to being the wrong class or having insufficient level for it), you'll need to make a save vs. magic to avoid messing it up somehow, resulting in an amusing roll off a miscast random table. Simple, elegant, yet gives the system much more flexibility compared to traditional.

    This principle of allowing players to be flexible with magic is expanded as well: the basic rule principle is that as long as you limit yourself to the traditional rules, you're free of risk and additional resolution steps (that is, we still benefit from having routine situations resolved simply), but also benefit from no leeway in what magic may accomplish. Some examples of what one might attempt to do in the spirit of simulating the woolly, mysterious art of wizardry:
    - A magic-user who has memorized a certain spell might attempt to cast a similar "cantrip", using only a minuscule amount of the energy (or spiritual favour - our system is explicitly agnostic in that there is absolute truth as to the magical metaphysics, only opinions of individual experts). If successful, they may gain a cantrip effect similar to what the full spell does (lighting a fire with Fireball, say) without losing the spell.
    - A magic-user might attempt to memorize a spell that is over their level or over their capacity. This risks insanity as magical forces ravage the magician, of course, and is ever more difficult with higher-level spells.
    - A magic-user might recognize what another has memorized by subtle signs; in practice requires Detect Magic to be cast, so as to perceive magic directly.
    - Magicians working within an animist practice may, indeed, negotiate with the spirits; this shunts the mechanical solutions used in stretching magic more into the social sphere, exactly as you describe. This has its strengths and weaknesses: on the one hand you're trapped by superstitions and taboos, but on the other hand various miscasts and desperate extra magics beyond the ordinary could be easier. A lot depends on whether the spirits you supposedly manipulate are amiable nature spirits or demons of some sort.
    - A magic-user may attempt to speed up their memorization process by taking short-cuts in preparing the ritual space, or prepping the entire load as a single matrix, or whatever. Depending on the details the player describes, this might involve various degrees of risk.

    My current character in our campaign, Anaxandros the Greek, is a scholar with an intense interest in the occult. Thing is, he's Specialist (what LotFP calls Thieves, except you get to choose your skills), and I've pretty much assigned his skill points into "useful" skills like Languages and Lore. My plan is that once Anaxandros gets to 2nd level, he'll start to practice "Hermetic magic", which is my name for a magical practice that I invented where the magician never handles the magic directly through his own body, thus avoiding the Chaotic taint (in LotFP any personal use of magic makes you Chaotic at once). I'm thinking that such a specialist-classed "magician" is limited to ritual casting, and avoiding the magical taint (controlling magic via ritual implements instead of your own body, metaphorically speaking) makes for a -1 to the effective level of any spells cast, as well as +2 to any saves against the spells. I'm pretty happy with this implementation of the classical notion of Thief/Magic-User, although I've yet to figure out what practical use Anaxandros might have for his accumulated magical lore :D

    We also do that alternate spell thing where individual versions of spells and spell lists (for clerics) might be subtly different when the fictional positioning indicates that cultural differences might be appropriate.

    Regarding how desirable it is to have utility spells cast as rituals instead of memorized, I agree 100%: either you allow players to cast that Knock with a ritual, or you accept that they'll have to retreat, set camp, memorize it, and then cast it. (If your players are actually preparing Knock routinely, I have to wonder what the dungeons are like...) So practically speaking you're merely choosing between having the magical ritual take 24 hours and having it take two hours, with the added benefit that with ritual magic rules the players will have to sit right there in the dungeon doing their magic ritual, with random encounters on the prowl. I find this latter option much more amusing (especially when the random encounter disturbs the ritual, making for yet another opportunity to use that magical mishap table), and therefore I think that the ritual magic ideal is superior to the inflexible traditional rules.
  • Yeah, why should spell acquisition be boring and mundane? Why should it follow a different set of rules than dungeon-diving?

    Standard rules:
    Wizard: "I want to learn Fireball. There's a scroll at the Abbey."
    Rogue: "Yawn. I'll be in the alley."
    Fighter: "Uh, I have to wash my hair."

    My rules:
    Wizard: "I want to learn Fireball. There's a scroll at the Abbey."
    Rogue: "I'll search for traps!"
    Fighter: "Stand behind me, little mage. I'll keep you safe!"
  • That approach makes magic a non-scholarly pursuit, though, not suitable for people merely solitary, intelligent and strong-willed. This might or might not be what one is after.
  • Scholars don't go into dungeons in the first place. By being a "Wizard 1" and not just a "wizard," you've already decided dungeons are more interesting than libraries.
  • edited February 2014
    Depends on the nature and conception of your campaign, there's a wide spectrum of opinion and practice on the exceptionalism question - that is, how exceptional player characters are supposed to be. Some campaigns are all about adventurers being sort of extreme sports stars with their own social and economic rules and goals, while others are more about the seamless continuum between the ordinary and the preternatural. In the latter sort of campaign the notion of a magician wresting their magical privilege from the aether with their own two hands has quite a bit of currency - just look at Raistlin, that's his entire theme as an antihero :D

    Our campaigns have never strayed very far into "adventure for adventure's sake" in terms of psychological theming; the financial, existential, political and religious pressures that drive player characters into the dungeon are pretty concrete. Merely having PC levels doesn't indicate that you like hanging out with goblins and ogres in that sort of context.

    Nothing wrong with the opposite approach either, I should emphasize; I was just pointing out that there are reasons for keeping the pursuit of magical arts more historical and rooted into scholastic pursuit.
  • That approach makes magic a non-scholarly pursuit, though, not suitable for people merely solitary, intelligent and strong-willed. This might or might not be what one is after.
    Seems to me that these might be separate "tracks" for spellcasting types. Some might derive new spells from first principles and through experimentation (the solitary, intelligent and strong-willed) and some might seek out existing manifestations of spells that they've heard rumors of. That would give you the scholar track and the adventurer track.
  • Scholars don't go into dungeons in the first place. By being a "Wizard 1" and not just a "wizard," you've already decided dungeons are more interesting than libraries.
    That's a really interesting and powerful world statement! I dig that.
  • Depends on the nature and conception of your campaign, there's a wide spectrum of opinion and practice on the exceptionalism question - that is, how exceptional player characters are supposed to be.

    ...

    Nothing wrong with the opposite approach either, I should emphasize; I was just pointing out that there are reasons for keeping the pursuit of magical arts more historical and rooted into scholastic pursuit.
    Nothing is wrong with those approaches, but (in my opinion) those approaches are not "awesome," and this is an "Awesome-o-fy" thread. =D
  • That's a very good point about awesome, it completely slipped my mind that the term has a specific technical meaning in geekery.
  • I like the idea of taboos/restrictions. It reminds me a little of the Thieves-World Blue Magicians who must keep a secret (usually regarding their behavior) in order to keep their magic. It's also reminiscent of Vows and might have an interesting application to Clerics (Priests, white Sorcerers, for related systems).

    It would be an interesting explanation for why Holy Wo/Men cannot shed blood; they would not have access to Wound Healing spells if they did.
  • edited February 2014
    Magic is a side-effect of disturbing the balance between reality and the other realm. "Spells" simply shred the appropriate bits of reality to cause the effect. The world itself resists that, so you have to wedge a small spell in the crack between What Is and What Could Be to allow bigger and bigger changes to come through. Furthermore, once that effect has been created, the energies required are expended; that specific effect can't be used in the area until reality reasserts itself.

    Mechanically, someone has to cast a 0th level cantrip to 'prep' reality for anyone to cast 1st level spell. Also, once someone casts a spell, everyone "forgets" it while in the area. Teams of spellcasters can work in tandem, small spells supporting the big ones... while duels between spellcasters quickly escalate to a one-upmanship contest of earthshattering proportions.

    Rituals are prolonged sequences of ever more complicated spells, culminating in a fundamental alteration of reality.
  • Scholars don't go into dungeons in the first place. By being a "Wizard 1" and not just a "wizard," you've already decided dungeons are more interesting than libraries.
    Oh, I like that. It's sort of like the white box description of player character elves; the player character elves (or wizards in this case) are by definition a bit crazy.

  • Back at the dawn of time, when the world was being shaped, the Archon was lazy. Why go through all the trouble of molding a world with your own two hands when you can make it build itself? So the Archon created self-replicating "subroutines", for lack of a better term. Because they're very much like software subroutines, except that they were primal magic and power. And sorta techie. Because I'm too lazy to come up with my own terminology, I'll just keep using the software metaphor.

    The Archon was also so lazy that he never bothered to manually shut down the subroutines. Anyone with the wherewithal to hunt them down can harness them and redirect them. Of course, once you fork a spell into your daily queue, it vanishes once it executes. Good thing you can re-fork it, given adequate time to consult your spellbook. The spellbook, by the way, holds a primary-level fork of a spell, caught in stasis. (The primal spells are held in stasis at archives around the world, forked off into spellbooks at the discretion of the mages.)
  • edited February 2014
    Replace memorization with Barrier Repair. Instead of needing to spend hours re-learning a spell, you need to spend hours fixing the holes you've wrought in the fabric of reality by wielding energies from Beyond.

    What's the difference? Well, you can cast spells whose effects haven't been repaired yet, but it's risky! More energy flows through you than usual due to the opened rift. This can include:
    - random energy discharge that destroys or enchants whatever's nearby
    - increased spell power (more damage, larger area, etc.)
    - rifts in space opening up to other planes
    - extra-planar monsters coming through rifts
    - extra-planar intelligences manifesting inside the wizard
    - deities in charge of order/balance/magic/prime material plane get pissed at you
    - some spirit appears to do the repairs itself, and now you owe it a favor
    - any of the above entities may drag the party Elsewhere to fight for the wizard's freedom

    These effects aren't totally random. Instead, they depend on factors which might be trouble-shot. Risks should outweigh benefits in most situations, but maybe not when facing severe loss in battle. Maybe the fallout odds factor in the wizard's HP, improving as HP drops. Maybe the number/power of Evil creatures present matters. This part needs more work...
  • Spells draw their power from the six Elemental Aethers, which orbit our own plane in complicated n-dimensional patterns. Wizards must channel their energy from the Aethers in a very precise geometric alignment, or the spells will go wildly wrong. Wizards in a lab spend weeks studying the movement of the planes and fiddling with their Planar Orreys when they want to cast a big powerful spell. The heterodox adventure-y types you play in a D&D game just cast little spells, see what goes wrong, and use that information to align their bigger spells on the fly.

    Rules-wise, it's a game of mastermind, with the combination randomly determined by the GM. When a wizard casts a spell, he constructs an Aetherial Alignment out of one or more colored pegs. The power of the spell cast is determined by the number of black and white pegs--but white pegs mean the spell is misaligned and will have unpredictable results. The more white pegs, the more out of control the spell is.
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