Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Making magic magical (part 1)

Magic is everywhere in fantasy RPGs. It does fantastic things and provides immense amount of power to it's practitioners. Usually only the brief application is exciting and generally forgetful. It's generally actually slightly boring and not very involving.

There are a lot of reasons for this I suppose; keep things simple, once upon a time fighters were the featured characters in FRPs, as games acquired MORE over the years there was less and less call for detail.

Some possible ways to make magic more magical:
1. Hide the rules of magic from the PCs.
2. Tie magic to the setting.
3. Tie magic to non character resources.
4. Make magic use more involved at the tabletop.
5. Making magic rare.

1. Hiding the Rules of Magic from PCs
Not letting the players know what is really going on with magic but having a system where behind the curtain the DM knows what is going on.
One means of supporting this method is unknown interactions: Spell X and condition Y have spcific interactions the DM is aware of but the player does not immediately have knowledge of.
For the majority of the spells/magical effects in the game the DM could maintain a list of effects and counter effects for each spell/effect. This method rewards the player who pays attention in the game and who can then learn form experience. It does require the DM to pay a fair bit of attention to spells as they are cast because players can't know everything that is going on.

2. Tie magic to the setting.
When magic is tied to the setting it becomes a defining element of the campaign, it is a means in itself to explore the setting. There are a number of ways to tie magic to the setting including: Bloodlines, Cults/Schools, Geographic power, Locus specific spells.

Bloodlines restrict and provide access to magic based on a characters origins. The capabilities and capacities of a magic-user are tied to character creation and the use of magic eventually exposes some of that characters background (and limitations) to others. If a bloodline prohibits the use of lighting based magic and a character is never seen to be zapping folks with bolts of lightning it provides information to players, they learn more about the setting and the characters in that setting by the magic folks use. Dramatic situations are presented: "What do you mean Lord Dark used the Scintillating purple Ray ? Only my family can use that spell...". It also limits a character based on a decision at character creation which can end up with someone realizing they invested a lot of time abnd effort in a character that will never be what they really want.

Cults/Schools limit and define capabilities of what one can do with magic based on where there are provided with the knowledge of that magic. Many games limit clerical magic based upon gods served and this is certainly one method of the cult/school of magic. Player interaction with cults/schools provide them or limit their access to spells. Interaction between PCs/NPCs is a limiting factor on magic use. Players can change access or ability to learn spells based on their relation to NPCs and that element of the campaign can become as involved as the DM and players wish it to be. This does provide the DM with the opportunity and burden to create magical organizations that fit the campaign. It is possible to shift the cult/school method from one that requires the DM to draft organizations to provide magical powers to that of books which hold mystic secrets and limit spell access to those that have studied specific books. Player decisions can be tied to knowledge and relations to cults/schools: "Zoltan used the Jakarian Exodus? Why that is only known to the Magi of Catrinax, could they be behind all the trouble we have been having?"

Geographic Power
Usign this method a characters capacity to magic use isn't tied only to what they know but where they draw magical power from and where they attempt to use it. Be they Ley-lines, Vortexes or Magic Zones a MU access to spells is tied to how poerful such a location is and how well tied into that source the MU is. Spells can be limited by what type of magical power source they are tied-to, the casters link to the power source and/or the distance from the power source.
Interactions of sources and zones will impact the effectiveness of magic: "I'm close enough to the Erudian Vortex to draw up such a powerful spell but the radiations from the Tower of Zax make success very unlikely, we nust consider another path."

Locus Specific Spells
Spells tied directly to the location they may be cast make willy-nilly spell casting unlikely and require careful planning of magic use. A raise dead spell may only function on the slopes of a specific mountain. Some spells may only be fully realized when standing in the middle of a magical circle. The more powerful a spell the more work and difficulty the MU must spend in acquiring and prepping the location. This method plays heck with the kick in the door and blast off spell X method of play but does confine mysterious and powerful mages to remote and unusual locations.

(more in part 2)

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