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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rebuilding systems in your game, the kiss of death? Magic system Redux



The kiss of death (1947)

I was looking at wizards in my home brew game “Amazing Adventurers and Incredible Exploits” (AIEE from here on.) I did not like what I saw and through our limited play testing wizards did not work at the table very well either. 

I once read, (I'm sorry help me I have no idea where,) that once you start wholesale ripping systems apart in a game you might as well start over. With that in my head I found myself on a rainy Sunday ripping the Arcane magic bits out of my current game project. 

Is this the kiss of death? If I remove a traditional spell list system and replace it with something more free form does it intrinsically spoil the happy go lucky chaos that is AIEE?

Lets take a look,

First My Very Scientific game design process:

  1. Identify the issues.
  2. Get frustrated
  3. Rip everything apart
  4. Take a shower and Brainstorm ( I have no idea why I get my best ideas in the shower..shrug..)
  5. Come up with ideas to fix issues.
  6. Start typing.
My problems with the system as it was were two fold.
Spells were clunky at during character generation. In a game where everything about your character is random, the character creation has to be smooth in order to be effective. What I want are people taking turns rolling things up about their character sand getting a laugh out of their odd ball luck or their neighbors odd ball luck, not one guy rolling 20 times to generate some spells. Random spells which I thought were a great idea at first, proved to be too cumbersome at the table.

The system while random (which is a big (HUGE) part of the game) was not very flexible.  The player would roll up his random spells, along with the Gm determine what the hell it is the spells do,  and then the player would be essentially stuck with those spells until next level. This is all fine and dandy, but it only embraces the creativity of the wizard player once and that’s at character generation.

Digression:

I have a very strong opinion about arcane magic in role playing games. I feel wizards or whatever you like to call them, are special. Call it the “Ars Magica Effect.”  When I read Ars Magic the first time I could not help thinking “This is how magic users should be treated.” It seems in almost every setting powerful wizards are held up as people of great importance. Examples include Gandalf, Merlin, and Elminster, (Gramastus from my own campaigns) to name just a few. Even the humble hedge wizard would be considered an important figure within the scope of his own community. Magic users should be able to do things, use their abilities in the moment on the fly in a way that other character types can’t. I don’t want to hear about character balance, Linear Warriors VS Qudratic wizards  and all that bunk. I want wizards to shine when.

End Digression (why is there no HTML tag for digressions?)

Here is what I’m doing about the clunky character generation. I am reducing the rolls at initial character generation to, two rolls on a spell “keywords” table.  This change cuts the rolls for a first level wizard down substantially.  Now magic is fewer rolls than say rolling up a starting connection, or perhaps even starting weapons.

As far as the issue of embracing the players creativity and making wizards feel more improvisational and in the moment, key words help that as well. Key will be used by the wizard to create spells on the fly. Each key word used raises the difficulty of a spell by one level, and raises the costs associated with casting the spell.
For example if a starting wizard rolled the keywords “Hissing” and  “Bridge” when the character was made  that player might say  “I want to summon a hissing snake!”  The player would use 1 key word, cast a first level spell and all of the costs and difficulties would be based on that information.

Alternately the caster might say, “I want to summon a {bridge} of {hissing} anacondas to cross that ravine.” That contains 2 key words it is more difficult to cast and will cost more resources to accomplish.
How many ways can you use the term “hissing?” Off the top of my head I can think off, hissing steam, hissing snake, hissing the sound, and so on. How about “bridge” Bridge of the nose, the card game bridge, a ships bridge, a bridge between two locations.

“I want to stop this ship cold I cast a spell, Hissing Bridge to fill that captain’s bridge house with steam!”
Combine this with the multiple skills that allow wizards to cast spells in different ways in AIEE and suddenly a player can get very creative.

I was also thinking of letting players attempt spells in an effort to learn new Key words, this might need work, but my intent is if a caster tries a spell with a new key word the roll will be much more difficult but if the caster rolls well enough they get to keep that key word on their list. I’m going to have to test this heavily but if it works out I think it would encourage risk taking and system exploration by the players.
The notion of having a character find a rune that teaches a new key word as treasure is also pretty appealing to me.

 Some quick thoughts about possible cons with this magic redux:

This system is ripe for abuse! True, I’m unapologetic about it. How you and your players use the rules is up to you. I’m not a big fan of worrying if things being “easily abused” or “breakable” in Role playing games.   The Gm as final arbitrator of what fly’s and what doesn't, if a key word looks like it is going to be too difficult to deal with in your group, don’t allow that key word. If a player is being too fast and loose with Key  word definitions and uses, the GM would have to work with that player to tighten things up, that's how these games work sometimes.

Will this take extra abjuration by the GM? Damn straight. The GM will have to really think about what a player is asking for and what they are attempting to make this system work. To be honest however this is a game that makes the GM do all of the heavy lifting for things like modifiers and difficulties, I think this although it is one more thing, fits the mold of the game.

So those are my thoughts as I rebuild the AAEE magic system.

What are your thoughts on Magic systems in general?
what role do spell caster occupy in your game world?
How do you like to handle spells and spell casters?

As always thanks for reading!