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Thursday, December 4, 2014

What if Magic were special, extremely special, rare and difficult?

What if magic were extremely  rare and special in  a campaign?
One of my long standing  issues with the fantasy  role playing game genre is that a player may simply choose to be a wizard.
Wait a wizard? I know. Old D&D first level wizards are basically stacks of fire wood waiting to be set alight by the  first goblin with a short sword that comes along. Calling that 4 hit point 9 (THAC0 style) armor class character who can cast two spells every eight hours or so a wizard is a bit of stretch.
However It's not like that any more.
With the 5th edition sprucing up cantrips even a 1st level magic user has a ranged offensive option every round. I have no problem with that, and I do understand that the  magic using classes are still the most physically vulnerable at low levels. What I do hate to see is characters whipping eldrich blasts around like darts at a bar,
Like Magic is no big deal.

Now I established a while back that I think Wizards are special. At the end of a campaign a powerful  player character wizard is a mighty ass kicking snowflake. The high level wizard is likely  unique in the setting, a feared bad ass. A  high level  wizard would be my first choice for a player character that should  "graduate " away form mortal concerns and turn inwardly  towards deeper, darker, more mysterious interests.

Now dovetails a bit with my last post, in that I am about to house rule things to the point where it might as well be a different game.
These propositions are going to sound strange but hang with me for a few more lines.
For the record I'm thinking of just about any flavor of  Fantasy RPG here with D&D 5th edition being foremost on my mind.

  • Everyone starts out as a level 1 fighter. 
  • When creating your class distribute your attribute scores in a way that is appropriate to the class you want to become. *
  • When  your character achieves level 2 you can then say alright now I want to be a, cleric, or a wizard or a ranger. 
  • The idea being, first level is like freshman year in college, not everyone knows what they want to do yet. After a few adventures they discover what they are suited for. Perhaps that smart character sees an enemy use magic and just wants to know  "how does that all work?" The character decides to take up magic. Another character has some kind of cathartic religious experience during a battle and decides to take up the banner or the church and so on.
  • This is a bit like the brilliant Dungeon Crawl Classics zero level funnel, or my less brilliant random character generation for  Amazing Adventurers and Exciting Exploits, it's a chance for the characters to seize their roles rather than enter the world fully formed.
  • At second level you keep your  first level fighter stuff, but effectively start over as a new class of your choosing.

    Now for wizard specific  thoughts, but any of this can apply to Clerics as well.
  • Mr. Dungeon Master, Don't give them ANYTHING.
  • Cantrpis must be learned from some one some where. Be it a cost in gold or in services rendered.
  • The spell book Never fills up as a character levels, spells must be sought out or researched. The  character never gets to "pick a spell form a list" simply because they  went up a level.
  • Established wizards guard their secrets closely and  will only teach trusted or profitable students. They are rare, and  guarded secrets. Magic, real magic is not to be given away. It's dark , dangerous, most importantly it's secret.
  • Think of it this way  if you could Do this, "As you hold your hands with your thumbs touching and fingers spread, a thin sheet of flames shoots forth from your outstretched fingertips." Would you  readily teach others how to do it? I mean honestly, that's  AMAZING. (spell description quote from here)
  • As levels progress strongly encourage the players to use the spell research rules form your game of choice to create their own spells rather than relying on the games spell lists.  **
  • use the games spell list as templates to create unique spells that opposing casters use. If a character captures a scroll or a spell book from an enemy it should have some unique twist. 
  • Does any one else remember the  Great Net Spell Book and the Great net Prayer book? (Find them here) They are a great way to get ideas for spells that are not in the  Players Hand Book. they were D&D, DIY, community  before we knew what the hell that meant.
  • Create new spell effects for spells cast with a higher level spell slot than required. So far this has been a missed opportunity in 5th ed. If you cast a second level web spell with a fourth  level spell slot why not have that web carry a bit of electrical charge? Give the caster the ability to do a creepy spider wall crossed the web and  get a back stab bonus vs one target who is struggling in the sticky strands. Think to yourself  "Are a few extra D6's in damage going to tip the game off into the  abyss?"
  • Give wizard players opportunities to shine out side of combat with their intellectual and research based skills. The party can't go explore the  "Lost Hall of  Vizzeth" if they it's still lost. Some one has to research where they are. Does anyone think "Durg the  Bludgeon"  third level Dwarf fighter is going to get that job done? Doubtful."
What effect would all of this have on a game?
It depends on what kind of setting being run. Primarily at low levels fighter types would dominate, being more effective and  reliable. A young wizards who is scrapping by on three spells and  his or her wits is not going to be the  backbone of the  party just yet. I can imagine some wizard types being  slightly  put off by  this, but  heck people played wizards in basic D&D  and  put up with it until they  hit fifth level, found a fire ball scroll, and started threatening to blow up various inns.

Magic users at higher level would be unique targets. With spell the characters might not have seen , and may not have ever experienced. Re-think the  wonder of magic missile. Think of how much a caster would want to learn magic missile if the caster had never seen it before and it was not just one of those standard, "Yeah snore.. we can all do this thing that hurts and never misses. ***" spells. the use of researched spells and non standard deviation from spell effects would only enhance the effect of "We are fighting a wizard here, we have NO idea what we are walking into."

No two player character magic users would ever be the same, the player would have way more to say about  what spells he or she  researched, created, or pursued than just picking the already known best choices off a spell list. This woudl invest the  player more in his or her  character, which I always feel is a good thing.

If the gm is running a high energy high magic setting this is all moot. Why make it hard for players to find spells if everyone else is riding magically powered whale bladder balloons, sewn together by  unseen servants, on flying factories, held aloft by gas filled prismatic spheres? It makes no sense to deny the players that which is common. 

My Taste however leans towards magic being  rare, and extremely special. Or else it's not magic any more it just is.


Thanks for reading .
Please leave your  questions and comments in the  empty  spell book bellow.
Mark.












*(Or just roll them straight up .. like the hard core old school MFer you are.)
**(I once had a player who created such gems as "Sorek's dark servant" and "Sorek's  Un-living Orb" why does this matter, because 20 years latter I remember the  names and roughly what the spells did. I still have to look up  the volume of a web spell EVERY TIME.)

***( Again  AMAZING! If i saw someone shoot energy form their finger tips that unerringly  flew to a target and inflicted harm to it...I would shit myself. That's first level d&D magic. That one spell in particular has long been considered gratis starting  magic user fair. Lets not even talk about how much money one person with a magic missile spell could make as a hunter / fur trader.)