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Friday, September 8, 2017

The Anatomy of, AAIE magic.

Small AAIE Update:
On Saturday Morning I'm running a game off AAIE at "Gaming in the  woods" a new Con just starting up this year in Poughkeepsie NY. I guess this isn't  playtesting anymore, now we're just playing. Editing and such continues. I still haven't done anymore art for the game, so ... that's on me.

Also One of the games I wrote back in 2006, which was played quite often between then and 2014 (when fifth ED dropped and we all decided to try it) Can now be downloaded on Drive through RPG for Free.
It's Called Phase Abandon. The  document was edited and Laid out by the multi talented Jens D. From the Disoriented Ranger Blog. The Drive through RPG was set up by the equally talented Neal T. who deserves all the credit for getting this stuff out there.
Quick note about Phase abandon: It's very much a "Narrative style" game. While I hate those labels because of the arguments they cause, I had to point out the Phase Abandon is very much unlike AAIE or D&D.

Yet another in my now growing "Anatomy of" series. This series deals with  various design aspects from my game "Amazing Adventures and Incredible Exploits." The articles below are written to provide clarity concerning the  AAIE game specifically how the  moving parts of that game are meant to  work together.

The series includes:
The Anatomy of Weapons.
AAIE "The town"
The anatomy of Balance.
The Anatomy of a Perk.
The Anatomy of an Ability
The Anatomy of AAIE Magic

The Anatomy of AAIE magic:
This is may not be my longest post, but its still a doozy.
First of all I think I need to start with a bit of background. (start building the  pyre while getting the tar and feathers all warm and ready.) I hate, have always hated D&D Magic. The whole Vancian magic concept has never conceptually made much of sense to me. Worse yet it has never  "excited" my imagination. It has never felt like magic to me. Not the magic I had seen in movies, not the Magic I had read about in  books. (Outside of Jack Vance but .. yeah .. ) Want proof? Ask the people I game with  how many spell casters I have ever played? Not many.
I did a bit of thinking on the subject when I wrote AAIE. The idea that magic users forget their memorized spells when they are cast, the root of the  whole Vancian thing, never bothered me. The  idea of having a limited number of spells, or the need to study each day were also not that offending. When I got down to it, the lists of spells is what has always put me off. Here are my gripes. Primarily I never want to hear "let me look up that spell" again. I am not a fan of that. D&D went a good distance by printing spell cards for each class. As handy as spell cards are WoTC has enough of my money already. I'm not going to ask the players in the game I run to buy them. A pile of index cards works well enough. Prepared players help a great deal to mitigate this gripe. The  people I game with always  have the pages their spells are located on written on their spell lists. Those things are great, but it still takes the player out of the game into reference mode every time they want to cast.*

My second gripe is the lack of creativity involved in predefined spells. The system is supposed to represent magic.  Having each spell predefined by a stat block reminds me more of doing math  than indulging in the dark arts. Sure I have spent time  tying to find creative uses for spells like "rope trick," or "Illusionary Terrain." ** Milking as much use as possible out of the spells, while fun as a pursuit, has never felt magical or creative to me.

With all this in mind I took a cue from some of the older editions of Ars Magica in attempting to create a more interpretive Magical system.
AAIE uses what are termed "keywords" along with "casting styles" to facilitate magic.
A new spell caster knows a number of keywords equal to his or her Academics score.  These words are the building blocks of their spells. A player may use a number of keywords equal to their level +1.
For example if a wizards keywords are, Rune, Thundering , light, and Weapon. That caster at level 1 could cast a spell called. "Thundering Rune" , simply "thundering", "Light Rune" or any other combination. Each keyword used in the spell makes the  spell more difficult while adding to the  spell's effects.
It is up to the player to describe the  desired effect then for the GM to arbitrate if the effect is in bounds.

Using our example above "Thundering Rune" could be a mark made on a door way that  causes a great noise when the door is opened. The key word "Light" could be cast in a myriad of ways. Light the noun as in illumination, light as in the  adjective  "off little weight", light the verb as in light the candle.
At first level the  player could cast "Light Weapon" which could mean a weapon that spreads illumination, causing a weapon to go aflame, a weapon made of light or a large weapon the  player just made weigh less...

How hard a spell is to cast is determined by  the characters Casting style. A casting style are the wizards equivalent of the abilities given to the other classes. A wizard starts with one style he or she may pick up others as they level up.
Spells are categorized at the time they are cast by the GM  as either Offensive, Defensive, Summoning, or Utility. Each casting style has base difficulties along with benefits or drawbacks depending on the category of spell cast.

Lastly each key word used in a spell increases the  base difficulty by one. Our example spell above "Light Weapon" would incur a +2 difficulty to cast. This being AAIE the GM adds that in before taking the characters relevant attribute into account to determine the final difficulty . In effect it's math the player never has to see.

Here is an example  Spell casting Style (or ability if you like)

Offensive Caster.
(You have put it into your mind that magic is to be used for the sole purpose of destruction and death. You are not much fun at parties.)
Attribute: Academics 
This is the character's attribute that will lower the casting difficulties.
Difficulty Offense Vs armor of target - casters academics
When casting  offensive spells the  caster may use their academics score to lower the difficulty.
Difficulty Summoning: Vs 12 + modifiers
Difficulty Defense: Vs 12 + modifiers
Difficulty of Utility: Vs 12 + modifiers
The other spell categories don't get the academics modifier because this is the offensive casting style.
Costs: Myst and focus by spell +
You may add more Myst to any spell to add damage. 1 point for 1 point.
Every spell costs d6 myst and d6 Focus, +1 per keyword used to cast, offensive casters may choose to spend more if they wish to do more damage.
Common: You do normal damage + (see above)
This is the result of a normal success (the result of a successful casting with a non-exceptional roll on the  effect die.)
Perk 1: Stun opponent
Perk 2: knock down.
Perk 3: Push
Critical: X 2 damage.
If the  roll is successful and the  effect die is high  these are the perks the  player may add to their spell. Base effects are also  determined by the number of keywords used. Each key word used adds a D6 to the effects.
Fumble: Use spell fumble table
IF the roll is a failure along with an effect die result of  1, there is a pretty solid chance the  player will blow themselves up ...

Going back to our "Light Sword" spell example.
If it were cast using the  Offensive caster ability above, with the player electing to create a, "Sword made out of  the purest light in their hand!"

  • It's a second level spell. It uses two key words "Sword and Light"
  •  I would love to say this is an offensive spell to match the characters casting style but actually it's not. It's a summoning spell as the  player is  summoning a sword of light to their hand. 
  • The difficulty would be 12 (+2 because it is a spell using 2 keywords)  For a total of  14.
  • It will cost the caster 1d6+2 Myst and Focus. ( I usually ask players to roll those costs individually but it's not a rule.)
  • Assuming the  roll is a success as a GM I would ask the player to describe what the Light sword looks like.  After all it's that wizards light sword, not necessarily like anyone else's
  • The  sword will do 2d6 damage. (2 key words.)
  • The  sword will last 2d6 turns or until dispelled, or another spell is cast. (again 2 keywords.)
  • If I were running the game I would say the  sword casts a glow like a torch, not more because the player never stated they wanted it as a source of illumination but simply as a sword. 
  • I would give it a bonus of 1d6 damage vs undead. Given that the  player said it was made of "the purest light" I just think that would be cool.
  • A smart player would write down the  bonuses I gave to the light sword then ask for them again next time they cast it. A wise player would write down the bonuses I gave to the light sword then mention them the next time they cast the spell then say, "But if you think something else works better..."

Does this seem like much of the  magic system is dropped in the GM's lap for case by case arbitration? Yes.
In my opinion the one great balancing and arbitrating  system most games have in common is the game master. Trying to build a "magic system" that will catch  all of the ideas a player may come up with is neigh impossible. With That in mind I  decided that any free form magic system will have to lean on the GM more heavily than a system where the spells are pre-written. ***  I find arbitrating the magic to be fun. I'm constantly surprised by the ideas players come up with. Equally exciting are  the  ways in which they use keywords to adapt to situations. It's creative, allows the players to stretch out within the game world to work the system a bit. Finally AAIE magic doesn't require those lists of spells for everyone to memorize. It can also be a bit silly at times, after all that's to be expected in AAIE.

In a nutshell that's the basics of AAIE Magic.

Wild and  strange no doubt. I have found it to be the hardest part of the game for new players to  get used to. They usually end up liking it, but it has an adjustment period that the other classes just don't have.

Thank you for reading, and have a great one!

*Unless the group is playing 5th edition which has offensive "cantrips" for each casting class which  everyone has memorized word for word...and are honestly repulsive to me.
** One of the most underrated spells in the  D&D  canon of spells. In my humble opinion.
*** Not that D&D style spells don't require a substantial amount of DM arbitration  now and again.