Friday, April 4, 2008

Fantasy: The Promise of Magic

Apologies for the delays between posts -- what with one thing (work) and another (Vegas), I just haven't been able to get out that post on magic I'd promised before. But there's also the fact that I'm now strongly leaning towards eliminating "Magic" as a skill altogether, and spreading out the various magic-related stunts among some of the other skills.

Here's the problem, as I see it. I think a generic "fantasy" system is incompatible with a strong, vibrant setting. For the latter to really work, it needs to incorporate the former, and vice-versa. In short, some forms of magic, such as SotC's Spirits, simply don't totally fit in the setting (I jokingly refer to it as "The Unnamed Lands") as it stands right now, so I'm not going to try to shoehorn them in, even if they make sense in other settings -- and even if that means leaving out a part of SotC that I otherwise like. I'll still work on them, but they're not a priority. Instead, I'm prioritizing the forms of magic that specifically belong to the setting we're creating.

The good news is that those forms of magic -- alchemy, artifice, "magecraft," necromancy, and summoning -- also work for a generic setting. The bad news is that some people may want more magic "coverage," but of course the good news to that is that it's on the way. Just... later. I'll also include the option for using a Magic skill (or whatever you want to call it), for those who'd prefer that.

Speaking of which: What's the advantage of not having a Magic skill? For one thing, it adds some personality to magic. Using Art to achieve something supernatural is clearly going to result in something different from using, say, Resolve. And the implication is there that Art-using mages are different from Crafting-using artificers, which means more flavor for both characters and the world. Another thing the separation accomplishes is to lessen a mage's reliance on a single skill. If all forms of magic are stunts under the same skill, then it's all-too easy for a character to make Magic his apex skill, then spend all his stunts on every form of magic available. I don't really want characters who are so totally universal. I just think it's more interesting to play a character with a definite forte instead of one who can do it all.

(Kindly note that I'm staying away from the term "niche protection." That's not what this is about -- it's about interesting characters. Niche is secondary.)

On a somewhat related note, I'm expecting some subtle tweaks to a couple of other skills as a consequence. Medicine is likely to be renamed (I'm leaning towards Physick), the function of Empathy will likely be expanded somewhat to cover some of Mysteries "sixth sense" schtick (and to include the Fortuneteller stunt), and so on.


Matt Sheridan said...

I really wouldn't worry about providing a generic system. It looks like Starblazer Adventures will be doing a great generic fantasy supplement, eventually, so that'll be covered. And those of us who want a magic system to do our own thing with are generally pretty capable of hacking somebody else's rules, anyway.

Anyway, I for one am really eager to see what "The Unnamed Lands" turn out to be. Looking forward to seeing lots of informal posts about various setting elements as you figure the whole thing out.

Oh, and ditching the Magic skill in favor of stunts that allow magic use through regular skills? Entirely brilliant.

But is it going to be a "You use Art to create illusions and Contacting to summon demons" kind of thing, or would the player instead choose what skill they use? It'd be great to have tome-toting wizardy guys who throw fireballs with Academics (or is that Lore?) and wild-eyed bloodmages who do the same thing with Endurance.

But I wouldn't think you'd want to leave it completely open, allowing a character to tie five different flavors of magic use into his one apex skill. So maybe having players to choose one skill for each school (or whatever) of magic would be ideal.

Mike Olson said...

I'm really eager to see what Cubicle 7 comes up with for their fantasy treatment of SotC -- or rather, their fantasy treatment of Starblazer, I guess. I'm not nuts about their implementation of a few rules, but I'm dying to see more big-picture stuff.

As for the Unnamed Lands, which I think is pretty catchy for a placeholder name, Andy and I have been putting regular work into it. At this stage, it's mostly sketching out this race or that country, but we like what we have so far. I've been working on the various religions and myths, and it's turning out pretty cool.

Magic: I think it's best, at least initially, to tie different forms of magic to specific skills. If I make it too freeform, it'll lose a lot of flavor.

For example, "magecraft" -- i.e., conventional spellcasting -- involves the direct manipulation of reality using distinctly intoned and inflected words of power, along with certain gestures mages learn to focus the mind. The net effect is almost perfomative in nature, so the skill for magecraft is Art. I picture these mages as rather dramatic and flamboyant when plying their craft. Not quite Doctor Orpheus, but not all that far from him, either.

In a similar vein, Summoning involves bringing things into existence through esoteric techniques and sheer force of will. But summoning a creature is only half the battle -- it must be dominated before it will serve its new master, however briefly. Thus, summoning falls under Resolve.

Artifice is tied to Crafting; Necromancy, to Lore. And so on. The idea is to make each brand of magic -- and its various practitioners -- unique and distinctive. I've been working on a draft and hope to get it online soon.

That said, I'd love to have a secret conclave of sorcerers that accesses magic in unorthodox ways -- say, through bloodletting rituals -- using unorthodox skills -- say, Endurance. That strikes me as very cool. It's definitely something to think about for a future supplement, or at least a sidebar. I don't want to introduce too much at once, y'know.

BTW, thanks for the comment! Always good to hear what people think.

Matt Sheridan said...

Yeah, wholly freeform skill-magic choices would definitely compromise the specific feel of the setting.

If you want to allow for some unorthodox styles of magic use, stunts seem like the obvious way to go. But if having access to magic in the first place also requires stunts (as I assume it would) that seems like it would really be a bit demanding. Maybe it should just be a variant of the initial feat? Or even something you can do with a very specific kind of aspect?

Jonathan Breese said...

I sort of like the idea of it spread out among stunts like artificer and so on. You could have the stunts build upon one another. Things like minor illusions (or Glamors/Cantrips) would be stunt and be very flexible. It would allow players to pick up minor magic, and the people who wanted more powerful magic would delve deeper into the stunt "trees".

The ones that become tough are things like Necromancy, but that could be a stunt within something like medicine or something odd like that. The healing magic could be in medicine too.