Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Distracted Through Monday

I have an excuse for my radio silence this time, and it's Game Chef. I'm designing this unnamed game about the last few surviving species of dinosaurs struggling to survive despite a rapidly changing world and the rising threat of idiot Neanderthals. Come check it out -- and it might not even be too late to enter, so join in and give it a shot.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fantasy: Magic Basics

In the interest of not having overly long lulls in the blog while I sort stuff out behind the scenes, I'll post some reliable baseline info on my take on a SotC magic system for "Spirit of the Sword" (by the by, how does "Spirit of the Crown" grab you?).

First of all, be warned that some of the details here are still being worked out. But then again, that goes for just about everything on this blog.

After thinking about whether or not to cut Magic as a skill altogether, I've decided that yes, I'm going to go ahead and do that very thing -- but it can easily be re-inserted into the skill list, and I'll give guidelines for doing so, for those who prefer it. At any rate, all I'm going to go into for the time being is which skills are getting which types of magic, and why.

Artifice involves the creation of enchanted items, such as troll-slaying swords, amulets of power, and concealing cloaks. Artificers employ time-tested techniques in these endeavors, passed down from master to apprentice over the centuries, and only items of the finest manufacture can be imbued with magical power. Thus, Artifice uses the Crafting skill.

Magecraft is the direct manipulation of intangible magical forces to alter reality, such as flying or flinging destructive fireballs. Mages accomplish this through very specifically intoned incantations and highly refined gestures that aid the mind's focus. These performative aspects put Magecraft under the Art skill.

Those who practice Necromancy possess knowledge of the secret underpinnings of life and death, though applying that knowledge often proves... unpredictable. They seek out these occult mysteries in books, scrolls, and tablets written in an ancient, unknown hand. Few now can recognize the forgotten tongue in which they're written, let alone decipher them. However, unlike Magecraft, Necromancy requires more than the right word at the right time. The practitioner must establish a certain connection with the world beyond, with the living and with the dead. And there are some who whisper that the true secrets of Nnecromancy aren't learned, but felt, as if imparted by an external agency. This is why Necromancy relies on Empathy.

Summoning is the act of calling creatures into existence through a combination of arcane knowledge and sheer force of will. Using the same principles, the summoner can also make solid objects, such as a wall or a sword, appear out of thin air, if only temporarily. Such efforts are taxing on the psyche, however. Summoned creatures must be dominated and bent to the summoner's will, a struggle which relies on Resolve.

Alchemy is a strange case, and its associated skill is still pending. Arguments can be made for it to fall under Crafting, Lore, or whatever Medicine gets renamed to (still probably Physick). Alchemists create potions, elixirs, powders, and the like -- magical chemical compounds concocted from established recipes (Lore) requiring an intimate knowledge of the elements and bodily humours (Physick) and so precise as to preclude even the smallest error in the formulation process (Crafting). I'm leaning towards Physick, because I like the idea of making Alchemy as scientific as possible. That, and Lore and Crafting already have their own magic, and I'm trying to avoid doubling up. (Edit: Oops -- Lore doesn't have its own magic anymore.) I'm intersted in hearing any feedback anyone may have on the matter.

Be that as it may, Alchemy, Artifice, and Magecraft work much the same way as SotC's Gadgets or Artifacts. The product of each, whether a potion, an item, or a spell, is composed of a number of improvements, or effects. Generally speaking, Alchemy and Magecraft conform to pre-defined packages of effects that characters learn. Invention of new spells is a snap, although it requires some guidelines to keep the different forms of magic feeling different. Artifice more or less follows SotC's rules for making and improving things, only the things come out enchanted when you're done with them. Necromancy and Summoning, on the other hand, have a lot in common with the minion and companion rules (especially Summoning), although each does things outside that scope as well, such as a life-draining necromantic touch or a summoned object.

There's more to say about magic, even at this early stage, but I have a football game to get to, apparently.

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.