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Author Topic: [Bronze] magic and 'magic items'  (Read 21195 times)
stefoid
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« on: February 05, 2006, 05:53:33 PM »

Hi this is the first cut on magic for my fantasy bronze age system.

http://www.geocities.com/stevenmathers/MAGIC.zip

I am unhappy with it for several reasons:

1)  its too mechanical.  each type of magic revolves around a 'magic user' who does something nifty which results in 'magic happening' fairly instantaneously.  i.e. you point the wand or say the mumbo-jumbo, and ZAP, something happens.

2) each style is too similar to each other style.  Both in terms of the mechanics (not sure if this is good or bad), but defiantely also the feel.  (as in each has the concept of 'a magic user who quickly makes magic happen' and also in terms of the type of effects that the magic can have.  i.e. there doesnt seem to be much qualitative difference between the effects generated by a sorceror as opposed to those generated by a shaman or divine magic user.

3) magic items.  what, can any type of magic user just make a 'magic item' that allows joe schmoe to produce magical effects similar to those that the magic user might have created?   have I played to much nethack?  do I really want 'wands of lighting' in this game?  What IS a magic item, anyway? 

I think all my problems stem from my own cultural expectations of magic and magic users.  its all very gandalf or harry potter, with a different name and rationale for each type of magic.

Things I want to address:

a)  sorcery is about knowledge, skill and power, but divine magic and shamanism is about relationships between the 'magic user' and the supernatural entity that 'does' the magic
b)  that each type of magic is qualatitvely different in terms of what can be accomplished and how it can be accomplished
c)  that magic items are not (genericly) portable substitute magicusers for non-magic user characters.  i.e. no generic wands of lightning

heres some random ideas I kind of like.  what do you think?

* shamistic magic is very much personal magic which can only affect a designated target.  The 'magic' occurs by the spirit 'inhabiting' the target.  therefore such effects as a fireball is not possible.  The idea is that the intrinsic nature of the spirit (the type of spirit) manifests in the target, perhaps giving the target abilities or aspects from it.  i.e. a deer spirit inhabiting the target allows speed and stamina, or a disease spirit causing sickness, etc...

* divine magic can be widely varried in power, as it depends on the devine entity's presence when the magic is invoked.  i.e. a preist of a 'god of winds' will get naff results on a still day, whereas at the height of a hurricane, his results will be awesome.   divine magic is invoked through prayer such that the 'magic user' brings himself and his requirements to the notice of his deity.  therefore if successful, the presence of the deity may result in 'side effects' as well as the intended effect.  such as a wind arising from nowhere when the priest invokes the wind god to carry his words on the wind to a distant target.

* divine magic items and shamanistic magic items are not magical in the sense that they contain magic spells which can be triggered by a user, but rather they are communication devices that enable the user to 'contact' the divine being or spirit they are associated with.  As such, they arent neccessarilly of any use to characters who dont have a relationship with that entity.  although it is possible to 'feel' the power of the connection?

* the process of executing divine magic or spirit magic is the process of contacting the entity in quesiton and asking it to do something.  As such, the 'magic items' listed above can help.  although with divine magic, I think the available scale of effect might be more powerful depending on the scale of the asking.  If 100 acolytes get together around a magic item (shrine or sacred location) and sacrifice 10 goats and pray all night, obviously they are going to get a lot more 'noticed' by their deity than one guy kind of asking for a favour...  So with divine magic you have the possibility to up the scale of the asking in return for upping the scale of the intended effect.  A mechanism that wont be availble for shamanism and sorcery

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StefanDirkLahr
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« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2006, 06:25:41 PM »

How do you feel about kicking out the whole set of DND fantasy magic conventions, and making your setting's sense of magic correspond to how we think magic was viewed in the Bronze Age?

You could check out what Wikipedia has to say on subjects like Zorastrianism, Greek Philosophy, Greek Polytheism, The Hundred Schools of Thought (in China), I-Ching, and etc to get a feel for all that, if you haven't already.

Religion and magic always seem to be bound together before the modern era, so you might want to tackle it from that side.

And recognize that you do not *have* to have magic, at least overt magic, in a work of fantasy. (I hope.)
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Stefan Dirk Lahr, dreaming the impossible dream
StefanDirkLahr
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« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2006, 06:34:06 PM »

Definately check out the Key of Solomon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_of_Solomon
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Stefan Dirk Lahr, dreaming the impossible dream
TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2006, 06:44:00 PM »

There's also the direct question of what you're pointing out in terms of the distinction between hermetic magic (a mage controlling principles for an intended effect) and shamanistic magic (a shaman propitiating the spirits, who are doing the real work).  What you're talking about there is the difference between a power that is in the character's control and a power that the character can only influence.

You can mirror that by removing the power from the player's control.  Have somebody else be in charge of what happens when they invoke the spirits.  Maybe the GM, maybe another player ... all sorts of ways you can distribute it.

Thoughts?
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Selene Tan
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« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2006, 06:54:46 PM »

John Kim has a series of essays on Magic in Roleplaying that you might want to look at. The first, one, Breaking out of Scientific Magic, has a good summary of the features that make a system feel mechanical and modern.

One good point that he makes is the integration of moral character into magic. I know that for a long time, alchemists believed that in order to make something as pure as the Philosopher's Stone, they themselves had to be completely pure. If it failed, it was their fault for not being pure enough, rather than a flaw in the theories or process.
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stefoid
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« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2006, 06:59:14 PM »

How do you feel about kicking out the whole set of DND fantasy magic conventions, and making your setting's sense of magic correspond to how we think magic was viewed in the Bronze Age?

You could check out what Wikipedia has to say on subjects like Zorastrianism, Greek Philosophy, Greek Polytheism, The Hundred Schools of Thought (in China), I-Ching, and etc to get a feel for all that, if you haven't already.

Religion and magic always seem to be bound together before the modern era, so you might want to tackle it from that side.

And recognize that you do not *have* to have magic, at least overt magic, in a work of fantasy. (I hope.)

Thats where I got the three main concepts from :  divine magic, shamanism and sorcery.  These were recognized styles of magic in ancient times.  I am trying to find out more details of ancient magic but its hard work.  Im slowly building my library at home with various sources.
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stefoid
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« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2006, 07:03:54 PM »

John Kim has a series of essays on Magic in Roleplaying that you might want to look at. The first, one, Breaking out of Scientific Magic, has a good summary of the features that make a system feel mechanical and modern.

One good point that he makes is the integration of moral character into magic. I know that for a long time, alchemists believed that in order to make something as pure as the Philosopher's Stone, they themselves had to be completely pure. If it failed, it was their fault for not being pure enough, rather than a flaw in the theories or process.

great link.  and moralistic side of things makes sense for Divine Magic.  If the 'skill' of the divine magic user represents the strength of the relationship of the character with the deity, then it stands to reason that the stronger the relationship, the more moral the character must be relative to the tenets of that deity.  I suppose then extending that, the game could have bonuses for upholidng those morals and penalites for not adhering to them.

of course 'moraility' is highly relative.  I suppose an 'evil' god expects his followers to do 'evil' things.  If they help an ld lady across the road then their power to invoke the god of nastiness is lessed until they seek atonement by drowning a kitten or something...
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stefoid
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« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2006, 08:12:23 PM »

Actually, further on the idea of morality...  the system has a morality Pesonality Trait that is defined in terms of the morals of the society the character comes from.

I suppose that should be seperate from the characters relationship to a deity.  For instance you could have devout devil worshipper form todays society who drowns kittens and steals hubcaps.  By our societies standards his morals are low, but his 'faith' is high.

conversely you could have the preist who has fallen out with his deity but still adheres to the morals of the socity he lives in.  religious leaders are often required to have a different standard of morals from the rest of socitey - no drinking, sex, etc...

so in other words, the characters morality trait (as defined by this system) and the characters reltionship with their deity (favour stat) should be kept seperate.
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Anna B
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« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2006, 10:50:47 PM »

I don't know if this will help you, as you seem to be going in a different direction, but one thing I've done in systems where magic item creation is fairly free form (mostly Changeling: The Dreaming) is create magic items with limits. Some items I can remember off the top of my head include a pen that couldn't write the truth and a sword that once drawn couldn't put away until blood was drawn.
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contracycle
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« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2006, 01:05:19 AM »

What function do you want magic to have in your game world?

The kinds of things that you can actually do with magic will influence how those societies hang together and make sense.  If you simply design a set of magical causes and effects, then these may undercut some other desired element of the setting.  So I think the thing to do is determine how magic "fits", and then figure out mechanisms to implement that fit.
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stefoid
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« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2006, 02:47:12 AM »

I don't know if this will help you, as you seem to be going in a different direction, but one thing I've done in systems where magic item creation is fairly free form (mostly Changeling: The Dreaming) is create magic items with limits. Some items I can remember off the top of my head include a pen that couldn't write the truth and a sword that once drawn couldn't put away until blood was drawn.


pretty cool.  Im not sure about the specifics, thats up to the players, but I am leaning towards the idea of sorcerous magic items having an intrinsic effect rather than something that is initiated by the wielder.  i.e. those effects you describe are intrinsic - they do whatever they do whether the wielder wants them to or not.  What i think I dont want is magic items that are proxies for 'magic spells' -- that have effects that are initiated and/or controlled by the wielder.  a wand o' fire or a staff of lightning or whatever.

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stefoid
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« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2006, 03:02:57 AM »

What function do you want magic to have in your game world?

The kinds of things that you can actually do with magic will influence how those societies hang together and make sense.  If you simply design a set of magical causes and effects, then these may undercut some other desired element of the setting.  So I think the thing to do is determine how magic "fits", and then figure out mechanisms to implement that fit.

exactly right, which is why I am unhappy with the rules as they stand.

coming up with magic rules is a cycle process for me.  Ideas from the cultures drive the design of the magic mechanics, but also vice versa.  If I have some cool ideas for magic, I can weave those back into the cultural setting as well.
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lumpley
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« Reply #12 on: February 06, 2006, 08:24:51 AM »

Hey Steve. (It's Steve, right?)

My question's kind of a complement of Gareth's:

Do you envision magic to be primarily a tool for the PCs to use, a hazard for the PCs to deal with, or a neutral but atmospheric feature of the setting?

Please don't dash back with "all three." Please imagine some people playing your game, having their characters do something - how does magic figure in your vision of play?

-Vincent
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dindenver
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« Reply #13 on: February 06, 2006, 10:56:33 AM »

Hi!
  Another way to dissect this issue is to ask practical questions:
1) What do peasants want from a Magic User?
2) What do craftsmen want from a Magic User?
3) What do soldiers want from a Magic User?
4) What do nobles want from a Magic User?
5) How do Magic User's make thier money? (I mean they have to eat don;t they?)
6) Do Magic Users really distinguish themselves from other Magic Users? If so, why?
7) Is the Magic of different Magic Users really different? If so, why?
  Forget about the rules, and just answer these in reference to the setting. Then come back and make rules that match.
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stefoid
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« Reply #14 on: February 06, 2006, 03:26:41 PM »

Hey Steve. (It's Steve, right?)

My question's kind of a complement of Gareth's:

Do you envision magic to be primarily a tool for the PCs to use, a hazard for the PCs to deal with, or a neutral but atmospheric feature of the setting?

Please don't dash back with "all three." Please imagine some people playing your game, having their characters do something - how does magic figure in your vision of play?

-Vincent

ha ha, I can think of scenarios where it would be either.  But I can break it down to :

sorcery:  secretive.  hated and reviled due to historical reasons.  associated with evil and demons (it remains unspecified whether this is true or not)
shamanism:  associated with primitive barbarian cultures.  more of a 'by the people, for the people' type of deal.  tribal shamans very hands-on, respected.
theistic:  associated with civilized cultures.  more concentrated in the hands of a specialized minority.

so i would say mostly a) for barbarian culture characters and mostly c) for civilized characters

I can see barbarian characters specifically benefitting from magic in their endevours, either from the help of a shaman character, or by specifically enlisting the aid of spirits themselves through spiritual quests and ordeals.

I can see civilized characters benefitting from magic via obtaining devine magical items, or by participating in religious ceremonies.

I think it is most likely that PCs will be opposed to any sorceror they come across, unless of course the scenario is one where the PCs are associated with sorcerous magic themselves.
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