Monday, June 29, 2009

Everybody Vance Now! ..Give me the magic!

Now true, while C+C Music Factory may have been stuck in my head, It was unfair of me to try and jam it in yours. But today I'm going to deal with another Sacred Cow, Vancian magic..sort of.

I describe the magic system in piecemeal as Non-Vancian..but that's not entirely true. Its non-Vancian in the system of "Fire and Forget" spells that people associate with the term. Its incredibly if not MORE Vancian in terms of theme and feel. I'll split this post into two sections. First I'll deal with the mechanics of how its not Vancian, then the mechanics of how it IS Vancian.

First, why its not Vancian:

Spells do not have a level, you do not memorize spells, cast them and then run out. Spells do require study and learning, and memorization, but its different.

When a wizard has learned a spell, they write it down in their grimoire (spellbook, or some other medium). They may have dozens of spells in their library, but they can only memorize a certain number, this is based on their class training and intelligence (not level). This may seem counter-intuitive..after all, why can a higher level wizard not cast more spells? Note that memorization has nothing to do with how many times they can cast a spell. Memorization just dictates what spells they can cast at a moments notice. So a wizard for example would not need to memorize "Sleep" twice to cast it twice, they simply memorize the spell and its available for use. This means a wizard will often memorize a few combat spells and a wide variety of utility spells, even if they may never use them.

Why is this good? It allows the wizard the ability for spontaneous problem solving. How often did a D&D wizard have "Gaze Reflection" instead of "Magic Missile" just in case they randomly ran into a medusa? Now some players did, some players saw these "just in case" moments as the whole reason to have a wizard and not another fighter. But now both styles of wizard players have more options. They can have their cake and eat it too (possible through magic!).

Then of course, how do you limit a wizards spells if not through Vancian memorization? Through mana. Now some people find accounting for mana points a hassle, but if you use the right tools, its actually more fun not less. Each spell has a difficulty and a mana cost (and a casting speed). To cast a spell a wizard must have a spellpower equal to or higher than the difficulty. A wizard gains spellpower based on the class make up (pie pieces), a full time wizard faster than say a warrior who dabbles. Its very much like a warriors combat bonus. If you want to transplant this system to other games think of it as a "magic thac0". Then comes the mana cost, mana functions mechanically a lot like "hit points" in other games. You gain a die roll worth per level, when you expend it you regain it through rest or other less mundane means.

So if a 2nd level wizard has 2 spellpower and 20 mana, they could cast a difficulty 2 spell that cost 5 mana four times, as long as it was one of the memorized spells.

Of course..this really doesn't have enough "knobs and dials", I prefer to have every action be a "choice not a problem" as a mantra.

Next we get to power levels. Basically a wizard declares what intensity they want to cast a spell at, higher power levels have higher difficulty and higher mana costs. Think of it this way..does your 6th level wizard want to cast 1 6d6 fireball or a 2d6 fireball now and a 4d6 fireball later? How much damage does it really take to scorch some orcs? Here is a sample spell listing

Chain of Awesome Explosions

Difficulty: 1 per power level
Mana: 1 cumulative per power level
Casting Speed: 4

Spell causes 1d20 damage to 1 target per power level.

Note this is not an actual spell (though it could be..hmmm). So you can see there are a lot of options for charging up the spell. Some increases in difficulty (or mana, or speed) are linear, some are non-linear (cumulative or doubling) and some are static. This varies spell to spell. This adds a lot of choice in HOW a wizard casts a spell, and how they expend their power.

Note that no spell requires any material spell components, but unless stated otherwise they require words and gestures. That said, spell components are a big part of the game that really appeals to creative players. Long story short is it relies entirely on player creativity, I'd read the section in piecemeal if you are immediately curious, if not it will be a future post.

Why is all of this good?
1.) It increases the ability for utility spells
2.) It increases the amount of choice and decisions given to wizards about how they face problems and how they expend their power.

Now, why IS it Vancian.

One of the important notes in Vancian magic (to me) is the sense of lost knowledge. A scant few spells remain of the thousands that used to exist..and no one truly understands magic..that's why its magic. You can't write new spells (at least not in a reasonable time frame, often taking lifetimes for even minor magic), so there is only one way to get new spells...from others.

Now if you are a fan of wizard colleges ala Harry Potter then the next mechanics might be a good idea to dump. But if you like lone wizards sitting in their tower in the middle of god knows where jealously guarding their know..the old tropes..these will be down your alley.

Wizards don't share spells for mechanical reasons. In the spell lists are a nullification spells. "Counterspell", "Dispel Magic" and "Erase Runes", these spells whole point is to shut down the magic of others, they are also difficult to use. As a general rule you must be much more powerful than your opponent to use them easily. Unless of course you have read your opponents grimoire and thus know exactly how he casts the spell, down to the last minute detail.

Mechanically that makes these spells effective automatically, even the most idiotic of sorcerer's apprentices can counter the mightiest of magics from any GMPC wizard (Raistlin, Elminster, Gandalph, you name it) when he has read the spell they memorized.

This makes wizards reluctant to share their spells in an academic setting (especially for villainous wizards) and makes careful apprenticeship more common. Its also the impetus for wizards to adventure. They don't gain new spells from leveling, the only way they get new spells is to go out and find them. Meaning they need to find ancient tombs of wizards..or storm the towers of live ones.

Long post, but one that will ALSO be referenced a lot.

No comments:

Post a Comment