Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Drinking Rainwater from a Wolf's Paw Print

If you haven't skimmed it, I highly recommend the Wikipedia page on the Werewolf. In particular, the section on Becoming a werewolf is full of great stuff that our D&D frozen minds would never think of.

Like how some myths propose that simply drinking rainwater from the paw print of any animal was enough to turn you into that creature.

That isn't just good monster lore, that's good magic lore. How different would the magician be if their magical abilities weren't a series of arcane words and arm motions, but a kind of esoteric utilization of the opportunities that the natural world presented to them? It isn't so much about knowing a spell, though a book full of instructions on how to do magical things would still be very important, but rather it's about putting the right components together to make an effect.

I can't help but think about the wizards and sorcerers and such in the games that I've played, and how boring they are as magic-users go. There's almost no mystery to them, and even worse, whatever mystery there was is totally removed once you realize the character has pulled out all their spells in the first session or two.

I'm never surprised by a spellcaster anymore. I'm never shocked at a player's spell selection. Probably because the classes and spells they have to choose from are too utilitarian and not nearly eccentric enough.

Of all the countless hours I have searched the web for game design content (particularly OSR content), no topic has felt more time consuming and unsolvable that making magic less...blah.

And for good reason. Magic is at its best when the situation in-game is the most tense and unpredictable. However, making magic cooler often means making magic more complex, which means players need more time to figure out what their magic does each turn. More time spent on one person's turn slows the game down. Slow turns kill the vibe, which is what we were trying to augment in the first place. It's a Catch-22.

I'm always returning to Tolkien's world, because that is perhaps the single most magical feeling world I have ever had the pleasure of being in. I have gone over and over what makes Tolkien magic so appealing, and part of it is always the fact that it is a story, and not a game. In a story, the magic-user can easily go four chapters without using magic at all, but in-game, if a magician character goes four sessions without slinging a single spell, they will probably be pretty ornery.

Something that I can learn from Tolkien immediately is that magic happens far more in D&D combat than it should. More combat-focused magic is certainly the trend in new-school games, and I find that boring. In a Harry Potter setting, where the entire fantasy world is primarily concerned with the academic pursuit of magic, combat magic is cool and refreshing. But in D&D and Middle Earth, where war and battle and monsters and the like are the main course, making magic combat-centric is the equivalent of doubling down instead of covering your bases.

Swords and bows and armor and monsters and catapults and legendary foes all roaming the battlefield isn't enough for you? You need fiery explosions every six seconds to make combat feel exciting and worthwhile? Nah, man. No thank you. That's over-saturation. One blast of searing light or call of a lighting bolt per story arch is enough for me, I think.

The best way to communicate this kind of magical feel isn't by describing it, but by presenting a list of spells and such to give you an idea of what this means. Hopefully, I'll be posting that soon.

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