Saturday, August 25, 2012

What is magic?

Every GM needs to at some point think about what the nature of magic is on/in his world. Usually it comes at some point when a world threatening use of magic is about to occur, and the GM really needs to think - Is this how magic works? For a lot of game worlds, magic is controlled by the gods - not in the priestly way, though that happens too. More in the way that the gods allow magic to function. I never liked giving gods that much control. Some fantasy book worlds claim that magic is conscious, some sort of super entity or the blended consciousness of all things. I think this misses the point. I think that magic is the sub-conscious blending of all living things. Some of the Legend Quest books (Book of Wishes magic supplement mostly) refer to magic as being a vanetil source of power, eternal and replenishing. The source is stated as life, and as long as there is life on a planet, there will be magic. In some ways, this is a chicken and egg debate, but I think life first, then magic. If you read between the lines of the Legend Quest magic system, you’ll see that magic resistance comes from trying to keep the world “right” by your perspective. Same as using magic - You are trying to bend the magical power sources (various depending on the type of magic) into doing things that aren’t “normal”. But this normal is completely one person’s perspective. Back to the slightly more concrete discussion - If magic is the blending of all sub-conscious thought in the world, what does that do to it? Well, it establishes the way that people resist magic, as previously mentioned. It means that while gods and other super beings may have more sway over it, they do not have complete control over it. It means that most magic shouldn’t work on the moon - effectively a dead planet - but some magic (spell singers come to mind first) control magic from the spell’s target, so they might not be affected. You might also have to let some magic function if the spell caster is enough to power the spell - likely at some fairly serious restrictions. Maybe it’s more important to ask - What doesn’t it allow? Well, the spirit of magic cannot change the rules of how it’s power is used; it is not a conscious entity. Any spell that would affect the entire world would presumably be resisted by the entire world, and thus nearly impossible to cast. (Not impossible - just nearly so.) LQ utilizes “natural spirits”, basically locational elementals. If the water spirit Naumoui controls that river, then that river has some manner of subconscious, as opposed to the natural power of water simply residing in the river. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but this means that simple manipulation of elements is really the manipulation of some manner of thought. If you think this is complicated, you should see how I determine weather patterns on Fletnern as a combination of science and the will of various weather divinities. I don’t know if I made a point here - Other than to suggest you figure out where all that magic comes from. Obviously, your game rules will help dictate, but you’re the GM - add your own color and style to it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Note on Culture

You are in a theater in Myork watching an Anglic play. The sheriff walks into a public house (bar) and orders a beer from the bartender. The bartender says, “How’s the war effort going?” The sheriff grumbles back, “None of your damn business!” Who’s the bad guy? Well, it’s obvious: the sheriff is drinking in a bar when he should be off fighting a war, leading his patrol. Plus he swore. He’s evil to the core - in Myork. You’re in a different theater, this time in Garnock watching a Latvich play. The extortionist walks into a bustling bar and demands money from the bartender/owner. The owner says, “I don’t have the money to pay you.” Who’s the bad guy? Again, it’s obvious: the bar owner. I just said the bar was bustling. He doesn’t have enough money to pay the extortionist off? That’s a lie! And after all the extortionist is doing for the community. No, really! In Garnock, the organized crime families do extort money from the shop keepers, but they also run the community watch program (no one else better rob a store in their territory!), the fire brigade, and handle most of the civic programs. They also pass money upwards to the bigger crime families who pass it on to the government, so they are the tax collectors. Confused? I hope not. In one city the sheriff is considered derelict, while in the other the extortionist is Robin Hood. It all depends on the culture. Why write this blog entry? Because if your world has only one culture, you need to do some rewriting!

Book Length

Back in the old days, in an age long forgotten, there were no word processors. GASP!! No really! and everyone had to type things ... wait for it ... on a typewriter. NO!! The horror! OK, I’ll stop. I remember the submission guide for submitting adventure “modules” to that first RPG company. One of the things it said was (as I recall it): It takes 100 typed pages to make one book. If you have trouble getting to 100 pages, then you probably shouldn’t try. If on the other hand, you have trouble keeping it to only 100 pages, then you just might be the kind of writer they want. I’ve been having that trouble lately! A Baker’s Dozen isn’t enough ideas for me. I need to write more in order to feel that the book is complete. You saw that in The Royalty, which was a Baker’s Dozen plus two 100s books all rolled into one. Look for some “double Baker’s Dozen” supplements coming in the relatively near future. Oh, and recently, some really good work has been accomplished on Coins of the Road. This project, almost scrapped after so many rewrites, is now back on track.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Going off the map

Last week we talked about maps and the party staying on the road. Now I like to let the party do whatever they want, but I also believe (very strongly) in punishing them for not doing what I wanted in the first place. So how do you punish the party for going off road? It’s really easy. First, they would likely be moving at a third of the rate of what they could on the road. Slow them down in other ways. If they have horses, they might need to lead them, not ride them. Branches have a tendency to catch on backpacks; in other words, hand them equipment failures. Tell an adventurer that his backpack won’t hold loot before he gets into the adventure, and you’ll find an adventurer willing to turn around and go home. As you slow them down, their provisions will not go as far. Now, they will insist that they are hunting or fishing as they go. OK - Check their hunting or fishing abilities, but then have them spend all the daylight hours hunting and fishing. If they succeed at their gathering abilities, then they don’t go hungry, but in any case, they don’t progress towards the ultimate goal. In the end, they will likely start running low on provisions, but not be near anywhere they can refill them. I normally won’t have them run into real trouble with the wildlife. It is not as though a pack of wolves is going to attack and run combat. Instead - the pack of wolves will follow them for a little while, howling and forcing them to post watches, just in case. Would those wolves spook the horses? I know it’s a fantasy RPG and all, but there are no cases of wolves killing humans in the US’s history. (OK, the Old World was a little different.) So avoid the combat (which the PCs would likely win), and just harass them. Then there are the opossums and raccoons who will steal those precious provisions. Skunks? Bees? Mosquitoes? You know in real life, I’m willing to do quite a bit to avoid mosquitoes. I’d bet the fantasy characters would be too. Doing damage is not the point; I mean how much damage do you take from a bee sting? The point is to fill their time with things that are disadvantageous to them. At the same time, if they divert from the main road to avoid an ambush, then I congratulate them, but get them back on the road ASAP. Skipping encounters has a tendency to make those encounters come back later, but only if properly role-playing the bad guys would lead to that. Sometimes it can be more fun to have that encounter they missed form the basis of next week’s adventure/mission. The adventurers feel so smart for avoiding the bandit trap, only to find out that the merchant and his family fell into it and now need to be saved. (After all, you made up those bad guys anyway, might as well use them.) Actions and decisions have consequences, even inactions.