Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Evolution of Magic

OK - Since I don’t know how I would ever get this into a book, I have to publish this here. Just stay with me for a little bit: What if magic were new, like technology in the modern age? What if sorcery had only been invented 75-100 years ago? So, in your battle mage’s grandfather’s time, magic was wearing garlic to fend off the evil eye curses from witches - You know, just superstition. The enchanters and alchemists are a new phenomenon. The world and the world’s cultures are just now starting to burst forth with magic. Why does it matter? Well, I’ve always been a little antagonistic to the idea that some people have massive amounts of magic (think the adventurers not only decked out in magic armor with magic swords and wands, but also casting magic and fighting hugely magical creatures) compared with the peasant farmer who is no more advanced than Europe’s peasant farmers just before the Black Death. Does that make sense? If magic has been around for thousands of years, why is it only in the hands of a few? Don’t give me that stuff about secrets. Look at technology. How long did it take from the invention of the transistor to the proliferation of cell phones? Magic is easily as powerful as technology. Think about it this way - About 90 years ago, some guy in some university figured out that you really could make a philosopher’s stone and change lead to gold. This began a surge in the ideas of magic and was quickly followed by illusionists creating magical lights and conjurers summoning odd beasts. (Skipping an enormous number of evolutionary steps here.) Fast forward to today in your fantasy campaign and magic works as indicated in your game rules, but has only been at this level of sophistication for 5-10 years. Here’s what this brings - good and bad: There shouldn’t be a plethora of old/ancient magical items. Anything enchanted is relatively new. People and governments would just now be starting to consider the ramifications of magic in war and trade. Since relative few of us protect our campaign castles and cities against the common magics, it seems more reasonable that magic is new and the defenses are only being considered in the present campaign time. This also allows the player characters to be on the forefront of magical “science”. Sort of like James Bond is always just that extra touch ahead of us on technology. Stealing magical secrets and using new enchantments (that may or may not work exactly as planned) seems great for any fantasy campaign. And it settles the peasant farmer issue. Magic is still being developed in the magical universities and has not yet filtered out to the poorer and/or more rural folks. I’m still developing the next application of this concept in my head: I think it would work if one continent had been “mundane” until trade opened up 100 years ago, so there would be a fully magical continent and a newly magical continent. It might work for magical elves and newly magical humans, but then the elves would have truly needed to have been isolated until that recent point in history. I think it also works that some type(s) of magic were around but kept secret. Necromancy comes to mind. Maybe the necromancers have been around for centuries, but because they were so hated, they kept their magical secrets to themselves. The whole thing really screams for witch hunters too. There would have to be some cultural push back, where magic was all seen as necromancy or just plain evil, and needs to be eradicated.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Military Magic

I have been criticized in the past for publishing “useless” information. By useless they mean something that does not increase the chance to hit or the amount of damage. I guess they might be slightly placated by things that give your more damage absorption potential, but they don’t really communicate that well. More about that later. I’m a big believer in role-playing games having a role-playing element to them. Funny, I seem to be in the minority about that. But even on the battlefield, I think way too much energy and effort is put into the less important things like accuracy and damage. Don’t get me wrong. When the arrows are raining from the sky and the blood is running in currents, I realize the value of doing a ton of damage, but we’re not war gamers here. Those guys died off in the last generation. So what do I think is important? Communications! I think logistics are hugely important too, but they are not as exciting. How do the units get their orders from the commanders? Sure, the charge call can be trumpeted out, then everyone roars and races forward. But while they’re roaring and running and smashing metal weapons into metal armor, how do you call retreat? Are the trumpets loud enough? What about the units that were flanking and might be out of trumpet hearing distance? If the trumpets are so important, why wouldn’t the enemy fake trumpet calls to mess soldiers up? I mean if one side sounds retreat, are they using a different retreat than the other side? Because once retreat is sounded, wouldn’t both sides fall back? OK, so we’ll assume they have different bugle calls, but still, are they secret bugle calls? Does the other side not know them? Seems kind of odd. And if it were that the bugle calls were secret, wouldn’t a clever enemy kidnap one bugler just before the battle and torture the answer out of him? I mean, we’re typically talking about enemies willing to consort with the undead and demons. Torturing some young bugler boy seems right up their alley. OK - That wasn’t the point of this blog entry. The point was - isn’t it time that the enchanters started working on means of communication and espionage instead of +1 swords? If not, shouldn’t intelligent commanders have telepaths sitting next to them at the battles, so they can send direct and secret information into the fray? Back to magic. Think of a telescope that also provided sound. That sounds like something magic could do, and WOW would that be beneficial when spying on your enemy camp. Every game has differences in the magic system, including what spells are available. In some games, spells that don’t do damage are either forgotten or considered useless. My players typically prefer to grab those “crazy” spells and find ways to make them work in the oddest arrangements. In Legend Quest, you cast spells until you pass out - none of this forgotten spell stuff. Therefore they can afford to be really good with one or two combat spells and then learn all the quirky ones. Not to get off track, but with sleep spells being so common in games, why doesn’t anyone ever spend the time to interrogate and then ransom hostages? I could easily write an entire book on the use of non-damage causing magic, with multiple chapters on how it affects warfare. How I do it doesn’t really matter in your game. What matters is if you recognize that reconnaissance, communications, and logistics have a much bigger part in military matters than the size of your sword. The sword matters! but not as much as the attention it is given.

Friday, September 14, 2012

More Ideas Everywhere

I often complain that what is listed on internet sites as “top news stories” is pathetic. These are not “news” and if they are the “top” then it just shows how vapid our society has truly become. However, from time to time, I click on one. It’s like a car fire. You just have to slow down and look. So this latest one directed me to a news show, about 10 minutes long, from a resort community in the Midwest. This was pure gold as background material and possibly even mission starters. The stories included (from memory, so don’t look for too much brain power here): a 3yo child was beaten to death by his parents, a young girl drown when she wandered off, idiots in a speed boat got thrown around inside their boat but it was caught on camera, where the fireworks were going to be that weekend, where the bands were playing that weekend, who won the speed boat competition, and the local boat and 4wheeler store has a new model. Please understand, I am not reveling in the misery of two dead children here (maybe in the idiots who were driving their boat so fast across wakes that they got chucked around, but still). But small town news like this always seems more “fantasy era” to me than big city news. How does this become background or mission starters? I hope you don’t really need this part but: The upcoming weekend is some sort of minor patriotic holiday where people will be off work and picnicking. During the festivities, a young girl wanders off, and a huge search begins. The girl is found the next day drowned, but on the shore. How did that happen? Are there evil creatures in the lake who killed her then hurled her out of the water? Someone needs to investigate! (I’d go with the girl drown on her own and the peaceful water creatures were trying to save her at great risk to themselves.) Let’s add some other items to it: There was a big race (rowing or canoeing?) on the lake, and the participants had no idea that while they raced a young girl was in such danger. So when they finished, they started their party anyway. Those people who were searching for the girl believe the racers to be extremely cold hearted for partying while the girl was dying, but the racers didn’t know. So there is a lot of resentment between the two factions (racers vs. picnickers). This will give the whole region a palpable tension that will greatly interfere with finding out what happened to the girl and getting the girl’s “people” (the picnickers) to work with the only people with boats (the racers) to get an expedition to the middle or bottom (or both) of the lake. Is that how you saw it? As long as you saw some of that - then you know how to never run out of ideas.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Moment in History

Campaigns take place during a moment in history. This makes it a little more difficult to believably implant several different wars and other major world conflicts into a single campaign. When you look back at Earth or your campaign world history, there are very few moments in time when one person’s life span (we’re talking normal human life spans here) encompasses multiple wars. OK, maybe they’re still alive, but not in their fighting prime. So should there only be one war in a campaign’s “life”? No, but the player characters might have to travel to the war zone. That’s pretty much true in our modern age as well, there’s always a war of some manner burning somewhere, you just have to go find it. Having too many invading armies all attack your character’s home city is, well, cheesy. It’s like a bad comic book or TV series where ALL of these horribly bad things all happen to this one place. That’s why Dr. Who works - He can go to any period, any planet. He goes looking for trouble; it doesn’t keep coming to him. I mean, I love Scooby Doo, but how many times was the Mystery Machine going to break down in front of some haunted house? All I’m suggesting is that GMs make the players work for it. Make them travel to some other places to face down the bad guys. It seems more reasonable, and you extend the campaign over the course of time. After all, those travel times make the campaign longer and the players a little bit older. Becoming super powerful over the course of ten years is perceived as more realistic than if they did it over the course of two.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Too much on one plate

We’ve been diligently working, but working on so many things, we cannot possibly finish them all. So we’re accepting defeat, or refining our priorities, however you want to see it. We intentionally avoid GENCON, as everybody is dumping new products on the market for the con season. So we’re still OK, but we need to get focused if we want to get anywhere with the rest of the year. No - we’re not telling you what they are, but we’re planning on getting two new books out this year still, just not what we planned to be releasing. You can always email us at if you want to try and influence us. Honestly, Grain Into Gold never would have hit the market as early as it did if it hadn’t been for the feedback we got from fans. By the way, thank you - GIG is our best seller to date, not counting the free Coins of Fletnern.