Thursday, April 16, 2009

Things I Would Change

With Dwimmermount heading into its tenth session this weekend, I've been having some minor thoughts of regret about not having implemented a couple of mechanical changes I'd considered before the campaign began. Both concern magic and are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, certainly not significant enough that I'd bother to retcon them into the game, but I think their inclusion would have added some nice color to the game. I may have to add them to any future campaigns in the world of Dwimmermount.

First, I wish I'd combined the magic-user and cleric spell lists into a single list and eliminated both the cleric class and the weapon restrictions for magic-users. I'd tag certain spells as "white" or "black" and players would need to choose between the two paths. White magicians would gain the ability to turn undead and black magicians could command them. With lower hit points and a lack of heavy armor, white magicians would be weaker than standard clerics but more flexible. This suits the generally sword-and-sorcery tone I favor.

Second, I'd give the elf a separate list of spells that borrowed from several sources. I like the notion that elvish magic is an expression of their innate magical nature rather than an artifice. Their available spells should reflect that. Likewise, unlike magic-users, they wouldn't need to seek out new spells for their spellbooks, since they wouldn't need them. Like AD&D clerics, they have full access to all spells available to their level and do not need to learn new ones. If I chose the spell list carefully, I'd probably also eliminate restrictions about casting while in armor, even non-magical armor, and simply make elves a natural multiclass in the general vein adopted by Moldvay except with a spell list that's slightly less potent than that of a straight magic-user.

Neither change is a momentous one. I've already house ruled bits of Swords & Wizardry to produce similar effects, but they're on the fly fixes rather than the result of careful deliberation beforehand. Perhaps that's for the best. I want this campaign to be a crucible for organic rules evolution, after all, and that's certainly what's happening. Still, I'm a systematizer and it's hard to resist the urge go back and rationalize things after the fact. I'm slowly learning to just let it ride, but it takes effort and runs counter to my normal tendencies -- one of many lessons I have not yet mastered.

24 comments:

  1. As far as Elf Magic is concerned, have you looked at Burning Wheel's Character Burner? Wilson's take on Elves is very inspiring, and I'd be surprised if you didn't find some thematic material ripe for the riffing. Actually, the same could be said for dwarves and orcs, also.

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  2. James,

    I have been toying with the first of your suggestions for some time now, and think the second idea is also a very good one.

    Always very interesting topics, here.

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  3. In BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia, a common "fix" I've seen for elf spell access is to give them the druid spell list rather than that of the magic-user. I'm not sure if there are druid spells in OD&D, but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

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  4. Use the Druid spell list for elves...

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  5. Or you could just give the cleric spells to the elf. If you're looking for close-to-the-earth, tree-hugger elves, or nigh-angelic Tolkien elves who are skilled healers of both creatures and the land, the cleric spells are a fairly good match.

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  6. I REALLY like the merging of MU/Cleric class. That is something I decided I would do with S&W games

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  7. Likewise, unlike magic-users, they wouldn't need to seek out new spells for their spellbooks, since they wouldn't need them. Like AD&D clerics, they have full access to all spells available to their level and do not need to learn new ones.This I think this is highly perilous, because it doesn't account for the possibility of "new spells" or expanding the list later on. For the evolution of AD&D->3E, that's largely how the cleric became so massively overpowered (full access to a constantly increasing list). I think if you allow "full access" you have to make some kind of advance ruling on how "new spells" come into play, expanding the list in question.

    That said, for me I actually think that the existing original-books OD&D magic-user list is perfect for my elves (mostly fay-like charms, sleep, control weather, etc.) It's not until Supp. I that you get the focus on martial-stuff like magic missile, shield, monster summoning, etc.

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  8. players would need to choose between the two pathsI'm trying to reconcile this with what you've already said vis. moral direction, anti-paladins.

    A thought on elfin* magic: this would seem to make elves pretty powerful and maybe more flexible than other spellcasters. What if the got one/n** spell/s at a time, chosen randomly from the list of all spells available? Their spells change at dusk, or midnight, or when crossing running water.

    * no Tolkienian spelling here!
    ** n = 3 or less.

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  9. Wow. I have to say I hate the idea. Sounds like something Wizards O' Tha Cost might have considered for 4th edition. James, I think you are trying to create an entirely new game. Why don't you eliminate class altogether now, let everyone have spells, and call it Runequest.

    I think the idea with natural changes in the rules over time would be small changes - not something that changes the entire world view.

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  10. James, I think you are trying to create an entirely new game. Why don't you eliminate class altogether now, let everyone have spells, and call it Runequest.What are you talking about?

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  11. Your proposed magic system (minus the elves) is pretty close to what TSR did in the Lankhmar supplement, which was damn good. If you aren't familiar with it, it's well worth reading, especially if you want to go for a Leiberian feel.

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  12. Make it your D&D, James. That's what really matters, if your group is cool with the changes go for it. I gotta say making elves armored spellcasters with druid powers is a good idea. I don't know the spell progression for the druid class, but I don't see why it couldn't be lowered for elves if the spells need to be low key.

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  13. In my current C&C game, I also gave the elves their own spell list, mainly (with a few exceptions) comprised of spells from the Druid & Illusionist spell lists. The combination of nature and 'glamour' magic has helped to give elven spellcasting a distinct feel.

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  14. I'd second taking a look at elf magic in Burning Wheel for some inspiration if you are going that route.

    Also Dying Earth rpg

    And an interesting idea here:
    http://isabout.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/vancian-magic/

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  15. "...First, I wish I'd combined the magic-user and cleric spell lists into a single list and eliminated both the cleric class and the weapon restrictions for magic-users. I'd tag certain spells as "white" or "black" and players would need to choose between the two paths. White magicians would gain the ability to turn undead and black magicians could command them..."

    That's what I'm talkin' bout, Willis.

    I'm saying that combining these spell lists (which I'm not hearing a lot of reasoning for), getting rid of Clerics, and letting MU's have any weapon they want is massive change beyond anything I have ever done in 30 years of AD&D homebrewing and tweaking. IT'S BIG, man.

    Why the cleric hate? First thieves, now clerics.

    You have talked in the past of small, natural changes. A progression. I think these changes are massive and not needed. So you prefer doing it, great. Make it your D&D. But jeez, let's keep it D&D.

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  16. But jeez, let's keep it D&D.Always good to meet someone who makes me look open-minded and flexible by comparison :)

    More seriously, I don't see the problem. If it's fine to add new classes that horn in on a previously existing class's niche, then why is it a problem to take away classes? Likewise, while I think the class system, as a rules structure, is essential to anything calling itself "D&D" is essential, I don't think any particular class is essential. I can easily imagine eliminating any class and still playing something that's recognizably D&D.

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  17. IMO the artificial seperation between magic users and clerics in terms of what spells they have access to has never made sense. It seems like it really diminishes a god if he/she/it cannot grant a follower magic that even the lowliest of 1st level mages can wield. I did something like what you are proposing, but in reverse, eliminating magic users as a class and giving clerics access to both pools of magic. However, I gave each god a fairly small pool of magic drawn from both lists and gradually increased the number of gods that the cleric could invoke into his body. I modelled this after west African trance possession religions, where the worshiper is possessed by the god and gains aspects of that god's power and personality for the duration of the possession. It also lends itself to great roleplaying as each new god that the player masters the art of calling into her body (through song, dance and prayer) has a distinct personality and set of powers to choose from.
    I say modify the rules to your hearts content, as long as you and your players have fun!

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  18. Thanks for the overall bash on my mind James. Looks like a lot of things about you are changing, not just your game. Getting pretty defensive and downright insulting. Way to go. PDF bigshot now?

    If you actually saw changes I have made in my AD&D over the decades, you might not call me closed-minded, but whatever. I love Hargrave as much as anybody, but even I saw the cartoonish nature of his game. It's a fun read on the toilet, but it seems like D&D for 14 year old metalheads in many respects. Even as a teen I knew that. Enjoy your players with the 50th level Techno who runs around with a laser chainsaw.

    Run the game you want, and so sorry for having an opinion on what you do in your game. I thought that is what the blog community was about. You don't always take that well, and it seems to be getting worse.

    I'll leave your blog for your "fans" who tell you what you want to hear.

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  19. Oh, and the last time somebody called me "closed minded" about games, was about 25 years ago. I snickered at a girl who in a game ran a half-human half-satyr female who ran around with a bullwhip. Her character's name was "Indiana".

    Sounds perfect for your new game mentality.

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  20. I confess I've toyed with the idea of doing away with the cleric class in my own AD&D game, and either merging the clerical spell-list wholesale into that of the magic-user or creating a sub-class of magic-user that focused on those spells.

    "Turn undead" might be itself turned into a spell rather than an innate power, although if I went so far as to have a sub-class of necromancers, it might well turn up there.

    I've held back, because if I did end up doing that, I'd want to have full-blown sub-classes for evokers, alterers, etc. and I've never had the time or inclination to sit down and flesh 'em out.

    It certainly would make Druids much more unique than they are now, which I think is a Good Thing.

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  21. This is the reason I play GURPS, I can design any type of character I want. With the DF line, wizards get their magical power from mana while clerics use divine energy and druids use the force of nature as a power source. I like reading this blog because it helps me to refocus the way classes are donw and then I can just plug in the rules.

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  22. Well, obviously I'm in full support of the first part. I call it: Kill the Cleric; Keep the Thief http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=432636

    I like Jospeh's idea of making Turning a spell.

    I've continually played around with the idea of a special Elf list. Aaron Allston (I think) did one in the Elves of Alfheim gazeteer. And in the late, lamented, "100 Days of RC D&D", Hakwood, I and soem others did one too. I think we ended up saying that Elves don't memorize spells, but that they record each spell as a unique sort of rosary and must meditate upon them. That had the virtue of being mechanically the same as MU's, but felt different.

    The real trick, to me, is whether you eliminate onesuperflous disitnction (arcane vs. divine) and then add another (human vs. elf). Also, if they cast different spells, then that changes the dynamic of finding scrolls and whatnot. Just something to consider.




    I probably ought to just let this lie but I can't: Brunomac, James' response wasn't "bashing" you at all. I would say that you seem awfully excitable and defensive for no real reason. Relax.

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  23. I've been working on some house rules for making S&W more like classic 'pulp' S&S fiction -- including rules for replacing the 'magic-user' and 'cleric' classes with a single 'magician' class that can make use of 'white', 'grey', and/or 'black' magic -- over at the S&W forum.

    Here are my initial ideas:
    http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=666

    I plan on working them up into a proper article for a future issue of Knockspell (hopefully #3).

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  24. Akrasia,

    That's some great stuff! I may have to swipe some of it for my campaign in the future.

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